For the first time since the popular BlackBerry e-mail devices were widely distributed to House lawmakers in late 2001, Members will now find themselves picking up the tab for the service.
House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagen announced last week that the chamber will no longer pay the $227,000 annual bill for service for the e-mail devices, as it has done since 2001, when lawmakers first received the BlackBerry units. Instead, lawmakers will be required to dip into their Members’ Representational Allowances to pay for the service.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, explained Friday that the decision is based in part on the expanded number of BlackBerry services now available to lawmakers.
When the devices — given to Members primarily so they could receive messages from the chamber’s emergency notification system — were initially distributed, lawmakers were limited to use of a single mobile provider.
“Since we limited Members’ availability to get this signal, we felt compelled to pay for it,” he added.
Additionally, Ney explained, House officials hoped the free program would encourage Members to use the devices.
“We felt that Members, if they thought it was free, maybe they would get used to it and it would catch on,” Ney said, and later added: “Trying to get Members to use these things was the goal … and we have way overachieved the goal, and that’s positive.”
The House is also near completion of an expanded mobile communications infrastructure, which should allow lawmakers more flexibility in selecting a BlackBerry service provider, a Ney spokesman said.
Those options could prove useful to lawmakers using the devices in their home districts, where mobile coverage can vary widely. “It’s going to be a big help to a lot of Members to use different technologies that benefit them,” the aide said.
In fact, a 2004 fall survey found just over half of Members still using their original House-issued BlackBerries. Many other lawmakers appear to have provided the units to staff members, likely purchasing newer models for their own use.