Monday, June 15, 2009

Wireless welfare

New York Times:

[W]ireless carriers are receiving subsidies to provide people like Mr. Cobb with a phone and typically 68 minutes of talk time each month. It is a form of wireless welfare that puts a societal stamp on the central role played by the mobile device....

Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy, could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own: most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped market.

When the impoverished citizen -- or, more accurately, the government -- is the final frontier for growth in a prevailing domestic industry, a service that was once regarded a luxury slowly takes the appearance of a human right.

That poor people aren't perceived in need of cellphone service until service providers have turned every corner and a corner more for subscribers -- Cuban-Americans, who George Bush last year made "free" to buy plans for island-bound relatives -- speaks volumes in itself; the poor enter the field of benevolence when invited, in tandem with the needs of their benefactors.

This underscores the point that what the poor might really "need" -- like, some material way to be less poor -- can never be the starting point of respectable conversation, but must evolve out of the self-referencing deliberations of the rich.

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