Government Cell Phone & Internet Assistance

The FCC commissions several federal programs related to providing internet and telephone service to low-income individuals and families. Two programs are relevant to SAGE clients.

Affordable Connectivity Program

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ACP provides a discount of up to $30 / month on the recipient's phone or internet bill. Additionally, recipients get a discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.
(Tribal benefits: up to $75 / month + the same $100 discount).

Learn more

Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers

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Lifeline provides a discount of $9.25 / month on the recipient's phone or internet bill.
(Tribal benefit: a discount of up to $34.25 per month, and up to a $100 reduction for first-time connection charges).

Learn more

General information and tips:

  • The program benefits are applied as discounts to the recipient's bill, meaning even someone who is working and paying for their phone bill can benefit from the programs.
  • Some national brands like Verizon and Metro by T-Mobile are participating providers.
  • The discount can be applied to internet services. If a client has a phone plan they are comfortable with, and would benefit more by purchasing home internet or receiving home internet for free, they can use the benefit toward that instead.
  • The programs have the same eligibility requirements, so if someone is eligible for one, they are eligible for both.
  • If a client receives state benefits such as AHCCCS/Medicaid and/or Nutrition Assistance, they are also eligible for both of these programs.
  • The programs allow the recipient to change service providers. If a program recipient wants to switch to another provider, both programs have simple instructions.

Eligible to switch at any time

Eligible to switch once per month

Note: If a client wants to switch, the client should check with their current provider to determine if they signed a contract when they purchased the phone/internet plan. The client will also need to ensure their device is compatible with the network's service that they are going to switch to. See page 3 for details and instructions for guiding a client to switching.

Helpful Links

Assistance

for people with disabilities, seniors, veterans and their families and caretakers

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Leveraging the programs to improve client success

High-speed data & Microsoft Teams

"High-speed data" is important for SAGE clients. When a cellular customer uses their monthly allowance of high-speed data, the company will "throttle" (slow) the data speed, often by a large margin.  When a cellular provider throttle's a client's data speed, there is a significant possibility it will be too slow to operate Teams. Since many SAGE clients have phone plans that are marketed with the government assistance programs, and many clients use their phone as their primary source of internet connectivity, clients will use their allowance of high-speed data if they do not understand how it works or have a plan for managing their data usage.

How SAGE can help

SAGE staff can help clients plan for this in advance by having a discussion with the client about what high-speed data is, why it is relevant, how much high-speed data the client is permitted to use by their current service plan, the client's plan for managing their data usage while engaging with SAGE, tools for monitoring and managing data usage, and the client's plan in case they do run out of high speed data before the end of the billing cycle. SAGE staff can also help the client enroll in benefits or explore new service plans with services better suited to the client's individual needs.

Not all providers are equal. There is significant variation among the services offered by cellular and internet service providers. For internet, there are a number of providers who will provide home internet for free. Those will be sufficient for everyday use, require minimal setup, and offer unlimited data. If a client applies the benefits toward their cell phone, then who they choose to be their provider will influence their ability to attend their meetings if their phone is their only source of internet connectivity. Here are some examples of high-speed data allowances to demonstrate the variation among services:

These are some of the cellular providers that market themselves for these government programs. The high-speed data allowances shown here are for the plans marketed as "free with ACP / Lifeline."

Table created 12/16/23; services may change.

Choosing the right plan

If the primary concern for the client is the amount of high-speed data allotted per month, then it will likely be best for the client to find a plan that offers unlimited high-speed data and apply the discount toward that. It may end up costing the client around $10 / month to maintain, but that is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that they do not have to count gigabytes every day.

Person holding a android cell phone Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
Macbook Pro displaying a group of people in a virtual meeting Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

If a client cannot afford $10 / month and requires a plan which is free with ACP / Lifeline, then switching to a plan with the most high-speed data will likely be worth the effort. With the right knowledge, planning and data monitoring tools, anyone can limit their data usage to under 25GB / month.

