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Need an ACP Alternative? Check Out Savings With the Lifeline Program

This long-time government subsidy is a great option for eligible households to save money on home internet. Here's what you need to know.

Trey Paul Senior Editor
Trey Paul is a CNET senior editor covering broadband. His 20+ years of experience as a writer and editor include time at CNET's sister site, Allconnect, and working with clients like Yahoo!, Google, The New York Times and Choice Hotels. An avid movie fan, Trey's career also includes being a film and TV critic while pursuing a degree in New York.
Expertise Home internet and broadband, including plans, providers, internet speeds and connection types. Movies and film studies. Credentials
  • Master's degree in Cinema Studies from NYU and interviews with Conan O'Brien, Stan Lee and some of his biggest Star Trek childhood idols
Trey Paul
5 min read
Yellow RJ54 ethernet connector on pink background.

Photo by Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

Throughout the pandemic, we learned how important it is to be connected at home. Whether working from home, tending to our health via telemedicine or simply trying to stay sane by binge-watching shows on our favorite streaming services -- having a reliable broadband connection is fundamental to our daily routines. 

Now, we're all riding the waves of some uncertain economic times. During such moments, finding ways to save money can be empowering. That's where the federal government's Lifeline program may help, especially with the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program near.

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Lifeline began in 1985 to help low-income families afford phone service. It provides a monthly benefit of $9.25 to help offset those costs. Eligible individuals and families on tribal lands may receive up to $34.25. While Lifeline still covers traditional landline and wireless plans, the program was broadened in 2016 to include home broadband service.   

Locating local internet providers

A home internet discount can help you stay tethered to job prospects, schooling opportunities, family services and emergency care. The Lifeline program is available to consumers across the country, but eligibility is limited to low-income families and individuals. CNET can walk you through what you need to know to determine if you qualify. If you do, you may find that the Lifeline discount also opens the door to additional savings -- more on that to come. 

Are you eligible?

While Lifeline is available across the US, not everyone can benefit. Its goal is to assist low-income households and individuals to stay connected to school, work, play, utilities, health care and other social services. To participate in Lifeline, at least one household member must fit the program requirements. 

Locating local internet providers

If anyone in your home currently participates in government assistance plans -- including Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, tribal-specific programs (Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and Head Start) and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs -- you should be eligible to receive the Lifeline discount.

Even if you do not participate in any of the above programs, you might also be eligible for Lifeline based on your income. Your household will qualify if your income is less than or equal to 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Here's what that looks like:

Lifeline qualification: Total income

No. of people in the household135% of the poverty guideline (48 states and Washington DC)135% of the poverty guideline (Alaska)135% of the poverty guideline (Hawaii)
1 $20,331 $25,394 $23,369
2 $24,594 $34,479 $31,725
3 $34,857 $43,565 $40,082
4 $42,120 $52,650 $48,438
5 $49,383 $61,736 $56,795
6 $56,646 $70,821 $65,151
7 $63,909 $79,907 $73,508
8 $71,172 $88,992 $81,864
Show more (3 items)

Once you get over eight people, add $5,380 to the last amount listed for each additional individual. Also, the numbers are slightly higher for folks living in Alaska and Hawaii, as you can see above. In Alaska, you should add $6,730 to the final amount listed for each individual beyond eight. Consumers living in Hawaii should add $6,190 for each individual beyond eight. 

Have you gathered your documents and paperwork?

Whether you sign up online or complete your application process by mail, you'll need to gather several documents to help verify your eligibility. In almost all cases, you'll need statements dated within the past 12 months. Acceptable documentation includes (but isn't limited to):

  • Proof of income (some options are a current pay stub, a Social Security statement of benefits or a tax return). Note: If the paperwork does not cover a full income year, it must reflect three consecutive months.
  • Proof of program participation (including a notice letter of participation or statement of benefits).

Keep these documents and make copies to send. The complete list of acceptable documents is available online via the Lifeline Support Center.

Now it's time to apply for Lifeline

For the most part, to apply for Lifeline broadband benefits, you can apply online through the Lifeline National Verifier, an application system set up by the Federal Communications Commission and run by the Universal Service Administrative Company. You can go to the site, enter your name, address and identifying information and begin the process of qualifying for benefits. The two exceptions are Oregon and Texas. Applicants from those two regions must go through their states' specific application process. 

If you prefer, you can also choose to apply by mail. You will need to print out an application (a PDF is available on the USAC site), complete it and send copies (make sure you keep all your original paperwork -- send duplicates only) of all required documents to USAC, Lifeline Support Center, PO Box 7081, London, KY 40742. You can also request that an application be mailed to you. To do so, either email LifelineSupport@usac.org or call Lifeline at 800-234-9473.

Once you start your application for Lifeline, you have 45 days to complete the process. Additionally, once you qualify for Lifeline, you'll have 90 days to either sign up for service with an internet company or apply your Lifeline benefit to your current broadband provider. 

Bonus round: Lifeline can unlock additional savings on internet service

You've just been accepted for Lifeline and now get the $9.25 benefit on your internet service, which is great. Even better, many internet providers offer low-cost plans to eligible customers, but you'll have to enter your details to see if you qualify.

Here are just a few of the ISPs that offer discounted internet service:

This is not an exhaustive list of all providers that offer cheap residential broadband. Check out CNET's best internet deals for seniors and students, and our compiled list of monthly discounts and promos.

Some final details to keep in mind

There is only one Lifeline benefit permitted per household. If you choose to use the discount on your home internet, you cannot get an additional discount on phone service. You must choose one or the other.

Also, eligible people must recertify their eligibility yearly to continue receiving the Lifeline discount. Failure to do so will result in the subscriber getting disqualified for further assistance until eligibility has been reestablished.

If you have questions regarding the Lifeline program, you can email LifelineSupport@usac.org or call the Lifeline Support Center at 800-234-9473.

Did Lifeline start during the COVID-19 pandemic?

No. Lifeline has been around since 1985. It first started as a means to get affordable phone service to low-income families. Home internet service began to be included when the program's scope was expanded in 2016. The coronavirus pandemic helped bring the program to greater light, but it existed well before that time.

Can anyone participate in Lifeline?

While Lifeline is available in all 50 states across the country, it is aimed toward helping low-income families and individuals; not everyone will be able to sign up. To qualify for Lifeline, you must meet the eligibility requirements, which range from participation in specific government assistance programs to a household income less than or equal to 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Is Lifeline the same as the Affordable Connectivity Program?

No. While both are federal programs aimed at helping more Americans obtain an affordable internet connection, Lifeline has existed since 1985, and the ACP is only a few years old. Unfortunately, funding for the ACP is running out, so unless Congress passes a bill to provide further funding, monies for the ACP are expected to run dry in May 2024.