|Cell phones are an essential part of life in 2017!|
Cell phone ownership is necessary as we become a society that depends on being connected on the phone and online. According to Pew Research Center, as of 2015 nearly two-thirds of adults owned a smartphone and almost 20% rely on a smartphone to connect to the internet. Surely, these numbers have only gone up!
Fortunately, the Lifeline Program exists to provide free or reduced price phone service. Consumers who qualify may choose landline or cell phone service, but not both. Only one member per household is eligible. Eligibility depends on income or participation in other federal programs. If you receive SNAP (also known as food stamps), Medicaid, or Section 8 housing, you may be eligible. You may also qualify if your household income is below poverty guidelines. Currently, this means you can make up to 135% of the poverty level income for your household size.
The phones themselves (and service) are provided by third party wireless companies that have been authorized by the government. The federal government provides subsidies to the states. Depending on your location, you may have a wide selection of companies to choose from. These vendors often have local booths or kiosks and allow you to signup online.
A lot of people have criticized the Lifeline Program, usually to score political points. We've all heard about the "Obamaphone" myth. Critics have labeled President Barack Obama as "the welfare President," a guy handing out phones and other "free stuff" for votes. The fact is, the Lifeline program started long before President Obama. The Universal Service Fund fee on phone bills goes to help low income consumers with their phone service. These days, most people use a cell phone as their primary phone line. It just makes sense. When a wireless phone is the standard basic communication device, having a cell phone is more of a need and less of a luxury.
When is the last time you applied for a job or setup an interview without a phone or the internet? The fact is, low income consumers need phone access to apply for jobs, set up interviews, and conduct essential personal business. Those without a phone or internet have a harder time banking, paying bills, and securing steady employment. Shouldn't we want everyone to have access to employment and the American Dream? In addition, millions of people are disabled, retired, or otherwise get by on a fixed income. It is important for everyone of all ages and abilities to be connected to loved ones and the world around us. The cost of the program is a small price to pay to help keep us all connected.