Safelink Wireless Applies to Provide Lifeline Cell Phones in Idaho

Good news for those who live in Idaho. Currently, none of the main players in the government mobile phone arena — Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, ReachOut Wireless — are allowed to operate in Idaho. But last night, March 31, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission held a hearing concerning an application by TracFone Wireless Inc., to be designated an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier. Tracfone runs Safelink Wireless. The designation would qualify TracFone to participate in a low-income telephone assistance program.

Idaho’s low-income phone program, Lifeline, offers discounted basic telephone service to low-income customers of wired or wireless providers. It is paid for by a 6-cent charge on each residential, business and wireless phone line in the state. However, TracFone says its application does not request funding from that state program. Instead, the company would receive about $10 a month from a federal universal service fund to provide 250 minutes free service.

“None of the other programs in Idaho provide a free wired or wireless handset,” said Leighton Lang, senior vice president and assistant general counsel for TracFone.

Lang estimated TracFone would gain a few thousand customers if approved, and their service would be paid for from the $7 billion to $8 billion federal fund.

About 27,700 customers in Idaho received Lifeline assistance in 2009. The commission said phone charges will not be immediately affected if TracFone gets ETC designation.

The commission staff has recommended denying TracFone’s application because it does not require customers to chip in for rural, high-cost area telephone service; contribute to the Idaho Emergency Service Fund; or provide complete evidence to support its ability to serve all areas, especially rural ones. TracFone says it can address those issues separately or upon getting ETC designation.

We’ll update the free cell phones in Idaho page of this site when we learn the phones are for sale in Idaho.

Source: Idaho Statesman

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