Note: We discovered an error in calculations since our original publication, and the article has been revised on May 14, 2016. We apologize for the initial inaccuracy.
When we last ranked the leading companies in the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone business, we called it “a growth industry.” Well, nothing remains the same in this world and that growth industry is now weathering tough times.
Why? A couple simple reasons. First, the economy has improved and fewer people are enrolling in the program. Second, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has cracked down on fraud, waste and abuse, and cut more than a billion dollars out of the program’s budget.
Again this year, we conduct a comprehensive analysis of the latest USAC numbers to come up with the an accurate look at the who’s who and what’s what in the Lifeline Assistance industry. These are numbers that even the government can’t give you about the free government cell phone industry.
It’s our hope that low-income Americans, those who qualify for the free government cell phone program, can use these numbers to help determine which company is right for them.
A note on our methodology: The “Disbursements” column in the chart (below) represents the total disbursements from Lifeline to individual service providers in calendar year 2015 (source USAC.org). To calculate the next column, “Average Number of Subscribers,” we divided “Total Disbursements” by 12 months and then again by $9.25 (the average monthly Lifeline payment per account) except in Oklahoma (where the average monthly Lifeline subsidy was $34.25).
Consider this as an example of why FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net is the nation’s leading authority on the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program.
Putting together a list like this isn’t easy — it takes a lot of digging, a lot of calculating, and a lot of patience — but we compiled this comprehensive look at who’s who in the business. A detailed compilation of the leading companies, how much they made and how many customers they have.
This list is intended to help those Lifeline customers who feel uncomfortable dealing with smaller Lifeline Assistance companies. If you’d rather deal with a larger company, this is the information you need to separate the men from the boys. (Oh, please pardon that sexist reference. Perhaps we should have said, “This is the information you need to separate the milk from the cream” or “This is the information you need to separate the leaders from the followers.”)
And now, without further delay, here is our 2016 list of free government cell phone leaders.
|Rank||Company (2013 USAC income rank)||Total 2015 USAC income||Number of Customers|
|1||Safelink Wireless (1)||$426,456,629||4,165,077|
|2||Assurance Wireless (2)||$235,882,844||2,166,657|
|3||Access Wireless (unlisted)*||$98,398,044||884,993|
|4||Budget Mobile (3)||$91,080,780||811,912|
|5||Life Wireless (4)||$86,883,161||998,865|
|6||Assist Wireless (unlisted)||$39,344,710||320,125|
|7||Q Link Wireless (unlisted)||$34,819,777||462,450|
|8||Telscape Communications (unlisted)||$30,940,264||293,870|
|9||Total Call Mobile (unlisted)||$27,276,405||278,310|
|10||Blue Jay Wireless (unlisted)||$18,526,354||170,206|
|12||True Wireless (6)||$12,204,460||101,527|
|13||Tag Mobile (7)||$9,146,824||94,976|
|14||Stand-Up Wireless (11)||$7,405,399||57,610|
|15||YourTel America (10)||$5,911,574||41,688|
* We inadvertently omitted Access Wireless in our previous study
Note 1: Companies are ranked by total income for the entire year of 2015. The estimated number of subscribers are calculated based upon December 2015 income, which reflects how they are doing coming out of the year, not how they did on average during the year.
Note 2: There are far more than 15 companies competing in the Lifeline free government cell phone business, but many of them are so small that we have excluded them from our rankings.
Winners and losers
Even we were shocked by the huge number of changes that have taken place in the free government cell phone business in just year. Let’s quickly review the winners and the losers.
Safelink Wireless and Assurance Wireless stayed on top of the list, but Safelink treaded water (down 1.4%) and Assurance dropped precipitously (down 21%). But even those two companies fared far better than ReachOut Wireless. That company, which ranked #5 on our previous ranking, dropped off the list and, in fact, dropped completely out of the Lifeline Assistance business. Others who dropped out of the business include previous #12 Care Wireless, #14 Alaska Communications.
Budget Wireless fell one position from to #5 and its Lifeline Assistance income dropped nearly 11% in the last year. Taking it’s place in the #3 spot is Assist Wireless, which saw a growth rate of 5.7% for the last year.
The companies that ranked #11 and #15 on our 2016 list — Terracom and YourTel — have merged and the combined entity (now known as Terracom) would have ranked in the ninth position. Had those two companies been combined in our 2014 article ranking (using 2013 USAC income numbers), they would have ranked sixth.
But the biggest loser of all may be #9 Total Call Mobile. It’s been busted by the FCC in a massive scheme to enroll ineligible customers and has been fined millions of dollars. We would not be surprised to see Total Call fall of the List of Leaders completely in next year’s round-up.
Access Wireless experienced strong growth and now takes the #3 position over rival Budget Mobile.
Several other companies experienced such tremendous growth that they made their first appearance on our rankings. They include #6 Q Link, #8 Telscape (now known as TruConnect), #9 Total Call Mobile, and #10 Blue Jay Wireless.
One company makes both lists
Total Call Mobile was a winner because it grew so much that it debuted in the #9 spot on our 2016 List of Leaders. Unfortunately, the company was also a loser because was recently accused of massive fraud and the FCC is seeking $51 million in damages for allegedly defrauding the Lifeline Assistance program out of $10 million. If the FCC is successful, we suspect that this may be Total Call’s only appearance on our rankings.