Internet access has become a necessity. It's essential for several daily activities, benefiting our education and professional development.
However, about 42 million Americans don't have broadband access. That's what the latest figures by data technology company Broadband Now show.
The US government believes we all need a stable, reliable, fast internet connection. Therefore, it's committed to allocating millions of dollars to different connectivity-related programs.
There are two options – the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the Lifeline Program. Let's see more information about each one.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) helps low-income families afford reliable internet services. It's handled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Also, it addresses people's connectivity needs for their jobs, education, and healthcare.
Lifeline also focuses on making phone and internet services cheaper for low-income households. This federal program offers discounts to eligible families to help them afford the broadband they need.
Which is the best option? How can you know which program is right for you? Let's review this Lifeline vs. Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) comparison.
Lifeline vs. ACP – Eligibility Criteria
Both Lifeline and ACP have different eligibility criteria. Here's more information on each program's requirements to know if we qualify for one or both.
ACP Eligibility Criteria
If our income is below 200% according to the Federal Poverty Guidelines, we may be eligible for ACP benefits.
These are the poverty lines according to each state or territory:
- From $14,580 to $50,560, depending on our household's size, in 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia
- From $16,770 to $58,140, depending on our family's size, in Hawaii
- From $18,210 to $50,560, depending on our household's size, in Alaska
We may also be eligible for the ACP if at least one of our household members meets the following requirements:
- Qualifies for a participating broadband provider's low-income internet program
- Receives a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year
- Participates in government-assisted programs. This includes the following:
- Free and Reduced-price School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- And others
- Receives benefits from a Federal Housing Assistance program. This includes the following:
- Public Housing
- Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program (Section 8 Vouchers)
- Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) / Section 202 / Section 811
- Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians
- Lives in qualifying Tribal lands and participates in an assistance program. This includes the following:
- The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal TANF
- Tribal Head Start (income based)
Lifeline Eligibility Criteria
We can get Lifeline benefits depending on our income. Essentially, households are eligible if it's 135% or less than Federal Poverty Guidelines. They vary from state to state and are based on each household's family.
In Alaska, the poverty line is 24,584 for one person and $85,347 for eight-member families. We must add $8,681 for each extra person.
Hawaii has a different poverty line, set at $22,640 for one-person families and $78,489 for households with eight members. We must add $7,979 for each additional person.
In the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, the poverty line ranges from $19,638 for single-person families to $68,256 for eight-people households. It's an extra $6,939 for each additional member.
We may also be eligible for Lifeline benefits if at least one person in our household participates in one of the following programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
We may be required to provide proof of income or participation in these programs during the application process. In these cases, we need an official document or benefit letter.
If we live in Tribal lands, we can also get Lifeline benefits. Households are eligible if their income is at or below 135% relative to the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The same is true if someone in our family participates in any of the following programs:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
- Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Any of the programs listed above
Families who live in Tribal lands and want to apply for Lifeline must also provide a document proving participation in these programs.
Finally, we may qualify for Lifeline benefits if our children or dependents participate in at least one of the programs listed above.
ACP Program vs. Lifeline Program – Differences in Eligibility Requirements
To determine which program is right for us, we must compare their differences and similarities in terms of eligibility. This will help us know if we qualify for these benefits.
Both programs are open to low-income households that need internet access. However, they have different eligibility criteria.
A person who wants to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) must have an income at or below 200% of their state's poverty line. However, only families with an income at or below 135% may be eligible for Lifeline.
We may qualify for both programs if we participate in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA).
However, there are also differences in each program's eligibility based on our participation in government assistance programs. If we participate in the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Program, we may be eligible for Lifeline. That isn't the case if we want to apply for the ACP.
In addition, our participation in the Federal Pell Grant or the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program can make us eligible for ACP benefits. However, it isn't required for the Lifeline application.
Lifeline Benefit vs. ACP Benefit – Comparison Between Services
There's another significant difference between the two programs – how much they can help households save on internet expenses.
Both programs provide discounts for internet services, but the amounts are different. If we receive ACP benefits, we can get up to a $30 discount on our broadband bills, for example. This sum goes up to $75 if we live in qualifying Tribal lands.
However, Lifeline provides a much smaller monthly discount. With this program, the maximum discount we can get on our phone or internet services is $9.25.
Did you notice that there is something new in the previous paragraph? We're now talking about phones. That's another thing that makes Lifeline different from ACP.
Lifeline also offers benefits to families who need help to afford phone services. We can apply the discount to our bills to cover expenses for wireless phones, landline phones, and broadband internet services.
In addition, some providers participating in this program offer free smartphones, unlimited high-speed data, or complimentary monthly services.
The ACP does offer a discount to help low-income families purchase devices. This includes desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones. However, it's a one-time benefit. In addition, it doesn't provide assistance to households struggling with phone services.
To sum up, both programs offer impressive benefits for families that don't earn enough money to cover their connectivity needs. Therefore, we should analyze each to choose the one that best suits our current situation and preferences.
