Sprint offers free phones to the needy in Florida

Sprint Nextel Corp. is expanding its free wireless phone service for the poor to Florida.

The nation’s third largest wireless carrier on Wednesday announced that its Assurance Wireless brand will provide free cell phones and 200 free minutes for local and long-distance calls to needy residents.

The service is already available in several other states, including Michigan, New York and North Carolina.

Sprint estimates that more than 1 million Florida residents are eligible for the service. To qualify, residents must receive government assistance or have low household incomes. Sprint receives a subsidy for the service from the Universal Service Fund, supported by a federal charge added to every customer’s bill.

Assurance Wireless is one of Sprint’s four prepaid brands, which target people who can’t qualify for annual contracts or don’t want them.

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