Last month, we learned that TracFone (a large prepaid wireless provider) had been declared eligible by the FCC to receive subsidies from the Universal Service Fund (USF) to provide their prepaid wireless service at a discount to low-income people via the USF's LifeLine program. Today, some of the details of this plan became available in the state of Florida, one of ten states in which TracFone will be eligible to offer this service with USF funds. Based on the press release from the Florida Public Service Commission, qualifying low-income people will receive access to a free mobile phone and 68 free minutes of use per month, with additional minutes available for $.20/minute in $2, $5 and $10 increments.
This is a good start. Previously, USF funds could only be applied to landline phone subsidies, or to standard wireless service with monthly/annual contracts, etc. Neither of these solutions are always of use to homeless or low-income people who lack a home into which a landline can be installed, or who lack a credit record good enough to qualify for a standard monthly plan. In a recent survey, we found out that about 21% of Community Voice Mail clients own mobile phones, and the vast majority purchase prepaid wireless minutes. TracFone may save these clients money assuming the service is comparable in quality to other offerings.
The TracFone subsidy may eventually become available in D.C., New York, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Apparently, the company must apply for Universal Service Support from each state in which it hopes to provide this service.