Reading's blue tents provide cell phones for low income

Posted: 7:00 PM EST Nov 15, 2012   Updated: 7:26 PM EST Nov 16, 2012

Blue tents in downtown Reading are attracting a lot of attention. That's because, under those tents, hundreds of people are obtaining free cell phones.

The program is called Lifeline. It has been running since 1985 and is funded through the FCC to help low-income residents.

"It provides cell phone service to get jobs, the elderly for doctors appointments, emergencies," said Michael Manley, of Budget Mobile, the company that runs the program in Reading.

Each recipient receives 250 free minutes, and the plans are renewed each month as long as the person continues to meet the poverty guidelines.

The blue tents have been set up in the 500 and 800 blocks of Penn Street and and South 6th and Franklin streets.

Brian Harrington said he needs the phone because he hasn't had any luck finding a job.

"In my situation, I tried so many times," said Harrington. "It's just not working. You know, some people want people with GEDs, diplomas. It's not easy."

The nationwide program has its critics, like U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Arkansas, who, on his web site, blasts the cell phone program as a "taxpayer-funded program that's running wild and costing more and more."

Budget Mobile officials in Reading said they have heard the critics, but said they will continue their work.

"We will stay committed to this project until everyone who needs, deserves and qualifies for a phone in the Reading area actually gets one," said Manley.

Budget Mobile officials said they have already given away 4,000 phones, but that there are 88,000 more people in the Reading area eligible for the program.