SafeLink is a cellphone-based version of the original Lifeline program. Established in 1984, the Lifeline program provided low-income households with an affordable way to reach family and emergency services via a discounted telephone bill. Many land line companies offer a discounted service for qualified consumers. Since its launch, the program expanded beyond land line phones to include cellphones. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 brought about changes to the Lifeline program, which enabled the operation of SafeLink.
TracFone Wireless, dubbed "America's no. 1 wireless provider," created the SafeLink program to offer free wireless service and equipment to low-income or no-income eligible households. TracFone subsidizes the cost of the free cell phones while the government's Universal Service Fund reimburses the cost of each monthly minute plan. As of the date of this publication, SafeLink is available in 36 states.
Types of Cellphones
SafeLink provides several brands and models of cellphones to eligible participants; however, a specific type of cellphone cannot be chosen by the consumer. After qualifying for the SafeLink program, TracFone selects and ships a cellphone to the approved subscriber. Although the cellphones are basic models, they are designed to support more than phone calls. It is possible to send and receive text messages, play included games and use the built-in tools through SafeLink cellphones. Common brands include Kyocera, LG, Motorola and Nokia phones. SafeLink offers only basic model cellphones such as the Motorola C139 or the Motorola W376g.
Families, households or individuals that are interested in the free SafeLink program must meet specific requirements to qualify for service. The service is limited to one phone per household and the consumer must be receiving either federal or state aid. If no aid is being received, qualification can be calculated from household income, which must be below 135 percent of the poverty guidelines. Enrollment requires that the consumer is able to receive mail at a physical address, not a PO Box, and no one else in the household can be receiving free cell phone service through any agency.
The services offered by SafeLink depend on which service plan the consumer chooses during the enrollment process. SafeLink features three different plans that allow a monthly allotment of up to 250 free minutes. Some plans offer minute rollover, which is a useful option for a consumer that does not use all of his minutes. Text messages and phone calls are deducted in different units based on the selected plan. Other basic services such as voicemail, caller ID, free roaming and call waiting are included in each SafeLink plan. Additional minutes can be purchased separately and added by the consumer.