The Lifeline Program's Value and Efficiency

October 25, 2023


The program is funded by a mandatory fee on wireline and wireless telephone service collected by all telecommunications providers. It subsidizes phone service and broadband Internet access for low-income households. The FCC's 2016 Lifeline reform and modernization order set minimum service standards, established a National Verifier application system, and sought to make it easier for firms to qualify as eligible telecommunications carriers.


If you're low-income and don't have a smartphone or internet, the Lifeline Program can help you get connected. The program offers a phone and broadband service discount and a free smartphone and data plan. You can apply online or with your local provider. Income and membership in government assistance programs like Medicaid, NJ SNAP, or SSI are two criteria for eligibility. To qualify, you must meet the minimum income guidelines and provide proof of participation. The Lifeline program is a part of the Universal Service Fund, supported by contributions from interstate and international telecommunication service providers. Under Chairman Wheeler, the FCC reformed the program in 2016 by including broadband as a supported service and establishing a National Verifier to verify eligibility. The system can also verify whether subscribers already have a Lifeline benefit with another provider so that they do not receive duplicate benefits. Enrolling with a participating phone or internet provider would be beneficial to be eligible. A list of businesses offering a Lifeline program in California is available online.


Lifeline provides a monthly discount for telephone or bundled voice and broadband Internet services from participating providers. The deal helps ensure that low-income households can afford 21st-century connectivity services, which are increasingly essential to getting and keeping a job, accessing health care and educational resources, and staying connected with loved ones. The federal Lifeline program is funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is collected from telecommunications carriers as a part of their regular monthly charges for providing service to their customers. An independent non-profit organization administers the USF called the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Many Lifeline participants use their free phones to access the National Suicide Prevention Line, which provides support services for those considering suicide or in crisis.

The FCC's 2016 Lifeline reform and modernization order set minimum service standards, such as a limit of 500 minutes for mobile voice and a phased-in standard for the amount of broadband data eligible under the program. These service requirements have reduced Lifeline subscribers' costs, but a proposal to require a co-pay for some recipients could threaten participation in the program. Moreover, the National Eligibility Verifier that the FCC established to make eligibility determinations needs a broader scope of databases to be practical.


If you qualify for Lifeline, you need to recertify every year. You can do this online or by calling your service provider. You will need to provide proof of income and address. Your service provider will verify your eligibility by querying the national verification system or state databases. The process is free and confidential. However, some customers will need to provide additional documentation and won't be able to use the online recertification process. The FCC's minimum service standards ensure beneficiaries receive voice and data services that meet modern communications needs. However, these requirements may also discourage companies from participating in the program because of the costs of meeting these standards.

Additionally, more than the FCC's minimal service criteria might be necessary to keep up with evolving communication requirements, such as the rise in the number of individuals using cell phones for business and personal communications. As a result, many Americans need more access to broadband services and face barriers to sign-ups for affordable connectivity plans.

To address these issues, the FCC has taken steps to improve the Lifeline Program. The 2016 Lifeline Reform and Modernization Order included broadband as a support service, set minimum service standards for Lifeline-supported services, and created a national verification system. The new system is meant to eliminate inefficiencies and reduce compliance costs for service providers. However, these changes have yet to have the desired effect of increasing Lifeline participation.


Lifeline subscribers must recertify their eligibility for the program each year. It is separate from verification (the one-time National Verifier process). Subscribers must submit proof that they meet income-based requirements. They must also consent to allow the eligible telecommunications carrier to query state and local income databases to verify eligibility. Lifeline offers essential benefits for low-income households and is critical to their ability to get online, connect with employers, and participate in the digital economy. In recent years, the FCC has significantly reformed Lifeline to increase broadband adoption and promote innovation while ensuring the program remains competitive with private providers.

The Commission has proposed a new National Verifier to perform several vital functions as part of these efforts. The National Verifier will provide a central database that all service providers can access to confirm that a potential customer is Lifeline eligible. It will also enable subscribers to proactively self-verify their eligibility through a convenient, easy-to-use online process. The National Verifier will also facilitate initiatives that securely aggregate eligible subscribers' information to reduce costs and improve efficiency. It will also help prevent fraud and abuse. The Commission has directed USAC to create procedures and guidance to make it easier for Lifeline providers to participate in aggregation projects. We encourage all providers to take advantage of these opportunities.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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