Is It Possible to Get a Free Phone Under the ACP Program?
At the beginning of the pandemic, lots of people were struggling to afford internet services, even though many of us needed broadband services more than ever – to stay in touch with loved ones, work, access virtual classrooms, contact healthcare, and emergency services, and more.
As such, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a temporary relief program in response to the pandemic called the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). This program was a government assistance program by the FCC established to help households struggling to afford internet service during the pandemic. The benefit used to provide eligible households with a discount of up to $50 a month towards broadband service and $75 a month for eligible households on Tribal lands. Eligible customers were also able to receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy a desktop computer, a laptop, or a tablet by contributing more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. Certain EBB and Lifeline providers also provided eligible customers with Lifeline and EBB free phones.
As the EBB program proved to be essential for millions of Americans, the US Congress passed a bill to modify and extend the program which is now known as the ACP. Therefore, on December 31, 2021, the former EBB program was replaced by the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
Luckily, the new and permanent Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) that has replaced the EBB program offers similar benefits. It offers a discount of up to $30 a month toward internet service for qualifying households and $75 a month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. It also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a desktop, laptop, or tablet by contributing more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. Lifeline and ACP providers also offer free phones, as such, you can get an ‘ACP free phone’ from a Lifeline and ACP provider.
Note: Lifeline is an assistance program designed to help make communications services more affordable for low-income people. It is known for offering free phone services and phones for eligible customers. As ACP-eligible customers generally also qualify for Lifeline, ACP-eligible households can receive a Lifeline and ACP free phone without a problem.
Ways to Get an ACP Free Phone
In addition to other ways to get a free phone, such as getting a carrier deal, from an employee, as a reviewer, from a giveaway contest, etc., eligible people can also get a free phone from the government. In fact, there are two ways to get a free phone from the government – through the Lifeline or the ACP (former EBB) program.
Lifeline Free Phone
Ever since the 1980s when the government has acknowledged the fact that having a phone and phone service is a necessity rather than a luxury, low-income people can get a free service and mobile device from the Lifeline Assistance program.
Participating Lifeline providers offer monthly cell phone service with free calls, texts, and data, as well as free mobile devices. They generally offer free entry-level to mid-range Android smartphones, however, some providers also offer free iPhones.
ACP Free Phone
For a long time, Lifeline was the only government-funded program that provided free phones. However, in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC launched the temporary EBB program that provided discounts on internet services and connected devices. While the EBB program has recently expired, the new ACP program was launched instead and it, too, offers both internet services and connected devices.
Generally, ACP providers offer discounts on desktop computers, laptops, or tablets, however, certain ACP providers also offer free phones, sometimes in combination with their Lifeline program.
In order to receive a Lifeline or an ACP free phone, you must qualify, provide certain documentation, and apply for the program. Find out how to do all that in the next sections.
Who Is Eligible for the ACP Free Phone?
To receive an ACP free phone, you must be ACP-eligible. You are ACP-eligible if you or another member of your household meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Your annual household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- You or another member of your household participates in a qualifying government assistance program, such as:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP
- Federal Housing Assistance
- You or another member of your household participates in a qualifying Tribal specific program, such as:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal TANF
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- You or another member of your household was approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.
- You or another member of your household received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
- You meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.
What Documents are Necessary to Apply for ACP Free Phone?
When you apply for the ACP program from any provider, the provider will do its best to verify your information and eligibility automatically. If, however, they fail to do so, they may ask you to provide some documents that may do so.
Depending on your eligibility criteria, you may be required to provide some of the following documents:
- An official document that includes your full name, date of birth, and address to verify your identity and address. For example, a passport, a government, military, state, or Tribal ID, birth certificate, U.S. Driver’s license, certificate of U.S. citizenship or naturalization, permanent resident card or Green Card, and so on.
- An official document proving that your household’s annual income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For example, prior year’s state, federal, or Tribal tax return, current income statement from your employer or a paycheck stub, a Social Security statement of benefits, or a similar official document showing your income, or a retirement/pension statement of benefits.
- An official document proving your participation in a qualifying assistance program. For example, a benefit award letter, approval letter, statement of benefits, or a benefit verification letter.
- An official document proving that your household is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program.
