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Tracfone offers SafeLink in New Hampshire

Last week, Tracfone announced that the would cover an additional 101,000 households in New Hampshire. SafeLink provides a free cell phone and 80 minutes per month to low-income individuals. As we learned as part of a study last year, access to cellular phones can increase one’s earning potential. However, SafeLink isn’t completely welcome everywhere.

In article in The Republican, a newspaper in Massachusetts, notes that just 39 percent of eligible people have taken advantage of SafeLink. That doesn’t mean that people don’t want it. Rather, it more likely means they are not aware.

The Repubican article, while seemingly critical, follows the story of Edward Collins, a 48-year-old Massachusetts resident who has taken advantage of the program. He sees this as a temporary boon, something he can use to get on his feet while he trains for an information technology job. This is a perfect example of SafeLink’s aim.

Detractors, however, note that the subsidy for these free phones come from taxpayers. State Rep. Donald F. HUmanson Jr. said, “We are having everybody else pay a fee to provide cell phones to other people.” Worse, Massachusetts residents paid in roughly $115 million more into the program, in the form of the Universal Service Fund, than they received back. That, however, misunderstands the USF.

The USF is more than providing service to those in need. It also helps build out rural networks, which larger, profit-minded carriers won’t touch because of the cost of operation vs. expected revenue. While cell phone users might resent paying a tax for the purpose of serving others, it is still necessary to serve the whole country, not just select parts.

While the gripes are noted, and they are certainly legitimate, the benefits are real. Rural areas need cellular coverage, too. If profit-minded companies will not build out networks there, who will? The American tax payer. Alternate solutions are welcome.