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October 16--  A company which provides cell phone service was busy in Vidalia Tuesday handing out free cellphones to poor people and those on government assistance.

{mosimage}Representatives from Life Wireless set up a tent on North Street and began seeing a steady stream of patrons.

Paul Donsky with Life Wireless says, "Several years ago the government expanded the program to help subsidize the cost of cellphone bills.  We actually go into communities with our tents and attract lots of people who otherwise would never have known about this government benefit which has been around for decades."

The program was actually started in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission to provide telephone service to low income citizens.  In 1996, Congress created the Universal Service Fund allowing phone companies to charge customers to help pay for the program and this year the program was modified to include cell phone service.

"There's no tax money involved.  The cellphones themselves are paid for by the cellphone companies.  The Lifeline program just covers the monthly bill," according to Donsky.

Life Wireless receives up to ten dollars a month from the Universal Service Fund for each customer it enrolls.

"We've had customers who've gone years and said they had to use phones at their next door neighbor's house.  I don't know what it's like down in Vidalia, but there are fewer and fewer pay phones and you're pretty lost without one," Donsky observes.

One new customer says it's her first free cellphone.  "That's why I'm trying to get one now.  It's going to help me a lot, I'll be able to call people," she said.