There are various ways you can a free phone without paying anything. The EBB program was the most popular of these ways in 2021. But is the program still around? If yes, who offers free phones with the ebb program, and how can I apply?
In this guide, we’ll be answering this question, including providers with EBB, what they offer, and how you can apply. But first…
What is the EBB Program For Phones?
In simple words, the EBB (or emergency broadband band) was a government assistance program to support low-income consumers. The government, through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), launched the program in 2021 as a relief to help those affected by COVID-19 afford internet service. Thus, ensuring everyone had the means to connect with loved ones, potential employers, or school work during the crisis.
While the government used FCC to establish the EBB program, the FCC in turn asked the USAC (universal service administrative company) to administer the funds. The USAC would then distribute the funds available to the providers who have registered to offer the connectivity discount.
The providers who had registered to offer EBB are both from broadband and cell phone service. In the cell phone service, the participating providers are from the paid (prepaid and postpaid) category and those of lifeline.
However, taking the EBB discount with a prepaid and postpaid phone only offered a partial discount on most of the plans. The paid carriers also didn’t have a free smartphone that the lifeline phone operators would give you when eligible.
What is the Difference Between Lifeline and EBB?
In general, lifeline and EBB are both federal assistance programs. The USAC was also responsible for the distribution of funds to both benefits. But even then, they are still different in several ways:
Lifeline is a connectivity assistance program that the FCC funds under the Federal Universal Service Fund. The Universal service fund comprises taxes the USAC collects from the telecommunication providers. Hence, the reason it (Lifeline) has been active since its initial launch in 1985.
On the other hand, the Emergency Broadband Benefit (or EBB) was an emergency fund from the Treasury. The emergency fund amounted to $3.2 billion and was supposed to support the program until they were expended or COVID-19 was no longer a health emergency.
From the $3.2 billion, all the eligible households would get a $50 discount (or $70 on tribal lands) on their phone or broadband bill.
The qualifications for a free phone with lifeline or EBB are partially similar. Either benefit is available to consumers with proof of low income or participation in a federal assistance program.
Nonetheless, the way these two eligibility requirements work is a bit different. If applying for the lifeline discount, you will need a low income at or below 135% of federal poverty guidelines or participates in:
- Supplemental security income
- Federal public housing assistance
- Veterans & Veteran’s Survivors Pension
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Head Start, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, and other Tribal-administered assistance programs
If you’re on lifeline or either of the programs above, you automatically qualified for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. You could also get the connectivity discount with a low income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines or participates in:
- A Federal Pell Grant in the current award year
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- School Lunch or School Breakfast Program (even from the USDA Community Eligibility Provision).
Note: while you could get EBB with the three programs above, neither is eligible for the free lifeline phones. The low-income cap is also at or below 200% of poverty guidelines, which is higher than the 135% of the lifeline. Hence, the reason some people would only qualify for EBB, while others could get a combo of both (lifeline & EBB).
The main difference between lifeline and EBB is the monthly allowances. In the lifeline-only program, the participating operators would give you capped data, text minutes, and text messages. But with a lifeline + EBB combo, you would get a free cell phone service for life unlimited everything.
For instance, Safelink Wireless would offer 350 – 1500 talk minutes and 3.5GB of data with a lifeline-only plan. But after combining the lifeline with EBB, your free monthly service was unlimited talk minutes and 15GB of high-speed data before dropping to 128kbps speeds.
Where to Apply
If you want to apply for a lifeline benefit, you can only use the Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETC) the FCC has approved. The carriers also offered the lifeline + EBB combo and EBB-only programs.
However, as said earlier, you could also get the EBB discount from prepaid and postpaid phone/ broadband providers. The difference is that the carriers here would only give you a discounted service and never had a free phone.
Who Offers Free Phones With The EBB Program
The only way you would get a free phone with the EBB program was through the providers of the lifeline. Some of these providers include:
|Free Government Phone Provider||Carrier Network||Lifeline + EBB Data|
|SafeLink Wireless||T-Mobile/ Verizon/ AT&T||15GB|
|Cintex Wireless||T-Mobile||No Cap|
|Newphone Wireless||T-Mobile||No Cap|
|Q Link Wireless||T-Mobile||No Cap|
|TAG Mobile||T-Mobile/ Verizon/ AT&T||8GB|
Safelink is one of the lifeline providers that offered free phones with the EBB program. At the time, TracFone, the parent company of Safelink, was still under América Móvil.
