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

Many emergency response agencies face financing difficulties that result in the purchase of other life-saving equipment before services and cellular devices. The coronavirus pandemic likely to increase budgetary stress.

Rescuers often have radio communications, but may need to make phone calls, take pictures or access smartphone department apps – and may be banned from using their personal phones to work.

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

T-Mobile started 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 also considering the program.

"This new plan ensures that police officers can always be reached, especially at crucial moments when seconds count," said Mayta. "Cities across the country are facing budget cuts, and this program allows our Police Department to provide vital technology in the field to help them keep our community safe."

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T-Mobile first announced a Connecting Heroes initiative in November, and hundreds of agencies pre-registered to the program. The company – merger with Sprint completed in April – can now offer unlimited chat, text and smartphone data service to all US nonprofit and public service agencies. The merger expands T-Mobile's reach to 99% of the country, says the company.

If all eligible American agencies sign up for T-Mobile's offer, about $ 7.7 billion could be channeled back into department budgets for other needs, the company estimates.

"We were impressed that in many communities across the country, local firefighters, the local police and the local SME service did not receive phones or wireless services from their departments," said Mike Katz, executive vice president from T-Mobile for Business.

T-Mobile CEO and President Mike Sievert announced the offer on a video posted on YouTube.

Connectivity for emergency personnel drew attention two years ago after a San Francisco Bay area fire department saw its data connectivity speeds being controlled by Verizon amid fires that summer. Verizon said the action was a "customer support error".

Wireless communications for emergency personnel are big business now dominated by Verizon and AT&T, which three years ago won a contract with the government to create FirstNet, a communications network exclusively for rescuers.

T-Mobile's offer "basically puts a lot of pressure on AT&T and Verizon, even though police chiefs and firefighters and rescuers won't accept the offer, because you can bet they'll go to AT&T and Verizon and say," Hey, me I can get free smartphone data from T-Mobile staff. Why don't you lower the price or I'm leaving, "" said Roger Entner, founder and lead analyst at Recon Analytics.

T-Mobile can also generate revenue from departments that accept the offer, but still want to pay for connectivity from computers and other connected devices, he says.

T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to make these offers to obtain approval for their merger.

"But it really attacks a profitable segment of customers, where they have no business at the moment. So everything is positive," said Entner.

Free and discounted phones for Memorial Day

After the pandemic, T-Mobile is also making an offer to help anyone who wants to update or add personal and family smartphones. Starting this Memorial Day weekend, you can get a free iPhone SE (with account credits) or get $ 500 on a Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone

Sprint and T-Mobile postpaid customers get the iPhone SE value in account credits or receive $ 500 in a Samsung GS20 series with T-Mobile phone exchange and refund credits or Spring account credits . Current and new or changing customers can obtain the agreement; they must only 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, with savings of 50% compared to its standard plan.

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

Read or share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/05/21/coronavirus-effect-free-cellular-service-first-responders/5230567002/

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