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

Basic RGB When will the Federal Communications Commission finally approve Lifeline internet? - The FCC has done a whole lot of talking about Lifeline Broadband, but has taken precious little action to make it actually happen.
Lifeline Broadband 2014 Is the FCC finally ready to announce its long-awaited Lifeline Broadband program? - It appears that the Federal Communications Commission is finally on the verge of overhauling the Lifeline Assistance program, and it is widely anticipated that one of the biggest changes will be to include Lifeline Broadband
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.

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    currently I am permanently disabled then I found this website that you have this program internet at low prices to people with this condition and low income. I hope to hear, thanks

  2. Tracy Gabriel says

    I’m looking for low income internet for myself and my children. Comcast is not offered in my area so I’m at a lose on other companies. Can anyone help me?

    • Administrator says

      We realy wish we knew. However, the FCC is going to be discussing this very thing before the end of this month, so hopefully we’ll have some news.

  3. Debbie weeks says

    I’m disabled with low income. Wireless with a router is needed to get a computer and keep current and look for work. How can I get very low cost internet for my home without getting it on a “hard to read” phone! My zip code is 45102.

  4. David says

    my wife and i are Disabled and on a very limited budget..the internet and cable cost way to much..being disabled we have nothing to do except pay high prices on internet and borrow from our kids..

  5. Janet Gray says

    Please let me know when the Internet program for low income & seniors begins. I live in Florida and I have lifeline phone service.

  6. mary says

    i desperately need the lifeline internet.I have safelink phone,and need internet badly to help me make ends meet. I am elderly and each month i am short for my hopefully I will receive help in my email with my situation..Thank you so much for reading my comment..

  7. RL says

    I live on the Navajo Reservation, this Reservation has no jobs or commercial enterprises to access any jobs. I have lived here for 6yrs after becoming very ill, I thought I would get a job easily so I put all my savings into refurbishing a house with running water, sanitation, electricity, windows, doors, dry wall, subfloor…etc… BUT no jobs here… I need internet to look for a job or go on-line for any education. There are satellite and wireless companies here all are very expensive and beyond my no income status. With no income and my age of 60 yrs…. I am so overwhelmed and living in poverty status – my vehicles have gone by the wayside because of lack of money and no worthy mechanics here I really need help.

  8. Misil says

    Is there any internet provider out there for a low income person at this zip code 84724?
    Century links bandwith is exhausted in my area. And I do not have any children so I can not qualify with comcast eitheir. I live in a small town not very many ip’s. Can you help me?

  9. Shawna Roman says

    I’m interested in learning more about the free smartphone and free or discounted internet services available to people such as myself qualify for as a low-income, poverty level individual. Please include me on any and all of your distribution lists relative to any and all services and benefits available through the government assistance programs. Thank you kindly for your time, assistance and cooperation. Its blessings like these that make life a little easier from a disadvantaged perspective and it makes a world of difference in a variety of aspects of our daily lives. Thanks again and God Bless!

  10. Johnny says

    I understand what your diemma and all that are going through Viv. i wanna suggest the you check into all of local Internet Cafes where often times, they replace older Desk top models and they sell the old one s chep! I bought mine for $135.00 fromn an internet Cafe with a 60 day warranty!
    I’m typing to you on that same computer that I bought two years ago and it works just fine!
    If you needd help with paying for it, we could start a Web Site asking for donations ~ you’d be surprised how many generous souls there are out there, in Cyber Land!
    I hope this is some assurance to you and you can email me if you want an internet friend. I’m Johnny a 67 year old man in Los Angeles, California… I can type in Big Letters!

  11. Viv says

    I have multiple disabilities:legally blind/low vision, legally deaf/hearing loss, and use a power wheelchair. I’m grateful for the cell phone, however, I can not see well enough to text or read most of what is on the screen. These programs are wonderful, yet people who live with disabilities are not being considered when equipment is chosen and available options are decided upon. Also, living with disabilities and illness as a senior citizen is expensive, severely limits the equipment and programs usability, and is often not user friendly.

    I am looking for help reducing the cost of my landline which is a life saver and my internet. Does anyone have any suggestions. I live below poverty level and am blessed with medical assistance/medicare.

    A huge blessing would be having the ability to use iPhone instead of track phone in the free cell phone programs. Having a iPad or apple computer which is more blind/visually impaired friendly is a much friendlier and better choice because people with vision problems need all the help they can get to be able to read what is shown on the screen.

    Feel free to ask any questions you may have. Safe travels and many blessings.

    • Administrator says

      You can’t sign up for Lifeline Broadband yet. Much to our dismay, the FCC has done nothing yet since the pilot programs ended.


  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. […]