Lifeline Program

  • Government Program
  • Get a Free or Subsidized Phone
  • Up to 250 free cell phone minutes
  • For low income families and individuals
  • Sign up Online
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What is the Lifeline Program?

The Lifeline Program is for low-income families and individuals who find it difficult to pay their phone bills. Since telephone service has become essential for modern living, everyone needs to have access to a phone even if they can’t afford it. Lifeline provides the basic phone services at discounted rates to meet this goal. Those receiving Lifeline benefits can also qualify for Toll Limitation and Link Up programs.

The Lifeline program is funded by the Universal Service Fund and administered by The Universal Administrative Company. Some similar programs were started in 1985 but it wasn’t until the 1996 that consumers were assured of basic telecommunication services in all regions through inclusion of special enactments in the Telecommunication Act of 1996. Once it became a part of the Act, the program started expanding and finally included all low-income families within its scope.

The original Lifeline program didn’t offer benefits to all the people that it covers today. On June 30, 2000, coverage for American Indians and residents of Alaska Native lands was assured through addition of Tribal Order FCC 00-208 by FCC. The Tribal order asked for an additional $25 for Lifeline for families covered by the order while the Link Up support was raised by $70. With all these provisions, a tribal resident has phone costs below $1 on average.

The low-income program was further modified through Lifeline and Link Up Order FCC 04-87. The changes were made to the eligibility criteria. The new criterion was based on household income which allowed the program to collaborate with other income-based programs such as National School Lunch program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Due to this collaboration 1.29 million additional families became eligible for discounted telephone services.

The 2004 Lifeline and Link Up Order made further changes to the program. One such change was implementation of validation and certification procedure that would discourage abusive use of benefits. Due to this Order, carriers operating in federal default states are responsible to provide verification of its Lifeline consumers. The Order also requires all the participating companies to maintain records according to instructions laid out in the Order.

Consumers apply for Lifeline program through local telephone company that provides telephone service in the area. The company must be eligible to offer Lifeline benefits. It will offer discounted rates to the consumer and reimburse the difference between regular and discounted rates from the Universal Service Fund’s Low Income Program. The telephone service provider will need to provide Form 497.

The payments for subsidized rates are sent to participating telecommunication companies every month. Company’s history and its worth of support claims help the Funds decide how much amount to be sent to each company. The program uses growth rate of participating telecommunication companies to determine the amount to be dedicated to low income families.

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