Print 30 comment(s) - last by UNHchabo.. on Aug 18 at 12:44 PM

TracPhone looks to lend our nation's impoverished a helping hand.

While cell phones can be viewed as a luxury item on a daily basis, they also provide a fast means of communicating and reaching help in case of an emergency.  In this respect, cell phones have likely saved countless lives, though no precise metrics are available.  For this reason, prepaid wireless provider TracPhone, based out of Miami, is looking to offer very low cost cell phones to impoverished residents of Tennessee to help them with emergencies.

TracPhone has built a subscriber base of 10 million customers since its inception in 1996.  Now, with the help of government subsidies, it will offer limited free service to 813,000 low-income households in Tennessee.  It will also offer them addition service discounts under the Federal Communication Commission's so-called Lifeline, which provides to the primary phone line of poor households -- be it cellular or a land line.

The new service will give customers 68 minutes of emergency phone time a month for free, plus access to 911 calls.  They will also receive a phone free of charge.  Low-income residents will have to apply for the phones under federal poverty guidelines, and will have to each year reapply for the program in order to prove they still meet the requirements.

The new services come under the TracPhone brand SafeLink Wireless.  After Tennessee, TracPhone hopes to bring the service to several other states.  Jose Fuentes, the company's director of government relations says Florida and Georgia are next up after Tennessee.

In order to be eligible for the program, residents must make 135 percent of the federal poverty level or less.  For a family of four, this amounts to $21,200.  In order to qualify, participants must provide three months' worth of pay stubs or their W-2 form from the previous year.  They could also apply through Medicaid or low-income housing or energy assistance offices.

Mr. Fuentes praises his company's beneficence, stating, "A lot of carriers don't take a lot of interest in it (the Lifeline services), but we advertise it, market it and inform the public that there is a choice out there."

For every phone given, TracPhone makes a small $10 government subsidy.  TracPhone will also provide its participants with airtime cards for a fee. For $3, $5 or $10, subscribers can get 15, 25, and 50 minutes respectively.  TracPhone hopes that some users will rise out of poverty over the course of the year, but that they'll remember TracPhone and become paying customers.  Mr. Fuentes states, "A lot of these individuals will have this free service at first, but usually sometime afterwards they no longer qualify (based on income) but remain TracFone users."

While America is a very connected nation, with over 80 percent of Americans regularly going online, and with cell phones rapidly replacing the land line, there are still many who remain unconnected.  According to the FCC, 7.1 million American households have no phone line, cellular or otherwise.  Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, almost 13 percent don't have a cell phone.

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By Crucial on 8/15/2008 10:46:05 AM , Rating: 3
"Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, almost 13 percent don't have a cell phone."

This would be much better put if you said. Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, 87% already have cell phones.

So 87% of people making 50% of the poverty level already have cell phones yet we're supposed to pay for more of them to get free cell phones? How does this make any sense? Since when did having a cell phone become a right of every man woman and child?

I'm so glad I have to pay for this kind of crap every month on my phone bills.

RE: Sigh...
By joemoedee on 8/15/2008 11:40:30 AM , Rating: 5
This would be much better put if you said. Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, 87% already have cell phones.

Well just think, with all the money saved by...

Free Food
Free Healthcare
Free School
Free Housing

You can get a really nice cell phone. Especially with that $7k tax return you get for having 5 kids.

RE: Sigh...
By headbox on 8/15/2008 2:59:20 PM , Rating: 1
They don't actually pay their cell phone bills either. Look at Amp'd Mobile. It was launched in 2005, targeted the "hip hop" demographic, and filed for bankruptcy in 2007. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know who is making under $10k a year, and what they do with their money when they have it.

RE: Sigh...
By JohnnyCNote on 8/15/2008 5:14:56 PM , Rating: 2
So why not just come out and say what you're hinting at regarding fans of "hip hop"? Do you have any idea of who's included in this demographic, or just presume it's a certain group?

RE: Sigh...
By headbox on 8/15/2008 11:12:32 PM , Rating: 2
Funny (sad?) how people are so quick to condemn the poor owning cell phones, getting govt. assistance, getting your tax dollars, etc. But then they turn around and act like they're racially blind and somehow enlightened in the safety of their suburbs. The US Census data and FBI crime statistics don't lie folks.

RE: Sigh...
By Schadenfroh on 8/15/2008 11:45:54 AM , Rating: 3
I assume that figure includes kids living with their parents / relatives that do not have a job or only work part time? 87% of working age people that make less than 10K a year having cell phones already seems a bit high...

RE: Sigh...
By omnicronx on 8/15/2008 1:27:58 PM , Rating: 2
"Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, almost 13 percent don't have a cell phone."
I don't know whats worse here, the fact that they think cell phones are a priority for people making less than 10k a year, or the fact that almost 90% under that number have a cell phone in the first place...

