Lifeline is the FCC's program to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers. Lifeline provides subscribers a discount on monthly telephone service, broadband Internet access service, or voice-broadband bundled service purchased from participating providers.
Lifeline During Coronavirus Pandemic
To help keep Americans connected during the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC has temporarily waived usage requirements, recertification and reverification de-enrollment procedures, and general de-enrollment procedures, and has extended those waivers until August 31, 2020. Four FCC orders, released on March 17, March 30, April 29, and June 1 will help ensure that no current Lifeline subscribers are involuntarily removed from the Lifeline program during this time of national crisis. The orders also direct the Lifeline program administrator to pause any involuntary de-enrollment of existing subscribers until that date.
The FCC has also made it easier for individuals who have lost their employment during the coronavirus pandemic and who qualify for Lifeline benefits to enroll in the Lifeline program. On April 29, 2020, the FCC temporarily waived the requirement that consumers seeking to qualify for the program based on their income must provide at least three consecutive months of income documentation. On June 1, the FCC streamlined Lifeline service enrollment for consumers living in rural Tribal areas.
How Lifeline Works
Lifeline typically provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on service for eligible low-income subscribers. Subscribers may receive a Lifeline discount on either a wireline or a wireless service, but they may not receive a discount on both services at the same time. Lifeline also supports broadband Internet access service and broadband-voice bundles. FCC rules prohibit more than one Lifeline service per household.
Lifeline is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, commonwealth, territory, and on Tribal lands. The Lifeline program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). USAC is responsible for data collection and maintenance, support calculation, disbursements, and assisting consumers with Lifeline eligibility and enrollment for the program. USAC's website provides additional information regarding the program, including program requirements.
To participate in the Lifeline program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Medicaid. You can see if you are eligible by reviewing the information available at lifelinesupport.org (see "Do I Qualify?").
National Verifier for Lifeline Eligibility
To apply for Lifeline, a consumer must use the National Verifier application system at: https://www.checklifeline.org/lifeline. The National Verifier is a centralized system established by the FCC and operated by USAC that verifies Lifeline applicants' eligibility and recertifies subscriber eligibility annually.
There are some states that may not use the National Verifier yet. You can check whether your state is already active here: https://www.usac.org/lifeline/eligibility/national-verifier. If you are in a state that does not use the National Verifier or if you would like a service provider to assist you when you apply, you can use the "Companies Near Me" tool to locate a Lifeline program service provider near you.
Key rules include the following:
- Lifeline is available only to subscribers whose eligibility can be verified by checking a program eligibility database or by submitting documentation demonstrating 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 de-enroll from other Lifeline services immediately or be subject to penalties.
- Only low-income subscribers who have been found to be eligible are qualified to enroll.
- Subscribers must recertify their eligibility every year and should respond to any requests from the National Verifier's or state Lifeline administrator to recertify eligibility. Subscribers who fail to recertify their eligibility will be de-enrolled from the Lifeline program.
Lifeline During Coronavirus Pandemic
Under a waiver approved by the FCC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, until August 31, 2020, a Lifeline carrier may choose to immediately begin providing Lifeline service to a consumer living in a rural Tribal area who applies for Lifeline but is unable to provide the necessary documentation to resolve a failed automated check at the time of application. The consumer will have 45 days from the time of application to submit the documentation. A Lifeline carrier that chooses to provide service under this waiver may claim that subscriber for reimbursement from the Universal Service Fund after the subscriber has submitted the necessary documentation and received a positive eligibility determination. The carrier may claim Lifeline support for up to 45 days of service provided prior to the eligibility determination. This approach will help eligible consumers in rural Tribal areas enroll in Lifeline while avoiding in-person contacts at the time of application and quickly get connected to vital broadband and phone services during COVID-19 without creating incentives for Lifeline providers to enroll ineligible subscribers in the program.
Because telephone subscribership levels on Tribal lands are the lowest in the country, enhanced Lifeline benefits are available to low-income residents of Tribal lands. You can find out more about which areas are eligible Tribal lands by visiting this site: https://www.lifelinesupport.org/additional-support-for-tribal-lands.
Link Up, another federal benefit program, reduces the initial installation or activation fees of certain Lifeline providers offering telephone service on Tribal lands.
What benefits are available through the Lifeline program's support for Tribal lands?
For low-income consumers living on Tribal lands, Lifeline provides a monthly discount of up to $34.25 off the cost of telephone service, broadband Internet access service, or bundled services (either wireline or wireless). This discount consists of up to $9.25 (which is available to all eligible low-income subscribers across the United States) plus up to an additional $25 in enhanced support (which is available only to eligible low-income subscribers living on Tribal lands). This discount may also vary from state to state, depending on whether the state has its own Lifeline program.
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 telephone service at their 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.
What limitations are there on Lifeline and Link Up?
Federal rules prohibit qualifying low-income consumers from receiving more than one Lifeline service at the same time. For instance, low-income subscribers who qualify may receive a Lifeline discount on either a home telephone or a wireless telephone service, but they may not receive a Lifeline discount on both services at the same time.
Additionally, only one Lifeline service may be obtained per household. "Household" is defined as any individual or group of individuals who live together at the same address as one economic unit. An "economic unit" is defined as "all adult individuals contributing to and sharing in the income and expenses of a household."
Lifeline support is available to eligible low-income subscribers living in group living facilities. Lifeline applicants may demonstrate when initially enrolling in the program that any other Lifeline recipients residing at their residential address are part of a separate household. Similarly, federal rules prohibit qualifying low-income consumers from receiving more than one Tribal Link Up discount at a primary residence.
- What is the current benefit under the Lifeline Program?
- What is the enhanced benefit amount for Tribal Lands?
- How can I determine if I am eligible?
- How do I enroll?
- What documentation do I need to provide when I apply for Lifeline service?
- Can I get more than one discounted service?
- How is "household" defined for purposes of the Lifeline Program?
- How often do I need to verify my eligibility?
- What if I have free Lifeline?
- Who can I contact if I have an issue with a mobile phone or other hardware provided by my Lifeline service provider?
The FCC's Enforcement Bureau maintains a dedicated Lifeline Fraud Tip Line – 1-855-4LL-TIPS (or 1-855-455-8477) – and an email address – Lifelinetips@fcc.gov – to facilitate reporting of possible fraud in the program.
Please provide as much detail as possible, including the name and contact information of the individuals involved and the companies they are using to receive Lifeline-supported phone service.