Lifeline Low Income Phone Subsidy to Include Broadband

John Lister's picture

The US government plans to offer a subsidy to help people on low incomes get cheaper access to broadband Internet. Recipients would get a choice of using it on fixed-line or mobile services.

The plan is an extension to an existing program called Lifeline, which has been running for around thirty years. Its funded by a levy on phone companies and allows people who meet low income eligibility requirements to get a monthly discount of $9.25 on phone line rental.

Since 2005, the plan has allowed recipients to opt to use the discount of a pre-paid cellular phone plan instead of a landline. Now the government plans to give recipients the option of applying the discount to a broadband service instead - or to a single package that bundles phone and Internet services. The reasoning here is that phones have always been a vital tool for finding a job and being part of society; similarly, getting online is a necessity, rather than a luxury.

The $9.25 subsidy figure will remain unchanged and recipients will only be allowed to use it for one monthly plan per household. As with the existing set-up, recipients wouldn't actually get a hold of the money at any point; instead the service providers would apply the discount and then claim it back from the US government.

Subsidized Plans Must Meet Speed Threshold

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced the principle last year and has now published a draft of the details. These include the subsidy only being available for broadband packages that offer at least 10 Mbps downloads and 1 Mbps upload, and any monthly data cap being at least 150 GB. (Source:

Critics have pointed out that this seems inconsistent with the FCCs own definition of broadband (for the purposes of measuring national availability and take-up) which is 25 Mbps download. However, officials say it wouldn't be viable to use that definition while still having the packages be affordable to low-income people after applying their discount. (Source:

There will also be an option to use the subsidy on a mobile data plan. In that case, the plan will need to offer at least 500 MB of data each month, a figure that will rise to 2GB in 2018.

Wasteful Spending Under Attack

Opponents of the proposal say the Lifeline plan is already overly bureaucratic and inefficient, wasting public money, and that this needs reforming before the plan is expanded.

The FCC says the changes would be accompanied by an overhaul in administration, including creating a single database to not only confirm recipients are eligible, but also make sure they don't receive the discount from multiple providers.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you agree with the principle of Lifeline and, if so, should it be expanded to cover broadband as well as phone service? Are the FCC's proposals for the expansion sensible? Can such a program ever be managed efficiently and, if not, it's that a price worth paying to achieve its aims?

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.7 (6 votes)


Dennis Faas's picture

This seems like a great idea for low income households. As far as the wasteful spending is concerned - candidates should be able to file their own applications online and have the website check to see if they are valid. By the sounds of it, it doesn't seem like this process is automated.

charlesakinney's picture

What is so misused and has for a very long time is that the Government is NOT providing anything. It is the American taxpayer. I cringe whenever someone says the government is going to pay for freebies. Or the proverbial "the Government will take care of me". We have lost all sense of work ethic. Kids going to college and take basket weaving and expect to find a job in that field. lol I mean come on. Get down to the real answer to who funds this stuff. It doesn't matter what kind of thing it is called. Taxpayers are going to pay the bill in the end. There is no right to have a phone or broadband or anything else that is NOT in the Constitution. All the rights are in there. Everything else is a privilege. So does that mean people have a "right" to other people's money? Nope. Politicians looking to stay in power by giving away "Government" money. It is NOT theirs it is the American Taxpayers. I think people should actually learn the difference between a right (only found in the constitution) and privilege. Time and again people get in front of the cameras and demand things because it is their "right". The hell it is. Why do you think people poo poo Gun owners and certain people and politicians want them banned? It is a RIGHT to have a gun/s via the Constitution. Go to Hillsdale college in Michigan web site and take their Constitution course, it is free and people just might begin to see that what they think is their right is just a privilege they have to WORK for. lol

highprairiest's picture

If you look at your phone bill, you sill see that we have all been paying a fee each month that goes to cover Lifeline and other services for low-income people. I currently pay $6.50 per month to Century Link for that particular fund. I have never received a benefit from the money they take from me every month. I was told this "fee/tax" goes to the fund we are discussing here. Now, I am 75 years old, on a fixed income of $740 per month and find this new "freebie" as you call it may indeed be of benefit to me. Do you resent that? Why? I have paid into it for decades. I am "conservative" as those of you who posted your anger/indignation about the subject here, I am pro-life, pro second amendment, and totally against free college for all and all of the other "hand-outs". HOWEVER, I PAID into Social Security all of my working years, so I EARNED what I now receive. Also, I PAID into this Lifeline fund for decades, so I refuse to feel guilt if I decide to take advantage of it.

rwells78's picture

If you can't afford home internet, then go to the public library and use their computer, internet and printer. Too many taxpayer dollars are going to people unwilling to work to provide for themselves!

nate04pa's picture

While it is true that some people take advantage of government subsidy programs, others do really need assistance. Also, it is NOT a good idea to use a public computer to transact personal business.

highprairiest's picture

Exactly. There will always be those who "take advantage" of government programs, some deserve it, some do not and those are the ones we resent. However, we have ALL been paying into this fund on our monthly phone bills, so the money is there and those who can rightfully and morally benefit from it should not feel they are "freeloaders".

kitekrazy's picture

The real bottom line is the internet providers are losing subscribers to cell phone service.

gmthomas44_4203's picture

charlesakinney, WELL SAID!, Nuff said.

Chief's picture

Why don't we just get it over with and mandate affordable data service for all and tax/fine those who fail to sign up each year at tax time?

Doccus's picture

I am on a disabled person's allowance here in Canada and we already get a $20 allowance to cover land line phone service. I believe it was extended to include cellphones a few years ago.. but no wifi or internet supplement now or in future is likely. Our allowance was cut by 25% to pay for the winter olympics and pay for the MLAs wage increases of 50% , bringing us back down to 1988 levels. The government just announced a massive increase of $25 to cover the huge drop in the value of the dollar , as well as a subsidy for bus passes. Which already existed under another name. Nobody here on disability can afford internet service. we have to jack into someone else's account or get wifi hot spots.. since, for instance in my case, my rent and utilities cost nearly double the $350 monthly allowance leaving $259 for food,clothing and grooming needs, and internet service as well comes out of that. Internet cost $75 a month here and if I wanted TV it would double that. I haven't had TV service for years because of that... Otherwise I would have $100 a month for food and clothing etc and of course we do not have anything like "food stamps" here.... so instead I have almost $200 after internet service since there are no wifi hot spots where I live. My point is a government that thinks like this wil NEVER EVER consider including internet as an "essential service". I saw a worldwide cpmparison and we were right at the bottom with india and pakistan, if you can believe it ... I wish that there was somew kindf of international human rights tribunal that would force governments who boast about running a surplus every year to cover certain basic neccessities such as clothing , internet, and basic minimum guaranteed towards food no matter what rent and internet cost...
Internet is an essential service these days but some governments are loath to accept that...