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Discount for phone and Internet services

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed May 2021

Note: The federal government created a new program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) to help low-income households pay for the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. See:

Do you need help to pay for your internet and phone bills?

The federal government can pay a part of your monthly phone or Internet charges to certain companies through a program called Lifeline. Some companies offer free cell phones.

How much help can I get?

The Lifeline program gives you up to $9.25/month for

  • landline or cell phone,
  • Internet, or
  • combined phone-Internet monthly services.

People who live on federally-recognized Tribal lands can get up to $25/month.

You can only have one Lifeline benefit.

Does every phone or Internet carrier offer Lifeline?

No. Only 6 companies in Massachusetts offer Lifeline. They offer cell phone, landline, Internet or a combination plan. Some wireless carriers may also offer a free or low cost device like a cell phone, computer, or tablet. The company you use depends on where you live.

If you already have a cellphone, landline, or Internet plan, ask your carrier if they offer Lifeline. Also ask them if they offer other discount programs for low-income customers. You can ask your company to apply to the state to become an “Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC)” so they can accept Lifeline.

Services and the carriers that offer them

 

Cell phone or wireless service

  • Assurance Wireless is a Lifeline carrier
    • Their plan is free for subscribers.
    • They offer a free cell phone when you sign up.
  • SafeLink Wireless is a Lifeline carrier.
    • Their plan is free for subscribers
  • StandUp Wireless is a Lifeline carrier.
    • Their Voice Bundle plan is free for subscribers

Landline or fixed phone service

  • Verizon offers
  • Otelco
    • ​Offers service in Granby, MA
  • Consolidated Communications/Taconic

Internet

  • Verizon offers
    • Fios Internet service with a $20 monthly discount for Lifeline customers.
  • StandUp Wireless offers
    • Broadband Bundle Plan that costs $10/month for Lifeline customers
  • Otelco
    • ​Offers service in Granby, MA

Important

These companies may change. See Lifeline’s Companies Near Me Tool for the most up to date list of companies where you live.

What do I need to know about Lifeline cell phone minutes and texting?

Most Lifeline wireless plans give you a maximum number of minutes per month. Check how many minutes you get, to see if a plan will work for you.

You use minutes when you:

  • make any phone call - including toll-free numbers,
  • get calls, and
  • listen to voicemail.

Calling 911 does not use up your monthly minutes.

If you use more than your free minutes, you have to buy extra minutes. Extra minutes are expensive. You may also have to buy minutes just to get your voicemail.

Many people who have Lifeline run out of minutes quickly, and then nobody can reach them. Be sure to give people who need to get in touch with you a back up phone number. Ask a friend or family member if you can use their number as a back up. Be careful about giving your Lifeline number to your social worker, probation officer or other people who need to reach you. If you use your Lifeline phone to call a court or an agency for a hearing, tell them you have limited minutes so they do not put you on hold or delay the matter.

Can I get Lifeline?

You can get Lifeline if no one else in your household has Lifeline, and

You or a member of your household get

  • Medicaid (most types of MassHealth)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
  • Veterans’ Pension and Survivors’ Benefit
  • Tribal Programs (and you live on federally-recognized Tribal lands)

or

Your household income is 135% of the federal poverty level or less.

Number of people in your household Monthly Household Income at 135% Federal Poverty Level
1 $1,449
2 $1,960
3 $2,471
4 $2,981
5 $3,492
6 $4,003
7 $4,514
8 $5,024
For each additional person add $511

If you have questions about how to apply, call The Department of Telecommunications and Cable Consumer Hotline: 1-800-392-6066.

Who does Lifeline count as part of my “household”?

Lifeline says a “household” is a group of people who live together and share expenses.

A household can have only one Lifeline plan - wireless phone service, landline service, or Internet service.

People who live together but do not share expenses can be different households. If you live with another person or a group of people but you do not share expenses with them, you may be able to get your own Lifeline plan. You may have to fill out a Household Worksheet to show that you are separate households.

How do I apply for Lifeline?

Apply for Lifeline through the Lifeline National Verifier. You can apply online or mail in a paper form.

You can get approved for Lifeline faster if you include documents that prove you qualify when you apply.

  • ​​You can use documents that show you get benefits like SNAP, MassHealth, or SSI. These documents must have:
    • Your name or the name of the person who qualifies for the benefit,
    • The name of the program that makes you eligible for Lifeline,
    • The name of the agency that issued the document, and
    • A date that is within the past 12 months or that shows when your benefits end.
  • You can also use documents that show your income is 135% of the federal poverty level or less, like:
    • An Unemployment Benefits statement,
    • A Social Security benefits statement,
    • A paycheck stub, or
    • Another document that shows your income.

​​If the National Verifier does not show that you qualify with the information you upload, you may need to give Lifeline other documents.

Do not give a copy of your Social Security Number (SSN) card or your full SSN to a Lifeline sales representative. You only have to give the last 4 numbers of your SSN. Lifeline workers can only ask for your Social Security card if there is an error verifying your identity.

If you have questions about how to apply, call The Department of Telecommunications and Cable Consumer Hotline: 1-800-392-6066.

What happens next?

If you qualify through the National Verifier, you have 90 days to choose a company.

You must recertify every year. You have to show you still qualify for Lifeline and that you only have one Lifeline service. If you do not recertify, you will lose Lifeline.

Phone companies may add extra costs for extra minutes or other fees. Be sure to ask about these costs before you sign!

Know the rules!

Lifeline can cut off your service if it finds your household has another discount line. This means:

  • If you sign up for a Lifeline discount for a cell phone plan when you have a discount on your landline, you must pay full price for your landline.
  • If you live with another Lifeline household, when you apply, make sure you fill out the household worksheet to show you are a separate household.

Keep in mind

  • You can change Lifeline companies if you do not like your service.
  • Sometimes Lifeline phone representatives do not give you all the information you need to make the right choice. Make sure the Lifeline service you choose is right for you! Questions you can ask your carrier:
    • Do you provide a free or discounted device with the Lifeline plan?
    • How many minutes does the phone plan provide?
    • What are the fees for extra minutes?
    • What are your policies for lost, broke, or stolen devices?
    • If I have my own device, will it work with your plan?

Learn more about the services companies must offer and your rights as a Lifeline customer: lifelinesupport.org/lifeline-rules-rights/#rights

Where can I find more information?

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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