Footville found: Cullen helps fix federal glitch to get residents cellphones

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Gina Duwe
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FOOTVILLE--Footville is back on the FCC's map.

After months of waiting for the Federal Communications Commission to acknowledge that Footville does, in fact, exist, residents Wednesday celebrated their results: The arrival of the FCC's Lifeline cellphones.

“The federal government now recognizes that Footville, Wisconsin, and its residents do exist,” said Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who joined a handful of residents outside the Footville Post Office to mark their efforts.

Cullen held a constituent listening session in February, when he heard from resident Dennis Curry about his challenge in trying to apply for the phone program for his 98-year-old mother, Dora Curry.

The Lifeline phones, often referred incorrectly as “Obama phones,” have been provided to low-income subscribers since 1985 under the Ronald Reagan administration. President George W. Bush expanded the program to include cellphones.

The basic cellphones are not free to everyone but are discounted based on income. Cellular providers fund the program.

When Curry tried to sign up his mother, the program would not recognize her street address, but officials wouldn't say why. Footville residents receive their mail at post office boxes, and the FCC generally does not mail the phones to P.O. boxes.

Debra Ruppe encountered the same problem when trying to apply and soon began to organize with three of her neighbors with the same problem in her apartment building at 200 Railroad St.

“The federal government said, for purposes of this program, they don't exist,” Cullen said. “We decided to get on this. This is the kind of thing that frustrates me as much as anybody.”

Cullen's office worked with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan to track down the Lifeline supplier, SafeLink, and fix the glitch. The five residents who were seeking the phones recently received them.

Ruppe said she has a landline phone, but she can't afford a cellphone.

“It makes it more convenient,” she said of having a cellphone. “You can carry it on you.”

It's not the first time she's had a database not accept her address, so she said she was “kind of in disbelief” that the problem would get fixed.

The kicker?

Ruppe said her apartment building is federally funded.

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