New York - Company Offers Free Cell Phone Service For Low-Income Families
New York - Safelink Wirless and Tracfone are rolling out a new offer in New York that could mean free cell phones for low-income families. The phones come with 68 minutes of airtime a month, along with voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, and text messaging.
The program is supported by the federal government, but it isn’t exactly tax dollars footing the bill. Instead, many cellular customers are paying for it.
Cell phone companies must contribute to the Federal Communication Commission’s Universal Service Fund. While they’re not required to do so, many carriers pass those contribution costs along to their customers.
Looking at an AT&T bill and the charge for one month was $2.58, which amounts to about $31 a year. Sprint and others also charge the fund to its customers.
Once that money is collected, the federal government subsidizes the Lifeline phones by paying $10 per phone/per month from the fund. Some carriers simply apply the ten dollars as a discount for low-income subscribers, but the Safelink program provides the phone and service completely for free because Tracfone kicks in another $3.50 per month. The combined $13.50 equates to the free 68 minutes of airtime each month.
Safelink said the phones provide the people with a sense of security because they have access to help during an emergency.
When asked why all the other phone features were needed, spokesman Jose Fuentes said, “Those are standard on every phone. If you look at any phone that’s what they just come with already. It has that capability to do that and that’s just the same thing we use.”
Fuentes also added, “An emergency can be anything. You can drop your kids off at school and then you’re off to work or looking for a job and you don’t have a cell phone. Heaven forbid, something happens to your child. How’s someone going to get in contact with you?”
Erie County’s Social Services Commissioner said he did see some benefits to the program, but that it also concerned him that the families would spend money on additional minutes once their free time ended each month. He said he also feared some may grow accustomed to having a phone and sign a contract with the company once their one year of benefits ended.
If you would like to know more about the program visit the SafeLink Wireless web site or call 1-800-977-3768.
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