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 service, or bundled voice-broadband packages purchased from participating wireline or wireless providers. The discount helps ensure that low-income consumers can afford 21st century broadband and the access it provides to jobs, healthcare, and educational resources.
Lifeline During Coronavirus Pandemic
To help keep Americans connected during the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC has temporarily waived recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, subscriber usage, income documentation, and documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands, and has extended those waivers until Feb. 28, 2021. Six FCC orders, the latest of which was released Nov. 16, 2020 (download PDF: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-20-1357A1_Rcd.pdf), 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. These changes will also stay in effect through Feb. 28, 2021.
The FCC is currently developing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program that Congress created in the recent COVID relief legislation. Program specifics will be available in the coming weeks. Consumers should contact broadband providers that serve their area to learn more about current low cost offerings.
How Lifeline Works
Lifeline provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on service for eligible low-income subscribers and up to $34.25 per month for those on Tribal lands. 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 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 helping consumers apply for the program, understand eligibility requirements, and keep their benefit current through an annual recertification process. 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 (SNAP), Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or certain Tribal Programs. You can see if you are eligible by reviewing the information available at lifelinesupport.org (click "Do I Qualify?").
National Verifier for Lifeline Eligibility
To apply for Lifeline, a consumer must generally use the National Verifier application system. 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. Consumers who would like assistance from a service provider when applying can use the “Companies Near Me” tool to locate a Lifeline program service provider in their area.
Please note that consumers in California (except broadband-only consumers), Texas, and Oregon will continue to apply for the federal Lifeline benefit through the state’s existing application process as they do today. For broadband-only consumers in California, consumers will need to apply through the National Verifier application system and the National Verifier will check the consumer’s eligibility. For specific directions on how to apply for Lifeline in all three states, visit the National Verifier and select the relevant state from the drop-down menu and press “Get Started.”
If you have questions about your application, or would like an application mailed to you, contact Lifeline at (800) 234-9473 or LifelineSupport@usac.org.
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. Please note that, pursuant to a waiver approved by the FCC, recertification requirements and involuntary de-enrollment has been suspended until November 30, 2020.
Under a waiver approved by the FCC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, until Nov. 30, 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.
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 is a one-time federal benefit, per address, that 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 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). Some states offer additional monthly discounts through their own Lifeline programs.
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. For service initiation charges of up to $200, Link Up also provides a deferred, no-interest payment plan to the subscriber for up to one year. Subscribers can request Link Up once for each change of their primary residential (home) address. 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. Consumers can check with their Lifeline provider to see if they offer Link Up.
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 apply?
- 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?
- Who do I contact if I have a disability and want help applying for Lifeline?
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.
Lifeline Across America is a federal-state working group established in 2005 to review outreach efforts on the Lifeline program and provide state, local, and Tribal entities with information and resources to help ensure that low-income consumers are aware of the program and understand the requirements for participation. Its members include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA). The Lifeline Across America Working Group (LAAWG) initiated a study and compiled a report in 2006 where it presented its observations and conclusions concerning best practices for outreach on the Lifeline program. The LAAWG has since undertaken several projects to improve outreach, including National Telephone Discount Lifeline Awareness Week (Lifeline Awareness Week), which takes place yearly during the first full week after Labor Day.
To help raise awareness about the Lifeline Across America initiative and to assist in the collection of input and distribution of outreach materials, the LAAWG maintains this dedicated Lifeline website, hosted on the FCC's website and linked to the websites of NARUC and NASUCA. This website provides information and resources to consumers, consumer advocacy groups, industry, and government stakeholders in a user-friendly format to help with Lifeline outreach and serve as a resource to help educate low-income consumers about the Lifeline program rules.
Lifeline Across America Media Contacts
If you are a person with a disability and need assistance with your Lifeline application, contact the Lifeline Support Center at lifelinesupport.org or call 800-243-9473.
If you have a question about whether your Lifeline service and equipment is accessible, contact the FCC's Disability Rights office at 202-418-2517 for a voice phone call, at 844-432-2275 by videophone, or by email at DRO@fcc.gov.