Georgia residents who receive a subsidy for cell phones and cell phone service will no longer be able to get them for free, at least for the time being.
State officials have decided to impose a $5 monthly fee on low-income residents who use the subsidy to pay for wireless service, according to a report from WABE.
The Georgia Public Service Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to add the fee to cut down on fraud and make sure recipients had some “skin in the game.”
Commissioner Bubba McDonald said while the fee will be a financial burden for many who legitimately cannot afford cell phones, he maintains that he doesn’t know of another way to reduce abuse.
“There will be those that are disenfranchised by this but there has been an abundance of abuse out there,” McDonald told WABE. “We’ve seen issues where people are passing out cell phones in shopping malls.”
The federal subsidy allows phone companies to offer baseline service to about 700,000 low-income Georgians, mostly free-of-charge.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise opposed the fee, saying the effort is a bad idea and even doubted its legality.
“I think the efforts today are ineffective, poorly-advised, probably not legal, and it really hurt a segment of the population that’s not fraudulently receiving these lifeline phones,” he said.
Most wireless providers across the state came out against the fee, arguing they had cut down on the vast majority of fraud in recent years with new ID verification requirements.
The free phones are part of a program created by former President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Known as the “Lifeline program,” the legislation permits some households to receive a free landline under Congress’s rationale that “telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, government services and surrounding communities.”
That idea dates back to 1934, under the Communications Act, but Reagan was the first to actually implement the legislation.
The program was recently expanded to include cell phones.
Photo: Michelle Dowery, who came to popular consciousness as the so-called “Obama phone lady” in a Youtube advertisement during the 2012 persidential campaign.