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23 Aug. 2015

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In more than half the states in America, people who are eligible for Medicaid and food stamps may also be eligible for a free cellphone and 250 free minutes a month. A story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that unearthed this program, which has been around for three years, reported that up to 5.5 million people could qualify for a free cellphone and free service in Pennsylvania alone.
These free cellphone and minute plans are paid for by the Universal Service Fund, which telecommunications companies must contribute to by law.
Assurance Wireless and SafeLink collect $10 from the Universal Service Fund for each person who signs up for their free service. Companies are flooding low-income households with free cell phones and minutes under a plan overseen by the federal government that is prone to abuse, a Dayton Daily News investigation has found. Just saying but how can I do my drug deals, get my free Gov’t bennies and do other off the books scams without my free cell phone YO!
These appear to be recycled older phones, and have a small number of monthly minutes (250 domestic is the max) and one text counts as one minute. The article identified two companies that provide free cellphones and free minutes to people who qualify -- Assurance Wireless, a program of Sprint subsidiary Virgin Mobile, and SafeLink, a program from Tracphone Wireless.
According to the Tribune-Review story, every cellphone service carrier passes the charge of its contribution on to its American customers.
The investigation found the free cell phone program is growing rapidly because cell phone companies are promoting it heavily and is so commonly abused that 26,500 Ohioans this month have been notified they are violating the rules. Uncle Suckah gives them everything, they become bloated, literally, on the freebies and when the collapse comes, they go beserk because those freebies no longer exist.

The program is paid for with fees mandated by the government and tacked onto most cellphone and home phone bills, often listed as the Universal Service fee. However, with almost all things that are FREE there are some hoops to jump through in the beginning. That money funds free cellphones and minutes to the poor and ensures that schools and libraries have secure phone service. It is redistributed to phone companies that provide free or discounted service to low-income residents. A program subsidizing basic phone service for the poor has been around since the 1980s, but the decision in 2005 to add prepaid cellphones to the program has led to ballooning costs and little oversight of the rule that each household only gets one free phone or discounted line, the Dayton Daily News investigation found. They will give you a unique ID that you can use to check the status by phone or on the internet.
This is part of an effort by the Federal Communications Commission that has identified 269,000 people in 12 states suspected of abusing the system with more than one subsidized phone or land line.
The number of prepaid cellphone companies offering the service in Ohio grew from one last year to four this year. One provider, TracFone, which markets its free service by the brand name SafeLink, was the only provider offering the service in Ohio since 2009 and averaged $3.5 million in revenue a month through the fall.
The competing companies do not typically share information to check whether a new applicant is already receiving free service from another provider.
New TV commercials tout the Assurance phone, which was one of three prepaid wireless providers to enter the Ohio market this year.

Cincinnati Bell charges for the phone itself and roaming charges, and offers plans starting at 250 minutes a month for free. It offers up to 250 monthly minutes for free or less if users want unused minutes to roll over. The rest of the program funds went to discounting traditional cellphone or home phone service. Program growth unlimited While this program itself is not new, the advent of cheap prepaid phones makes it more difficult to make sure only one person per household is getting the benefit. Pflanz said studies have shown that having such phones helps people get jobs, become taxpayers and contribute to the economy. The GAO found SafeLink phones for sale online and pointed out that prepaid phones have no way of knowing if the subscriber is still in possession of the phone.
In December, USAC completed an audit of TracFone in parts of Florida and Tennessee and found 111,682 subscribers received benefits through both TracFone and another phone company.

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