Liberty Planet Weblog

CA liked Obamaphone, so now it’s real

Posted on: December 11, 2012

While some saw the clip of the lady implying ‘victory for Obama means phones for everyone’ as perhaps exaggerated out-of-context right-wing propaganda – as that would be preposterous right? – it appears San Francisco took it a little more serious. As SFGate reports, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve (within a couple of weeks) a plan to offer homeless and other poor people in California ‘virtually free cell phones and service’. The plan is funded through the federal LifeLine program and is designed to enable these individuals to ‘keep in touch with family, potential employers and others crucial to improving their lives’. “This is great – it is transformative for homeless and low-income people,” said San Francisco’s head of homeless initiatives, adding that, fundamentally, to be in the mainstream of our society you have to have a phone.” Setting up the program in California has been no easy task, officials said. “I would prefer it to be free…” said Dufty, and said he would explore other funding sources. Perhaps worth remembering the cost of kidding ourselves once again.

Via SFGate:

Homeless and other poor people in California are on track to soon get virtually free cell phones and service so they can keep in touch with family, potential employers and others crucial to improving their lives.

The cell phones would be handed out through a federally funded Lifeline program – already operated by service provider Assurance Wireless in 36 other states – that is likely to win final approval in the next couple of weeks from the California Public Utilities Commission.

State PUC officials have been reviewing the Lifeline proposal from Assurance Wireless for three years. Word came Thursday that all but a minor detail had been approved, ending years of effort by advocates for homeless people.

“This is great – it is transformative for homeless and low-income people,” said Bevan Dufty, San Francisco’s head of homeless initiatives,

“Fundamentally, to be in the mainstream of our society you have to have a phone,” he said. “And really, for the homeless population, you need a cell phone because they don’t have a home to hard-wire one into. We really need this plan.”

The state’s decades-old Lifeline program, like those all over the country, pays for all but a few dollars of the monthly phone bill for poor people, generally meaning those whose annual income is below $14,702. But until now, California’s PUC rules only authorized Lifeline service for “wireline” phones, meaning traditional phones wired into residences – and those rules didn’t authorize anything for free.

Getting set up not easy

Setting up the program in California has been no easy task, officials said.

Approval of the cell phone program came Thursday from the telecommunications specialists at the CPUC, which oversees the state’s Lifeline plans.

“We’re very excited,” said Jayne Wallace, an Assurance Wireless spokeswoman. “We know from experience this can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

Cost of program

Assurance Wireless first offered its free cell phone proposal to the CPUC in 2009 and got tentative clearance in 2011. It has been a slow process since.

Immediately, however, the customer will be rolled into Assurance Wireless’ Lifeline plan, which will provide 250 free minutes of talk time and 250 free text messages per month. The customer will then get the initial $20 back as a credit to be used whenever he or she exceeds the talk and text limits.

“I would prefer it to be free, but this at least opens the door,” said Dufty. He said he would explore if other funding sources could backfill the up-front $20 charge.

Source: Zero Hedge

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