Free Lifeline Phone
History & Fraud Issues
Lifeline phone service is a Federally sponsored program that offers
free cell phone service to families in need. Who qualifies is
defined by having low income that is clearly outlined at a State
level. The program is described as helping families with
critical activities like finding a job, staying in touch with family,
and getting help in emergencies.
Lifeline actually began providing assistance to those in need of
landlines starting in 1985. As the wireless industry evolved,
now essentially well on its way to replacing land line service,
Lifeline was expanded to begin including programs to support wireless
phones. As the prepaid wireless industry sprung out of the
low/no credit market, Lifeline was first launched in partnership with
wireless carriers providing prepaid service in 2005. Of
course, prepaid is now very much mainstream, though retains its close
ties and interest in growing Lifeline phone service programs.
According to Lifeline program guidelines, any given household can only
participate in ONE Lifeline program. For example, the same
household cannot have assistance for both a landline and a wireless
phone, nor can it have two wireless phones. The problem has
been that participants (i.e. customers) have been asked to essentially
self-regulate. The general deterrent has been that violators,
if found, are subject to criminal and/or civil penalties.
Unfortunately, fraud has been a problem, costing the government (funded
by fees that telecoms pass along to customers in our monthly bills)
hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It's not clear
whether this abuse has led to less households being helped, lower
quality service (ex. low quality phones), or simply a general waste
that could be used for other Federally support programs that use these
Either way, it has been identified as a real problem, which they are
seeking to aggressively address. If they don't get the
under control, it could threaten the ability for the entire program to
Lifeline Phone Service Fraud Fixes
Like it or not, the fraud issues need to be fixed to ensure the program
can continue to thrive. It certainly seems to be taking a
long time to get these pretty basic things done, but nonetheless, these
fixes will ultimately be implemented:
- National Lifeline Accountability Database
- This is the most obvious and needed piece of the
puzzle. It's a shared database that all Lifeline providers
will feed into, and use, that keeps track of which households already
have Lifeline service. That way people won't be able to
submit multiple applications and get service across different carriers,
essentially cheating the system.
- Eligibility Database
- Historically people have had to apply and provide proof
of eligibility upon initial application and EVERY year thereafter to
service. Not only is this prone to fraud (falsification of
documentation), but is also a huge burden to customers to renew, as
well as carriers to track and manage. This database will be a
for providers to instantly determine if someone is eligible for the
- Changing Definition Of "Household"
- Historically "household" has been defined as a USPS
mailing address. Unfortunately, separate families living in
the same location could still only get one phone. Changing
the definition to "Economic Unit" means low-income families living in
the same home (i.e. the same address) can each successfully apply for
Lifeline assistance. This is a huge win for sure!
- Adding Broadband
- Lifeline initially only offered voice and text; adding
broadband service to the mix will help to update the program to
modern needs. It's unclear whether this will be broadband
access using a phone/tethering, or a separate broadband
device, or both. This initiative includes offering training
libraries and schools to ensure that people not only have access to
broadband, but also understand how to use the technology.
Phones Aren't Included
The Lifeline program actually only covers the cost of phone service,
and not the cost of the actual phone. Most carriers, however,
use a portion of the funds they receive to offer free phones.
Hopefully over time carriers will offer higher quality, and a better
selection of phones, which has been a huge issue and source of
complaints amongst users
of these phones who described them as extremely low quality, and which
include keyboards for easy text messaging.
Airfair Lifeline Reload Cards
In January 2014, Ready Wireless, in partnership with inComm, launched
the universal Airfair Lifeline Reload card, which enables customers
using a participating Lifeline service to easily purchase additional
services for their
phone at convenient retailers. Learn all about this great
program, including my thoughts and tips at Airfair
Universal Topup Card
Lifeline Phone Service has been growing faster than the program and
carriers can reasonably support. As a result, problems with
applications, renewals, and fraud have been growing.
Regardless, it's a great service, and there are steps being taken to
dramatically improve the overall program. Check out the Free
Cell Phone Service
section to learn about your provider
options, as well as
share your thoughts and experiences with these programs. Or
check out a list of Lifeline
Learn how to make money as a Lifeline Free Cell Phone Service Agent!
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...
Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?
- Click on the HTML link code below.
- Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment,
your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.
CommentsHave your say about what you just read! Leave a comment in the box below.