By Perry Chiaramonte
A Mexican telecom mogul who holds the title of world’s richest man, and one of President Obama’s top donors are both getting even richer from the U.S. government program that supplies so-called “Obamaphones” to the poor.
Carlos Slim, who has an estimated net worth of $70 billion, owns a controlling stake in TracFone, which makes $10 per phone for each device it provides to poor Americans. The company, whose president and CEO is Frederick “F.J.” Pollak, also makes money from extra minutes and data plans it sells to subscribers who get phones and service through the government’s Lifeline program. The program, which began in the mid-1980s, has exploded in the past four years after being expanded from supplying landlines to the poor to providing cellular phones.
The phones came into the national spotlight after a viral video surfaced on YouTube in which a Cleveland, Ohio, woman praised the president, saying he needed to be re-elected because he gives out free phones.
“Everybody in Cleveland, every minority, got an Obama phone. Keep Obama as president. He gave us a phone. He gonna do more,” the woman said in the video.
Slim’s Movil America owns TracFone and recently snapped up service provider Simple Mobile for $100 million. TracFones and Simple Mobile service are huge players in the Lifeline program through the company’s “SafeLink Wireless” brand. TracFone had 3.8 million subscribers through the federal program as of late 2011.