A regular communist--I mean, columnist--for theÂ Toronto Star,Â Canada's largest daily newspaper, asks in an op/ed: "Is a cellphone a basic human right?" Â Shockingly, her answer is... yes!
She's green with envy that, for once, the U.S. has out-socialism-ed Canada (the land of polite, democratic socialism) withÂ SafeLink Wireless, "a program that provides eligible people with a free cellphone and 68 minutes a month of free airtime for the period of one year. It includes texting, voicemail, call waiting and caller ID."
SafeLink was the brainchild of Miami-based TracFone Wireless Inc., the largest prepaid cellphone company in the U.S. As a purely prepaid provider, TracFone has always aimed at the market's lower end.
"A telephone service, just in general, is not a privilege, it's a right, and we feel it's a corporate responsibility to provide it," says JosÃ© Fuentes, TracFone's director of government relations. "Everyone should be in contact, should have the opportunity to get a phone call, especially if it's an employer."
Someone might want to tell the saintly JosÃ© that his company isn't offering SafeLink out of the goodness of their collective, corporate heart, or because they feel a moral obligation to do so. Â Nope, they're sucking at the teet of the FCC's great hidden welfare fund:
SafeLink is subsidized by the FCC's Universal Service Fund, which requires all phone companies - or their customers, if they pass it on to them - to contribute via a monthly $1.25 to $1.50 addition to their bill, like the new 25-cent 911 fee in Canada. The fund reimburses TracFone $10 of the $13.50-per-user monthly cost.
I'd bet good money thatÂ SafeLink will make a lot more than $3.50 per user each monthly byÂ sellingadditional airtime.
One might think that subsidizing cell phone service is good public policy. Â Indeed, direct subsidies probably do less to distort the market than, say, requiring private companies to cross-subsidize free service for some users at the expense of others. Â But, please, if you're going add to my cell phone bill for your pet welfare projects, spare me theÂ sanctimonious nonsense about cell phone service being a "right" like, say, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.Â