During the 2012 election, much ado was made over Cleveland resident Michelle Dowery’s rant in a viral YouTube video about her “Obama phone.”
Now, a telecommunications giant Virgin Mobile USA has begun an ad campaign designed to encourage Mainers to get Obama phones of their own.
“Keep Obama in president… He gave us a phone,” said Dowery in a YouTube video that now has nearly eight million views.
In reality, the Obama phone program – which is officially called the Lifeline program – began in 1985 during the Reagan administration and expanded to include cell phones in 2005 under President George W. Bush. The program funds phone service for the poor but does not cover the cost of the phone itself.
The federal government spent $2.2 billion on the Lifeline program in 2012 alone, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s Jan. 31 report. Congressional Republicans have targeted Lifeline as an example of wasteful government spending, but Democratic supporters of the program don’t seem so sure.
“Allow me to set the record straight,” said Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, in a March 15 speech. “Without this program, 15 million low-income families would literally be choosing between feeding their children or going without a dial tone that potentially could save their lives and put them on a better economic path.”
As Congress debates whether to save Lifeline, many communications companies are taking advantage of the cell phone subsidies.
One company, Virgin Mobile USA, is engaged in an extensive online advertising campaign designed to funnel low-income families into taxpayer-subsidized phone service agreements.
Virgin is running Google ads targeted at Mainers. The ads state, “Government Assisted Phone” and “See If You Qualify For 250 Free Minutes/Month. Learn More Now!”
The ad directs Internet users to a website for Assurance Wireless, a program offered through Virgin, where they encounter a form that will help them select an application according to their home state. Below is the application Mainers can file in order to receive their subsidized cell phone.
The Assurance Wireless program is available for Mainers living in the Portland area, but is not available to many of Maine’s more northern communities, according to the website.
According to the website, Mainer’s may qualify for Assurance Wireless if they participate in any of the following government programs: Medicaid, Food Stamps/SNAP, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANf), Home Energy Assistance Program, Emergency Assistance, Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or the National School Lunch’s Free Lunch Program (NSL).
Interestingly, the original Obama phone lady has since told radio host Alex Jones she will not be voting for Obama in the 2016 presidential elections.
By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter