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T-Mobile sees pandemic as opportunity to connect with first-responders with free service, phones

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T-Mobile really wants to connect with local and state police, fire and emergency medical departments – by offering them free cellular service, including 5G connectivity.

Many first-responder agencies face funding crunches that result in other lifesaving equipment being purchased ahead of cellular service and devices. The coronavirus pandemic will likely add to budgetary stress.

First-responders usually have radio communications, but may need to make phone calls, take photos or access department smartphone apps – and may be prohibited from using their personal phones for work.

An example: Police officers in Wichita, Kansas previously provided their own phones, which was an additional personal cost to officers, says Mike Mayta, the city’s chief information officer.

T-Mobile began offering the free service plan to the city of Wichita before making it available nationwide and the Wichita Police Department will save at least $1.8 million in operating costs over five years, he says. The city’s fire department is considering the program, too.

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This new plan ensures officers are always able to be reached, especially in crucial moments when seconds count,” Mayta said. “” Cities across the nation are facing budget cuts, and this program allows our Police Department to provide vital technology in the field to helps them keep our community safe.”

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T-Mobile first announced a Connecting Heroes initiative in November 2019 and hundreds of agencies have pre-registered for the program. The wireless giant –its merger with Sprint completed in April – can now offer unlimited talk, text and smartphone data service to all public and non-profit first-responder agencies across the U.S. The merger expands T-Mobile’s reach to 99% of the nation, the company says.

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If all eligible U.S. agencies signed up for T-Mobile’s offer, an estimated $7.7 billion could be funneled back to those department budgets for other needs, the company estimates. 

“It kind of blew our mind that in so many communities across the country your local fire, local police and local EMS service were not provided phones or wireless service by their departments,” said Mike Katz, executive vice president of T-Mobile for Business.

Wireless communications for emergency personnel became an issue two years ago after a San Francisco Bay area fire department had its data connectivity speeds throttled by Verizon amidst wildfires that summer. Verizon said the action was a “customer support mistake.”

In the wake of the pandemic, T-Mobile also is making an offer to help anyone who wants to upgrade or add personal and family smartphones. Beginning this Memorial Day weekend, you can get a free iPhone SE (with bill credits) or get $500 off a Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone

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Sprint and T-Mobile postpaid customers get the value of the iPhone SE in bill credits or get $500 off a Samsung GS20 series with a phone trade-in credit and rebate from T-Mobile or bill credits from Spring. Current and new or switching customers can get the deal; they simply must pay tax on the new device. Customers can visit T-Mobile or Sprint stores or order phones on t-mobile.com or sprint.com.

T-Mobile also has a Magenta First Responder connectivity plan for individuals and families, which has 50% savings compared to its standard plan.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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