What is the Lifeline Program?

The Lifeline Program ensures that low-income people have access to quality telephone service. It could be combined with Link Up and Toll Limitation Service. The Lifeline program reduces the amount people pay for monthly telephone charges for basic service and allows those with income constraints to enjoy the benefits of a telephone service.

Lifeline is provided by the Low Income Program of the Universal Service Fund. The Universal Administrative Company administrates this fund. While programs such as this have been in existence since 1985, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 included language that ensured that all consumers in all regions had access to telecommunication services, though it wasn't until later that the program really expanded to include all low-income families.

Over the years, the Lifeline program has been changed to include more people. The FCC amended rules on June 30, 2000 to add the Tribal Order (FCC 00-208). The Tribal Order allowed coverage for American Indian and those living on Alaska Native lands access to the program. The Tribal Order gives low-income members living on federal tribal lands an additional $25 in Lifeline Support. It also added $70 for Link Up support. The excess provisions brings the cost of local phone service for the average tribal resident down to $1, which is the minimum charge for service through Lifeline.

In April 2004, the FCC released FCC 04-87, the Lifeline and Link Up Order. This order modified the low-income program, expanding eligibility for the program by introducing income-based criteria. It also became a participant in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the National School Lunch program. An additional 1.17 to 1.29 million households became eligible for the Lifeline and Link Up programs.

Because of the temptation to abuse the program, the 2004 Lifeline and Link Up order implemented validation and certification procedures to help minimize abusive practices. Carriers that serve in federal default states must, each year in June, submit a verification of a sample of their Lifeline customers. The order also required carriers to complete certain record keeping requirements.

If a consumer needs assistance with telephone service, the consumer applies for the program through his or her local telephone company. If the phone company is eligible, it asks the Universal Service Fund's Low Income Program for reimbursement for the difference of the normal charge for service and the discounted rate offered to the consumer. For each family that applies for the Lifeline or Link Up program, the telecommunications carrier must provide the Universal Service Fund's Low Income Program with For 497. The carrier must file the form monthly or quarterly. Depending on the time of the year, some carriers may submit the form for up to 25 months.

The Fund disburses payments to the telecommunications company every month. The fund uses the company's history, a year's worth of support claims, to determine the amount the telecommunications company receives each month. The projection for how much the low income program uses is based on the growth rate for all carriers who receive the low income support.

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