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.

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. 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.

Exception Process in NLAD

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.

Scenarios

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

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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
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
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
Scenario 4: Initial enrollment is a bundled offering
  • Port freeze period would depend on
    • Whichever service meets the minimum service standard or
    • If both meet the minimum service standard, use the 12 month benefit port freeze.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Q1: Can I give customers credit for their port freeze period with a different service?

A1: No. The benefit port freeze period re-sets each time the customer switches their benefit to a different service.

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

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.

Q3: Can customers switch from broadband to voice during their port freeze?

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.

Q4: When does the benefit port freeze begin?

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).

Q5: Do I have to ask the customer which part of a bundle they want to apply their Lifeline benefit to?

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.

Q6: If the customer changes address, does that mean a new benefit port freeze begins at the new service location, even with the same service provider?

A6: No, if the subscriber moves and stays with the same carrier, then there is no change to the port freeze period.

Q7: If someone moves or gets disconnected, would the port freeze continue where it left off if they return to the same provider?

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.

Q8: If someone moves or gets disconnected, would the port freeze continue where it left off if they go to a different provider?

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.

Q9: 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?

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.