Lifeline vs. ACP – Application Process
Besides the differences in their eligibility requirements, we should also follow different steps to apply for Lifeline or ACP.
Fortunately, you can find a short but comprehensive guide on how to apply for each program here. We'll also review the differences between the two processes.
How to Apply for ACP
If we want to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), this is what we should do:
- Review the eligibility requirements and confirm if we qualify for the program
- Gather all the necessary documents to apply, such as proof of income or identity and the letter to confirm we participate in an eligible assistance program
- Review the FFC's list of participating providers
- Evaluate each provider's plans and pricing to choose a suitable option
- Choose a provider offering internet services in our area
- Contact our participating chosen internet provider and ask them for guidance through the application process
- Follow the steps explained by the internet provider and submit the necessary documents
- Submit the application
- Wait for approval
How to Apply for Lifeline
Do you think Lifeline is better for your household? This is what we should do to apply for this program:
- Check our eligibility by reviewing the requirements on the Lifeline website
- Gather the documentation required to prove our eligibility, including proof of identity, income, and participation in qualifying programs
- Review the list of participating providers on the Lifeline website
- Choose a participating internet or phone service provider according to our location and needs
- Apply to Lifeline through the National Verifier, which can help us check our eligibility, through the service provider we picked, or by mail
- Submit our application
- Wait for approval
Differences Between Both Application Processes
Both application processes are similar but differ in how and where we must submit our documents and application form. Lifeline heavily relies on the National Verifier to check applicants' eligibility, for example.
Limitations and Restrictions
In order to choose a program suitable for us, it's also important to know each one's limitations and restrictions. Here's more information about it.
Limitations or Restrictions on ACP Services
When we receive benefits from the ACP program, we must follow these rules to maintain our eligibility:
- We must recertify each year to prove that we still qualify for the program.
- As beneficiaries, we must keep our internet provider updated on any problems or changes. We no longer qualify for the program if we change our address, for example. In this case, we must notify our company within 30 days.
- Each family or household can only receive one discount for internet services. Even if multiple members qualify for the program, it's limited to one monthly benefit for each group living together.
- We must use our internet connection at least once every 30 days to avoid losing our service if it's free. Otherwise, it'll be turned off. Reapplication is necessary if we want to receive ACP benefits again.
- We must always be honest when filling out ACP-related questionnaires and forms. Lying during the application process or while using the service is against the law.
Limitations or Restrictions on Lifeline Services
When we apply for Lifeline and receive this program's benefits, we also agree to follow these rules:
- Provide the necessary documents to prove our eligibility
- Inform our company if we change our physical address, as this would affect our eligibility
- Recertify each year to prove we still qualify for the program and the phone or internet benefits
- Accept only one discount per household, as this program is limited to one monthly benefit per eligible family per
- Use our Lifeline service at least once a month to avoid losing it if it's free
- Avoid lying on Lifeline-related forms or questionnaires, as that is against the laws
Lifeline vs. ACP – Limitations and Restrictions
Both programs have similar limitations and rules. Lifeline and ACP require households to use the service at least once a month. Also, they must confirm that they remain eligible each year, maintain the same physical address, and be honest.
Additionally, both Lifeline and ACP are limited to only one monthly discount per household.
Enrollment in Both Programs
If we're already enrolled in one of these two programs, can we receive both benefits at the same time? What does the US government say?
Well, we don't have to apply again for the Affordable Connectivity Program if we're enrolled in the Lifeline program. Actually, if we're already subscribers, we can contact our service provider to apply for ACP service.
Low-income households can apply for both programs and receive both benefits at the same time. Actually, we can combine these benefits with other state and local assistance programs if applicable.
A family can receive a Lifeline discount to cover their mobile phone services and use ACP benefits for their home internet services, for example.
However, we must opt-in with our existing service provider and choose an eligible plan. We can also decide to receive the benefit from another participating ACP service provider.
ACP vs. Lifeline – Affordability and Cost Savings
As explained above, families eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program can receive discounts of up to $30 each month for their internet services. If we live in qualifying tribal lands, it can be even higher.
We may also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer if we're eligible for ACP.
This benefit is considerably higher than Lifeline's, which only gives a 9.25-dollar discount to beneficiaries. Actually, Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced that 16 million households have applied for this program. It's saving $500 million in monthly internet bills.
However, that doesn't mean Lifetime's discount isn't worth it. This benefit is a valuable resource for many families in need.
We need a reliable internet connection for many things. It has shaped the future of many sectors, including education, recreation, healthcare, and even our economy.
However, the digital divide still persists. It affects low-income families who cannot afford monthly internet services.
Fortunately, many households may be eligible for ACP or Lifeline benefits. We can get discounts to purchase equipment or reduce our monthly phone and internet service expenses.
While both programs are different, they offer great benefits to help us stay connected.
If we want to choose the most suitable one, we must evaluate their requirements and benefits. However, we have to consider our current situation and eligibility.
Although one benefit is more substantial than the other, both ACP and Lifeline can give us affordable, stable, and reliable internet access.