Coronavirus Help: Verizon Offers Nearly Free Internet to Those in Need

March 31, 2020 Topic: Technology Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: VerizonVerizon FiosInternetCoronavirus

Coronavirus Help: Verizon Offers Nearly Free Internet to Those in Need

How do you get it? What do you need to do? How does it work? This is all you need to know. 

Lifeline is a federal government program that allows discounted phone and Internet service for low-income Americans.

During coronavirus, Verizon, which offers plans for both home phone and broadband Internet service, is letting customers know how to best use Lifeline services.

The company recently announced, in reaction to the coronavirus quarantines, that Lifeline customers will have all billing charges waived for 60 days, beginning with the March 22 billing cycle. Customers will still receive bills during the 60-day period, but they will be "zero-rated," the company said. Those who had Lifeline as their "class of service" as of March 20 are eligible.

On its Lifeline website, Verizon says those who qualify for Lifeline are eligible for a reduced rate, although eligibility requirements vary state by state. Those applying must show proof of income, and also be prepared to present, if required, their SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, FPHA, Veterans Pension, Survivors Benefit or Tribal Land documentation, in addition to income statements. Other requirements differ depending on the jurisdiction.

Lifeline is administered by the  Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit corporation that distributes funds from the Universal Service Fund.

Meanwhile, the FCC announced Tuesday that it is acting to keep Lifeline customers connected during social distancing requirements. The agency’s Wireline Competition Bureau has waived rules that might have resulted in customers losing their service. The program’s usage requirements and general de-enrollment procedures have been delayed through May 29.

“Our priority right now is keeping Americans connected to broadband and phone service when they need it most.  These proactive measures will go a long way in minimizing the risk that a low-income consumer might lose service during the COVID-19 crisis,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Today’s waivers are especially important given that a Lifeline subscriber who is removed from the program may have difficulty re-enrolling at a time when Americans are being ordered to stay at home and engage in social distancing and many carriers’ retail stores are closed.”

The Lifeline program dates back to the Reagan Administration, and was first focused on merely phone service; it’s been expanded various times in the years since. This is the program that led to conspiracy theories about "Obamaphones" during the early days of the Barack Obama presidency, but Lifeline was not a new program at the time, and the portion that involved discounted phones was established during the George W. Bush Administration.

Last August, USA Today reported that the FCC was focusing on rooting out "waste and fraud" in the Lifeline program, as an audit in 2017 had found that thousands of deceased people were enrolled in the program.

Chairman Pai said at the time that he wasn't, at least for the time being, proposing capping the budget for Lifeline or excluding wireless resellers from participation. Among measures proposed by Pai, per Broadcasting and Cable, was to prohibit carriers from enrolling customers if they could not be verified as alive. The FCC also barred carriers from paying commissions based on how many customers they enrolled in the Lifeline program.

Applications for participation in Lifeline are available on Verizon's website.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons.