There’s a red hot dispute raging in the free government cell phone industry and we clearly come down on the side of those who want to ban in-person sign-ups.
We have a pretty formidable ally in this battle, because TracFone, the largest company in the business with their Safelink Wireless presence, also wants the FCC to outlaw in-person sign-ups and deliveries.
No one — absolutely no one — supports the free government cell phone program more than we do. But we have also long editorialized against the rampant fraud that plagues the program. While some want to kill the program completely, we argue instead that cracking down on fraud will save the program.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has done an outstanding job of cleaning up the program, reducing waste, and cutting back on fraud. With that in mind, we fully support TracFone’s efforts to get the FCC to change the way the cell phones are delivered.
Here’s how politico.com frames the current argument:
“TracFone, the program’s largest participant, wants the Federal Communications Commission to ban the in-person sale of phones. It has found backing from consumer groups who view the move as an opportune way to temper recent congressional flare-ups and quell persisting concerns of misuse. But competing carriers and some rights organizations view the move as an unnecessary stunt that could endanger a service for the poor.”
TracFone believes the United States Postal Service is the best way to deliver the phones to new enrollees and says banning in-person distribution will dramatically curb fraud and abuse. They believe that distribution via street markets and home visits facilitates fraud and abuse that threaten to kill the free government cell phone program.
We agree with them completely.
politico.com quotes John Breyault, National Consumers League Vice President of Public Policy, as saying, “This is sort of the low-hanging fruit. It’s an important first step we can take now.”
Unfortunately, other supporters of the free government cell phone program say TracFone is merely trying to protect its own turf.
A group called Lifeline Reform 2.0 Coalition also wants reforms, but disagrees with TracFone’s approach. According to politico.com, the group wants “more scrutiny during the enrollment process, enhanced audits and mandatory access to customer service representatives.”
In other words, everyone agrees that the free government cell phone program needs to be cleaned up, but no one agrees on how.
Our position: As long as people can be approached on the street and talked into taking a phone, the kind of reforms TracFone proposes are the best way to clean up the industry.
Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to support your efforts, TracFone.