The Lifeline Program: Making Communication More Affordable

Many Americans have never heard of the Lifeline Program. Since 1985, this program has helped eligible low-income Americans with cheaper phone services. The idea behind this program lies within the opportunities and security that good phone service brings. People use phone services for many reasons from your job, your family, in emergencies, and more. This program is available in every state, commonwealth, territory, and on Tribal lands. The program helps qualifying Americans in need. This means you also need to have an eligible income level.

2016 was a big year for the Lifeline Program. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made the program more modern. This meant that supportive services offered by the program included broadband internet. The FCC not only added a supported service, but improved their standards as well. The FCC made guidelines to make sure that there would be the best value to the service. In fact, the FCC also created a National Eligibility Verifier as a better application system.

How to Understand Your Eligibility

Those who would like the Lifeline program need to meet an income requirement of making 135% less than the standard indicated in the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If you and/or a member of your household register in one or more the following programs, you will qualify for the Lifeline program:

It is smart to have all of your documents ready when you apply. Online sources will go over what you need to have.

Application Process

The application process is pretty simple. Every applicant must finish an application on the National Verifier application system. Used by the FCC and run by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), this centralized system verifies applicant eligibility.

Some US states are not in the digital National Verifier program. If you are living in one of those states or if you would like to explore alternative options to complete the application process, you will find more information here.

Cell Phone/Landline Service Providers

Lifeline works with two main cell phone providers SafeLink Wireless and Assurance Wireless. Both companies offer good packages not only for those who are in the Lifeline program, but those who are either on food stamps or Medicaid. As for landlines, some of the biggest telephone companies, including AT&T and CenturyLink work with the Lifeline program and you can find a complete list here.

Know Your Rights

If approved for the Lifeline program, you have certain rights that your service provider must follow, which includes:

  • Providing at least 1000 minutes for cell phones
  • Internet at home should have a speed of 25/3 Mbps with a minimum usage of 1024 GB on a monthly basis
  • A cell phone data plan of 3G and the right to use 4.5 GB on a monthly basis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Low-Income Broadband Pilot Program

The FCC created a starter program back in 2012. The goal of this program was to get data to help understand the internet issues for low-income individuals. Cost, relevance, and the ability to get your message across digitally are all considered in this data.

This program specified that providers who were in the program had to collect and submit their data. Fortunately, your personal information doesn’t get impacted because the data is anonymous. Independent studies have used this information in order to best see what works and what doesn’t in providing universal service. This data was able to help them figure out some key parts of the problem.

Did the Coronavirus Change the Lifeline Program? 

In order to help Americans during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC decided to temporarily waiver most documents that were required for subscribers who resided in rural areas. These documents included: recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, income documentation, and documentation requirements. Additionally, the FCC required that you provide three consecutive months’ worth of documents to prove your income level. On April 29th, 2020, this was temporarily waived. For those who live in rural Tribal areas, the FCC facilitated the enrollment of the Lifeline service for them. All of these changes remained in effect until September 30th, 2021. Unfortunately, the FCC did not extend this branch of the Lifeline Program (which can be a good thing, since it means that the worst is over and people need not as much extra assistance.)