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Company offers cell phones to those in need

By Steve Huffman
shuffman@salisburypost.com
Arleen Bradley saw an ad on television recently offering a free cell phone to those who need one but can’t afford it.
Bradley admitted she was skeptical, but still called the 1-800 number. Before long, she had her phone.
Bradley, a Salisbury resident, had no idea how quickly it’d come in handy. Just a few nights after receiving the phone, she and a friend were on a lonely Rowan County road when her friend’s car died.
The friend didn’t have a cell phone, so Bradley used hers to call for help.
“We were two-and-a-half miles from the closest service station,” Bradley said. “I don’t know what we’d have done if I hadn’t had my phone.”
The phone that Bradley got through the mail came via an FCC program called Lifeline. The program was developed 25 years ago to ensure land-line phone access was affordable to rural and poor communities.
TracFone Wireless is the first to offer cell phones through the program. The company announced last week that almost 500,000 households in North Carolina qualify for the cell phones and 68 minutes of free monthly talk.
The phones are intended to be used in the event of emergencies ó for individuals, for instance, who need to make a call because of car trouble or to ensure that potential employers have access to those seeking employment.
They’re not intended to serve as an individual’s only phone. At the end of 68 minutes of use, the phones don’t allow additional calls, though owners can purchase phone cards at retail stores that provide additional minutes.
“It’s a very clear-cut program,” said Marcos Cortez, a spokesman for TracFone. “It’s very above-board.”
If customers run through their 68 minutes, they can still call 911 ó which is a free call.
North Carolina is the ninth state to benefit from the program. Rowan is one of 47 counties in the state in which the program is offered.
“It’s highly legitimate,” said David Farber, a former chief technologist for the FCCC. “It’s coming out of a fund set aside by the (FCC) to service rural areas, under-supported people.”
The FCC created the Lifeline program in 1984 and worked to update the service after crises of hurricanes Katrina and Ike, as well as the 9/11 tragedies.
The Lifeline program is not funded from taxpayer dollars, but from contributions to the Universal Service Fund by telecommunication carriers collected in part from the Universal Service Charge billed to cell phone users.
Bradley, the Salisbury resident whose new cell phone came in handy so quickly, said she was unemployed for awhile, which explains how she qualified for the phone. She said she has recently secured a part-time job and hopes her financial situation improves in the near future.
Meanwhile, she’s enjoying her phone.
“It has sure come in handy,” Bradley said.
nnn
For more information or to apply for one of the free phones, go to: www.safelinkwireless.com, or call 1-800-SAFELINK (723-35465).

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