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An important component of the state and federal universal service efforts are programs that enable lower income households to get connected to the phone network. An affordable connection to the telephone network is essential for consumers to seek and maintain employment, have access to emergency services, contact schools, governmental agencies and medical service providers and to stay in touch with family and friends. 

Affordable, discounted phone rates could be at stake because people either don't know they are eligible for the discounts or because of barriers to enrollment.

Programs Available but Underused

The "Lifeline" and "Link-Up" (PDF) programs provide discounted phone service and connection rates to low income households. A greater discount is available when states set up their own universal service funds and match the federal discount.  See the Local Telephone Consumer Tips to learn more about signing up for these programs.

Federal statistics show that lower income households are less likely to be connected to the phone network than higher income households. But, too often eligible families don't know discounts are available or face barriers to enrollment, leaving the programs underutilized, according to the National Consumer Law Center's comments to the FCC.

A few states, including New York and Texas, have created "automatic enrollment" programs that ensure eligible households receiving social services from the state are automatically enrolled in Lifeline.

How Assistance is Distributed

The Universal Service Administration Company is a private, not for profit corporation, responsible for providing every state with access to affordable telecommunications services through the administration of the Universal Service Fund.  USAC has many resources to help eligible communities seek support from the Universal Service Fund.  The FCC contracts with USAC to collect the fees and process and award subsidy applications.

As universal service funding is debated, it is critical that these programs be maintained and designed to reach the largest number of eligible households possible.

Learn more about Universal Service, and see the What's at Stake section to learn about other telephone issues.  Then find out what you can do about them, see the Phone Services Get Involved Guide.