The 2012-2013 budget submitted by the Governor contains a 30 million dollar line item to provide cell phone service to the needy. It will provide free cell phones for over 242,000 in this state.
This is absurd and allow me to point out why I feel this way.
1. There is already in place a national program to provide free cell phones for the disadvantaged! It is funded by the phone companies and their subscribers! In Massachusetts it would seem, the taxpayers will pay a double whammy to provide for free cells. Once through our phone bills and again in our taxes.
2. Providing free cell phones has not shown to give the disadvantaged an edge over their present living conditions.
3. We are taxed enough in this state! Frivilious spending like the Governor proposes, is unacceptable.
The following is some research regarding “Free Cellphones”
Free cell phones for the needy drawing both cheers and jeers
By Rachel Weaver, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, August 1, 2011
Universal Service Fund
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires phone service providers to contribute a percentage of usage revenue each quarter to the Universal Service Fund.
It’s designed to help schools, libraries and low-income and rural residents secure several types of phone service, including cell service.
Customers might notice a “Universal Service” line item on their bills.
About the writer
Rachel Weaver can be reached at 412-320-7948 or via e-mail.
Sharron Walters could not afford one more monthly bill.
But without a phone, it would be difficult for Walters, who relies on a wheelchair, to secure rides to and from her daily errands. She also could not keep in touch with her son, who lives out of town.
Three months ago, Walters, 48, of Swissvale started using Assurance Wireless, a program of Sprint subsidiary Virgin Mobile that provides free cell phones and 250 monthly minutes to people receiving government support such as Medicaid or food stamps.
“The service they provide is just truly a blessing,” she said.
In Pennsylvania, two programs offer free cell service: Assurance Wireless and SafeLink from Tracfone Wireless, which specializes in “no-contract” cellular service. The federal Universal Service Fund, which all telecommunications providers support as required by federal law, pays for the programs.
Amy Storey, a spokeswoman for CTIA – The Wireless Association in Washington, said all U.S. wireless carriers charge consumers a fee to recover the cost of their contribution to the fund, which varies quarterly as determined by the Federal Communications Commission.
Assurance Wireless, which is in 26 states and Washington, D.C., started in Pennsylvania in February and is now being publicized in newspaper, TV and radio ads. The company reports more than 5.5 million people could qualify for the program in Pennsylvania. Gary Carter, manager of national partnerships for Assurance, was not able to provide the exact number of people who have signed up.
SafeLink, which has been available to Pennsylvanians for three years, is in 39 states. Spokesman Jose Fuentes could not provide an exact number of users in Pennsylvania, but said there are more than 2 million nationwide.
“The program is about peace of mind,” Carter said. “It’s one less bill that someone has to pay, so they can pay their rent or for day care. … It is a right to have peace of mind.”
Critics of the program say free cell service is no right, particularly in an unstable economic climate.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said that with $910 billion of the national budget slated for low-income assistance, he finds free cell phone programs “particularly wasteful and unnecessary.”
“Our society cannot afford to give free everything to everybody,” he said. “Most poor people already had adequate telephone service and will continue to do so.”
George Loewenstein, economics and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said phone companies could lose money from the programs if customers seek free service when they otherwise might have found a way to pay for it. However, he said, the programs likely benefit the overall economy as having a phone can help people find jobs.
“We’ve hit a tipping point,” he said. “It used to be that a public phone was on every corner. As cell phones become more prevalent, public phones are gradually disappearing.”
Assurance and SafeLink get $10 per subscriber monthly from the Universal Service Fund, which covers the cost of 250 minutes, said Carter. The companies pay for the phones, which Carter describes as “very simplistic models, not smartphones.” The primary handset for Assurance users is the Kyocera Jax, which retails for about $10. That model does not have a camera, MP3 player or Bluetooth capability.
Assurance pays for its advertising. Agreements run for one year; every 12 months, customers must provide proof of income. The eventual goal, Carter said, is to retain them as paying customers.
Roberta Lebedda, 37, of Lincoln Place said she researched the Assurance program after seeing print advertisements and was disappointed to discover she was not eligible for a free phone, even though she helps fund the program through her phone bill.
“It’s a nicety, not a necessity,” she said. “Everybody wants a cell phone, but we don’t need it to live.”
Thank you, Robert.
We’ll look into this and report back.
Mr. Powers, thank you for your post.
The line-item does not appear in the Governor’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, and with the federal program already in place, there are no plans to add it to the state budget.
The federal government does subsidize very basic service on two phone programs, Lifeline (cell phone service) and Linked-up (wired phone service). Safe Link, a private company, runs these programs, which are offered to low-income individuals. The federal government does not pay for the phones themselves, but the subsidy comes from a fund of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which all telecommunications companies pay into. The fund also provides money to assist schools and libraries in connecting to the internet. On January 31, 2012, the FCC announced a plan to overhaul the Lifeline service to combat waste, fraud, and abuse. You can find more information at the following website: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/lifeline-and-link-affordable-telephone-service-income-eligible-consumers.
Anne Johnson, Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger
Check it out!
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