I don't know how much other people spend on food and gas per year, but I would have to give up eating every second week to afford a cell phone contract while making only 10k per year =P

RE: Sigh...
By Schadenfroh on 8/15/2008 2:52:37 PM , Rating: 2
One may have to depend medicaid and welfare to survive, but one can always find the money for flashy rims, cell phones, more children, stereos, alcohol and smokes!

RE: Sigh...
By Darkskypoet on 8/16/2008 7:11:20 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure how it is down in your neck of the woods. But here for a lot of people that low down on the poverty scale, they've already screwed themselves out of having a land line through unpaid bills, etc. Pay as you go type cell phones are actually much cheaper, because if you can't pay for time, you simply don't get any. The cell company doesn't shut you off until you make up arrears. There are none. I know around here in some poorer neighborhoods, you always find people in at the 7-11 buying 10$ phone cards to use with their Virgin phones, or what not. A land line here is like $25 a month.

If you have or are looking for a job, having a phone number where an employer can get a hold of you is pretty important. So's being able to all 911, when you live in an area where such is perhaps more necessary then in other richer neighborhoods.

Again, not sure about your area, but here in a lot of cases, cells aren't a luxury, they are a much cheaper means of having a phone. Not even considering that oft times people in those circumstances often comprise the 'hidden homeless' that don't stick around in one residence permanently, but move around a lot to find a place to stay.

RE: Sigh...
By JohnnyCNote on 8/16/2008 9:01:45 PM , Rating: 2
When you have a group of people, who in one message associate the poor with "hip hop culture", and in another with NASCAR fans, there's clearly no point in trying to acquaint them with facts . . .

RE: Sigh...
By UNHchabo on 8/18/2008 12:44:29 PM , Rating: 2
That's why you don't get a contract. I'm a recent college grad, and a Tracfone customer. The cheapest monthly cell phone plan from any provider I looked at offered 300 minutes a month, which is about what I've used in the past year .

In a full year, I think I've still paid less than $100 into my cell phone. It's really not a huge deal if you don't use it often.

By Spivonious on 8/15/2008 11:07:12 AM , Rating: 2
Aren't 911 calls already free?

RE: 911
By Fritzr on 8/15/2008 11:22:24 AM , Rating: 3
Free to dial. Cost of making a 911 call from your own personal phone includes purchase & contract costs. For TracFone that means buying a phone w/SIM and buying loads to keep that SIM from being cancelled.

This offer removes the initial cost of purchase. The annual requlification is probably for the free load to keep the SIM from expiring. The annual Gross Income limit for a family of 4 in 2008 is $29,970 (See DoS Guidelines Column 1, row 4, times 1.35)

Peverty Guidelines for income can be seen here:

RE: 911
By joemoedee on 8/15/2008 11:43:56 AM , Rating: 3
FCC requirements state that ALL cell phones, regardless of status of service (or even the lack of service) must be able to dial 911. Whether you have a telephone number or not, whether you have signed up for service or not, your cell phone can connect to 911.

So, that's moot. Give them used cell phones, plenty of charities do it. We even had a drop off box in the lobby @ work.

Seems to be a lot of people impoverished
By marsbound2024 on 8/17/2008 5:47:48 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't aware my state had 813,000 low income households. The population is only six and a half million or so. If you consider that a household might have two, three, or four people then it would seem that roughly a quarter of the state is at or below the poverty line. Not sure what the exact statistics are, but nonetheless it doesn't seem encouraging for the nation's 18th largest economy. Just shows that roughly a quarter (again not sure what it is) will be even more strained by recession than others.

As far as this program goes, I actually think that just because a company is doing this to hopefully, in the long run, attract more paying customers, doesn't mean that the idea is bad. I think it is a pretty good idea. Regardless of how people may spend their money (most likely irresponsibly), if you can cut out one or two bills altogether it certainly helps. I wouldn't mind paying a couple dollars extra per month to help in this effort. Besides, an increasingly networked society might help bring more people out of their socioeconomic bottomless pits.

RE: Seems to be a lot of people impoverished
By NeoConned08 on 8/17/2008 9:03:29 PM , Rating: 2
Imagine if none of those people had to pay an income tax. Imagine if you didn't have to pay an income tax. How much more prone would you be to giving to your local charity to help the poor and needy in your local part of the state if you were able to bring almost your WHOLE check home every week. That's how our society USED to work. Ever since the income tax and the Federal Reserve were instituted we've had nothing but devaluation of our currency and an ever expanding welfare state that has bankrupted us with the retirement of the baby boomers.

YOU may be ok with doling your hard earned cash out to the government to give out nilly willy but many Americans are not. It's not that we are callous against the poor, it's just we understand that the government is a very poor steward of just about everything we entrust them with as evidenced by the psychotic foreign policy that brought terrorism to our shores, FEMA in response to Hurricane Katrina, the absolutely failed War on Drugs and War on Poverty, along with the totally uneducated populace in terms of what our Republic was founded principle wise.

RE: Seems to be a lot of people impoverished
By JohnnyCNote on 8/18/2008 6:32:01 AM , Rating: 2
So how would you fix the situation?

