Lifeline

Benefit Port Freeze

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.

Benefit Port Freeze Periods

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.

Oregon and California received waivers to delay to implementation of the benefit port freeze provision for subscribers in those states. The port freeze will begin on June 1, 2017 in California and Oregon or as soon as the state databases and processes are updated to comply with the Order, whichever date is sooner.

Service Types in NLAD

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:

  • Voice only – 60 days
  • Voice with broadband (broadband does not meet the minimum service standards) – 60 days*
  • Broadband only – 12 months
  • Broadband with voice – (voice does not meet the minimum service standards) – 12 months*
  • Bundle – (both voice and broadband meet the minimum service standards) – 12 months*

*Where service providers are unable to distinguish specifically among these statuses, they must contact USAC to discuss alternative reporting approaches.

Applicable Rules and Conditions

During the benefit port freeze, rules and conditions apply which protect Lifeline Program consumers from major changes to their service:

  • Service Providers cannot change the terms or conditions of the initial service offering without the consent of the subscriber until the end of the benefit port freeze, except to increase the speed or usage allowance.
  • If a subscriber cancels service or is de-enrolled for non-usage during the benefit port freeze:
    • The service provider cannot continue to receive reimbursement for that subscriber.
    • The customer still cannot re-enroll in the program with another provider until the period ends.
  • Customers may transfer their Lifeline benefit to another service from the same provider at any time. For example, if the customer switches their benefit from broadband to voice, the 12-month port freeze period ends immediately, and a new 60-day benefit port freeze begins (see the example scenarios for more details).

Exceptions to the Lifeline Benefit Port Freeze

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:

  • They move (change their residential address),
  • The service provider ceases operations, or otherwise fails to provide service,
  • The service provider has imposed late fees greater than or equal to the monthly end-user charge for the supported service (e.g., the customer's monthly bill is $20, and they've incurred late fees of $21), or
  • The service provider is found to be in violation of Lifeline Program rules and the subscriber is impacted by the violation.

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. If the subscriber does not re-verify their eligibility with the new provider, the new provider shall contact USAC to facilitate sharing eligibility information. If the subscriber does not verify their eligibility with the new provider, the subscriber will not need to recertify for 12 months form the date they obtained service from the new provider.

When the subscriber enrolls with a new service provider, the original port freeze period (either voice (60 days) or broadband (12 months)) will apply.

Exception Process in NLAD

For more information on the port freeze exception process in NLAD, please visit our Port Freeze Exception Overview page

Service Initiation Date and Anniversary Date in NLAD

When a subscriber enrolls with a provider, the port freeze becomes effective from their Service Initiation Date. The subscriber’s Anniversary Date, the date that they need to recertify eligibility, will be 12 months after their original Service Initiation Date. The Anniversary Date is a system-generated date that cannot be changed by the service provider.

The Anniversary Date will always be exactly 12 months after the Service Initiation Date, except for the case when the subscriber’s service type is updated from voice to broadband or from broadband to voice. When the service type is updated, the provider must enter in a new Service Initiation Date. However, the Anniversary Date will not change since eligibility is not checked by the service provider on an update.

If the subscriber enrolls or transfers to a different provider within the port freeze, and the new provider performs an eligibility check, the new provider will be able to enter in a new Service Initiation Date, thereby creating a new Anniversary Date. However, the port freeze end date, the date when the subscriber is eligible to enroll or transfer to a new provider, will not change. If the subscriber enrolls or transfers to a different provider outside the port freeze, a new port freeze period will begin based on the new Service Initiation Date. The subscriber’s new Anniversary Date will be 12 months after their new Service Initiation Date.

Scenarios

Here are some common scenarios that may occur within the benefit port freeze:

Show All

 
Scenario 1: Existing Lifeline voice subscribers on December 2, 2016
  • Service is initiated for a Lifeline-supported voice plan on November 2, 2016
  • Sixty (60) day benefit port freeze begins (November 2 – January 1; per the existing benefit transfer procedure)
  • Last day of the sixty (60) day voice port freeze is January 1, 2017
  • Subscriber’s Anniversary Date is November 2, 2017
Scenario 2: Customer's initial enrollment is broadband service, then switches to voice
  • Service is initiated for a Lifeline-supported broadband plan on January 1, 2017
  • 12 month benefit port freeze begins (January 1 – December 31)
  • Subscriber switches to a Lifeline-supported voice plan with same provider on June 1, 2017
  • 12 month broadband port freeze ends and sixty (60) day voice port freeze begins on June 1, 2017
  • Last day of the sixty (60) day voice port freeze is July 31, 2017
  • Subscriber’s Anniversary Date is January 1, 2018
Scenario 3: Customer's initial enrollment is voice service, then switches to broadband
  • Service is initiated for a Lifeline-supported voice plan on January 1, 2017
  • Sixty (60) day voice port freeze begins (January 1 – March 1)
  • Subscriber switches to a Lifeline-supported broadband plan with same provider on February 1, 2017
  • Sixty (60) day voice port freeze ends and 12 month broadband port freeze voice port freeze begins February 1, 2017
  • Last day of the 12 month broadband port freeze is February 1, 2018
  • Subscriber’s Anniversary Date is January 1, 2018
Scenario 4: Customer's initial enrollment is broadband service, then transfers with a port freeze exception to a new provider, also receiving broadband.
  • Service is initiated for a Lifeline-supported broadband plan on January 1, 2017 with Service Provider (SP) 1
  • 12 month port freeze begins on January 1, 2017, ending on January 1, 2018
  • Subscriber transfers to SP 2 with a port freeze exception on April 1, 2017, receiving broadband service
  • The new Service Initiation Date with SP 2 is April 1, 2017
  • The new Anniversary Date with SP 2 is April 1, 2018
  • The subscriber’s port freeze end date remains January 1, 2018

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Show All Answers

 
Q1: Can customers switch from voice to broadband during their port freeze?

A1: 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.

Q2: Can customers switch from broadband to voice during their port freeze?

A2: 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.

Q3: When does the benefit port freeze begin?

A3: 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).

Q4: Do I have to ask the customer which part of a bundle they want to apply their Lifeline benefit to?

A4: 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.

Q5: If someone moves or gets disconnected, would the port freeze continue where it left off if they return to the same provider?

A5: 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.

Q6: If someone moves or gets disconnected, would the port freeze continue where it left off if they go to a different provider?

A6: 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.

Q7: If a customer is disconnected due to non-payment, then they restart the service with the same provider, will this restart the port freeze period?

A7: 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.