Lifeline Internet: A welcome addition to the Lifeline phone program
Your selection of cheap internet options just got a little broader. On January 31, 2012 the Federal Communications Commission approved Lifeline Internet, a major expansion of the popular governmentâ€™s free cell phone program.
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.
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. Now we see that 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.
Details are still being worked out by the FCC, but it appears that the program will work like this:
Although cell phones and service are free under the Lifeline plan, Lifeline Internet will cost $9.95 per month. That, of course, is a major savings over the â€śinexpensiveâ€ť $29, $49 and $69 per month plans now available through phone and cable companies (donâ€™t believe the teaser rates you see advertised), and a major advance in making internet access available to Americaâ€™s needy.
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.
(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.)
Like we said, the FCC just approved Lifeline Internet so it has not yet been rolled out and the rules havenâ€™t been established. But they have announced a $30 million pilot program that will work out all the details, and then they will roll it out.
In the mean time, you’ve got two other similar options: Comcastâ€™s Internet Essentials program and CenturyLinkâ€™s Internet Basics program. And beginning in Fall 2012, the Connect to Compete will begin to roll out across the country. If you are having a hard time understanding all the various programs, please read our help page.
Check back frequently, because weâ€™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.