In coordination with a national effort to reach those in need of telecommunications assistance, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) recognizes Sept. 20-24 as Lifeline Awareness Week, to help income-eligible Pennsylvanians stay connected through the Lifeline Program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of staying connected in this day and age, and there are programs available to help,” said PUC Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Initiative help ensure income-eligible consumers continue to have access to affordable communications services needed for telemedicine, telework and online learning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Lifeline is a federal program that provides a $5.25 per household, per month discount on your qualifying landline or wireless standalone voice service or a $9.25 per household, per month discount on your qualifying wireless or landline internet service or qualifying bundled telephone/internet service product from a landline or wireless provider. The discount appears in the form of a reduction to the bill you pay your service provider.
The $5.25 Lifeline support for standalone Lifeline voice service is scheduled to be eliminated in certain geographic areas beginning Dec. 1, 2021.
The benefit can be used for voice (telephone), Broadband Internet Access Service (or BIAS, usually called internet service), or a combined telephone/internet service product from a landline or wireless provider.
Consumers or households that apply for Lifeline must verify that they are eligible to receive Lifeline support. After that, they must certify every year that they are eligible for continued support. Currently, in response to the public health emergency associated with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the Lifeline program’s recertification and reverification requirements are waived through Sept. 30, 2021. This waiver extends the previous Lifeline waivers set to expire on June 30, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2021, and includes all previous Lifeline waivers governing recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, subscriber usage, income documentation and documentation requirements for subscribers. More information on the federal government’s suspension of their Lifeline requirements is available at the USAC website.
A consumer qualifies for Lifeline if they are at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in specific federal programs, including: Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans’ Pension and Survivor Benefit, Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). More information on program eligibility, how to apply and recertify is available on the Commission’s website.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) was started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and uses $3.2 billion in federal funding Congress approved in December 2020 and gives qualifying households money to buy internet service or equipment to use the internet if they are eligible.
- The program provides eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service.
- Eligible households can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 on equipment to use the internet. Equipment includes a laptop, desktop computer or tablet if they contribute $10-$50 toward the price for the equipment.
- The benefit is limited to one service discount per month and one device discount per household; multigeneration households may each qualify separately although consumers should check the FCC’s webpage at getemergencybroaband.org or the provider of this EBB program.
- This EBB is in addition to, not in place of, the current Lifeline Program that provides $5.25 a month to support affordable broadband service.
The program is income based. For example, it is open to Lifeline subscribers and households that currently participate in Lifeline, including consumers whose income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or who receive Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Federal Housing or Veterans benefits. Consumers who receive free or reduced-price school lunch, or have received a federal Pell grant, are also eligible.
Eligibility for EBB also includes individual households with annual income up to $99,000 or dual households making up to $198,000 a year if they are impacted by COVID through a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020.
Households should contact their broadband providers and ask if they participate in EBB or visit the FCC’s webpage at GetEmergencyBroadband.org for more information. Consumers also can visit the FCC website to see a list of participating Pennsylvania providers approved by the FCC if their broadband provider is not participating or if they would like another provider for EBB.