Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–August 4, 2014

Neil Young’s New Project: Saving Rainforests With Old Cell Phones
Neil Young is now putting his crowdfunding muscle behind a new cause: saving the rainforests. “Climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century,” he said in a video posted by the Rainforest Connection, the group he’s teaming up with. The two are seeking to raise funds to develop and deploy recycled cell phones into Indonesia, Africa and the Amazon–the reused hardware are stashed into trees and turned into real-time monitoring devices that detect the sounds of chainsaws and poachers using guns, then sending signals to authorities. Story by Mike Ayers for The Wall Street Journal.

Warding Off Lions With Mobiles Shows African Technology Boom
If Emily Parsitau wanted to light her home to ward off lions and intruders, she had to walk for an hour to buy kerosene at the nearest store. Now, she uses a SIM card. The farmer’s four-roomed home in Kisamis, a rural area on the fringe of Kenya’s Rift Valley, has never had access to the national power grid and she relied on kerosene lamps, when she could fetch the fuel, to light the path toward her cattle, which attracted predators and thieves. That all changed in March when she bought M-Kopa Solar, a sun-powered lighting system that uses mobile-phone technology to track usage and stores energy for when her home and pathway need to be lit up. Mobile technology is revolutionizing life for many of the more than 1 billion people in Africa for whom services like banking, the Internet and affordable energy were previously considered luxuries, rather than everyday staples. Story by Chris Spillane and Charles Wachira for Bloomberg.

More Free Talk and Text on Cell Phones for Homeless
Those free cell phones for the homeless and other people hurting for money just got a little freer. Assurance Wireless, which began issuing no-cost cell phones to low-income Californians last year as part of the federally funded Lifeline effort, this month expanded its program to include unlimited voice minutes and texts. The change is crucial. Until now, the program capped service at 250 talk minutes and 250 texts a month–but for anyone looking for a job or trying to connect with family or friends in desperation, as often happens in the street, those minutes and texts run out fast. Story by Kevin Fagan for SF Gate.

Why Is My Cell Phone Bill So Expensive?
Are you tired of paying high cell phone bills? Do you wish there was a way to cut back on your monthly bill? Let’s examine why your cell phone bill might be on the high side and what you can do to correct this. Story by John Oldshue for SaveOnPhone.com.

Crashed Drone Carried Contraband Aimed at South Carolina Prison
A drone being flown in a novel attempt to smuggle phones, marijuana and tobacco into a South Carolina maximum security prison crashed outside its walls, authorities said on Wednesday. The contraband smuggling attempt has been under investigation since the wreckage was discovered in April outside the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. Officials believe it was the first time an unmanned aircraft had been used in an effort to breach prison walls in the state. Story by Harriet McLeod for Reuters.

Chicago Telephone Tax to Rise by 56 Percent to Shore Up Pensions
Desperate to avoid a pre-election property tax increase, Chicago aldermen advanced an alternative Tuesday that could end up costing their constituents even more money: a 56 percent increase in the monthly surcharge tacked on to telephone bills. Effective Sept. 1, the City Council’s Finance Committee agreed to raise the surcharge from $2.50 to $3.90–$1.40 more-per-month or $16.80-a-year–for every land line and cell phone in Chicago. The tax applied to pre-paid phones will rise from 7-to-9 percent, effective Oct. 1. Story by Fran Spielman for the Chicago Sun Times.

Virgin Mobile: Buy Wireless Minutes for Specific Apps
Virgin will let you choose special prepaid service packages for given apps. So you can pay $5 for unlimited monthly access to Facebook, say, or $5 for unlimited access to Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. You can also go with a collection of music apps (Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, iHeartRadio and Shazam) for $5. Moreover, under this new contract-free Virgin Mobile Custom service, you not only get to pick your voice, data and texting options, but you can alter your selections on the fly at any time. Story by Edward Baig for USA Today.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.