The idea of giving old cellphones to the elderly and crime victims who can’t afford them, so they’re able to access police, fire or ambulance service in an emergency, was a stroke of creative genius. There are, after all, hundreds of millions of cellphones in circulation in this country, and tens of millions of them get retired every year. Still, not everyone can afford a new one, or a calling plan; nor do many people really have need for one except in the event of an emergency. Then, such a lifeline is vitally important — provided that it works.
That’s the rub, according to a story in last week’s paper; some of those recycled phones no longer work. As of last week, the Federal Communications Commission stopped requiring most cellular providers to support analog telephones. That was the industry’s standard technology until several years ago. It has gradually been replaced by digital technology, and while the transformation was complete about four years ago, some of the old analog phones are still floating around — if not in the hands of cellular customers then in the hands of seniors and crime victims who’ve availed themselves of giveaways.
That’s a problem the FCC needs to do something about because it would be tragic if someone who carried such a phone for emergency purposes only, dialed 911 and nothing happened.
The agency is going out of its way to make sure that all Americans know about the switch from analog to digital broadcast technology scheduled to take place in the television industry next year — even giving people coupons to buy converter boxes and new TVs so they can still watch. The FCC needs to do something comparable with analog phones.
And any government, phone company, social service agency or fraternal organization that might be involved in providing old phones to needy people, or anyone else, must make sure that they’re not handing out those with obsolete technology.