When Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), the sponsor of legislation to end the Lifeline mobile-phone subsidy for the poor, noted that “It’s not fair that people save and work and pay for phones from whatever funds they have, and other people get them for free,” he also said that “It’s [also] not fair [that] the biggest beneficiary of this is Carlos Slim, the billionaire owner of TracFone.” This ignited indignation from a TracFone spokesman who responded, “It doesn't matter who owns the company. Tim Griffin needs to focus on finding jobs, not trying to focus on a valuable program.”
What Griffin is focusing on is the inherent unfairness of taking funds from those who earned them in order to give them, in the form of free (or heavily discounted) mobile phone services, to others just because they need them. Said Griffin:
People say, “Well, everybody needs a cellphone. Well, what does ‘need’ mean? Do you need an iPad? How about a computer? A printer?”
According to the Communications Act of 1934, the answer is yes. In its preamble, the act calls for “rapid, efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges” to “all the people of the United States.” When it was modified in 1996, the purpose was expanded to provide such service “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” All a person needed to get a free phone and a discounted monthly service fee was to show an income at or below 135 percent of the poverty level in the United States, which currently translates into roughly $2,610 a month for a family of four.
Marc Slavo saw this coming back in February 2012 when he sarcastically noted that these new “Obama phones” were part of what it now means to be an American:
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