Star-Advertiser: Free Cellphone and Cellphone Service?

The following question and answer re free cellphones and cellphone service appeared in Christine Donnelly’s Kokua Line article “A Low Income, but Not Age, Can Qualify One for a Phone” (Star-Advertiser, 26 Oct. 2015):

Question: I am a senior (68), single and living alone. I would like to know whether I qualify for a free cellphone and cellphone service.

Answer: We don’t know of free service based solely on age, and neither did the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs or the Hawaii branch of the AARP, a membership group devoted to advancing the interests of older Americans; we checked with both. However, there is a long-standing government program called Lifeline that subsidizes telephone service for low-income people. Depending on your financial status, you could qualify for that.

Lifeline is supported by the Universal Service Fund, a system of telecommunications fees and subsidies managed by the Federal Communications Commission. While the federal subsidy is small, about $9.25 a month for a landline, some consumers end up getting free, albeit limited, cellphone service (and the device to go with it), thanks to benefits offered in tandem by participating telecommunications companies.

To qualify for Lifeline, annual household income must be at or below 135 percent of poverty guidelines, which for a single person in Hawaii is $18,293 this year. Or you can automatically qualify by being enrolled in a federal assistance program such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Section 8 housing. The FCC lists other qualifying programs at fcc.gov/lifeline.

For Hawaii residents the DCCA Division of Consumer Advocacy provides details about enrolling in Lifeline at cca.hawaii.gov/dca/telecommunications/lifeline. Consumers who lack Internet access or who have additional questions can call 586-2800, said Shelly Kunishige, a department spokeswoman.

Benefits vary among participating telecommunication companies, Kunishige said. Some offer a flat discount, while others might provide a free cellphone and a free service plan with a limited number of minutes per month. The DCCA does not promote or recommend any specific provider, and urges consumers to do their own research to determine which company best meets their needs, she said.

Companies providing Hawaii service are listed on the DCCA website, noted above, and include Mobi PCS (723-1111), Hawaiian Telcom (643-3456), T-Mobile (800-937- 8997), Blue Jay Wireless (855-425-8529), Budget Mobile (888-777-4007), Safelink Wireless (800-723-3546) and Total Call Mobile (800-661-7391).

If your annual income is too high for Lifeline, you might wish to seek a “senior discount” from a reputable cellphone company. Some offer a lower monthly rate for anyone over 65. It’s worth shopping around.

Read the full column here.

Related article: Free Government Cell Phones

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