During the 2012 United States Presidential campaign, a rumor was spread that President Obama was providing free cell phones using taxpayers’ money. This rumor referred to the Federal Lifeline Assistance Program. Since then, many people started calling the Lifeline program and the “Obama Phone Program” or the “Free Government Cell Phone Program”.
Are free Lifeline cell phones an “Obama Phone”? Contrary to the rumor, there is no such thing as an “Obama Phone” or a “Free Government Cell Phone”. In truth, the Lifeline program is a government benefit program that provides a discount on phone bills for eligible low-income Americans in need.
President Obama did not start the Lifeline program. Lifeline was actually established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1980s under the Ronald Reagan Administration as a way to provide a discount on landline phone communication services.
Free or discounted cell phone service was not originally included in the Lifeline program. The program was originally created as a way for eligible Americans to communicate with family, friends, doctors, co-workers, job opportunities, and 911 emergency services when necessary.
No taxpayer money is used to pay for the Lifeline program or the free cell phones. In the 1990s, the FCC established the Universal Service Fund (USF) in compliance with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The FCC also appointed the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) to run the USF for the Lifeline program and other communication and technology-based government programs. The USF is made up of a collection of fees gathered from all wireless service providers.
Cell phone service was added to Lifeline in the 2000s by the FCC under President Bush and a Republican-controlled congress. In order to make Lifeline more readily accessible to Americans in need, the FCC approved some telecom service providers to provide Lifeline. These telecom companies provide a free cell phone and free monthly minutes to low-income individuals who apply and are approved for Lifeline.
Who pays for the free cell phones? President Obama, or the government does not pay for any of the cell phones given to Lifeline subscribers. The approved Lifeline providers are actually the ones who pay for and give out the cell phones to use with the free cell phone service. Lifeline providers take it upon themselves to pay for the free cell phones as a way to help out low-income individuals and their communities.
Furthermore, Lifeline providers are the ones who do the processing work of incoming Lifeline applications. They are also the ones who pay to ship phones to their subscribers, and they pay to manage their phone service. There are some restrictions to the program, too. Individuals must qualify in order to obtain a free cell phone with free monthly service. They must also not already have a Lifeline cell phone from a different provider, and they must only have one phone per Lifeline provider. Lastly, Lifeline may not be available in every state.
As you can see, the rumor that President Obama is giving away cell phones is completely false. Lifeline is a government benefit program that provides life-essential technology to those who cannot afford it. Imagine not having a cell phone during an emergency situation? Imagine not being able to call your grandchildren, or to make doctors’ appointments? Lifeline provides a sense of freedom to those who qualify.
You can check your eligibility for Lifeline, or sign up for your free phone in minutes; just enter your information below and click on the orange “Get Your Free Phone” button right now. It is fast and easy!