Discounted and free government smartphones and phone service plans offer citizens the security and safety that cell phones provide without the exorbitant costs traditionally associated with them. Free smartphone services are sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and have existed in some capacity since 1985. Through the Lifeline Program, low-income consumers can receive discounts on phones and phone services throughout the country that ensure they have around-the-clock access to emergency personnel, coworkers, employers and family members. 

Because the ever-changing social environment demands consumers to have access to phones, government smartphones are great resources for members of the population that cannot afford a phone otherwise. Having a reliable phone can increase your independence and ability to secure a job, so it is important to know all of your phone-buying options. To learn how to get a free smartphone online and how to find the best free government smartphone available, read the sections below. 

How the Lifeline Cell Phone Program Works

Lifeline cell phone providers are required by law to verify consumers’ eligibility to participate in the program and to record that eligibility documentation. The documentation must prove that subscribers have a qualifying income and complete a certification form. 

Additionally, free government cell phones programs limit one subscriber per household. To determine a customer’s eligibility, providers have one of four options based on their location and other circumstances:

  1. The National Eligibility Verifier. Providers offering services to customers in Colorado, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming must utilize the National Verifier to determine Lifeline eligibility. 
  2. State verification processes. A state agency or administrator may be required to assess a customer’s eligibility for Lifeline. However, only state processes that adhere to FCC guidelines may be followed.
  3. The Query Database. Some providers have access to state and/or federal social services eligibility databases that inform them whether a customer is eligible for government benefits or not. Government smartphones may be distributed to those whom the database indicates are eligible.
  4. Manual eligibility review. This method of eligibility verification is used when the Query Database is inaccessible and state-administered processes do not apply. In this case, Lifeline phone service providers must review a customer’s eligibility. 

All Lifeline users must pass one of the above eligibility verification processes to be enrolled in the program. As a recipient of free government cell phones, or a government discount, you are entitled to the following minimum services:

  • At least 1,000 minutes of talk or text 
  • A data plan speed of at least 3G and usage of at least 2 GB per month
  • A home internet service speed of at least 18/2 Mbps and usage of at least 1,000 GB per month

However, you are able to purchase additional features including hotspot functionality and service bundles if you wish. Additionally, you can transfer to a different free government cell phone companies at any time during your participation in the program by contacting another company that offers Lifeline.

While receiving a free smartphone is a great opportunity for many low-income families, free government cell phones for low income citizens have some rules and regulations pertaining to their usage. For instance, Lifeline users must renew their free government smartphone services each year to retain phone privileges. 

Also, Lifeline reserves the right to terminate the service if users fail to use it at least once every 30 days during their active service plan. Users will be notified 15 days prior to termination and must use their Lifeline services within that period to prevent its official termination. 

Finally, all Lifeline users are required to keep their service provider up-to-date on their current address, income and household statuses. Failure to update the company within 30 of a change will result in the termination of Lifeline services, so be sure to review all the requirements for your phone service through Lifeline before agreeing to it. 

Note: The best free government cell phone service for you will be the one that offers all the flexibility you need to maintain regular communication via your cell phone. To make your government cell phone work for you, look into all your options and be sure to ask about add-on services and features. While they may cost extra, they can make a big difference. 

How to Apply for the Lifeline Program

Getting a free government smartphone involves a few, important steps. First, you must check to see if you qualify for the Lifeline cell phone program based on your income or participation in Medicaid, SNAP or some other government assistance programs. According to the FCC, your gross household income must be at or below 135 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines. 

Next, find a government smartphone provider using the FCC’s search function or a simple Google search. The company will ask for your personal information to complete a Lifeline application for you and to assess your eligibility. 

Be prepared to show proof of identification such as a driver’s license, state ID, Social Security card or tax return document. When you contact a Lifeline provider, have the following information ready:

  • Your full name
  • Your birthdate
  • The last four digits of your Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Your residential address

Once the Lifeline provider informs you that your application is complete, you will need to officially sign up for the Lifeline Program. To do so, all you need to do is sign the contract and select which free smartphone and services you would like. Then, the Lifeline discount will automatically be applied to your bill. Whether you will receive a fully free government smartphone or a discounted government smartphone depends on your qualifications and your chosen phone and phone plan. 

Note: You can ask your phone service provider to apply the Lifeline discount to your existing services if you would prefer. However, this only works if your service provider participates in the Lifeline Program and if your phone services in effect are eligible to be discounted.