One Lifeline Assistance expert says this the biggest news to hit the Lifeline Assistance business since Safelink handed out the first free government cell phone back in Tennessee way back in 2008.
Free government cell phone customers will get far more minutes. But what’s even more important, for the first time they’ll also be able to get Lifeline Broadband — blazing fast internet.
(NOTE: We summarize all those new cell phone and broadband rules below, but for even more info on the new Lifeline Broadband, visit our other website: CheapInternet.com)
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler just issued a collection of exciting new regulations that will require Lifeline Assistance companies to deliver more minutes and fast new Lifeline Broadband service. You could read all the details in excruciating bureaucratese, but FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net has prepared this easy-to-understand summary for you:
Here’s what it all means for free government cell phone customers:
All Lifeline Assistance cell phone customers will receive more minutes per month. A lot more.
All service providers will be required to provide a minimum of 500 minutes per month by December 1, 2016. And that’s just the beginning because the minimum minutes per month will jump to 1,000 minutes per month by the end of 2018.
This is incredibly good news if you’re currently stuck in one of those horrible Lifeline plans that restricts you to 68, 125, or 250 minutes per month. Those plans will disappear by the end of this year and you’ll be automatically upgraded to a plan that offers at least 500 minutes per month.
Unfortunately, we expect that many smaller, less profitable, less efficient Lifeline service providers will be unable to provide this higher level of service and will also disappear. That means the business will consolidate in the hands of the larger, more efficient service providers.
Texting will not necessarily increase, because-in what we believe to be a major oversight—Lifeline regulations do not cover texting. Each free government cell phone provider may choose the number of texts it wishes to provide.
Here’s what it means for Lifeline Broadband customers:
After a long, long wait Lifeline Broadband is just around the corner. Chairman Wheeler’s fact sheet says the new regulations “Unlock Lifeline broadband services by providing streamlined, nationwide entry for a new category of providers called Lifeline Broadband Providers.”
Our contact at the USAC tells us, “A Lifeline Broadband Provider is an entity that offers Broadband service only. These could be companies that currently do not offer Lifeline service because they do not offer voice or new companies that decide to offer broadband. The amount of support will not change, so the phone company will have to apply $9.25 to the Lifeline supported services they offer. The phone company will need to decide if the $9.25 is enough to offer services without charge or if they will need to charge a small fee to cover these services.”
In other words, just as companies offering free government cell phones sprung into existence to service the new Lifeline Assistance program back in 2008, we expect similar companies to begin specializing in the new Lifeline Broadband program. We would not be surprised if some of them are able to figure out how to offer high-speed broadband service free to consumers. Others will surely figure out how to offer the same service for next to nothing. And like most of the major cell phone companies (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.), some companies will only pay lip service to Lifeline Broadband by discounting their regular prices by $9.25 per month — not enough to make their Internet plans available for struggling Americans.
Bottom line: Low-income Americans are going to have more high-speed Internet choices than they’ve ever had before.
The Lifeline Broadband business will begin to look a lot more like the free government cell phone business
We asked our USAC contact this question: How will a customer know which internet providers are approved to offer the subsidy, and which of their plans are approved?
“A Lifeline subscriber will know which company is providing Broadband service via the company’s website,” she responded, “as well as, USAC’s companies in my state map.
Faster internet. Much faster.
Many of our readers complain that affordable Internet offers so little monthly data usage that the service is virtually worthless. Most free government cell phone companies don’t offer any data plans and those that do are woefully inadequate.
So we probed our USAC source with this question — The FCC memo says it will be “phasing in” a 500 MB per month of 3G data usage minimum standard (increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018). When will that phase in begin?
The answer? “That phase-in will begin on December 1 of this year.” That’s right, all free government cell phone companies will be required to offer you data plans with at least 500 MB by the end of this year.
In case you’re wondering, this might be a good time to explain what 3G is. The “G” stands for generation and 3G, therefore, the third generation of mobile communications technology (analog cellular was the first generation, digital PCS the second) of mobile communications. What is.com explains 3G like this: “3G promises increased bandwidth, up to 384 Kbps when a device is stationary or moving at pedestrian speed, 128 Kbps in a car, and 2 Mbps in fixed applications.”
In other words, it’s great news for you.
Making it faster and simpler to qualify
In an effort to stem fraud, waste and abuse, the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) was created. When applicants sign up for a Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone account, their names are checked against the database to make sure they do not already have an account. We wondered if the system would be changed to accommodate this expansion of the Lifeline program.
“The National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) already performs this function for all Lifeline subscribers,” our source said. “However (it) does not include subscribers who reside in opt-out states (CA, OR, TX, & VT). If a carrier tries to enroll a subscriber that already has a Lifeline benefit, the database will inform the carrier of this.”
What’s an opt-out state? Simple. The four states listed — California, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont — decided to create their own statewide databases. So when residents of those states apply for Lifeline accounts, their names will be checked against names on their states’ unique databases instead of being checked against the national database.
(Anyone familiar with California knows there’s nothing the state’s politicians love more than creating complex new bureaucracies unnecessarily.)
How long does a check take?
If you’ve ever applied for a government program, you’re probably worried that the expanded Lifeline program will require a complex application process followed by a long wait for approval?
We’re happy to report that the answer is no.
As our source said, “The current check provides a response in real-time. Once the carrier inputs information into NLAD, they will receive an error message if the subscriber is already enrolled.”
In other words, you can get approved instantaneously.
More good news: Phones and Internet for residents of shelters and group homes
The NLAD database check has clearly eliminated lots of fraud and abuse. But until now it has also made it almost impossible to help those who need it most — those in group homes, halfway houses, homeless shelters, and even some apartment buildings.
Our source delivered more good news:
“This issue had been addressed with the creation of the Independent Economic Household worksheet. For those who live in homes that have multiple Lifeline benefits, they can enroll by completing a household worksheet provided by their carrier.”
Summing it all up
This is the development you (and millions of other low-income Americans) have been waiting for.
The free government cell phone program will be expanded to include Internet. More people will qualify. And it’s going to be easier to apply for and receive the benefits of the program.
Some people might complain that the speeds aren’t fast enough or that the data limits are too restrictive or that it took too long to get here, but we feel like Christmas came early this year.
Thank you, FCC. Thanks a lot.