You know someone’s public relations department is hard at work when a local TV station and a major website cover what seems to be a relatively insignificant local story.
In this case, Honolulu television station KITV and website goliath HuffingtonPost.com both reported on the fact that 30,000 residents of Hawaii have already signed up for and received free government cell phones. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there may be another 320,000 Hawaiian residents who qualify for the Lifeline Assistance phones who have not yet applied for them.
Blue Jay Wireless tells Safelink that the surf is its turf
We recently reported that Safelink, the biggest name in the Lifeline Assitance free government cell phone business, had set up shop in Hawaii. Clearly, competitor Blue Jay Wireless is being proactive, because the words of its public relations department almost jumped out of the KITV story:
“The federal government set up this program to allow customers to get in touch with their family, friends and employers,” said Eric Frederick of Blue Jay Wireless.
Blue Jay Wireless has been busy passing out the phones to people who are eligible averaging 40-to-50 phones a day and six days a week.
So far, around 30,000 phones have been distributed in the Lifeline program in Hawaii, but that is just a fraction of the eligible people.
“Right now by our estimates we have about 340,000 to 350,000 people in Hawaii that qualify for this program,” said Frederick.
More power to Blue Jay. They’re doing everything they can to publicize their efforts, to educate the public, and of course, to keep Safelink Wireless, the biggest name in the free government cell phone business from making any inroads in Hawaii.
Unfortunately, KITV buried Blue Jay’s biggest news about ten paragraphs into its story (oddly enough, that’s exactly what we’ve done in this story):
Blue Jay is now offering upgradable smartphones like the Android RUSH and data plans.
That’s huge news because internet access may be even more important than talk and text to low income Hawaiians. It will allow them to search for jobs on the internet and communicate with potential employers via email. It’s evidence that the Federal Communications Commissions efforts to include subsidized internet access in the free government cell phone program is starting to make progress.
Huffington Post’s take on the same story
HuffingtonPost.com went with the same basic Blue Jay PR (30,000 needy Hawaiians have received free cell phones), but did considerably more homework than KITV by covering an issue that’s just as important nationally as it is in Hawaii.
The program has reached Hawaii at a time when homelessness has become a hot-button issue and lawmakers have been implementing harsh policies to drive homeless people out.
Heeding to pressure from tourists, Waikiki recently started cracking down on homelessness by ramping up its bans on sitting and lying down in public. One lawmaker went so far as to smash homeless people’s shopping carts with a sledgehammer in 2013.
At the same time though, advocates have been trying to find more sustainable solutions to address the growing homelessness problem. The cell phone program is just one of a number of initiatives that are offering up more effective solutions.
Shame on the Hawaiian politician who showed so little compassion and understanding. The Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program has its detractors, but it has many millions of supporters whose lives it has changed.
People who were homeless, but had no way to find a shelter for the night. People who were hungry, but had no way to find a food bank. People who were unemployed, but had no way to contact potential employers. People who had families, but no way to keep in touch with them. People who were ill, but had no way of reaching out to medical professionals.
“One of the most important resources homeless teens and young adults can acquire is a cell phone,” Eric Rice, assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, wrote in a blog for HuffPost. “Imagine for a moment that you are homeless. How would you get a job if an employer could not call you back? How is your social worker going to follow up with you about housing opportunities if they can’t call you back?”
We started this story off by talking about Blue Jay’s PR efforts. Let’s end it with a touching story from Blue Jay’s blog:
“I’ve had people cry when I give them their phone,” said Scott Prestwood, a once homeless veteran who now works for Blue Jay. “They know it will change their lives, and they’re very appreciative. There are a lot of people out there who are hurting, and those are the people I take care of.”
Preston is just one of millions who have been given hope and a chance at a productive life thanks for a free government cell phone.
Keep up the good work, Blue Jay. In Hawaii and every other state in which you do business.
Note: To see all Lifeline providers in Hawaii, please Click Here.