COVID-19 Update: USAC remains open for business—Washington, DC office closed. Learn more about USF program responses

2016 Lifeline Order

Building on the 2015 Lifeline Reform Order, the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order establishes a number of additional enhancements to the Lifeline Program, further connecting low-income Americans to voice services and, now, broadband. These changes have been developed to continue the mission of assisting all Americans to get and stay connected in today’s technological climate, while at the same time, relieving some of the burden on the carriers providing this service.

Different mandates in the Order will become effective over the course of the next five years. The final rule of the Lifeline Modernization Order was published in the Federal Register on October 3 with an effective date of December 2.

Below is the current information and dates for this Order. We will provide more information as it becomes available. We’re here to help you navigate the implementation of these various changes so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Jump to:


Broadband and Minimum Service Standards

Effective: December 2, 2016


The 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order outlines changes to the Lifeline Program needed to bridge the digital divide that exists today. The inclusion of broadband will help connect all Americans to the internet, closing the “homework gap,” and eliminating the distance to meaningful employment and reliable healthcare.



On December 2, 2016, Lifeline Program consumers will have the choice (where applicable) of applying their benefit to one of three types of service offerings:

  • Fixed or mobile broadband,
  • Fixed or mobile voice-only (to be phased out by the end of 2021 with the exception of certain areas), or
  • Bundles of fixed or mobile voice and broadband.

Consumers are still allowed only one Lifeline Program benefit per household.

Minimum Service Standards

In addition, the establishment of minimum service standards will ensure that supported services keep pace with the ever-changing digital landscape. Minimum service standards will gradually increase over the next five years. These standards will be evaluated yearly to ensure the continued support of robust and meaningful broadband connectivity.

The chart below outlines some of the key changes and dates for minimum service standards and support levels:

Date Mobile Voice Mobile Broadband Fixed Broadband
12/2/2016 500
Speed: 3G or better
Usage Allowance: 500 MB
Speed: 10/1 Mbps
Usage Allowance: 150 GB
12/1/2017 750
Speed: 3G or better
Usage Allowance: 1 GB
Speed: 15/2 Mbps 
Usage Allowance: 250 GB
12/1/2018 1000
Speed: 3G or better
Usage Allowance: 2 GB
Speed: 18/2 Mbps
Usage Allowance: 1000 GB
12/1/2019 1000
Speed: 3G or better
3 GB
Speed: 20/3 Mbps
Usage Allowance: 1024 GB
12/1/2020 1000
Speed: 3G or WCB Updated Standard
Usage Allowance: Updating Mechanism
Speed: Updating Mechanism
Usage Allowance: CAF Standard or Bureau Determination
12/1/2021 1000
Speed: 3G or WCB Updated Standard
Usage Allowance: Updating Mechanism
Speed: Updating Mechanism
Usage Allowance: CAF Standard or Bureau Determination

Support Levels Phasedown Schedule

Support for both mobile and fixed broadband began December 2, 2016. Support for both mobile and fixed voice-only service will gradually decrease over the next four years.

Date Mobile Voice-Only Fixed Voice-Only Mobile Broadband Fixed Broadband
December 2, 2016 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25
December 1, 2017 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25
December 1, 2018 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25 $9.25
December 1, 2019 $7.25 $7.25 $9.25 $9.25
December 1, 2020 $5.25 $5.25 $9.25 $9.25
December 1, 2021 0* 0* $9.25 $9.25

* State of the Lifeline Marketplace Report due June 30, 2021.

National Verifier System


In an effort to reduce the administrative burden and cost to carriers, while at the same time facilitating consumer choice and ease of enrollment, USAC has been directed to develop a National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (National Verifier) to determine all subscriber eligibility in the future. In addition to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse from the program, the National Verifier will serve to lower the cost of conducting verifications for the carriers while also mitigating the risk of enrolling ineligible consumers.


The key functions of the National Verifier will include:

  • Determining subscriber eligibility
  • Populating the Lifeline Eligibility Database (LED)
  • Allowing access to service providers, subscribers, states, and state administrators
  • Calculate support payments

We will partner with states and state administrators, especially those that already have their own eligibility determination databases, to develop and implement the National Verifier in the most effective and efficient manner possible. We have already begun collecting input from our various stakeholders and welcome additional discussions, feedback, and participation from interested parties. We will submit a draft National Verifier plan to the FCC by December 1, 2016, as required, but we also will post more information on our website as the development process progresses to keep you abreast of any meaningful developments.

The function of the National Verifier is strictly for determining subscriber eligibility and does not play a role in qualifying providers to participate in the Lifeline Program. ETC designations, including Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) designations, are handled by state agencies or the FCC, depending on the jurisdiction .

Eligibility Streamlining

Effective: December 2, 2016


In an effort to increase efficiency and improve the program for consumers, carriers, and other participants, the Order streamlines eligibility for Lifeline Program support by limiting the eligibility criteria to:

  • SNAP,
  • Medicaid,
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance,
  • Income-based eligibility, and, additionally,
  • The Veteran’s Pension or Survivor’s Pension benefit.

There are no changes to the eligibility criteria for Tribal programs.


On December 2, 2016, only consumers or households that qualify for and receive one of the above benefits will be eligible for enrollment in the Lifeline Program. Consumers at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and those who qualified previously through any of the Tribal criteria will continue to be eligible for a Lifeline Program benefit. State determinations of income will no longer be accepted.

We will work with carriers to communicate this change to their affected subscribers.

Additional Changes

Additional changes in the Order include:

  • Rolling Recertification. Once the National Verifier has been established, the December 31, 2016, deadline for recertification will be removed. All subscribers must be recertified from the subscriber’s date of enrollment beginning on January 1, 2017. For subscribers enrolled prior to January 1, 2017, rolling recertification requirements will begin on July 1, 2017.
  • Hotspot Functionality. Beginning the later of December 2, 2016, a phase-in begins that requires mobile broadband Lifeline Program providers that provide devices to consumers to offer devices that have hotspot functionality to help connect households to the Internet.
  • Benefit Port Freeze. Subject to exceptions, Lifeline Program providers may not receive reimbursement through the Lifeline Program for service provided to a subscriber who used the Lifeline benefit to enroll in a qualifying Lifeline-supported broadband offering with another Lifeline provider within the previous twelve (12) months.
  • Aggregation Projects. In conjunction with the National Verifier, aggregation projects will allow community-based organizations, housing associations, and institutions the opportunity to coordinate the aggregation of Lifeline Program benefits.
  • Usage Requirements: Texts will now qualify as usage of a subscriber’s Lifeline Program service.
  • Non-Usage. The non-usage period has been shortened from 60 days to 30 days.
  • Lifeline Broadband Provider Obligations. The Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) designation process is pending review. More information is available on the Provide High-Speed Broadband Service page.

Questions? We’re here to help!

The Lifeline Program team is here to help you every step of the way. Contact us with your questions or comments.
Contact Us
Go to the 2015 Lifeline Order.