Free residential phone service
Lifeline is the FCC's program to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers. Currently, Lifeline provides subscribers a discount on monthly telephone service purchased from participating providers in the marketplace. On March 31, 2016, the FCC approved rules to modernize Lifeline so that subscribers can also purchase discounted broadband from participating providers. Discounts will apply to stand-alone broadband, bundled voice-broadband packages - either fixed or mobile - and stand-alone voice service. Watch this page for an announcement of when these new rules take effect. These modernizations will help ensure that low-income consumers can afford 21st-century broadband and the access it provides to jobs, education and opportunities.
How Lifeline Works
Lifeline provides a discount on monthly service of $9.25 per month for eligible low-income subscribers. Subscribers may receive a Lifeline discount on either a wireline or a wireless service, but may not receive a discount on both services at the same time. In the near future, Lifeline will support broadband and broadband-voice bundles. FCC rules prohibit more than one Lifeline service per household.
Lifeline is available to eligible low-income subscribers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands.
To participate in the program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain assistance programs. You can see if you are eligible with the Lifeline Eligibility Pre-Screening Tool on the Universal Service Administrative website at www.lifelinesupport.org.
Following is a list of assistance programs that qualify a participant for Lifeline:
NOTE: These programs will change when the new rules become effective.
Key rules include the following:
- Lifeline is available only to subscribers who can document their eligibility.
- Only one Lifeline benefit is permitted per household. Federal rules prohibit subscribers from receiving more than one Lifeline service. If a subscriber or his or her household currently has more than one Lifeline discounted service, they must select a single provider immediately or be subject to penalties.
- Only low-income subscribers with proof of eligibility are qualified to enroll.
- Subscribers have an obligation to recertify their eligibility every year and should respond to their Lifeline Provider's attempts to recertify eligibility. Subscribers must verify that they remain eligible to participate in the Lifeline program once each calendar year. Subscribers who fail to recertify their eligibility will be de-enrolled from the Lifeline Program.
Subscribers will be required to make certain certifications upon signing up for Lifeline and each year after that, including:
- The subscriber or a member of the subscriber's household participates in a qualifying federal program or meets the income qualifications for Lifeline.
- The subscriber's household receives only one Lifeline supported service.
- The subscriber provided proof of eligibility, if required to do so.
- The number of individuals in the subscriber's household, if applying for Lifeline based on income.
- The information contained in the Lifeline application is true and correct to the best of the subscriber's knowledge and that providing false or fraudulent information to receive Lifeline benefits is punishable by law.
- That the subscriber resides on Federally-recognized Tribal lands, if applying for Enhanced Lifeline support.
- The subscriber must acknowledge that he or she may be required to recertify continued eligibility for Lifeline, and the subscriber will lose his or her Lifeline benefit if he or she fails to recertify.
The subscriber will also be required to provide certain information to the phone company or a state agency (depending how subscribers in their state sign up for Lifeline), including:
- Name and address information. Consumers who do not have a permanent residential address must provide a temporary address, which cannot be a P.O. Box. If a consumer resides at a temporary address, the telephone service provider or state agency may require confirmation of the address.
- Date of birth and the last 4 digits of the consumer's Social Security Number.
- Consumers participating in the Lifeline program must notify the telephone service provider within 30 days if the consumer moves.
- Consumers participating in the Lifeline program must notify the telephone service provider within 30 days if the consumer is no longer eligible for Lifeline.
Because telephone subscribership levels on Tribal lands are the lowest in the country, enhanced Lifeline benefits are available to low-income residents who live on Tribal lands, which includes those who live:
- on a federally recognized Indian Tribe's reservation, pueblo, or colony
- on a former reservation in Oklahoma
- within an Indian allotment
- within an Alaska Native region established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
- on Hawaiian Homelands held in trust pursuant to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920
Link Up, another federal benefit program, reduces the initial installation or activation fees of certain telephone providers offering service on Tribal lands.
What Benefits Are Available Under the Tribal Lands Lifeline Program?
Tribal Lands Lifeline provides a monthly discount of up to $34.25 off of the cost of telephone service, either wireline or wireless. This discount is currently $9.25 (which is available to all eligible low-income subscribers across the United States) plus up to an additional $25 (which is available only to eligible low-income subscribers living on Tribal lands.) This discount may vary somewhat from state to state, depending on whether the state has its own Lifeline program. In some cases, Lifeline also includes Toll Limitation Service, which enables a telephone subscriber to limit the amount of long distance calls that can be made from a telephone.
Tribal Lands Link Up provides qualified subscribers living on Tribal lands with a one-time discount of up to $100 on the initial installation or activation of a wireline or wireless telephone for the primary residence. Tribal Lands Link Up also enables subscribers to pay the remaining amount that they owe on a deferred schedule, interest-free. Qualifying subscribers may be eligible for Link Up again only after moving to a new primary residence. Tribal Link Up support is only offered to carriers who are building out infrastructure on Tribal lands, so not all carriers may be discounting their activation fee.