The 21st century is all about technology and the advancement of those technologies to such an extent that they are nothing short of a miracle. The impact of these technologies is also huge on our everyday life and the boon of modern technologies have touched almost every aspect of our daily life bringing significant improvement to our lifestyle. But the downside of such technologies is that they can be quite extravagant sometimes and it is hard to afford the technical service for less fortunate people.
In this scenario, the digital divide becomes prominent and it fuels a vicious cycle of poverty. That is because networking and effective communication has been vital for business and job opportunities since the beginning and in order to survive today’s competitive world, it is mandatory to use advanced communication technologies like internet services, smartphone, the world wide web, and others.
But as mentioned earlier, the cost can be a hurdle to getting those services. The average cost of decent internet service in California is around $50 per month. Since America’s financial distress deepens, and unemployment reaches levels not seen since the Great Depression, it can be difficult to cover such costs for many families. To improve their lives, the government initiative Lifeline Assistance Program started in 1985, has gained new attention.
What to look for when choosing a Lifeline service provider?
The eligible telecommunication carriers (ETC) are the designated mobile operator companies to provide Lifeline services to the qualified household and in return, they take government subsidies.
Since the Lifeline service only provides the monthly expenditure for mobile phone services, the ETC has no obligation to provide facilities like new smartphones, international calls, multilingual customer services, etc. and these facilities fully depend on the ETCs and their own custom policies.
The basic features covered by any Lifeline service provider are free talk time and text messages. However, there are a few services that may vary from one operator to another. These issues include:
✓ International voice call and talk time
Although it is compulsory for an ETC to nationwide call, the ETC has no obligation to provide foreign calls. It’s a nice option to have for immigrants. Some of the Lifeline service providers offer free or cheap international talk time on their own.
✓ Mobile data
for Lifeline-only customers, the amount of mobile internet data is not specified by the FCC and hence different operators have different discounts offered or free cellphone plans. You should look for the maximum volume and speed of the data.
✓ Network technologies such as 3G, 4G, or 5G technologies
some of the Lifeline service providers are MVNOs that have no mobile network infrastructure of their own and they borrow it from another company. Therefore, you will find varieties of mobile network technologies adopted by the ETCs and you should look for a service provider that offers 4G or 5G LTE network services for better speed.
✓ Network coverage
Most of the Lifeline service providers cover the entire USA. But some operators have better coverage in remote areas than others. Besides, some Lifeline service providers may confine their services to limited geographical areas and their service is not available outside those regions. Before you choose a Lifeline service provider, check for the availability of that operator in your area.
✓ Multilingual Customer care
If you are an immigrant and you have difficulties understanding complex instructions in English, the multilingual customer service of your Lifeline service provider may be a great convenience for you.
✓ Smartphone model
Some of the Lifeline operators offer quite advanced models of smartphones while others offer pretty basic sets for the customers. There is no standard set by the FCC about the model and quality of these sets. So, you have to shop for the service providers who offer the latest smartphone for free or at a discounted price.
You should discuss these points clearly with your Lifeline service provider before choosing one.
The federal Lifeline program is intended to make communication technology more accessible to low-income consumers across the United States. The Lifeline program is designed to reduce the digital divide and ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and emergency services.
USAC collects necessary data and performs maintenance tasks to run the Lifeline program efficiently. Eligible low-income consumers can access the Lifeline assistance program in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal land. USAC also set the minimum standard guidelines for Lifeline service providers. For details: Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers -Federal Communications Commission.
The Lifeline program was initiated in 1985 but took its contemporary and received a form in 1997 under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This Telecommunication act addresses the issues like quality and reasonably priced services, access to advanced telecommunication services, access for rural, low-income, and high-cost regions, equitable and nondiscriminatory service, specific and predictable price structure, and access to advanced telecommunication services for schools and health care and libraries.
The Lifeline program was reformed and modernized on March 31, 2016 by the federal communication commission. The reformed program includes broadband as a support service in the Lifeline Assistance program.
Controversies of Lifeline Program
Despite all the good intentions, the Lifeline program isn’t completely free of dispute. The fraudulent acts and abusive approaches would cost 13.8% of the total budget of the Lifeline Assistance program. In Puerto Rico, it’s estimated that there are 200,000 fraudulent accounts among 4,000,000 inhabitants. Also, the Lifeline program contributes very little: less than 1% to eradicate poverty.
One individual gets assistance worth $9.25 per month. The complicated selection criteria, taxes, and coordination with phone companies take the rest of the funds. The Lifeline assistance program is supposed to help the destitute people but surprisingly, it’s proven to be rather beneficial for the telecommunication companies like Safelink Wireless, the biggest company in the free government cell phone business.
Who qualifies for Lifeline Program?
If someone’s income is at or below 135% of the Federal poverty guideline set by the government, the Lifeline assistance program is then accessible to the person. Here is another resource to calculate your income for eligibility.
Remember, these statistics and poverty threshold values change over time and you will need the most recent data to determine your eligibility for the Lifeline Assistance program.
Another parameter for Lifeline assistance program eligibility is your participation in another federal Assistance Program such as:
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Federal Public Housing Assistance
Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
Tribally-Administered TANF, Food Distribution or Headstart
Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs
In both cases, you have to provide the necessary documents for scrutiny of your claim by the authority. You can apply and submit those documents online. Your Lifeline service provider will help you in this regard.
There are many unresolved issues about the Lifeline assistance program of the Federal Communication Committee (FCC). In recent years, there has been a significant drop in the number of subscribers. Even though the number of people who qualify for Lifeline assistance has increased, so, It is suspected that a lot of people have limited knowledge about the service because of the lack of aggressive marketing of this service.
Also, many eligible individuals have no permanent address which is mandatory to receive information, bills, and notices. However, many patrons of the Lifeline assistance program are still fighting to improve the outcome of the program and prevent fraud.