Access Wireless Free Cell Phone Service!

Access Wireless Free Cell Phone Service

Access Wireless is one of a continually growing number of LifeLine programs that offers free cell phone service to qualifying households.  Similar to how Assurance Wireless is a Virgin Mobile Lifeline program, and SafeLink is a TracFone Lifeline program, Access is an i-wireless operated program that launched in 2011.  I-wireless itself is an MVNO on the Sprint network.

As these programs expand, I wonder why there needs to be so many providers.  Their offers can vary, but generally speaking a small handful of carriers could ultimately cover the entire country, and they don't compete with one another at the same level as regular paid cellular services.  That's not to say that they don't compete with one another, because they absolutely do.  However, I'm not not sure how far they can really go, and they start looking very similar from a customer perspective.

Interestingly, in April 2016, Sprint announced that it would be selling off Assurance Wireless to i-wireless, which would continue its Lifeline program under the Access Wireless brand.  Although Sprint retained 70% ownership, it would be run and managed by i-wireless.  This is really a function of Sprint's strategy to simplify its business, and focus on its core contract services, despite the fact that Assurance was a much larger program than Access was.

These programs also start to make me wonder about the efficiency of the government managining approvals, audits, and other functions of these free cell phone services.  I suppose these activities can be seen as job creators!  That said, ultimately the more providers of free cell phones, the more options for potential customers, which in turn translates into better, more feature rich options.  So with that in mind, here's some additional information about Access Wireless:

Who Is Eligible?
Eligibility is basically the same as most of the other services, and includes people participating in the following programs.  Note that even if you're not using any of these services, low household income alone can also be a qualifier.  What defines low income varies by state.
  • Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF)
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • National Free School Lunch
  • Federal Housing/Section 8 Assistance

What Wireless Services Are Included?
  • Free phone
  • 250 minutes & unlimited text messages (plus free incoming texts and carry forward minutes)
  • Ability to add more voice minutes and text messages with add-on bundles ($10, $25, $35, and $50 options)
  • Local and long distance calls are included
  • No contract, startup fees, or surcharges
  • Access Wireless also offers Monthly paid plans, however, with the spirit of this program being for those people needing free service, I won't go into these plan details.  I suppose if you become disqualified from the program, you can use the same phone on a paid plan, which is good to know.
  • What's included in the plan can vary by state.  For example, in California, you get 1,000 minutes, unlimited text messages, AND 200MB of data on a smartphone.
Where Can I Get Access Wireless?
The program is available in certain states.  As these states are constantly changing (i.e. they're continually adding more!), checking their website is the best approach:  You can apply by visiting their website and printing out an application, or by calling 1-888-900-5899 (their old number also still works: 800-464-6010).

Can I Get A Better Phone?!
If you don't like the phone they provide you for free, you can buy any i-wireless feature phone or smartphone and transfer your Access Wireless service to that phone.  I like the clarity here.  Most of the other programs don't make this point very clear.  For example, Assurance Wireless initially only allowed certain Virgin Mobile phones to be used, which continues to be a source of customer confusion.

What Else Should I Know About Access Wireless?
  • As this is an i-wireless program, you can add money (for additional voice minutes, text messages, or other services) by redeeming i-wireless airtime cards, which can be convenient for those who can't, or don't want to use a credit card on their website or on the phone itself.
  • As with all other Lifeline programs, you'll need to re-recertify each year, so be on the lookout for the renewal application form, and if you don't receive it, I recommend proactively reaching out to them BEFORE your year is up to ensure that you don't lose service.  You can also re-certify from within your account on their website.
  • If you don't "routinely" use your phone, you could become disqualified.  They don't, however, clearly define what "routinely" means.  If you're using it monthly, you should be fine.  If you go for a number of months without using it, you'll certainly be at risk of being disqualified.
  • Your monthly minutes are automatically added to your phone each month; there's nothing special for you to do other than to ensure that your phone is powered on.  If for some reason you have a problem, give them a call.
  • Similar to regular i-wireless customers, you can also participate in their free minutes rewards program at the Kroger family of stores.
Access Wireless

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