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As early as next year, 1.5 million Californians could be eligible for 250 free cell phone minutes, and 250 free text messages a month. Assurance Wireless, an arm of mobile giant Sprint, will provide the service through the federally-funded Lifeline program. 

That program is currently limited to land lines in California. Assurance Wireless spokesman Jack Pflanz says the addition of cell phone service has made a huge difference to people in 36 other states where it’s been adopted.