Curious About Who Pays for “Free” Phones?

By Ken Tucci, WBZ-TV

Who pays for those “free” cell phones from SafeLink? – Mark, Norwell

Paying customers pay for the “free” cell phones for others.

You’ve probably seen the ads saying you can get a free cell phone and free service, if you’re low income.

It is a Federal program, but no tax dollars are used.  Instead, telecom companies pay for it, but most of them pass along the cost to their customers, so really they don’t pay for it, paying customers pay for it.  You’ll see the charges on your cell bill as the Universal Service Fee or the Universal Connectivity Fee.

Watch video:

The idea behind the program is to give poorer people phone access.  The presumption apparently is that people with low incomes can’t afford phone service and that phone service is a necessity, so it should be subsidized for them.  Hence, “universal” service fee.

There’s a myth going around the internet that these are called “Obama phones.”  But in reality the program began for land lines during the Reagan administration, and cell phones are an extension of that.

There are millions of people in the program in 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

What do you think of this program….and please be polite.

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  • Joan Hogan

    I find This Free Phone necessary , for the Elderly, the Sick,low income, and victims of Domestic Violence. Many lives are saved by having these essential
    phones, especially In a Emergency Situation.

    • johnhammaf

      I agree, but unfortunately many are misusing. Most phones are being used by other persons in related to the subsrciber in some ways.

  • Nab71

    The phones are advertised as being for emergency situations. They include one hour of free airtime. Who makes one hours worth of emergency calls a month?

  • Joan Hogan

    The Government Issued Cell Phones give an automatic 250 minuter per month.
    The customer can reload the phone with a prepaid card to add more minutes.
    AT&T Is Now charging their Customers a $ 5.00 processing fee for paying by cash, at a local AT&T store. This Is Unbelievable ! I wonder if this company Is
    doing this to encourage customers to use their credit or debit card , as to sell the customers information . Quite Concerning.

    • Nab71

      My concern is the amount of time. 250 free minutes for emergencies? This is just another example of a government based program that indicates no understanding of the difference between basic necessities and luxuries. My entire family rarely uses more than 250 minutes per month on four phones because we pay the bill, its not free.

      • Fortunate1

        too many people have switched plans to 250 minutes a month. I am fortunate enough to have a Safelink phone but I never changed from the original 68 free minutes per month. I do not abuse the service so each month the unused minutes rolls over adding the new 68 free minutes. Because of the rollover of minutes (250 minute plan does not roll over) I had enough minutes to make emergency calls when Irene hit our area; especially when at 5 a.m. as I walked out my front door to view the trees in the wind I also saw sparks from the electrical line breaking away from my home. I do not know why the government has agreed to pay for plans more than the 68 free minutes per month. This gift has and will continue to be abused by those who own an additional cell phone service for when Safelink minutes are used up within the first two weeks of any given month


    I wonder how many drug deals are being made on made on these subsidized phones.

  • Joan Hogan

    Their Is No Guarantee That These Free Cellphones are not being used for illegal
    activity, however, I do know several disabled people, who use these phones for legitimate purposes ! that being said lets not Stereotype people.

  • jerry

    Unless your not a elderly person or a disabled person you should not be allowed to have one period . 2nd if its for a emergency you should be allowed 1 hour , ALSO EVEN IF YOU HAVE A CELL PHONE THAT IS CUT OFF AND YOU CANT CALL OUT YOU CAN STILL DIAL 911 AND IT WILL WORK FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES ANYWAY so why would you need to provide a 250 minute plan anyway ? just give them a cell phone were you can dial 911 only , use the phone for what it was ment to be used for instead of using it to call friends.

  • Ted R.

    Here’s an article that answers the question of who pays for it. Some might call it a tax, some might call it a use fee.

    Do taxpayers pay for government cell phones from Safelink and others?

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