Starting December 2, 2016, Lifeline customers will be required to remain with their service provider for a minimum period before they can transfer their benefit to another provider. This is called a benefit port freeze and allows Lifeline carriers to invest in high-quality, low-cost service offerings for Lifeline consumers.
For voice services, customers must remain with their service provider for sixty (60) days before transferring their benefit to another company. Broadband customers must remain for twelve (12) months.
During the benefit port freeze, other Lifeline Program providers are forbidden from seeking/receiving Lifeline reimbursement for the customer. After the benefit port freeze period expires, the customer may continue using the Lifeline benefit on a month-to-month basis or transfer their benefit to another provider.
If the customer switches their Lifeline benefit to a different provider, another benefit port freeze period begins with the new provider.
The National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) will automatically assign the applicable benefit port freeze period to the selected service type. The port freeze periods for each service type are:
*Where service providers are unable to distinguish specifically among these statuses, they must contact USAC to discuss alternative reporting approaches.
During the benefit port freeze, rules and conditions apply which protect Lifeline Program consumers from major changes to their service:
In limited situations, customers may be exempt from their benefit port freeze period and transfer their Lifeline benefit to a different provider. Before transferring a customer's benefit to another company during their port freeze period, the new provider must confirm that one of the exceptions applies.
Customers are exempt from their benefit port freeze if:
If any of these situations apply, Lifeline customers may cancel their service and enroll in a new Lifeline-supported service with another provider. In these circumstances, the subscriber is not required to re-verify their eligibility until the end of the original 12 month or 60 day period. The providers shall contact USAC to facilitate sharing eligibility information.
When the subscriber enrolls with a new service provider, the original port freeze period (either voice (60 days) or broadband (12 months)) will apply.
USAC anticipates using the current exception management ticketing process in NLAD to transfer or enroll subscribers during their benefit port freeze window. New codes will be created to differentiate the exception reason.
USAC will review exceptions on a case-by-case basis. We may request documentation from the provider submitting the exception, the customer's previous provider, or the customers themselves, or confirm an alleged violation with the FCC, before resolving the exception request.
Here are some common scenarios that may occur within the benefit port freeze period:
A1: No. The benefit port freeze period re-sets each time the customer switches their benefit to a different service.
A2: Yes, as long as they remain with the same service provider. In this case, when the customer switches to broadband, their 60-day port freeze period ends immediately and a new 12-month benefit port freeze period begins for the broadband.
A3: Yes, as long as they remain with the same service provider. In this case, when the customer switches to voice, their 12-month port freeze period ends immediately and a new 60-day benefit port freeze period begins for the voice service.
A4: Port freeze periods are effective on December 2, 2016. For new Lifeline subscribers enrolling in any Lifeline-supported service after the effective date, the benefit port freeze period will begin on the subscriber's service initiation date, and any time the subscriber switches service types or service providers (unless they qualify for an exception).
A5: No, support will be applied to the service that meets the minimum service standards. If both meet the minimum service standards, the 12 month benefit port freeze will be initiated.
A6: No, if the subscriber moves and stays with the same carrier, then there is no change to the port freeze period.
A7: Yes. The original service initiation date would still apply for purposes of the port freeze calculation. Please note, the customer will have to be re-verified as eligible when they re-enroll.
A8: Yes, the port freeze would continue unless there is a change to the subscriber's service type. When a subscriber enrolls with or transfers to a different provider within the port freeze and there is no change to the service type, the port freeze will continue where it left off with the original provider.
A9: No, if a subscriber is disconnected due to non-payment and they restart their service with the same provider, their port freeze will remain the same as the original date. But, the service provider is required to certify the subscriber's eligibility when service is restarted.