A Guide to Telecommunications Service Programs for Low-Income Consumers

The FCC’s Lifeline program provides discounts on telephone service for low-income households. There are also a variety of other programs that help consumers pay for high-speed internet services. Broadband is a critical component of modern living that helps connect families to jobs, healthcare, and educational resources. This guide will provide an overview of accessing these public and private resources.


The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program is intended to make communications services more affordable for low-income families. The program offers a monthly discount on telephone, broadband Internet, or bundled voice-broadband service from participating cable and wireless providers. The program also offers a free cell phone and smartphone for qualifying households. The program is administered by Universal Service Administrative Company, which is responsible for helping consumers apply to the program, understanding eligibility requirements, and keeping benefits current through an annual recertification process.

Its website provides additional information about the program. The National Verifier is a centralized system that USAC uses to verify consumer eligibility. Service providers can help consumers apply to the program using the National Verifier service provider portal or a paper application. Eligibility for Lifeline depends on household income and participation in government assistance programs. Some programs that qualify a household for Lifeline include SNAP food stamps, TANF welfare, HEAP energy assistance, Medicaid, SSI disability, section 8 housing vouchers, and more.

The program is available in all 50 states and territories, including tribal lands. To qualify for a Texas Lifeline program phone number, a family must have a total monthly income that is 135% of the poverty level for their state. There are other requirements for each state, such as documentation. Some states offer free phones and tablets to eligible families.


The universal service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as E-Rate, offers discounts of up to 90 percent to help schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications services. The Federal Communications Commission directs the Universal Service Administrative Company, which manages the program. Donations from telecom firms fund the program. The discount levels are based on the percentage of students in each school that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The E-rate program is funded by fees on telecommunications service providers and is designed to make it easier for schools and libraries to connect to the Internet. It is available to public schools, library systems, and many nonprofit organizations that serve those populations. The E-rate program also provides funding for the infrastructure that connects these institutions to the Internet, including internal connections, Wi-Fi equipment, and other related technologies.

E-rate is an integral part of the national effort to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn digital skills and use them to enhance their lives. Increasing the funding for this critical program can be done without raising overall phone rates for consumers, and it will help to provide a much-needed boost to schools and libraries as they invest in their technology infrastructure. The United States Senate is urging the FCC to approve this funding increase.

Universal Service Administrative Company

The Lifeline and Link-Up programs are FCC-approved discounts that eligible low-income consumers can apply to their telephone service or broadband internet access. Lifeline can help pay for the installation costs of phone and internet services and also helps subsidize monthly charges for those who qualify. Almost 1,500 telecommunication companies across the country offer Lifeline, and most of them are competitive carriers.

Contributions from providers of interstate and international telecommunications services fund the program. Unlike most government programs, Lifeline is not funded by appropriations but through these contributions. USAC works with and for contributors, service providers, and program beneficiaries to ensure that universal service funds are appropriately used from start to finish. It includes providing administrative, compliance, and audit services to help ensure that the funds are disbursed promptly and used for their intended purposes.

As part of its oversight role, USAC requires that all participants in the Lifeline program make a reasonable faith effort to promote the availability of their service to eligible households. It includes publicizing the program in a way that is likely to reach those most likely to be interested, using easily understood language to describe the service offering, and ensuring that all materials describing the service disclose that the Lifeline discount is non-transferable and limited to one per household.

Universal Service Fund

Several programs help consumers with their telephone and broadband internet service costs. They can assist with monthly bills and connection fees and prevent shutoffs of services. Eligibility varies by program. Call your service provider to see if you can qualify for these assistance programs. The Universal Service Fund (USF) is a Federal government program that ensures all Americans can receive essential telecommunications services at affordable rates. Contributions from telecommunications providers help support USF. The money is distributed among four programs – Connect America Fund, Low Income Support, Schools and Libraries, and Rural Health Care Support. Each program aims to fulfill the Telecommunications Act of 1934’s universal service objective.

In addition to supporting telecommunications service for all Americans, the USF helps communities in high-cost areas, rural and tribal areas. This support enables telecommunications providers to offer wireless, high-speed Internet, and voice services at rates comparable to urban areas. The USF also administers the four programs that help low-income consumers. It collects the contributions from telecommunications companies and disburses the funds to the beneficiaries.

In addition, it works with contributors, beneficiaries, and vendors to ensure that the money is used correctly from start to finish. This process is supervised by the Universal Service Administrative Company, the independent not-for-profit corporation designated to administer the USF for the FCC.

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