On the Street: Why the Free Phone Program Is Worth Saving

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 12 September, 2012 at

Recently, the Federal Lifeline program that provides discounted, or sometimes, free government cell phones and service for low-income Americans, has come under fire.   With the annual cost approaching a billion dollars, it’s detractors have begun to voice their desire to have the program either substantially cut back, or eliminated altogether.

Many perceive the program as coming directly from the taxpayer’s pockets.  This isn’t technically true, however.   The program is funded under the auspices of the Universal Service Fund, administered by the Federal Communications Commission.   It’s funded by payments that all telecom companies are required to submit to the Fund.  In practice, however, these companies just pass the charge directly to their customers, usually in the form of a line item labeled “Universal Service Fee”.

There’s already several stories circulating that take the side of “shutting it down”, so we wondered if there was a compelling story for keeping the program in place.   As it happens, a young woman named Clair, an active participant in the program, was willing to share her story with us”

“While everyone seems to think that all of us getting a cell phone provided for by the U.S. government program are getting some kind of perk or  luxury…and a luxury that low-income people should not have if they are already receiving some other form of government assitance. Here’s what they don’t  understand.  Even in today’s times  there are some  who cannot afford phone service for their home.

I happen to know this, as I have lived in subsidized  housing and received SSI and disability assistance for the past 15 years. Although I am myself, fortunate enough that I can afford home phone, many of my neighbors cannot.  The cell phone provided to them by the Lifeline program is their one, and only phone.  Most of these people are elderly, and that phone is the only thing they have available to them in an emergency.  God forbid they fall and break a hip.  Are they supposed to crawl to a pay phone?  Has anyone even seen a working payphone lately?  I mean honestly…the plan provides about $10 of benefits every month.  Enough for 200 minutes.   This is not a case of ‘benefits gone wild'”

It’s certainly a refreshing viewpoint, and goes to show that not everyone on the plan is taking advantage.   Many are, as the program intended, using it as a “Lifeline”.


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