EDITORIAL: Being able to phone home
Dec 21, 2012 (The Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Assume you don't have a cellphone in your pocket and you need to call home or your doctor or your boss. Now try to find a pay phone. Good luck with that.
That's the situation for millions of Californians who live in poverty or, literally, on the streets. It's also a situation that could soon change, thanks to approval last week by the state Public Utilities Commission of a program that will put basic cellphones in the hands of millions.
State residents who receive Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, food stamps and other aid will be eligible for the federal "lifeline" program. So will those whose annual income is below $15,000. That's roughly 4.6 million California households.
Just how the cellphones will get into the hands of those eligible has yet to be worked out. But once it is, those on the program will receive basic cellphones, plus 250 voice minutes and 250 text messages per month. Those wanting more would have to pay for it, and eligibility would have to be re-established yearly.
The average cost per subscriber is about $100 per year, according to federal figures.
Although likely to be controversial with some, the program is not unlike a program already in place. Since 1985, California has helped poor people pay for phone service. That program serves about 1.5 million Californians but only is for landline services. Californians also pay a small monthly charge on phone bills to make sure the hearing-impaired have access to communications equipment.
The new federal program was created by a congressional mandate and is funded through telephone company contributions to the Universal Service Fund. Companies can recoup at least part of their contributions through fees charged paying customers.
Access to a phone is not a luxury. Ask any teenager. Better yet, ask anyone without a cellphone who is desperate to make a call and can't find a pay phone. Now ask someone who also is homeless.
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