What if you don’t qualify for the free government cell phone program? Is there some other way to get free or extremely inexpensive phone service?
That’s what many of our readers ask.
From Amy B in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “I qualify for a low-income internet plan, but I don’t qualify for the Lifeline free government cell phone program. Is there any way for me to get free or really inexpensive phone service?”
From Randy S in Frisco, Texas: “I just enrolled in Internet Essentials, but the free government cell phone program isn’t available in my area. How can I get cheap cell phone service?”
Maybe you don’t qualify for a free government cell phone because your income is too high. Or because you don’t participate in the right federal government assistance programs. Or because someone else at your address already has a free government cell phone account.
There are dozens of reasons you may not qualify for a free government cell phone. But never fear. We can suggest two ways to get that free (or nearly free) “phone” service. The only catch is that you do need internet service at home or on a smartphone.
One service is called Skype. The other is called FaceTime.
Skype is a service (owned by Microsoft) that lets you make voice calls, do video chats, and send and receive instant messages from your computer, tablet, mobile device, Xbox One console, or smartwatch to any telephone (or to any of those other devices).
All you need is an internet connection and one of the devices mentioned above. If your device has a microphone, you can make phone calls. And if your device also has a mic and a webcam, you can do video calls.
Here’s how Skype works:
Skype-to-Skype calls (that means you and the person you’re calling must both have Skype accounts) are free, but you must pay for calls to landline and cell phones via a debit-based system called Skype Credit.
Don’t let that scare you off because those calls are remarkably cheap. For example, we know someone whose job takes him to remote parts of Australia for months at a time. Making phone calls back home would have been cost prohibitive, but he deposited $5 in his Skype Credit account before he left for the Land Down Under and despite making many calls back to the United States, he has still not exhausted that initial credit.
How is that possible? Just look at how inexpensive Skype calls can be:
- Skype-to-Skype calls are free anywhere in the world.
- Calls to mobile phones and landlines within the United States are just 2.5¢ per minute on a pay as you go basis.
- For just $3.29, you can purchase an United States Unlimited Minutes Plan allows you to call mobile and landlines in the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico.
- For just $7.69 per month, you can purchase an North American Unlimited monthly plan that allows you to call all mobile phones and landlines in the United States, Canada, Mexico, plus additional American territories.
- And finally, for just AU$15.39 you can purchase a monthly plan that allows you to call cell phones and landlines within the United States and 62 other nations and territories.
- For each of these plans you can get additional savings for making 3-month or 12-month commitments.
When you enroll with Skype, you are joining a huge worldwide community. The company estimates that it has more than 300 million active users each month.
There’s just one really minor drawback to Skype. It’s impossible to call emergency numbers, such as 911.
Other than that, it really is an incredible service. Not quite free, but so inexpensive that the difference is really negligible.
FaceTime is a unique Skype-like product developed by Apple (although we’re pretty sure any Apple engineer would tell you that FaceTime is far superior).
But putting corporate egos aside, FaceTime is a great way to make voice and video calls for free IF you and your friends have Apple products.
Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
FaceTime is available on supported mobile devices that run on iOS and Macintosh computers that run Mac OS X 10.6.6 onwards. The video version of FaceTime supports any iOS device with a forward-facing camera and any Macintosh computer equipped with a FaceTime Camera. FaceTime Audio is available on any iOS device that supports iOS 7 or newer, and any Macintosh with a forward-facing camera running Mac OS X 10.9.2 and later…
…FaceTime works by connecting an iPhone 4 or later, a fourth generation iPod Touch or later, an iPad 2 or later, or a computer with macOS, to another supported device. FaceTime is currently incompatible with non-Apple devices or any other video calling services. Mac models introduced in 2011 introduced high-definition video FaceTime, which devices use automatically when both ends have a FaceTime HD camera.
As you might expect from an Apple product, FaceTime is very easy to use, too. Just click on the FaceTime app, then click on any email address or cell phone number that’s registered with the FaceTime service.
Voila! The person you’re calling will hear his/her device ring and answer. It really is that fast and easy. In fact, it’s just like making a phone call, except that you do it with your Apple computer, smartphone or mobile device.
And did we mention that FaceTime is free?
If not, please allow us to correct that oversight.
FaceTime is free.
One problem, two solutions: Skype and FaceTime
If you don’t qualify for a free government cell phone, Skype and FaceTime may be exactly what you need. They make it possible for you to make free (or nearly free) voice and video calls on almost any smart device.
In fact, some customers might say, “Who needs the Lifeline free government cell phone program when I have Skype?”
Others might say, “I replaced my free government cell phone with FaceTime and I’ve never looked back.”
Do yourself a favor. Check out both services to see if they might work for you as well as they work for millions of others.