Free Cellphones and Low Cost Broadband Are you one of the people who finds themselves unable, due to cost, to own a phone? Did you know that since the 1990s Uncle Sam, through the auspices of the FCC, has helped millions of Americans get low-cost phone service in their homes? This special program is known as the Lifeline Assistance program and, due to technological advances since its inception, has been expanded to include cellphones and/or low-cost broadband Internet services.

The addition of these services is most likely due to the high unemployment rate that has plagued our country for more years than we want to count. If you have not been affected by this, you may ask why that would make a difference. Well the fact is that, with new technology, employers are now seeking out potential employees through the Internet. To do this, the employer will begin an initial screening process that requires the applicant to complete an online employment application. One of the first things on this application will be a space to enter a phone number where the applicant can be reached for a phone interview.

In this day and age, this creates yet another obstacle for the unemployed since the future employer is seeking a number where the applicant can be reached 24 hours a day, no matter whether they are — at home or on the road. Fortunately, the government understands this and has updated its criteria for the Lifeline Assistance program to include cellphone service and/or a broadband connection.

So where do you apply for these programs and what do they provide?

Cellphone Service

Assurance Wireless, a subsidiary of Virgin Mobile and Sprint, offers a free phone and service:

  • Free phone
  • 250 free minutes of talk
  • 250 free text messages

Reachout Wireless, a division of Nexus Communication, offers a free phone and service:

  • Free phone
  • Amount of minutes is based on the state where you live.

Safelink Wireless, owned and operated by Tracefone, offers a free phone and service:

  • Free phone
  • Up to 250 minutes of phone, text, and international calling.

Unfortunately, not every state offers the free phone and free phone service. States that do not participate in the program are:

  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

You can receive additional information at the Free Government Cellphones link at the end of this article. This site will also inform you of other requirements as well as other carriers that offer free phones and available services.

Who qualifies for these programs?

There are two ways to qualify.

The first way is if you are currently receiving state or federal assistance. For example:

  • Food stamps
  • Public housing assistance
  • Medicaid
  • Section 8 housing
  • Supplemental security income
  • Home Energy Assistance programs
  • National school lunch
  • Other programs not specified

The second way to qualify is by household income. See the link below for information on the guidelines and pay attention to the specific guidelines by state. Generally, you can qualify if your income is at or below 135% to 150% (by state) of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, but may differ if you are disabled or over 65.

Free Broadband Service and Free Computers

Comcast

Last year, to garner approval for Comcast to merge with NBC Universal, Comcast agreed to offer low-cost broadband services to disadvantaged families. This service is called Internet Essentials and offers broadband service for as low as $10 a month. The plan advertises that it has:

  • No price increases
  • No activation fees
  • No equipment rental fees

So how does one qualify for this $9.95 a month of Internet service and/or a low-cost (usually $150) computer?

  • You need to live in an area that is serviced by Comcast.
  • You need to have at least one child who qualifies for free or reduced school lunches through the National School Lunch Program.
  • You must not have been a Comcast customer within the past 90 days.
  • You must not have any overdue Comcast bills or any unreturned Comcast equipment.

Connect 2 Compete

Connect 2 Compete is a relative newcomer to the marketplace and is currently experimenting with a similar pilot program in the San Diego area. Connect 2 Compete is expected to expand its operations in the near future to include the entire country. Its low-cost package will also be offering broadband Internet services for families that have children who are receiving free school lunches.

If anyone knows of any other free phones or low cost broadband services that are being made available for disadvantaged families, please share the information with us.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Hot Pepper Dave