Affordability of Telecommunications Services


Telecommunications access, including access to high-speed internet service, is a basic necessity for people of all ages, including older adults. As such, everyone should have affordable access to telecommunications services. 

The federal Universal Services Fund subsidizes telecommunications services. It helps extend service to high-cost areas, consumers with low incomes, schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities. The fund is supported by a surcharge to telecommunications companies, which is then passed on to consumers. Some states also have their own funds. 

The federal Lifeline program provides discounts on eligible services to households with low incomes. These discounts apply to certain wireless, voice, and data bundles as well as fixed and mobile high-speed internet services. Some states supplement the Lifeline program, increasing the amount of the overall discount. As of the end of 2022, consumers with low incomes who subscribe just to voice service will no longer be eligible for the federal Lifeline discount. The federal Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes high-speed internet access service for households with low and moderate incomes. Households with income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible. In addition, those who participate in certain federal assistance programs, including Lifeline, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are automatically eligible. 



Telecommunications universal service fund

Policymakers should ensure that universal service funds are calculated fairly and distributed equitably. 

Policymakers should ensure that only fully qualified providers capable of and committed to providing universal service receive support. Cost recovery should occur in a manner that is fair and equitable to all consumers, including those with low incomes. 

The federal government should require fair and equitable universal service contributions from all telecommunications and high-speed internet service providers. This is important because all providers benefit from the public network and universal service programs. 

Federal policymakers should conduct a thorough audit of all service providers that receive high-cost and other forms of universal service funding. 

Federal and state policymakers should apply a revenue-based methodology to determine a provider’s contribution to the preservation and advancement of universal service. 

Policymakers should encourage the deployment of WiFi kiosks and other innovative technologies to replace aging payphone infrastructure and otherwise ensure that public communications access points are available where needed for public health, safety, or welfare. 

Telecommunications assistance

Policymakers should fully fund telecommunications assistance programs to ensure that all households can afford essential services. They should also strengthen outreach and education to increase awareness of and participation in programs. 

Policymakers should streamline enrollment in telecommunications assistance programs. They should automatically enroll customers in telecommunications assistance programs when they enroll in other income-based financial assistance programs with similar qualifying criteria. 

Policymakers should ensure that financing for Lifeline, the Affordable Connectivity Program, and any other telecommunications assistance programs is preserved and funded in a competitively neutral manner. 

The Federal Communication Commission and state public utility commissions should ensure that Lifeline customers can apply their Lifeline discount to any offering from an eligible telecommunications carrier that includes voice service.