An AP story for a new project I’m involved with to get cell phones into the hands of people who need them, an innovative new program from Tracfone Wireless:
By LUCAS L. JOHNSON Associated Press Writer (August 18, 2008)
A cell phone company is offering free wireless phones and 68 minutes of free air time to more than 800,000 low-income Tennessee residents in a program aimed at ensuring they can make a call in an emergency.
Prepaid cell phone provider TracFone Wireless Inc. announced Friday that it’s launching its SafeLink Wireless program in Tennessee, which officials said would become the first state to have widespread, free emergency wireless service for poor people.
SafeLink provides eligible low-income households with a cell phone, access to 911 emergency services and 68 minutes of free air time for up to a year before customers If customers run through their 68 minutes, they can still call 911 (which is a free call) and they can purchase additional minutes for other calls at a discounted rate, said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for Tracfone Wireless. The cell phone’s standard features include voicemail, text capability, call waiting, international calling to over 60 destination and caller ID.
John Taylor, a spokesman for Sprint Nextel Corp., one of the nation’s top three carriers, disputed Fuentes’ claim of sparse advertisement. He said Sprint participates in the Lifeline program by offering a discount on services and advertises on its Web site and through print, such as mailings. According to the FCC, 21 million households across the country qualify for Lifeline. “I’m elated that this program is providing needy families with access to basic cell phone service,” said Democratic House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry of Memphis, which has the state’s highest low-income population.
Fuentes said families may qualify if their household income is not above 135 percent of the federal poverty level, and if they receive assistance through government programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
Nicholas P. Sullivan, a visiting scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently released a study (“Phoning in a Major Econmic Boost”) analyzing the impact of mobile phones on low-income households. He said the troubled economy makes the phones even more of an asset.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell agrees a cell phone is a valuable safety tool, especially when someone is traveling. “This program will allow drivers to call 911 if they encounter an emergency or get stranded while on the road,” he said. “I am thrilled that Tennessee is the first state in the country to offer this program and help keep our citizens safe.”