- An official document proving that you or a household member has received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
Only customers who are 18 years old or more and emancipated minors can enroll. Therefore, emancipated minors must also provide an official document that proves their emancipated minor status, such as an official court document or a certificate.
Most ACP providers enable you to attach the supporting documents to your online application. However, you can also send the documentation via mail to the provider’s address. Make sure to only submit copies of the documents, not originals.
How to Apply for ACP Free Phone
To apply for an ACP free phone, simply follow the easy steps below:
- Step 1: Make sure you are ACP-eligible. You can check out the ACP eligibility criteria above.
- Step 2: Find an ACP provider that offers services and benefits in your state of residence. You can see the full list of ACP providers by the state at fcc.gov/affordable-connectivity-program-providers. Note: Some ACP providers only offer discounts on monthly internet services. In addition, not all of the providers that do offer discounts on connected devices offer free phones. Some of them offer one-time discounts on computers, laptops, and/or tablets instead. Check out the ACP program benefits from the ACP providers that have a ‘tick’ under ‘Offering Connected Devices’.
- Step 3: When you find an ACP provider that offers ACP free phones in your state of residence, visit its website. There, you will be able to find their ACP online application form. Fill it out by providing your personal information and attaching supporting documents.
- Step 4: Once you submit an online application, wait a couple of days for the provider to contact you and let you know if you qualify for an ACP free phone.
Which Smartphone Devices Does ACP Offer?
All ACP providers offer discounts on monthly internet services and many of them also offer discounts on connected devices. While most ACP providers offer discounts on computers, laptops, and tablets, some of them offer smartphones.
The smartphone ACP-eligible customers may be able to receive depends on the provider, state, and availability. Most ACP providers offer entry-level to mid-range smartphones, both Android and iOS. Unfortunately, as the free phone depends on so many factors, it’s impossible to know in advance which phone model you will receive.
Nevertheless, many Lifeline and ACP providers offer mobile devices such as:
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- LG Stylo 4
- LG M150
- Motorola E5
- Motorola G Stylus
- Apple iPhone 6
- Apple iPhone 6S
Which Providers Offer ACP Free Phones?
As mentioned before, most ACP providers that offer discounts on connected devices provide discounts on computers, laptops, and tablets. However, some of them offer ACP free phones instead.
ACP providers that offer ACP free phones include:
- Cintex Wireless
- NewPhone Wireless
- SFone Wireless
- Selectel Wireless
- Easy Wireless
- Assurance Wireless
- enTouch Wireless
- SafeLink Wireless
What Other Benefits Does the ACP Program Offer?
ACP program offers lots of benefits for eligible low-income households. As we have discussed above, some ACP providers offer ACP free phones.
In addition, some ACP providers provide one-time discounts of up to $100 on connected devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, or tablets. Qualifying customers may receive this discount if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
While discounts on devices are only offered by some ACP providers, all of them also provide a discount on monthly internet services. Eligible households can get a discount of up to $30 a month on broadband services, eligible households on Tribal lands, on the other hand, can get a discount of up to $75 a month toward internet services.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
Have There Been Recent Important Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Updates?
On December 31, 2021, the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) has expired. The program has already been replaced by the new, long-term, $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The new permanent assistance program will help ensure that people who are struggling to afford internet connections can enjoy them anyway and for a long time.
Households that have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit prior to December 31, 2021, will continue to receive their current monthly benefit during a 60-day transition period. Afterward, they can enroll in the new ACP program (most former EBB providers now offer ACP benefits).
There are Some More Important Things to Know About ACP Free Phone
How Can I Transfer My ACP Enrollment to Carriers?
You can enroll in the ACP program by submitting an application at acpbenefit.org and then contacting your preferred participating provider to select a plan and have the discount applied to your bill. You can contact your preferred ACP provider’s customer support center. Alternatively, you can visit your selected provider’s website and apply to their ACP program directly through their online application.
When Will I Receive My Free Phone and Free Service After I Sign Up?
Once your application is approved, the provider will usually begin shipping your order within 7 to 10 business days. The free service may be applied next month.
How Long Will It Take to Receive Approval?
Generally, it only takes about 30 minutes for an application to be approved. However, in some cases, you may have to wait up to 4 days for approval. This usually happens if the documents need to be reconfirmed. Anyhow, most providers allow you to check your application status by logging into your account.