Lifeline Internet: A welcome addition to the Lifeline phone program

Your selection of cheap internet options may get much broader. On January 31, 2012 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved what we call Lifeline Internet, a major expansion of the popular government’s free cell phone program. A year later in January 2013, as the FCC issued cost-saving reforms for the fraud-ridden Lifeline free cell phone program, they took part of those savings and created the Broadband Pilot Program in order to test how the best way to give free or heavily discounted internet to low-income Americans.

Lifeline is the granddaddy of government programs designed to bring state-of-the-art communications tools to low income Americans. The program was originally designed to offer affordable rates on landline telephones. It was expanded to include cell phones in 1996 and the number of users has grown dramatically each year. In February 2012, Time Magazine estimated that 12.5 million people now participate in the Lifeline free cell phone program. It’s likely closer to 15 million now.

Lifeline Internet is on the way

But cell phones can’t provide all the help people need so much these days. What the financially-strapped in this country need most is high-speed broadband — to help them search for jobs, find services and especially to help their kids do well in school. The FCC commissioners have come to the same, obvious conclusion that we reached long ago: Internet access has grown so important, and yet so expensive, that Lifeline should be expanded to include internet access. So, savings from the Lifeline reforms will help to pay for an expansion into offering broadband to low-income people.

Details are still being worked out by the FCC, with a $13.8 million dollar pilot program running in 21 states and Puerto Rico. They are testing a myriad of offers to see to which plan people best respond. Lucky participants have been chosen from current Lifeline phone participants in the states of Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus Puerto Rico.

It’s hard to say exactly what the plan cost or offer at this time. All sort of combinations of pricing, speed, equipment and training offers are being experimented with in 2013, with both DSL, cable and mobile Internet. Among them:

  • In Alabama, Troy Cablevision is offering a $14 and a $28 subsidy off a wireline broadband plan. Cable Internet.
  • In Arizona, Gila River is testing subsidy amounts ($23.24 to $38.24), access to discounted equipment and broadband speeds. DSL.
  • In California, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and New Jersey. Nexus is testing subsidies of $0, $15 and $20, with varying speeds. Mobile Internet.
  • In Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, TracFone, is testing the effect of varying combinations of free or discounted hardware and $10 or $20 per month service. Mobile Internet.
  • In Illinois, a consortium of telephone companies are testing a $30 flat rate subsidy for 12 months, with price based on speed, as well as intensive digital literacy training being included or not. DSL.
  • In Iowa, (Alpine Communications) and New Mexico (Leaco Rural Telephone) companies are testing a range of wireline broadband plans in one state with a flat subsidy amount of $25 per month, and a range of wireline broadband plans in another state with a sliding scale subsidy. DSL.
  • In New York, XChange is offering digital literacy to seniors, and is testing a range of subsidy amounts of $10, $15 and $20, by randomizing three different broadband plans priced at $4.99, $9.99 and $19.99. DSL and Fixed-Wireless.
  • In Ohio and West Virginia, Frontier is testing an offer of a $20 monthly subsidy in a range of plans, an offer with mandatory digital literacy participation with a $30 subsidy, and an offer of a $20 subsidy and a free computer. DSL.
  • In Puerto Rico, PR Wireless is testing a $25 monthly subsidy off five different plans that have access to varying types of equipment, from modems to computers. Mobile Internet.
  • In Vermont, Vermont Telephone is testing two different wireline broadband plans: one with a uniform $9.95 cost for 12 months; the second at $9.95 for the first three months, followed by a $14.95 for the remaining 9 months. DSL.

Note in how many states you see Tracfone and Nexus? Tracfone owns Safelink Wireless and Nexus owns ReachOut Wireless, two of the three biggest free government cell phone (Lifeline) companies. I think it’s safe to say that while they are testing DSL, cable and mobile internet, given the power of Tracfone and Nexus, and their established connection with the FCC, the upcoming Lifeline Internet will be mobile Internet, or at least primarily so.

How will you qualify for Lifeline Internet?

Although no official guidelines have yet been established, it is assumed that the requirements for Lifeline Internet will be identical to the requirements for the Lifeline phone program.

There are many ways to qualify for Lifeline and you will probably be eligible if:

(1) You currently participate in some other federal, state or local
assistance programs such as food stamps (SNAP), public housing, Medicaid, Section 8 housing, Supplemental Security Income, various Home Energy Assistance Programs, National School Lunch and other programs.

or if…

(2) Your household income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. (More good news: Residents of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas can qualify with household incomes all the way up to 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines.)

