How many free government cell phones are out there? You’ve probably read numbers that range from as few as five million to as many as twenty million. What’s the truth? We present the first in-depth analysis of the programs phone providers and subscriber counts, based upon the government’s own data.
The free government cell phone business is a very interesting niche market. Interesting not just because the business is considered to be controversial, but also because some smaller companies brag that they’re the largest in the business, while other larger companies often choose to downplay their success in order to avoid that controversy.
That’s made it difficult to determine who the biggest free government cell phone companies really are, how much they’re paid by the government’s lifeline Assistance program (the Universal Service Administrative Company, to be specific), and where they rank in terms of size.
In order to separate truth from fiction, FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net decided to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the latest government numbers to come up with the first truly accurate look at the who’s who and what’s what in the Lifeline Assistance industry. Our research project reveals who the biggest players are and provides the first accurate count of each company’s free government cell phone customers.
A note on our methodology: The “Disbursements” column in the chart (below) represents the total disbursements from Lifeline to the carrier in calendar year 2013 (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). The results indicate not a total count as of December 2013, but the average number of subscribers per month over the year.
In addition, we did not include companies that provide a Lifeline discount (generally $9.25 a month) to customers of regularly-priced landline and cell phone plans. We don’t have an exact count for those subscribers but they number in the millions. This is why our Total Disbursements number is so much lower than the generally accepted $1.8 – $2.0 billion annual price tag of Lifeline Assistance program.
|CARRIER||Total Disbursements||Avg subs in 2013|
|i-Wireless (Cinn Bell)||$4,168,857||37,557|
|Wireless for Hope||$639,857||5,764|
* Sister companies that, if combined, would vault the resulting entity into sixth place on the list.
A few observations about the above chart:
While there are far more than 17 competitors in the Lifeline free government cell phone business, the companies we haven’t listed are so small that excluding them makes very little difference to the total number of subscribers.
Our biggest surprise: The numbers for ReachOut Wireless. Most “experts” say that ReachOut is the third largest free government cell phone company. (Editor’s note: We’ve even been guilty of saying it in the past.) But our analysis clearly shows that ReachOut only ranks number five.
In conclusion: Our analysis shows that there were approximately 10 million free government cell phone users at the end of 2013. While that’s far fewer than most of the “expert” estimates, it is estimated that nearly 30 million Americans currently qualify for the program.
In other words, the business isn’t nearly as large as some of its critics say it is, but there’s a lot more potential business out there and a lot of room for growth.