Fact Check: Government Does NOT Directly Offer Free Smartphone -- Just Cheaper Service For Those Who Qualify

Fact Check

  • by: Christiana Dillard

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Government Does NOT Directly Offer Free Smartphone -- Just Cheaper Service For Those Who Qualify Discounted

Can people receiving government benefits get a free smartphone directly through the government? No, that's not true: There is no government program that directly offers a free smartphone. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does oversee programs that offer discounts for broadband and wireless services for eligible, low-income people.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post on July 17, 2022. The post has a video whose title and caption read:

Say Goodbye To Phone Bills! ๐Ÿ”ฅ
On Medicaid, Food Stamps, or SSI? Get A Free Smart Phone & Free Service. ๐Ÿ“ฑ โœ… Bring your own phone or get a new smartphone
โœ… Keep your number
โœ… No credit card required
โœ… No deposit needed
โœ… You'll never get a bill to pay
โœ… 100% Free government program

The person in the video claims there is a "new bill" offering something to government benefit recipients.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

new phone with benefits FB post.png

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jul 29 14:29:09 2022 UTC)

The link included in the Facebook post leads users to a website (archived here) claiming that government benefit recipients can get a free smartphone through "The United States Government Affordable Connectivity Program." According to the website, this program is supposedly run by the FCC.

Lead Stories reached out to the FCC through email about the claim and received a response on July 29, 2022. Anne Veigle, a spokesperson for the FCC, told us that the website was "a non-government external site that is not associated with our official programs." She also referred us to the official website of the FCC Affordable Connectivity Program.

There is no mention on the website of a free smartphone or cellphone. However, there are discounts on broadband services for certain government benefit recipients. The website explains:

The Affordable Connectivity Program is an FCC benefit program that helps ensure that households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare and more.

The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

The Biden administration notes that Affordable Connectivity Program benefits can be combined with certain high-speed internet plans so that recipients could receive internet at no cost. However, these plans are not run by the FCC.

The FCC does have a program called Lifeline that provides discounted wireless services to eligible, low-income people. That program does not fund free hardware, according to the FCC's consumer guide for Lifeline.

The FCC does not subsidize any hardware associated with the Lifeline program, which includes mobile phones
provided by a service provider to a Lifeline customer. If you are having issues with your mobile phone or other
hardware associated with your Lifeline service, please contact your service provider directly.

Some of the ads promoting the program also fail to point out that the service benefit is limited to one person for each household.

Only one Lifeline benefit is permitted per household. Federal rules prohibit subscribers from receiving
more than one Lifeline service. If a subscriber or his or her household currently has more than one
Lifeline-discounted service, they must de-enroll from other Lifeline services immediately or be subject to
penalties

Updates:

  • 2022-08-25T14:39:01Z 2022-08-25T14:39:01Z
    updated to add details from the FCC about the Lifeline benefit.

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  Christiana Dillard

Christiana Dillard is a former news writer for Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media and Communication. She received her undergraduate degree in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a freelance writer for several organizations including the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, Pitt Magazine, and The Heinz Endowments. When she’s not producing or studying media she’s binging it, watching YouTube videos or any interesting series she can find on streaming services.

Read more about or contact Christiana Dillard

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