Free Cell Phones For The Poor

Posted by Bryan Henry  -  bio | email


Never before has the ring of a cell phone sounded so melodious to Mary Coleman.

"My daughter first found out about it," Coleman said.

One reason it sounds so good is because the phone and the service are free. Coleman is among the growing number of low-income Alabamians who are answering the call of 'Lifeline.'

'Lifeline' is the service started by the Federal Communications Commission in 1984 but didn't really come to the forefront until '96 when the Telecommunications Act opened up competition to new wireless providers.

Mary Coleman says this is a godsend because Lifeline is specifically geared towards those living below the poverty guideline.

"My income status changed and I had a sickness," said Coleman.

Tracfone, a Florida company, says it's leading the way in providing free phones AND service to the poor. Under the Lifeline program, carriers such as Tracfone get government subsidies that actually pay for the free services Coleman is getting. Tracfone says it's receiving up to $10 in subsidies per household.

Coleman, meantime, says her phone was a gift to herself for her 60th birthday two months ago and already it's come in handy when she ran out of gas on Interstate 85 North in Montgomery.

"I ran out of gas but I was able to call my son and he came got me," Coleman remembered.

To qualify people like Coleman must show proof that they meet federal low-income guidelines. The phone barely weighs anything but for Mary Coleman it proved its weight in gold that day on the interstate.

Nationwide well over a  million people are receiving free wireless service. Tracfone would not say just how many Alabamians are getting free service.

Mary Coleman says she's allowed a little more than 70 minutes per month airtime but only uses around 35 minutes.

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