Lifeline saves lives. Mobile service is essential to ensuring that all Americans have the ability to make a 9-1-1 call in the case of an emergency. According to one provider of wireless Lifeline services, in December 2012 their customers in Georgia placed 5,904 calls to 9–1–1, 3,197 calls to law enforcement, and 15,085 calls to hospitals. That is over 780 calls to emergency service providers per day, in one state, from the customers of just one wireless Lifeline provider!
Closing the Digital Divide
One big barrier to closing the digital divide in America is a lack of computers in low-income homes. The device gap is demonstrated by the Child Trends Data Bank, which shows that fewer than half (49%) of students in households with incomes of less than $15,000 had access to a computer at home in 2011, compared with the 94% of children who had such access in households with incomes of $75,000 or more. The low percentage of children from low-income households who have access to a computer has caused a “homework gap,” placing students from low-income households at a disadvantage in school settings.
The Lifeline program has potential to remedy this issue with the simple addition of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones. Under this model, subscribers would have the option of selecting a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone that allows them access the internet via Wi-Fi hotspots at no cost to them, while continuing to receive the Lifeline-supported voice phone and text messaging.
This modification to the program would successfully expand internet access significantly by leveraging existing broadband resources. A Wi-Fi enabled handset would allow children and others in low-income homes without computers to access Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S., including hotspots in local libraries and other public facilities that enable free broadband access. This small change to the program would give wireless Lifeline even greater value to more eligible families.
Lifeline = Health Phone
Lifeline is the new health phone. One survey found that 54% of Lifeline subscribers use the service to connect with doctors and for other health-related issues. Lifeline connects low-income Americans to emergency services, their health plan’s nurse help line, their doctors’ offices to arrange for appointments and follow-up, and preventative care text messages. The mobile health services that Lifeline provides are especially significant to underserved populations — including low-income older Americans, persons with disabilities, and Americans living in rural areas — who may be unable to access health care otherwise.
Veterans count on wireless Lifeline. An estimated 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans of U.S. military service. A substantial number of younger families with active duty military personnel also rely upon wireless Lifeline. The Lifeline program helps provide an essential need to individuals who have served or are currently serving our country.
Connecting with Employers
Lifeline helps low-income Americans find and keep jobs. Mobile phones have become an essential tool used by people to find employment or balance multiple jobs. A 2010 survey of 5,541 subscribers conducted by one Lifeline provider found that about half of the users (49%) said the cellphone had “improved their financial situation by helping them find or keep work.” For those working or looking for work, the numbers were higher (63%), and even the retired (39%) and disabled (38%) said the phone had helped improve their financial situation.
In fact, the jobs-related benefits of wireless Lifeline more than pay for the program. Nicholas P. Sullivan — fellow at the Tufts University Center for Emerging Market Enterprises — found in a 2011 study that, “If all Americans eligible for Lifeline Assistance (28.5 million in 2009) were to earn money with their cell phones at the same rate as those in our sample, that would equate to income gains of $3.7 billion for the poor and a large segment of the near poor.” By that measure, the program would effectively pay for itself.