Free Cell Phones and Airtime for Low Income Households -Truth!

Free Cell Phones and Airtime for Low Income Households –Truth!

Summary of eRumor:

A forwarded email that says cellular phones and airtime will be made available for free to low income households.

The Truth:

One Cellular phone and 60 minutes per month of air time will be given to low income households by Safelink Wireless.  Funding came through the Lifeline government program which was established in 1984 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assist low income families and update communication services in areas affected by disasters. 

On September 29, 2009, the prepaid cell phone provider Tracfone Wireless, Inc., announced the launch of SafeLink Wireless in Illinois.  According to a September 29, 2009 Reuters article, SafeLink Wireless is the first and only completely free offering of Lifeline — a U.S. government supported program for income eligible households that ensures telephone service is available and affordable for eligible low-income households. The TracFone Wireless company is a subsidiary of América Móvil S.A.B. de C.V. based in Mexico City.

The eRumor jokingly calls this an “Obama phone” but the Reuters article said that the program was based on a decision made by the FCC to “enhance its Lifeline program and keep the right to communicate in pace with technology.”    The concept of providing cellular phones to low income families actually dates back before the Obama administration.  According to a June 3, 2008 article, TracFone became the “first wireless provider to be designated by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) for the purpose of offering Lifeline.”  Click for news release.

In order to qualify, families must meet certain criteria and verify income annually.   This program is currently available in Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.    The company expects to offer the service nation wide soon.

Funding for the Lifeline program is collected in the form of surcharges that are included in telephone and cellular phone bills.

updated 10/26/09