Homeless and impoverished Californians can now receive free cellphones under an expanded program from the California Public Utilities Commission and the FCC. The expansion was approved by the CPUC last week and allows anyone making under $15,000 per year, including the homeless, to receive a free phone, 250 free minutes and 250 text messages per month.
In the past, the program only hooked up landlines for low-income Californians. Now those folks who can't otherwise afford a phone line can get one from Reach Out Wireless or Assurance Wireless (which is owned by Virgin Mobile/Sprint). The CPUC program is partially funded by the FCC's Lifeline program and mobile carriers will be reimbursed $9.25 per month from the federal government for providing the free phones service.
To limit the chances of someone dumping or selling their government subsidized phone for cash on a monthly basis (something local newsman Stanley Roberts discovered was possible at the Westfield Mall on Market Street), there are limits to service and policies surrounding phone replacement or repair.
For his part, San Francisco's homeless czar (a.k.a. director of HOPE) Bevan Dufty said the city is "very excited by this. It will help people move forward. It will empower them, and we in San Francisco are going to be a model city for this program." Since the HOPE SF office presumably can't call any of the potential new cellphone customers, Dufty said his office plans to send staff to homeless shelters and low-income housing complexes to spread the word.