Can’t Afford Home Internet? This New Program Could Help

cheap internet
Travis Isaacs under Creative Commons

A recent Federal Communications Commission decision could help you get free internet or phone service.

The FCC approved a plan last week to expand an existing phone subsidy to include broadband internet service.

Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on (then landline) phone service to low-income households.

In recent years, the service has grown tremendously as a number of low-cost and prepaid cell phone carriers have come on board. The FCC has been working since 2012 to expand the program to include internet access, and last week’s decision finally set it in motion.

The program provides a $9.25 per month discount on services. With this expansion, participants can apply the discount to:

  • Landline phone service
  • Mobile phone voice and data service
  • Broadband internet service

How to Apply

You’re eligible for the service if you have an income at or 135% below the federal Poverty Guidelines — or participate in one of several government assistance programs (list of programs here).

So a family of four in most states is eligible with an annual household income of $32,805 or less.

You’ll apply through your service provider (not with the government). Start by finding a Lifeline Service Provider in your state.

You’ll need proof of income or participation in a qualifying program. See what qualifies as proof here.

Only one discount is allowed per household.

So, you can get a discount to use towards a landline, mobile phone or broadband service; OR you can apply a single discount to a bundle that includes more than one of these.

If you live in a household with multiple adults, but have separate income and expenses (e.g. in an assisted living facility or, in some cases, roommates), you could be eligible for separate Lifeline discounts.

Learn more about your eligibility here.

What You’ll Get

The program provides a minimum $9.25 per month discount, but some providers offer additional benefits under the program.

Check with your service provider to determine what the Lifeline program can offer you.

For example, programs through Access Wireless and Assurance Wireless provide customers with a free wireless phone and free monthly allotment of minutes and text messages.

Major service providers like AT&T, Centurylink, Verizon and T-Mobile participate, but the service is discounted, not free.

The discount is less effective with these providers, as a typical monthly bill could be between $50-$100 per month. A $9.25 discount doesn’t really make a huge dent.

Regardless of your provider, you won’t be shortchanged on service.

The FCC plan sets monthly minimums of available broadband usage, mobile data and minutes, so your discounted service will meet basic standards.

These monthly minimums are:

  • 150GB of broadband usage
  • 500MB of mobile data, increasing to 2GB by the end of 2018
  • 500 minutes of mobile voice, increasing to 1,000 by the end of 2018

Recent Lifeline Program Updates

The program came under fire a few years ago because of lax oversight and lack of compliance with the one-per-household rule.

The program was reformed in 2013 with stricter proof-of-income requirements and greater oversight.

Your Turn: Have you ever participated in the LIfeline program?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post,, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).