Free Cell Phones No More If Congressman Has His Way

Last August I wrote about thousands of Americans getting free cell phones and calling minutes at a cost of over $4 billion of taxpayer money.  Well, it finally seems that someone in Washington wants to do something about the program.  Rep Tim Griffin, (R-AR) says the program is being abused by many recipients and believes the program needs to be drastically overhauled.

Initially, the Lifeline: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Consumers program was created by the federal government to provide a free landline phone to low-income people so that they would have a means of communication in the case of an emergency.  Eventually, Lifeline extended its coverage to include internet access and cell phones.

With the expanded services, a number of people have been finding ways to abuse the system to their own gain and this is the target that Griffin wants to tackle when he said,

“That’s when the program absolutely exploded and has become a nightmare.”

“People are not only getting [one free cell phone], they’re getting multiples. There are reports of people getting 10, 20, 30 — just routinely getting more than one, selling them, storing them up, whatever.”

“And they’re not just phones that are able to dial 9-1-1. They’re smartphones. They’re the type of phones that you and I pay hundreds of dollars a month to have contracts for.”

“I had someone call me this morning telling me they had somebody who would only work a certain number of hours a week because if they worked too many hours a week then they couldn’t get their government assistance. And that person has multiple cell phones, and gets them new every month with new minutes.”

“Every one they give out, they get money for from the federal government. So they have an incentive to give as many away as possible, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, and they’re making a killing.”

“And if you want to know where the money is coming from, just look at your cell phone bill: a line called the ‘universal service fund.’ I’m sure you, like I, have often wondered how a simple phone bill has pages and pages of fees and charges and stuff that you have no idea what it’s for. Well, this is one of those lines.”

“The federal government should only be providing services for emergencies. You and I, taxpayers, shouldn’t be paying for cell phones so someone can have a social life.” I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”

“People get landlines out of necessity because they’re homebound or whatever, and they need that ability to call from their home if there’s an emergency,”

Griffin also pointed out that the Lifeline program provides each person that receives a free cell phone, 100 free minutes a month.  He questions if the system was designed for things like 9-1-1 calls then why do people need 100 minutes a month?  Are people expected to make 100 minutes worth of 9-11 calls EVERY month?

Even though the Federal Communications Commission made some revisions this January to the Lifeline program, they do not go far enough to help put an end to the abuse of the system.  Rep Griffin wants sweeping revisions made to the system to prevent people from obtaining multiple cell phones when they are not entitled to them.  He would actually like to see the system go back to just landlines to be used for emergency purposes only and I heartily agree with him.

I personally pay over $100 a month for my wife and my two cell phones and another $60 per month for high speed broadband internet.  I struggle every month to pay my bills, especially since I went so far in debt while out of work for two years.  Oh yeah, I can’t afford a smartphone, so I still have an old fashioned cell phone without internet, web, G4 or any apps. It galls me to think that I am not only paying for MY cell phone and internet, but I am also paying for others to get better phones and internet service free.

If it were up to me and I had to provide emergency communications to low-income families, I would do just that and no more.  Whether landline or cell phone, I would make them 9-1-1 access only.  Neither landlines nor cell phones provided by the program would be capable of dialing any other number except 9-1-1.  Additionally, no one would be able to obtain a new or second one without turning in the first one.  By implementing this new strict standard, it would stop the abuse of the system and would save taxpayers nearly $1 billion a year.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.