Should the Government Be in the Free Cell Phone Business?

There is a particular snide tone that the media puts on when defending Obama. It’s that familiar “Look at those crazy Tea Party nuts passing around crazy emails that are absolutely untrue” tone. Objections are brushed aside. Every disastrous thing Obama does is assumed to be smart. Every criticism is crazy and unfounded.

The Washington Post puts on that tone when discussing the Obamaphones. And its defense often slips into deceit. The Post strongly implies that the phones are not free… even though they are.

In the 31 / 2 years after false rumors started that the Obama administration was giving free cellphones to poor people — and six months after a racially charged video about it went viral — a once-obscure phone service subsidy is getting renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

The rumors aren’t false. I see posters pushing free phones put up every week. These are aggressive solicitations that emphasize the phones are free.

Like most of the Fact Checks, WaPo dubs it a false rumor because it claims that Obama isn’t giving away the phones free, they are being given away by a service authorized by the government. The hairsplitting distinction is ridiculous.

“The program has nearly tripled in size from $800 million in 2009 to $2.2 billion per year in 2012,” the senior Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a March 26 letter to the Democratic minority. “American taxpayers — and we as their elected representatives — need to know how much of this growth is because of waste, fraud and abuse.”

Naturally the Washington Post dismisses all of it with the usual gimmicks. The program is old. Obama is trying to cut costs. Cell phones are a necessity.

But are they really and should the government be in the cell phone business?

Lifeline, however, is not funded by taxes; it subsists on fees that are tacked on to most phone bills.

Here the WaPo slips deeper into deceit. Lifeline is funded by the Universal Service Fund, which is one of the things pushing up your phone cost. The USF is a compulsory government measure. Liberals can try and make fine distinctions between taxes and fees, as they tried to do with ObamaCare, but either way the government is extracting money from people for use in one of its programs. You can call that a tax, a free or a ten foot tall giraffe, but a tax by any other name stings just as much.

That, however, does not satisfy lawmakers such as Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), who has written a House bill to restrict the program to land lines.

Beyond the potential for waste and fraud, Griffin said, the program raises other questions.

“Should the federal government be giving people cellphones?” he said. “What about iPads? Where do we draw the line on this stuff?”

That is the question. Where do we draw the line? 3G and internet access are arguably necessities. So are tablets and laptops. Why not subsidize them?

Why not add a 25 dollar tax/fee to the sale of every iPad to subsidize low cost tablets for the poor?

It’s not just an academic question. Yesterday I visited a library which had few books but offered laptops to anyone who showed up to use in the library. The new library considers books surplus, but laptops a civil right.

How long until the Obamaphone becomes the Obamapad?

  • JacksonPearson

    "Should the Government Be in the Free Cell Phone Business?"
    Nope. Free cell phones are not enumerated anywhere in the Constitution…ANYWHERE!

  • Bill Bateman

    The disturbing reality is the marketing value of these free phones. A text message from the politician in chief is a very powerful campaigning tool.