Get a Free Device and Free Internet from the FCC's COVID-19 Relief Benefits

If the COVID-19 pandemic has left you with less income than 2019 and prior, you're not alone. Many Americans' incomes have been temporarily or permanently affected by the crisis. While there have been a few stimulus packages passed in an attempt to lessen financial inequality, not all provisions of those bills have been enacted yet.

The Eligibility Criteria

Before we go into specifics, let's make sure you're eligible for the program! You are automatically eligible if anyone in your household receives Medicaid benefits, SNAP benefits, receives other types of COVID relief, or you make under $99,000 and your income has significantly gone down due to the pandemic. Additionally, if you receive the FCC LifeLine benefit, you will automatically qualify.

If none of the above categories apply, you could qualify on income alone. You must make equal to or less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Line. This amount can vary by state, so be sure to check before applying.

The Offer

The FCC has long offered a program called "LifeLine". This is a program designed to keep low and middle-income Americans connected by ensuring everyone has access to phone service. Though the program began with a landline or mobile option, the landline option is being gradually rescinded.

As of 2021, the minimum LifeLine benefit is a phone plan that works in the zip code of the applicant with 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, and 4.5 GB of LTE data. Best of all, this cell plan is funded by federal tax dollars, and recipients don't have to pay a cent! You'll need to meet the same criteria we outlined above to receive this basic LifeLine benefit. To be clear, LifeLine is not COVID-specific; it's been around for quite some time.

The LifeLine Expansion

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has launched a new website dedicated to the offshoot LifeLine program at This details the new program, based on a $3.2B grant to bolster the program.

Even if you already are a LifeLine subscriber, you still qualify for this enhanced benefit in addition to LifeLine. As a matter of fact, you automatically qualify without further proof if you're an existing LifeLine subscriber.

For most who qualify, the "Emergency Broadband Benefit" (EBB) is a credit of up to $50 per month towards broadband Internet. However, if your Internet bill is above $50, you'll need to pay the difference. On the other hand, if your bill is less than that, you can only get credit equal to the amount of the bill. You may be either a new or existing subscriber to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) you select.

Get a Nearly Free Device!

Though your ISP will need to offer this program individually in order for you to receive it, part of the EBB benefit is a one-time credit towards a new or refurbished device. The device must be sold to you and connected to the Internet service you're receiving through the EBB.

The DHS has stated that a "copay" will be required from the person who receives the device that will be between $10 and $50. The credit amount will cover up to $100 of any Internet-enabled device that an ISP sells as part of this program. Ultimately, the idea is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to stay connected during these times, regardless of what your income is.

The Value of These Benefits

The EBB and one-time device credit will last either six months or until the grant money runs out, whichever is sooner. With most DHS programs, the grant money runs out well before the end of the program. At this time, your Internet bill will go back to whatever the previous cost was. However, you could still qualify for provider-specific discounts. In theory, the maximum EBB for one person would be $100 towards a device plus six months of $50 credits, or $400 in total!

On the other hand, the standard LifeLine program won't expire. Technically, this program only pays $9.25 for cell service. However, LifeLine providers don't have to pay standard taxes, and neither do you. This, combined with provider discounts, makes it so you can get a cell plan until your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) exceeds 135% of the Federal Poverty Line.

COVID-19 may have changed our daily lives, but it doesn't need to alter our ability to connect.

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