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Free Cell Phones: A Federal Success Story

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The U.S. Government is providing free cell phones and free plans to low-income families across America.

A little-publicized program from the Reagan era that has been providing low-income households with free or subsidized phone services for more than 25 years has recently begun offering free cell phones and plans in lieu of a land line. The program is known as Lifeline”, and anyone with an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guideline can qualify. For a family of three, that means an income of around $26,000 or less qualifies for a free cell phone.

Free Phone Service

The person next to you might be on a free phone plan.

Lifeline is providing free cell phones in lieu of land lines because of the costs and cumbersome regulations governing traditional copper networks across America. Essentially, it costs more to provide land line services than it does to provide a free cell phone and free plan. The way it works is relatively straightforward. Carriers receive a flat payment of $10 per month for each family, which covers the cost of one basic phone and plan. There are no connection fees, installation charges, or wires to be installed, so the end result is a less expensive service with greater coverage and portability.

There are limitations, one being that subscribers are offered either a free land line or a free cell phone and plan, not both, and they can have only one line per family or household. A list of the states and carriers providing these free cell phone plans can be found at phoneservices.us, where you can also find a more in-depth review of the program details. It should be noted that not all states participate, and even in those that do, the service isn’t always available.

Overall the program is the kind of success story rarely seen in federal aid programs. This is largely due to the program’s own internal oversight, which according to the FCC has saved more than $230 million over the last two years. In fact, the savings have been so significant that they are rolling out a pilot broadband program to assist low-income families with free broadband internet connectivity.

Critics have little to say, as this is an excellent example of a federal success story. By connecting low-income families with essential communication necessities the program has helped millions meet basic needs and improve their quality of life. For example, a family might be able to connect with an employer to improve job prospects, or reach medical assistance in the event of an emergency.

Mobile phones and the ways we use them have been changing almost as quickly as the technologies used to produce them. Mobile phone and internet connectivity are now basic necessities of the modern world. And providing cell phones is in fact a less expensive and more effective program per household than federally subsidized land lines.

Image Credit:
Image: ‘Destiny Calls
Image: ‘Richmond Green
Found on flickrcc.net

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About Henry Buell

A world traveled analyst, Henry has lived through political upheaval, revolutions, and war. He writes from a different perspective, with a passion for life, tempered by experience. More information can be found on Henry Buell's website.
  • Peggy

    Very good article on a very good program. Easy to follow story and understand how this government program is a success story.

  • Clive

    This is the most clear and concise explanation of the program have seen. I have heard grumblings of criticism about free phones for those below the poverty line, but this account makes it hard to argue with the plan.

  • Caleb Voelker

    Hey Henry! Congrats on the Editors Pick!

  • Thanks for the comments and congratulations 🙂

    I am doing more research on this topic, and may end up posting a longer and more detailed article on it. There seems to be a bit of idiocy circulating the blogosphere about ‘Obama phones’ – when in fact it was a Reagan initiative, and despite the abuses of a few ignorant people on YouTube, the program has been a tremendous success story.

    I’ll update here when I finish my research and complete the other article.