Also, Safelink offered the free phone through the three main carriers T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. But at the time, the lifeline + EBB combo would only give you 15GB of high-speed data (then unlimited 128kbps).
Assurance Wireless is the second provider you would get a free phone if eligible for the EBB program. T-Mobile had just acquired Sprint when the program launched, and some of the old customers were utilizing the legacy CDMA towers.
Moreover, Assurance Wireless would give you 10GB of high-speed data (and unlimited 128kbps) with the lifeline + EBB combo. It was by the end of 2021 we saw an increase in the allowance (to 35GB of high-speed data).
Cintex Wireless is another lifeline company that offered free phones with the EBB program. It was also advertising to have unlimited everything, including data with no caps and access to high-end smartphones.
However, at the end of 2021, Cintex came clean about its service. They listed on their website that unlimited data will have 15GB of high-speed browsing before dropping to slower (128kbps) speeds.
You could also get a free phone with the EBB program through NewPhone Wireless. The provider also offered free high-end phones, including Apple, Samsung, and Google, plus unlimited everything service.
At the end of 2021, though, Newphone, just like its sister brand, Cintex Wireless, listed on its website they’ll be offering 15GB of LTE data. Then after using up the high-speed allowance, your phone would drop to a slower 2G data speed.
TruConnect would also give you a free phone with the EBB program and a monthly service with unlimited everything. However, the “unlimited” data comprised 12.5GB of high-speed browsing (14GB in California), then 128kbps afterward.
Qlink was the most talked-about provider of a free phone with the EBB program in 2021. It was the first to announce the inclusion of a free tablet with the service and they didn’t have a cap on the monthly data.
If you remember, though, the same period was when the Feds raided a Qlink office in Dania Beach. They didn’t give the details for the raid, albeit many suspected it was from the complaints subscribers have forwarded to the FCC.
If in a hotspot of T-Mobile, Standup Wireless is yet another lifeline provider that offered free phones with the EBB program. The benefit included unlimited talk and texting, plus 10GB of high-speed data (then 2G speeds).
Similar to Safelink, TAG Mobile has a network deal with all three major carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. It also offered a free smartphone and a monthly service with unlimited talk, texting, and data through EBB.
However, the free monthly data you would get at the time only included up to 8GB of high-speed browsing, then 2G speeds.
Last but not least, you could also get a free phone and monthly service with the EBB program. The free monthly service included unlimited talk minutes, texting, and data (with up to 25GB of high-speed data). You could use the data to browse, stream, or even tether/ hotspot your other wireless devices.
Common Related Questions:
Has the EBB program ended?
The EBB was a temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit that the government had set up to provide affordable internet to the victims of COVID-19.
However, the EBB program ended on December 31, 2021 with the launch of the ACP. All the existing customers of the EBB at the time continued to receive their usual monthly allowance until March 1, 2022.
Is the ACP program the same as the EBB program?
In a way, the ACP program is the same as the EBB program. I mean, they both aim to provide affordable internet service to low-income consumers.
Nonetheless, the ACP is a more long-term program, with a minimum discount of $30 per month on eligible households. The EBB program was temporary, albeit offered more monthly allowances, a minimum of $50.
How long is ebb expected to last?
EBB was a temporary program expected to last after expending the $3.2 billion or 6 months after COVID-19 was no longer a health emergency.
But as I’ve just mentioned, the EBB is no more since the ACP replaced it on December 31, 2021.
After COVID-19 had swept the streets, many Americans lost their jobs due to lockdowns. The free phones with the EBB program were really handy as you could connect with loved ones or potential employers at no charge.
As you will notice, though, I’ve used past tense to refer to the EBB program throughout the article. The reason for this is that the program is no more after Congress passed the $14.1 bill to create a more permanent Affordable connectivity program (ACP).
Fortunately, the process to apply for the ACP is still the same way you would with EBB. The difference is that the current benefit is relatively smaller since you get a $30 discount instead of $50.