Perhaps it was just not meant to be. Assurance Wireless and Access Wireless, two of the biggest names in the Lifeline free government cell phone business, have quietly called off their merger talks and will continue to serve the Lifeline business independently.
We say they quietly because the “news” that Sprint’s Assurance Wireless brand would not join forces with Kroger’s i-wireless Access Wireless brand was released very quietly all the way back in May of this year, but only now is it getting widespread coverage. Let’s just say that neither company made as much noise about ending the talks as they made about beginning them.
“Sprint and i-wireless made the mutual decision to terminate the joint venture agreement and will instead continue to operate as stand-alone Lifeline service providers,” Sprint told FierceWireless.com.
How times change. Back in May 2016, Assurance proposed to Access and Access accepted. It was going to be the wedding of the year in the Lifeline free government cell phone business, and would have combined Lifeline’s second and third largest service providers into a juggernaut that would have challenged industry leader Safelink Wireless.
As FierceWireless.com reported, “”Under the agreement, Sprint would have owned 70% of the new business, which would have operated under the name i-wireless. I-wireless was to own the remaining 30%, and i-wireless founder and CEO Paul McAleese was to lead the combined business, which would have operated on Sprint’s network.” (Yes, this may be what’s known as “inside baseball” because it’s of far more interest to those in the Lifeline industry than to its customers, but we’re including it because we think it’s important that our readers understand the ins-and-outs of the business that has become so important in their lives.)
So now that the wedding is off and Assurance and Access have left each other standing at the altar, what happens to the two companies? Well, we expect them to continue offering the same plans they currently offer instead of having the combined strength that would have allowed them to offer even better plans.
For example, Assurance Wireless currently offers its free government cell phone customers a Android smartphones, 350 free minutes, unlimited free texts and 500 MB of free data each month. In California, it offers customers unlimited talk and text plus 500MD data.
Access Wireless currently offers free Android smartphones, 100-750 minutes and unlimited texts per month, plus 50-200MB data (and in California the offer is 1000 minutes or texts plus 200MB data).
The decision to walk away from the deal adds to the turmoil that has hit the Lifeline industry in recent years. ReachOut Wireless and TotalCall Mobile completely exited the Lifeline business. Others that dropped out of the business include Care Wireless and Alaska Communications. The YourTel Wireless name disappeared after a merger with TerraCom Wireless.
We are always big cheerleaders for more competition in the Lifeline industry, so we greet this announcement with hope. More companies always means more competition and more competition means more benefits for our readers.