What is the Lifeline Program?
The Lifeline Program is a federal and state government benefit program that permits eligible low-income consumers to receive a discounted telephone service to help stay connect to the nation's communications networks, find jobs, access health care services, and call for help in an emergency. Recognizing the need to stay connected in today’s technological climate, the Lifeline Program has expanded its service offerings to include, where available, broadband internet access. Internet access will be available in various forms, but we anticipate its inclusion in the Lifeline Program will further help connect low-income families to the internet, closing the "homework gap," and eliminating the distance to meaningful employment and reliable healthcare.
What Benefits are Available from the Lifeline Program?
Starting on December 2, 2016, Lifeline Program consumers will have the choice (where available) of applying their benefit to one type of service offering:
- Fixed or mobile internet service; or
- Landline or mobile voice service.
Some carriers may offer a bundled package of landline or mobile telephone service with internet service.
In addition, minimum service standards have been established to ensure that supported services keep pace with the ever-changing digital landscape. These service standards will be evaluated each year to ensure the continued support of robust and meaningful broadband connectivity.
The chart below outlines the minimum service standards taking effect on December 2, 2016:
|Usage Allowance: 500 Minutes||Speed: 3G Usage Allowance: 500 MB||Speed: 10/1 Mbps|
Usage Allowance: 150 GB
Who is Eligible for the Lifeline Program?
To participate in the Lifeline program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in one of the following assistance programs:
- Medicaid (MassHealth)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
- Certain Federally-Recognized/State Tribal Assistance Programs
- NEW—Veteran's Pension or Survivor's Pension benefit
In addition, a household is eligible for Lifeline if the total household income is at or below certain levels, depending on the size of the household. Each year the income eligibility requirements for the Lifeline program offered in Massachusetts may change.
2016 Income Eligibility Guidelines
|Persons in Household||Annual Income|
|For each additional person in the household, add||$5,616|
Which Service Providers Participate in the Lifeline Program?
(also known as Virgin Mobile/Sprint)
Granby Telephone Company
(also known as OTT Communications)
(also known as TracFone Wireless)
(also known as Fairpoint Communications)
(also known as Global Connection)
Consumers must directly contact an approved Massachusetts Lifeline provider to learn about their application process and service offerings. Consumers may be able to complete the application process online, by telephone or by mail. Federal rules require that all Lifeline service providers securely retain copies of eligibility documentation received during program enrollment for dispute resolution purposes as long as your Lifeline benefit is active.
Will a Lifeline Program participant be required to recertify their eligibility?
Yes, once you enrolled in the Lifeline program, a participant must verify their continued eligibility on an annual basis. Participants will be contacted by their Lifeline provider or the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) to recertify that they remain eligible to participate in the program. The recertification process must be completed within 30 days from the initial request or Lifeline benefit will be lost. If a Lifeline provider determines that a program participant are no longer eligible for Lifeline, it will notify the subscriber by letter and the Lifeline service will be terminated 30 days after the date of such letter, unless proof of eligibility is provided. If a program participant becomes ineligible for the Lifeline benefit for any reason, they must contact their provider immediately to de-enroll from the program or they may be subject to penalties.
For consumers who require an accessible device, there are options available.
To apply for financial assistance in obtaining a handset compatible with your landline telephone service provider, you may contact the Massachusetts Commission of the Deaf at Hard of Hearing Assistive Technology Fund at 617-740-1600 or contact Alexander Pooler, the Director of the Assistive Technology Program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, by email at Alexander.Pooler@state.ma.us.
To request an accessible wireless device, contact your wireless carrier of choice to explore what models are available to suit your needs. Braille key, larger-screen and hearing aid compatible mobile phones may also be available upon request.
Important Consumer Tips and Recent Program Changes
- Federal law limits the Lifeline benefit to one service per household.
- Applicants will be required to complete an application for the carrier of their choice that certifies that they meet the eligibility requirements. This will include submitting acceptable documentation, along with a completed application, to demonstrate proof of eligibility for the program.
- Applicants must recertify each year with their Lifeline service provider demonstrating that they continue to meet eligibility requirements or they may lose their Lifeline benefit. When your Lifeline service provider or the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) notifies you to recertify your continued eligibility for Lifeline, you must respond promptly, as failing to respond will result in a removal of your benefit or suspension of service.
- Participating in the Lifeline Program does not protect a household from a service disconnection if proper payment is not made towards any outstanding balance.
- Depending on a consumer's location, some wireless carriers may provide a better signal than others. Contact each company to find out which one provides the most coverage in the area where the consumer's residence is located prior to selecting a carrier.
- When submitting a Lifeline application to a service provider, be sure to answer each question, write in a legible manner and provide a photocopies of proof of eligibility documents.
- Keep a copy of a completed application and all original eligibility documentation.
- Effective December 2, 2016, benefit recipients must use their Lifeline service once every 30 days or the benefit will be removed. Sending a text message now qualifies as usage of service.
- Once enrolled, a program participant must stay with the same Lifeline provider for 60 days for telephone service and 12 months for broadband service before being able to switch providers.
- If an existing program participant is interested in switching their Lifeline service plan to a plan including mobile internet service, they may be required to purchase their own smartphone that is compatible with the Lifeline provider's network. Check with your provider for additional details.
We are here to Help!
For additional information regarding the Lifeline program, contact the Consumer Division of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable. The Consumer Division also accepts complaints concerning Lifeline service and works directly with service providers to resolve any issues that program participants may encounter.
Visit or Write: Consumer Division, Department of Telecommunications and Cable,1000 Washington Street, Suite 820, Boston, MA 02118
Call: 1-800-392-6066 (Our Consumer Hotline operates Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm)
Updated December 2016