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Minimum Service Standards

Service providers may offer Lifeline subscribers Lifeline-supported voice service (e.g., mobile or fixed – i.e., landline), broadband service (i.e., internet), or a package of voice and broadband service.

In order for service providers to receive reimbursement, Lifeline-supported services must meet Lifeline’s minimum service standards (MSS).

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Minimum Service Standards

The chart below outlines the current Lifeline minimum service standards. These standards are evaluated annually to ensure the continued support of robust and meaningful broadband connectivity. Review the updated standards that will take effect on December 1, 2021.

Mobile Voice* Mobile Broadband Fixed Broadband
1000 Minutes Speed: 3G or better;
Usage Allowance: 4.5 GB
Speed: 25/3 Mbps;
Usage Allowance: 1024 GB

*There are no minimum service standards for fixed voice-only service.

Service Types and Support Amount

The chart below outlines Lifeline service type options and the Lifeline support amount currently available.

Service Type Description Lifeline Support Amount
Voice * Subscriber is provided a Voice only service that meets the minimum service standards. $5.25
Broadband Subscriber is provided a Broadband only service that meets the minimum service standards. $9.25
Bundled Voice * Subscriber is provided a Voice and Broadband service that meets the Voice minimum service standards only. $5.25
Bundled Broadband Subscriber is provided a Voice and Broadband service that meets the Broadband minimum service standards only. $9.25
Bundled Voice and Broadband Subscriber is provided a Voice and Broadband service that meets both the Voice and Broadband minimum service standards. $9.25

*Lifeline support for voice-only service, including standalone voice and bundled voice service offerings, is gradually decreasing over time. Basic Lifeline Support for voice-only service will no longer be available in most areas beginning December 1, 2021. However, the up to $25 enhanced Tribal benefit will still be available to eligible residents of Tribal lands. Additionally, continued voice support of up to $5.25 per month (or $5.25 plus up to $25 for the enhanced Tribal benefit) will still be available in areas with only one Lifeline provider in the Census block.

Additional Broadband Service Obligations

Current Lifeline-only ETCs

Eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) with designations that are limited to the Lifeline program are:

  • Required to provide broadband service,
  • Required to comply with all service requirements, including any future rule changes, and the annually-updated minimum service standards, and
  • Automatically eligible to provide Lifeline broadband service through their existing ETC designation.

Current ETCs Designated to Receive High Cost Program Support

ETCs with designations to Lifeline and High Cost are:

  • Required to provide Lifeline-supported broadband service,
  • Required to provide Lifeline-supported broadband in areas where they commercially offer broadband service pursuant to their High Cost program obligations,
  • Required to comply with all service requirements, including any future rules changes, and the annually-updated minimum service standards, and
  • Automatically eligible to provide Lifeline broadband service through their existing ETC designation.

ETCs with designations to the Lifeline and High Cost programs are not required to offer Lifeline-supported broadband services in their designated service areas where they receive High Cost program frozen support if they avail themselves of forbearance from the FCC.

Forbearance from Broadband Obligation

Service providers do not need to provide Lifeline-supported broadband service if they complete the forbearance process described in the Lifeline Modernization Order. Service providers that avail themselves of forbearance relief may still elect to offer and receive reimbursement for providing Lifeline-supported BIAS in Census blocks where they have availed themselves of forbearance relief.

Current Lifeline-only ETCs may avail themselves of the forbearance of their obligation to offer broadband service and provide voice service by notifying the FCC 30 days after they receive their ETC designation.

Current ETCs designated to receive High Cost program support may avail themselves of the forbearance from their obligation to offer broadband service, except where they offer qualifying BIAS pursuant to their High Cost public interest obligations.

  • They may continue providing voice service in certain areas by notifying the FCC 30 days after they receive their ETC designation, or if there is a qualifying change to their high-cost support for a specific area.
    • A qualifying change includes situations where the high-cost support term ends, and the service provider does not receive another form of high-cost support for that area, or there is a determination that high-cost support is no longer available for a particular Census block.
  • ETCs receiving high-cost support are not eligible for forbearance from the Lifeline-broadband obligation in Census blocks where they are subject to high-cost public interest broadband obligations but do not yet commercially offer BIAS with speeds of at least 4/1 Mbps or greater.

High Cost ETCs are not required to offer Lifeline voice service in counties where the following criteria are met:

  • 51% of Lifeline subscribers in a county obtain Lifeline broadband,
  • There are at least three other Lifeline BIAS providers that each serve at least 5% of the Lifeline BIAS subscribers in that county (National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) and NLAD opt-out data), and
  • The ETC does not receive High-Cost support in that area.

ETCs that only receive High Cost program frozen support or one-time Phase I high-cost support (i.e., incremental, Mobility Fund, or Tribal Mobility) are not subject to the Lifeline program broadband service obligations where they receive the frozen support or one-time Phase I high-cost support. However, they must submit a forbearance notification to avail themselves of this relief.

How to Request Forbearance

To elect forbearance relief, submit notice to the FCC and to USAC within 30 days of receiving ETC designation as a Lifeline service provider in that area or a qualifying change to the high-cost support, whichever is later.

Submit to FCC: Use WC Docket No. 11-42 in the FCC Electronic Comment Filing System.

Submit to USAC: If the forbearance notice and supporting documentation is under 15 MB, email it to HC Orders. If the files are over 15 MB, contact HC Orders for instructions about how to upload via USAC’s SFTP server.

Review the FCC’s Public Notice for details about what information to include in a forbearance notice, such as:

  • Service provider name and any associated d/b/a (doing business as),
  • ETC designation information,
  • All Census blocks where the service provider is availing itself of forbearance relief, including appropriate documentation,
  • Signature and contact information of the service provider’s authorized representative, and
  • Information about other areas where the service provider will offer Lifeline broadband service (optional).

Additional Voice Service Obligations

To receive Lifeline support for voice service, the service must have:

  • Minutes for local service provided at no additional charge to end users,
  • Access to the emergency services (911 or E911),
  • Toll limitation service (TLS) at no charge (only required if tolls calls are an additional cost),
  • No service deposit to initiate service (for service that does not charge toll fees or if the subscriber elects TLS),
  • Applied Lifeline to waive any federal End User Common Line charges and apply any additional federal support to the consumer’s intrastate rate (if applicable),
  • Any additional support amount (if applicable), and
  • Met the minimum service standards.