How much will Lifeline Internet cost?

There is no word on the charge to users, if any, for this potential new program. The current Lifeline cell phone program is free, but then offering cell phone service on very cheap cell phones is considerably less expensive than offering mobile Internet on smartphones like Androids. It all depends upon how much the FCC is willing to reimburse the providers.

Our guess is that a very basic plan will be anywhere from free to $9.95 a month, for unlimited phone and text, and maybe 1 to 2 GB of data usage a month. But that’s only a guess.

When will Lifeline Internet be available?

Like we said, the FCC just recently approved Lifeline Internet and they are in the midst of the Broadband Pilot Program to see which plan is most favored by participants in the study. When they determine that, unless congress gets in the way, we assume it will begin to be rolled out shortly thereafter. Since they are testing both DSL and Mobile Internet, and Lifeline already covers both landline telephone (upon which DSL is based) and cell phones (upon which Mobile Internet is based), it may be an an effortless transition.

In the mean time, you’ve got two other similar options if you qualify according to the requirements above: Comcast’s Internet Essentials program and CenturyLink’s Internet Basics program.

If you are having a hard time understanding all the various programs (we know it’s confusing!), please read our help page.

Check back frequently, because we’ll continue to update this exciting news for low-income Americans. In fact, subscribe to our news updates to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Recent Articles we’ve published on Lifeline Internet

rural america internet Why aren’t rural Americans signing up for high-speed internet? - Broadband is rapidly expanding into rural America, but the Americans who live in these out-of-the-way areas aren’t exactly knocking down the doors of telecom providers to demand the service.
Lifeline Broadband 2014 A BOLD PREDICTION: Lifeline Broadband will be here by the end of 2014 - We predict that a nationwide roll-out of Lifeline Broadband (Lifeline Internet) will be announced before the end of 2014. Plus, five other details.
FCC logo FCC and Congress helping low income Americans get high-speed internet - FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Rep. Doris Matsui recently joined forces to promote affordable high speed internet service for needy Americans.
free government internet phone Coming Soon!
Free Government Internet Phones
- In the noble quest to bridge the digital divide and get all Americans online, the FCC will be soon expanding the Lifeline program to provide internet-enabled smartphones that come with a mobile internet
free internet sign Is this the beginning of free government internet? - This is a pilot program that will fir the first ti,e provide low income Americans with smart phones with which they can access the internet.
FCC finally approves “Lifeline” internet for America’s needy - It seems like they’ve been looking into it, studying it, debating it, and arguing about it for years. But the Federal Communications Commission last Tuesday finally did what we’ve been urging it to do for many months –- it approved an affordable internet-for-the-poor program similar to Lifeline, its existing free government cell phone program. To […]
FCC Chairman proposes free internet service for low-income Americans - FCC Chairman Genachowski wants to expand the Lifeline free government cell phone program to low-income Americans, to include broadband service.


  1. Brandy says

    I live in Columbus, Ohio. Are there any government internet programs for families that are below poverty level and meet the criteria?

  2. Gregory Smith says

    I am retired and the money I get per month is limited to the point that I can not have CABLE TV, because they want $160.00 a month just to watch cable TV showing old B and C movies and then want to charge you extra to watch the movies that they should be showing, if you add internet you will pay $225.00 per month. Now how does that sound for a person that gets $1,000.00 per month income from working all there life and have just a few years left to live, A Mortgage $750.00 per month, utility $150.00 per month, Food $150.00 per month. THE GOV FCC STATE AND CITYS COMMISTIONS can fix this problem, These people are doing the same thing as the OIL INDUTRIE is doing playing with the peoples wealth and whey of living. we don’t need to be thrown away because we help to built this country we called the GREAT USA
    I NEED PHONE AND INTERNET SERVICE. Thank you for your time

  3. ROSS says

    i have been on the phone now for several hours trying to get info from windstream on lifeline internet service in texas. i have conversed with robots, been put into loops where i have to repeat my info over and over, been put on hold for 20 minutes and then disconnected. when i finally got a live body named ryan today at 11.30am (8003471991), he simply tried to get chatty with me while selling me alarm service, phones, etc and would not be deterred when i told him several times i simply wanted info on lifeline internet service. he became belligerant and insulting when i presisted and then hungup on me.

    windstream is evidently another scammer. what now?

