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MIAMI, FL – A viral video of a woman proclaiming her support for President Obama because as she said, “He gave us a phone,” has sparked renewed awareness of the connections between the major provider of those phones and the White House.
Now that same company, TracFone Wireless, has been awarded one of fourteen contracts by the government for a project designed to provide high-speed Internet access to low-income families. Critics say that not only has the system been awarded to a major Democratic donor and President Obama backer but it is also poorly designed.
Critics claim that TracFone Wireless CEO F.J. Pollak used his Obama connections to enable his company to get one of the contracts in the $13.8 million pilot project by the Federal Communications Commission that attempts to find ways to increase the broadband access rate among the poor. Proponents say it will allow the disadvantaged to improve their digital skills and to ultimately help them manage household finances and find work. How much of that money has been to TracFone is unclear.
Pollak and his wife are major Obama supporters and Democratic donors. This past June, the couple hosted a $40,000-a-plate fundraising dinner at their Miami Beach home. According to the New York Times, Abigail Pollak alone raised at least $632,000 for the Obama re-election effort and a total of $1.56 million for him since 2007.
“That has absolutely nothing to do with business,” Jose Fuentes, a spokesman for TracFone’s parent company, America Movil, told The Washington Times. “There’s been no pay-for-play — or even favors. What he does in his private time is his.”
Critics also say that even if TracFone supplied participants with its top-line smartphone, they would not accomplish the goals of the FCC project. John B. Horrigan, a researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project said small screens and keyboards on smartphones along with connectivity issues result in users having trouble engaging “as deeply with the Internet” as home broadband users.
An FCC spokesman told FoxNews that the one-year projects were chosen through a competition intended to find ones that would gather facts and data about “technologically diverse approaches to increasing broadband adoption, including fixed and mobile broadband. ”He also pointed out that a second TracFone proposal was rejected and that the $13.8 million for the project comes from roughly $214 million worth of reforms and modernizations to the precursor Lifeline program, which provides low-cost access to cellphones for low-income families.
The $2.4 billion-a-year Lifeline project has been active since the mid-1980s but was labeled the “Obama phone” following a viral video in which a potential voter suggests re-electing the president to keep the program going.