What's the deal with the free “Obama phones”? Mystery explained

What's the deal with the free “Obama phones”? Mystery explained
A video of a protester at a presidential candidate Mitt Romney event went viral yesterday, putting more arrows in the Republic quiver aimed at Obama's "handouts" to the poor that are supposedly destined to win him the reelection. Mitt Romney recently referred to 47% of Americans as people who would vote for Obama, as they are receiving direct or indirect benefits from the government.

The protester says to vote for Obama not Romney, as the President is giving them free "Obama Phones". Now could it be that the White House is amassing trillion dollar deficits, all the while it buys people's votes giving away free cell phones?

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh picked up on the story, and pounded on:

What the woman in the video is referring to, is actually the so-called Link-Up program, created way back in 1984 during Reagan, initially targeted at providing landlines, so poor people who can't otherwise afford it have some connection with the world, and has been an item on your phone bill for more than two decades now. When cell phones became the norm, the program expanded to include them with carrier service as well, and was renamed Lifeline, since the idea was that everybody has access to the 911 emergency service at all times.

That was, however, done back in 2008, before Obama took office, without regards for the ballooning costs, which mushroomed from $772 million in 2008, to $1.6 billion last year for the Lifeline program's more than 10 million low-income subscribers. A 2011 audit revealed that 269, 000 of them were receiving free phone and service from two or more carriers.

What happened after 2008 is that several websites rode the trend of government money pouring into subsidizing cell phone connections for poor people, and quickly created the buzz word "Obama Phone", with some like Obamaphone.net going as far as designing the site similar to the governments ones, and putting a picture of the President making the popular phone talk gesture. 

So that's that as far as what the woman in the video below refers to when she says every poor person in Cleveland has received a "free Obama Phone".

via NYMag



1. ElektronicGeek91

Posts: 105; Member since: Sep 26, 2012

Actually those phones are for a good cause and not everyone can get them. Those phones are only to target middle to lower class residents who is receiving some type of benefit from the government like welfare, TANF etc... Those phones are purposely for specific types of people who are looking for a job and have no way for an employer to contact them. That's when the Obama phone comes in, now the employers can contact those in need of a job. Now there should be no excuses. Great cause, good job Obama that's the way to think.

2. Furbal unregistered

Sorry but $6000 per phone is not acceptable.

12. Furbal unregistered

read it wrong ~160 per line

21. Tex4K69

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

I must be confused. The Link-up Program started in 1984 under Reagan, Republican. Renamed to Lifeline in 2008 under Bush, Republican. Congress happened to be controlled by Democrats in 2008 when Obama was still a Senator (campaigning to be President). How does Obama get credit for this program? Maybe Reagan, maybe Bush, maybe the 2008 Congress, but not Obama. I would say the explosive costs and increased fraud in the program can be blamed on Obama, but I don't think he gets credit for the "good cause".

45. concernedcitizen

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 07, 2012

Elektronicgeek91, i don't know how to put this but you are either a moron, extremely naive, or have the driest sense of humor ever. Are you serious ? i run large scale low income housing. every tenant has one if not two of these phones, none of them are looking for a job because as soon as they get one, they lose their phone, their fraudulent disability income, and their EBT cards. you must live in an ivory tower in Mass., right ?

3. Jonathan41

Posts: 532; Member since: Mar 22, 2012

I HATE Rush Limbaugh

7. Keybd29

Posts: 2; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

I hate the way his mother dresses him. Nasty visual.

4. Jonathan41

Posts: 532; Member since: Mar 22, 2012

I'm African-America AND I'm from Cleveland so that video is packing a "dual-core" of embarrassment for me.

42. Non_Sequitur

Posts: 1111; Member since: Mar 16, 2012

When you said African-American and Cleveland, I thought of this lolhttp://img2-2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/080612/cleveland_l.jpg


Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 09, 2010

All races have ignorant uneducated people, but that is not indicative of every one or 47% like the "tea"totaler want you to believe.

5. longhorn1127

Posts: 3; Member since: May 28, 2009

This is an embarrassment to our country.

6. RaKithAPeiRiZ

Posts: 1488; Member since: Dec 29, 2011

Get me a Vertu ..ill vote

8. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

I'm sorry to say but this is a little embarrassing. For her to yell like she's in a stadium when the camera man is obviously in front of her makes me wonder how she would speak at a a party...

17. DFranch

Posts: 533; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

Maybe her free phone gets really bad reception, and she has to yell.

9. Keybd29

Posts: 2; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

Good story on the phone. Big to me is this story--played one way or the other--is not featured on Google news. Google news search only (back pages). The media press is everything in our "mediaocracy." (Oops that doesn't work, we don't get to vote for them.)

10. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

PA, As a person that enjoys political fights.. Stay away from political fights. And if you do, dont be so obviously partisan. It doesnt matter what its called, the program is a sham. Since 2008 the amount EVERY person that owns a regular cellphone pays into the program has skyrocketed. Look on your cell bill. They charge you up to and over $3 to fund this program depending on the size of your bill. Since 2008 the program has also gone from 700 million in costs to 1.6 billion. That is more than double the cost in 4 years what it had cost for the last 30. Why? Since OBAMA took over they start ADVERTISING the free phone in the mail. Hell, I get one of these mailers every month. If you want a free phone, you check the boxes and they send you one. There isnt even a check to see if you actually qualify for one. Stay away from your one sided pro-obama opinion pieces trying to look like fact. We already have a state run media for that. "USAC charges telecom companies based on quarterly projections of demand for the universal services. Companies currently pay 17.4 percent of their revenues from customers’ state-to-state and international calls. AT&T, for example, passes on the same rate to its customers. The rate has been increasing for more than a decade. In the second quarter of 2000, it was 5.7 percent." "In 2010, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found several weaknesses in the Lifeline program. For instance (see pages 35 to 37): Subsidized phones ended up being sold for cash on Craigslist or were sold to potentially ineligible subscribers. Florida’s Public Utility Commission found that 8 percent — or 33,000 — of its Lifeline accounts were inactive. Or the phones’ users ignored requests to confirm they were eligible. USAC’s internal controls failed to adequately identify all of the program’s risks, such as identifying subscriber eligibility and the accuracy of amounts claimed for reimbursement." "In January, the FCC completed an audit of 12 states’ service records and found that 7 percent of subscribers (269,000 of 3.6 million) used more than one subsidized line, costing Lifeline $35 million a year. A second audit released this month found 135,000 duplicate subscriptions in three more states, costing another $15 million. " "The Telecommunications Act of 1934 (under FDR) created the FCC and established the informal policy of providing universal service to “all the people of the United States.” In 1985, the FCC implemented Lifeline to help low-income households in case phone rates increased after the breakup of AT&T. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 codified the universal service policy. Quit trying to make it look like it was a republican policy being blamed on obama. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/how-an-fcc-free-phone-program-went-rogue-02022012.html http://www.factcheck.org/2012/05/congressmans-slippery-cell-phone-claim/

22. tgtftw

Posts: 31; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

I appreciate a Strong educated comment on a article that is clearly lacking. I deal with folks who have these devices day in and out. They run off of Virgin mobiles (sprints) network and aren't that great of a deal. I still find it a joke that we are seeing a cell phone viewed as a requirement for survival. I dont care what the "trends" are, a cellphone is a luxury device. You do not need one to go about on your day to day. Once again another way for our taxes to go up and the people paying them not receiving anything from it.

25. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

You're wrong remixfa. The increase in costs is PRIMARILY due to the program's change in focus from landlines to cellphones. Cellphone services tend to cost more, also the cost of equipment for cellphone services must be considered, as that was not a part fo the previous program when its focus was on home phones. Yes, there have been some fraud and unnecessary overhead with it, but the amount of that in this case is overshadowed by most other government assistance programs like food stamps. I think it might be better if the program was done differently, but I dont blame Obama's administration for this, as the organization behind this was already in place before he took office.

27. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

did you actually do research? Cell phone companies WERE getting $30 for the cell service, now they are only getting a lil more than $10.. and still making money. (and were still double the cost) Go call ATT and ask them how much a landline is. Once you add in all the taxes and such, its going to be 40-60 a month depending on where you live. That's more expensive than a cell phone actually. Yes, its a drop in the bucket compared to things like food stamps and HUD subsidies. However, food and shelter are requirements to live... a cell phone is not. Not that I'm particularly happy with any government handout, their lack of oversite, their bloated beaurocracies, cost, and their lack of ways to get people OFF the program. Yes, it was thought up and started under FDR (democrat), enacted on a wide scale under Clinton (democrat), and doubled in 2 years under Obama (democrat)... just like most government hand out policies, its a near complete trail of democrats at the spending wheel. Republicans are definitely not guilt free, but the bulk of our spending/deficit issues are not mainly republican ones, they are democrat ones. Both parties suck.

11. AstronautJones

Posts: 305; Member since: Aug 01, 2012

Maybe not a Republican invention, but you still can't blame Obama. You make it sound like Obama is advertising the program himself. I am sure he is as responsible for this advertising as he is for the kirf BlackBerry ads in China. Which means not at all..... Does sound like some abuse of funds by businesses. But as you pointed out by the first link, steps are being taken to eliminate fraudulent claims. Steps introduced by a Democratic Senator(the one whom isn't ladylike!)

16. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

I dont "blame" anyone. Just stating the facts. And trust me, after spending 5 years working in the cell biz and listening to people scream about their rates going up.. ive had to point out that little addition each time as a government tax. More often than not when I explained what it was, I got pissed looks and "why am I paying for them to bla bla bla". My only answer is always to pay attention to who you vote for and not vote down party lines or be so blindly partisan like Q-Strike down here who has no idea what he's talking about. This article tries to shift blame from one person to another when its not true. It was a fledgling program started under democrats as part of FDR's "great society" socialism program. It had some minor modifications from the FCC which is an INDEPENDENT body in the 80's to protect the program during the break up of Ma Bell (which lead to sprint, vzw, att,ect), but was turned into an ACTUAL government outreach program under Clinton. It is also a fact that the program has doubled in cost and use in the last 4 years and that phone companies like Tracphone and Sprint are actively advertising the program to get sign ups (its like free money to them) because the government is not checking eligibility. That's something new that has started since 09. Is it directly Obama's fault? Who knows. But it is under his administration's time in office and it follows all the other major debt spending increases that have happened and are a direct result of the Obama administration.... increases that we can not pay for and that are a major drag on our economy. Its completely unsustainable and people need to wake the F**K up if they think we can keep up all these programs the way they are and constantly ignore the problems they are causing. So just like everything else in politics, regardless of who's actually responsible, the president will get all the credit or blame.

35. Whateverman

Posts: 3295; Member since: May 17, 2009

LOL! Republicans are funny as heck!

13. ibap

Posts: 867; Member since: Sep 09, 2009

This is the kind of BS you get from a 24/7/365 news cycle. And you can't be sure someone didn't pay this person to say this.


Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 09, 2010

Stupid conversation for stupid people for obvious reasons. I wouldn't put it past Romney's campaign to plant that woman to make such a statement to try to push his point that half of America will vote for Obama because he is in fact giving them free money..... GTFO. BTW all of you are included in that 47% because you are the 95%. America is being misled by republicans, and they have picked America's pockets for the last 8 years that they were in office. The real reason why we are where we are is because 8 years under Bush bankrupted America. The war for money in Iraq the lost 60 billion of american money , and there was mass corruption by companies like Halliburton according to news reports. Halliburton collected money for providing troops meals, while never ever producing one veteran a sandwich. Every time a republican has gotten into office there was mass recession and gas price inflation, as well as mass inflation after they left office. Starting with Nixon, and his oil embargo which was a scam, and last but not least both Bush presidencies. Oh yeah the Democrats suck balls ass well, not all of these people represent you I, or America. They represent themselves, and public interest groups.

15. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

please stop while you are behind and factless. thank you.


Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 09, 2010

You and I can go toe to toe and you will lose like always Mr, based on facts. I merely suggest in campaign wars any one could put stupid people up to say any thing to try to slight the competitor. Bob the plumber comes to mind.....who, when, or how the program is set up is moot to the fact that in campaign times suspect footage of idiots saying incriminating things to mislead the public's thinking to suggest that 47% of America thinks this way is ridiculous o.k.! Wake up get your head out of your ass! That s**t you are smelling is your own!

20. applesauce

Posts: 165; Member since: Aug 26, 2012

It's time to end bipartisanship, and break up the two major parties into several small ones.

32. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

I am 100% behind that. Even more behind outlawing parties all together. They do nothing but create more problems which is why the founders did not originally have political parties.


Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 09, 2010

Best thing you said yet to a point.....the parties need to be reorganized without being backed by lobbyist or guys like "Robert" Norquist is it, and the Koch brothers. Norquist and the Koch brothers pay for anyone's campaign that promises to vote against any tax increases, and makes them sign a promissory note to agree to this, or get campaign funding cut if they vote for any tax increases. That is why so many republicans and tea partyers vote no to reasonable tax cuts for the middle class, and fair increases for the filthy rich like Boehner's, and Obama's last by partisan agreement as well.

23. Whateverman

Posts: 3295; Member since: May 17, 2009

I don't think this is anyone's "fault", and I doubt Romney put this lady up to it. This is simply a great idea that started under one president, continued under the current president but like many great government programs, it's not perfect. It needs retooling, badly! I understand why this program was advertised and I think that was a good thing as well, because now the people who need this program, know about it. But now that people know about it, create and enforce restrictions neccesary to prevent fraud.

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