Switching Providers

Occasionally, cell phone manufacturers will work with a cellular provider to market special discounts if the customer switches to their network or signs a contract. This often results in the phone having a "network lock." For many phones that were manufactured with a network lock, the user can check if the phone is unlocked by accessing the information in the phone's settings.  However, it might be worthwhile for the client to call their current provider to inquire about it, because they can also ask about the SIM card at the same time. Additionally, if they don't remember if they signed a contract when purchasing their phone plan, they can request that information. To help the client understand what questions need to be asked, a SAGE staff member can provide the client with these notes:

Silhouette of a person sitting in front of a laptop Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Please, call your current cellular provider and ask if your cell phone is currently locked to the network.

  1. If the representative says yes, then ask the representative one more question:
    • What are the requirements to unlock the phone?
  2. If your cell phone is compatible with the SIM cards used by the provider who you want to switch to.
    (For example, if your current cellular provider is Air Talk, and you want to switch to Metro PCS, then you can ask the AirTalk representative if your phone is compatible with the SIM cards used by Metro PCS. The representative will need your phone's IMEI number, so if you call them using a different phone than the one you want to bring to the new plan, you will need to have that phone [or the phone's IMEI number] with you when you make this call).
  1. (Optional) If you don't remember if you signed a contract when getting your current phone plan, you can ask for that information as well just to be sure.

SIM Card

The SIM card contains the information which allows the phone to connect to the cellular network. A phone still functions without a SIM Card, but it cannot connect to a cellular network so it needs wi-fi to access any network service (often referred to as "wi-fi phones").

Black iPhone with SIM card ejected Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
A close up of a woman holding a cell phone Photo by Darya Ezerskaya on Unsplash

Not every phone is compatible with all types of SIM cards. If a client is not planning on buying a new phone, then they will need to check SIM card compatibility. As stated above, the client can ask their current provider when they call. If the client needs to check SIM card compatibility outside of that phone call, there are multiple options:

  • Call the prospective provider and ask; Or
  • Use the online chat tool on the prospective provider's website, if they have that feature; Or
  • Use the prospective provider's online IMEI checker. Most cellular providers will have an IMEI checker on their website. The IMEI is a unique identifier for the phone, usually located somewhere in the "About phone" or "About device" section of the phone's settings.

At the time of this writing, Metro by T-Mobile (MetroPCS) offers an unlimited high speed data plan for $10 / Month to customers who receive the ACP benefit. Information here: https://www.metrobyt-mobile.com/benefits/affordable-connectivity-program

Person having a phone call Photo by Marília Castelli on Unsplash

What is a household?

household is a group of people who live together and share income and expenses (even if they are not related to each other.) If you live with another adult who receives ACP you will need to complete a Household Worksheet.

Examples of one household:

  • A married couple who live together is considered a household. They must share the ACP discount.
  • An adult who lives with and is financially supported by friends or family is considered part of the same household as the people who financially support them. They must share the ACP discount.

Examples of one household:

  • Four roommates who live together but do not share money are four separate households. Each roommate can have their own ACP discount.
  • Thirty seniors who live in an assisted-living home are thirty separate households.

How to Complete a Household Worksheet Online:

  1. Go to AffordableConnectivity.gov
  2. In the top right corner click “Sign In”.
  3. Enter your username and password.
  4. From your home page click the blue “Return to Application” button.
  5. The next page will say that we could not confirm information during our review.
  6. Click “Next”.
  7. On the next page there will be questions about your household.

How to Complete a Household Worksheet by Mail:

  1. Print and complete the Household Worksheet
  2. On a blank piece of paper, create a coversheet by writing your application ID and last name.
  3. Mail the coversheet and complete Household Worksheet to the following address:
    ACP Support Center
    P.O. Box 9100
    Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773-9100

Still have questions?

Visit AffordableConnectivity.gov, or call ACP at (877) 384-2575.