By NeoConned08 on 8/18/2008 11:35:34 AM , Rating: 2
Firstly, draw down the Empire and bring our troops home. That would save us quite a bit of money and would hyper boost our reputation abroad. Our current policy of foreign interventionism is Isolationist because we are driving everyone to hate us, even our allies in many cases.

No more involvement with NATO or the UN. We don't have the Constitutional authority or the money. That money can be much better spent here at home.

If the government cut back its spending to just the levels of 10 years ago there would be no need for an income tax on our wages and labor. We could get by with excise tariffs etc.

Do away with minimum wage. That creates unemployment and drives people to suck off the welfare teat.

Put forth competing, commodity backed currencies and let the free market gradually do away with the ever inflationary Federal Reserve Note. That would allow for the people's money to maintain it's value and go a lot further.Check executive order 11110 to see how the idea isn't quite so crazy. We've had 2 previous central banks that were abolished and it's about time the current one was gradually phased out as well.

End the War on Drugs. There are more people doing drugs now than when the *War* first started and we are filling our prisons up with non-violent drug offenders and releasing rapists, murderers and pedophiles back out on to the street for *good* behavior.

The violent crime we see in the drug sub culture is due to artificially high prices. Some people resort to violence to acquire the funds necessary to purchase the drugs. When was the last time you saw gun battles over beer money? Hardly ever because the free market and legality brought the prices down. The same would occur if we legalized the other drugs. Tax them and use that money to educate/rehabilitate, NOT incarcerate.

In the meantime, we are bankrolling terrorists and the mafia as well as corrupting our politicians and police via the artificially high prices brought on by a black market.

The same thing occurred when we had a Constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol. It didn't work with that drug and prohibition is not working with the rest of the drugs now.

There are LOADS of things we can do to help the poor and needy in our society and the answer is NOT to rely on government to do that. Government is like using a jack hammer to put a nail in the wall so you can hang a picture up.

A sound currency, a sensible foreign policy, and basically FOLLOWING the Constitution which is the supreme law of our land would go a LONG way towards addressing the major issues plaguing our society.

TracPhone Comissar in Town
By klstay on 8/15/08, Rating: 0
RE: TracPhone Comissar in Town
By Dfere on 8/15/2008 11:10:12 AM , Rating: 2
In Soviet Russia, telephones track you!

Oh wait, that was BEFORE Putin invaded Georgia.... perhaps this isn't a joke anymore, again....

By Diesel Donkey on 8/15/2008 11:16:44 AM , Rating: 2
Don't worry, they're not doing this out of the good of their heart:

TracPhone hopes that some users will rise out of poverty over the course of the year, but that they'll remember TracPhone and become paying customers.

This is a calculated business decision like any other.

only 13% dont?
By toyota on 8/15/2008 1:15:04 PM , Rating: 1
Among people with incomes of $10,000 or less a year, almost 13 percent don't have a cell phone.
so 87% of them do? how the hell do you afford a cell phone making 10 grand a year? groceries, rent, and utilities would easily wipe out more than 10 grand a year. its also odd that in reality the poorest people are the ones that seem to have the highest cell phone bills.

RE: only 13% dont?
By JohnnyCNote on 8/15/2008 1:25:16 PM , Rating: 3
so 87% of them do? how the hell do you afford a cell phone making 10 grand a year? groceries, rent, and utilities would easily wipe out more than 10 grand a year.

Did you ever hear of prepaid cell phones?

its also odd that in reality the poorest people are the ones that seem to have the highest cell phone bills.

How do you know this? Or is it just another way to justify prejudice against the poor?

RE: only 13% dont?
By NeoConned08 on 8/15/08, Rating: -1
RE: only 13% dont?
By NeoConned08 on 8/17/2008 8:55:46 PM , Rating: 1
ya, go ahead and rate me down. Socialism has been thoroughly debunked folks. Check out Von Mises' "Socialism" along with Hayek, Hazlitt and Rothbard.

No such thing as *FREE*
By NeoConned08 on 8/15/2008 1:21:44 PM , Rating: 2
They are giving these phones away because they receive government subsidies....i.e.....our tax money. I didn't ever agree to give complete strangers my money so they can give *free* phones to other complete strangers. Wtf is going on here?

RE: No such thing as *FREE*
By Ordr on 8/15/2008 1:30:32 PM , Rating: 2
Despicable "Robin Hood"-style taxation.

Oh Great
By Dfere on 8/15/2008 11:03:14 AM , Rating: 2
So now we can have a new conspiracy theory "Track Phones.. how the government is paying to track you!".

Oh. Just great.

68 minutes..
By EnderJ on 8/16/2008 1:52:31 AM , Rating: 2
The new service will give customers 68 minutes of emergency phone time a month for free

Just long enough to hear "Thank you for holding" when calling to complain that they can't buy NASCAR tickets with foodstamps.

Man I Hate Tennesse...
By poopyman67 on 8/15/08, Rating: -1
"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs
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