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Low-Income Cell Phone Service: Assurance Wireless, SafeLink Wireless

Assurance Wireless from Virgin Mobile offers free phone, 200 monthly minutes

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Assurance Wireless

Assurance Wireless

Image © Virgin Mobile USA
Jan. 1, 2010
More than 1.5 million lower-income households in New York are now eligible for initially free cell phone service and a free handset from Assurance Wireless.

The brand comes from prepaid wireless leader Virgin Mobile in partnership with non-profit organization HeartShare Human Services in New York City. The Assurance Wireless service in New York was announced by Virgin Mobile on Dec. 9, 2009.

More than 36 million people in the U.S. currently use food stamps with a wide “range of people struggling with basic needs,” according to the New York Times on Nov. 28, 2009.

Assurance Wireless is designed to help lower-income consumers with their communications needs for job searching, emergency support and staying in touch with friends and family.

While the cell phone service is basic, the intent is to allow lower-income consumers access to a mobile phone if they couldn’t afford it before or if previous service was too costly.

A lower-income New York consumer can receive a free Kyocera Jax cell phone along with 200 free monthly minutes for local and long-distance wireless calling. Voicemail, call waiting, caller ID and access to 911 also come free.

Should an eligible Assurance Wireless customer need more than 200 monthly minutes, additional domestic minutes are priced at 20 cents each.

While this per-minute price can be beat by other prepaid wireless plans on other carriers, the allure of Assurance Wireless to lower-income consumers is its initially free package.

Text messages with Assurance Wireless are 15 cents each. Messaging packs can cost as low as $5 for 200 messages. Directory assistance (or 411 service) is available for $1.75 per call plus standard airtime charges.

Additional fees apply for international calling (competitive rates to 200 countries), email or instant messages, mobile Web access and more. There are no bills (unless additional services are used), long-term contracts, activation fees, recurring fees or surcharges.

Customers eligible for Assurance Wireless include those who can receive Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), supplemental security income (SSI), temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), federal public housing assistance (FPHA) (or Section 8), low-income home energy assistance (LIHEAP) or the National School Lunch Program’s free lunch program.

Customers may also qualify based on household income. In addition to New York, Assurance Wireless is also currently available in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. More information on Assurance Wireless can be found here.

Another Low-Income Cell Phone Service: SafeLink Wireless

SafeLink Wireless is a competing cell phone service for low-income individuals that works with a program called Lifeline. The FCC launched Lifeline more than 20 years ago to offer discounted telephone service to low-income families and individuals.

The FCC approved TracFone Wireless in April 2008 to provide Lifeline service in 11 states. TracFone can now provide Lifeline service in 19 states. Along with TracFone, there are currently more than 1,700 eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC) offering Lifeline service.

Safelink says: “Instead of receiving a monthly telephone bill for your Lifeline service, SafeLink converts the total amount of discounted service (approximately $13.50 of discounted telephone service) into minutes (68 minutes) each month.”

SafeLink also offers a free cell phone to eligible consumers. There are no contracts, recurring fees or monthly charges. The SafeLink service, though, is only good for one year. Users are subject to annual verification. More information about SafeLink is here.
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