As inflation keeps rising in our country, prices on everything continue to increase as well. It’s a vicious cycle and no one knows if the end will ever be in sight. Nothing is immune to these inflation price increases and that includes the prices of Internet and other critical communications services.
Whether we like it or not, the Internet has essentially become a basic need in our lives. It connects us in so many ways in so many areas that you can’t really avoid using the Internet anymore. Because of this, you’re basically forced to have Internet in your home or find a way to go somewhere with free Wi-Fi if you need to go online for whatever reason.
If you’re struggling to afford true basic needs such as groceries, your rent or mortgage, your water bill, your heating bill and so on, you most likely don’t have a big budget—or a budget at all—for Internet or similar communications services.
The good news is there could be some relief on the horizon thanks to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This independent U.S. government organization, which is overseen by Congress, regulates channels of communications, and implements and enforces communication laws and regulations in America and its territories.
In turn, the FCC has created two supportive programs to help keep all households in the country connected and functioning in our digital society: the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Lifeline Program.
Affordable Connectivity Program
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is designed to ensure all households can afford the broadband they need so everyone can participate in work activities, school activities, healthcare activities and any other online activities they may need (1).
The ACP’s mission is accomplished by providing eligible households with discounts on their Internet service. Eligible households can receive up to a $30 per month discount on their Internet service and eligible Tribal Lands households can receive up to a $75 per month discount on their Internet service.
All eligible households can also receive a one-time discount to help them purchase certain Internet-enabled technologies. These technologies include laptops, desktop computers and tablets. The discount can be up to $100 as long as you purchase the technology from a participating provider and contribute between $10 to $50 towards the purchase price of the technology.
It should be noted that ACP benefits are limited to one monthly service and one device discount per household.
There are specific criteria a household must meet in order to be eligible for the ACP. For your household to be eligible:
- Your household income must be at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines OR
- A member of your household must qualify for at least one of the following:
- A Federal Pell Grant during the current academic award year
- Eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income Internet program.
- A member of your household participates in at least one of the following programs:
- The National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program (including the USDA Community Eligibility Provision)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits
- The FCC’s Lifeline Program
- A member of the household participates in at least one of the following programs while currently living on qualifying Tribal Lands:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Tribal Head Start (income-based program)
Applying for the ACP
If your household meets the eligibility criteria, you can apply for the program in two easy steps. First, you’ll visit ACPBenefit.org so you can submit an electronic application or print out a paper application that you can mail into the ACP.
Next, you’ll need to contact your preferred participating Internet provider to select a plan that works for you and so you can have your discount applied to your broadband bill. It should be noted some providers may have separate applications for you to fill out, though not all of them do.
Additional ACP Information
You may be concerned about if participating providers play by the ACP’s program rules. The long and the short of it is, yes, the providers must play by the rules because the FCC has worked consumer protection fail-safes into the program.
These fail-safes protect and ensure the participants feel empowered to choose the service plan that will best fit their family’s needs and not whatever plan the provider may be upselling, a more expensive plan than they can afford, or a lower quality plan than they deserve. It also ensures participants will have access to supported broadband services no matter what their credit score is. Consumers are also protected from being excluded from the program by providers, even if they have past balances due. If a consumer is not happy with their participating provider, they can also switch to a different participating provider with no early termination fees or issues.
If you do happen to find that a participating provider is somehow not playing by the rules of the program, you can contact the FCC’s dedicated ACP Complaints Department via the ACP Support Center at 1-877-384-2575; if you have any additional questions or concerns about the program, you can also contact that number.
The Lifeline Program
While the ACP focuses heavily on providing affordable Internet and broadband access to households, the Lifeline Program focuses on making communications services more affordable for low-income consumers (2). These communications services primarily include qualifying monthly telephone services, as well as bundled voice-broadband packaged services, but can also include just broadband Internet services, too.
The goal of the program is to help low-income consumers across the country receive and afford access to 21st-Century technology that helps keep people connected to important resources such as education, healthcare and jobs.
While the FCC runs the Lifeline Program, the applications are looked at and the discounts are administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
There are a few different discounts you can receive from the Lifeline Program. You could receive up to a $9.25 per month discount on communications services for eligible low-income subscribers and up to a $34.25 per month discount on communications services for those qualifying individuals living on Tribal Lands.
It should also be noted you can receive a discount on a wireline telephone service or a wireless telephone service, but you cannot have both discounts at the same time. Additionally, only one Lifeline Program discount can be applied to each eligible household.
There are specific criteria a household must meet in order to be eligible for the Lifeline Program. For your household to be eligible:
- Your household income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines OR
- A member of your household must participate in at least one of these federal programs:
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits
- Other Tribal assistance programs
Applying for Lifeline
If you and your household meet the qualifying criteria for the Lifeline Program, you can apply via the National Verifier Application System. This system was established by the FCC and is run by the USAC. It confirms applicants’ eligibility for the program and recertifies the applicants’ eligibility on a yearly basis.
If you have any questions regarding the Lifeline program, you can call its assistance hotline at 1-800-234-9473 or send an email to LifelineSupport@usac.org.
No one should be priced out of being connected to the world around us, the people we love, or accessing the important digital resources they need to survive in today’s technology era. If you need assistance with affording any of these digital communications services, be sure to apply for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program or its Lifeline Program.