Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Suddenly, We're Connected" and Connecting the Dots

In a govenment program announced in June, we give away free cell phones and 68 minutes a month to just about anyone who gets a federal handout of some kind. This program is called Safelink.

From the Trac Phone press release:
"By approving the SafeLink Wireless program, the FCC took action to enhance its Lifeline program and keep the right to communicate (emphasis mine)in pace with technology." I didn't know we had this unalienable right. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and communications" is not how I remember it from school. Can't find it in the Bill of Rights, either.

But, according to the release, taxpayers don't pay for this boondoggle. No, that becomes the curse of the taxpaying cell phone users. Ever wonder what the "Universal Service Charge" is that appears on your monthly cell phone bill? That's it, plus a kick in from the cell phone provider. Bet they don't pass that cost on to us paying customers. Right.

TracPhone, a subsidiary of a Mexican based company, (nope - sorry, a US company wasn't the beneficiary of this new FCC enhanced program) gives the phones for free to the poor people. Surely none of them are using up all of the free 68 minutes. Surely none of the poor people are buying additional minutes for as much as $33.3 cents a minute. The cheapest rate, assuming a poor person has $79.99 is $17.7 cents a minute. Me thinks I would give them a free phone in order to get that lucrative revenue. I bet most of their sales are the $9.99 for 30 minutes plan. The company has enormous gross margins of about 68%. I am a small business person. I love large gross margins. But not on the back of a poor person and not hyped as a "free government program" to help the poor.

This program looks to me like a taxpayer-funded bonanza to a foreign corporation. Question: Who snuck this bill in the budget and can we take a look to see if a lobbyist from TracPhone paid him or her a visit beforehand?

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