  4. Desrae Newcomb says

    By any chance can i qalify for the free internet i live in utah and i qualified for the qlink cell i hsve lost my job i am on food stamps and medicaid

  5. Amber says

    I live in morton mississippi. neither connect to compete or internet essentials….none of the low income programs are for this area….. why?

    • Cheap Internet Administrator says

      Because companies to not have a presence everywhere. If a company that offers a low income program does not have a footprint in your area, then of course you can’t get it.

  6. Eric says

    I CANNOT afford a cell phone; since the Sequestration, I may not even be able to keep my LifeLine, which I’ve had for years. I CANNOT afford cable. I don’t want a cell phone, nor cable. WHY does this essay rant on about how it has to be on Smart Phones? I don’t want one. I have my land line. JUST GET ME 24-HOUR BROADBAND. One cannot live a normal (in any modern sense) life without the internet. (Calling even Government agencies gets me, “Sorry, we’re too cheap to hire someone to talk to you; JUST go and visit us at http://www……..”) If I’m poor enough to qualify for LifeLine, I ought to get broadband for NO ADDITIONAL MONEY, which I haven’t got, by the way. I know how inhumanly greedy AT&T are. (My friend who just moved to France can call me for FREE. It would cost me considerably more than that, if I had long distance, to call him.) Please just tell them they have to provide this for us, and not lie about how put-upon they are. It’s ‘WAY past time for the USA to join the civilized countries of this world, and stop overcharging the aged and disabled…like, NOW.

  7. Joshua Cook says

    I really interested in the free smart phone with Internet it is just really hard making it when not alot of work out there? I have not had internet in so long if i had it on my phone i could get new job do my resume alot of things that would help me i have a free phone a little small one i am ready to give that one back and get this new one!

  8. Lee says

    I got on that low income internet basics program for college, it was suppose to help me not hurt me financially. The deal was $9.95 give or take…I am so angry because I feel mislead; I can barely pay $9.95, but that is not what I ended up paying…I am paying almost $16.00. On SSI, that is too much for me. Everyday I consider dumping it because I can’t handle the bill anymore since that is not what I agreed on. Every year this bill just keeps going up. Be very careful and don’t just sign up when they tell you the internet program for the poor is $9.95 for 5 years…they are lying to you; it is not: This is a trap!

    • Cheap Internet Administrator says

      We’ve never heard of Internet Basics costing anyone $16 a month. Can you tell us if there is an equipment charge or any other charges added to the bill?

  9. margaret says

    I have been looking for a very long time for a low cost internet provider and not able to find one.
    how do I find someone I have to go out to use a computer and only can be on the computer for a half hour at a time the place I go to that is all the time aloud.
    there are so many adds for free internet for low income and disable but when I click on them they say page not avable

  10. NC girl says

    Nothing for NC of course. We are currently paying Time Warner about $65 for service that originally was $35. Now we hear that Comcast and Time Warner are merging – great.
    You cannot get by without high speed internet and they have the option of gouging customers in rural areas, since you have no choice.
    Will believe internet for lower income when I see it

  11. Dorothea Jameson says

    I bought freedompop mobile device and in 24 hours I used 2 gigs. They told me their service wasn’t for me . They didn’t mention Connect2 compete to me. I would like more information about it.

  12. Faith A. Mostoller-Hugar says

    I am low income. I need internet in my home in order to go to school. I’m an online student
    Please point me in the right direction for the lifeline internet service program.

  13. shar says

    I am just learning about this program. I am getting my own apt. I am a senior, and I am disabled. I will not be able to afford cable TV but the internet is very important to me.
    I am in NY State. How do I sign up for the low income program for internet?

  14. says

    Right now its so hard to have internet i live in south carolina where the cost of living is suppose to be cheap but its not so there prices on interent n broadband is ridiculously high so it wld be nice to have this free internet so my children can search the web for homework n etc

  15. Ricardo says

    Hi this free internet will be just perfect for me because I have a voucher to go back to school and the school I alredy register with offers on line programs,I am my .wife’s care giver ,she is disabled and I only make 400 dollars a month ,I really hope this free program goes well,im already a free cell member ,250 texts and 250 minutes but they unfortunately go quick,thank you for your time and looking forward to hear from you.


  1. […] The goal of the program is to test different programs in different markets to determine the most efficient, most effective way to bring cheap high-speed internet to low-income Americans. (A word of caution: They are also testing heavily-discounted programs, and while we believe a free plan will be available, it’s possible that there could be a low monthly cost. Regardless, we feel confident the smartphone will be free.) If you’re interested in more details, we explain the various options being considered here. […]

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