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How to get free phone service: what is the best free government phone program?

Need free phone service? If you're in the US, you have a few options.

Published onMay 23, 2024

google pixel 7a vs iphone se 2022 cameras
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Smartphones aren’t cheap, but for many of us, they have become essential. We use them for our jobs, for communicating, looking up information, entertainment, and even paying our bills. If you need a smartphone and a wireless plan but can’t afford it, you aren’t without options in you live in the United States.

The US government subsidizes phone plan costs for those who are eligible via either its Lifeline Assistance program or Affordable Connectivity Program. It’s also possible to get a free phone and free service in some cases. Wondering how to get a free phone or what is the best free government phone program? Keep reading.

What is the best free government phone program?

It used to be there were two main programs that could help you either pay less for phone service or even get it entirely free. Unfortunately the ACP program is no longer taking members and may soon cease to get funding altogether. The ACP was directly funded by Congress and provided a $30 a month discount on an ISP or carrier. 

Now that it is gone, that just leaves the Lifeline Assistance Program. The Lifeline Assistance Program actually pays for itself by requiring all qualifying carriers to pay a universal service fee that essentially finances the program. That means T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and others essentially finance it through fees. 

What is Lifeline assistance, and how do you qualify?

The Lifeline Assistance program actually dates back to 1985 and was created as a way to bring affordable or free phone service to struggling families. It has evolved beyond its landline roots and now extends to smartphone service.

The program provides a $9.25 per month subsidy for broadband support to Americans with an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. You can also qualify if at least one person in your household participates in one of the following programs: Snap, Medicaid, SSI, FPHA, or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit.

To apply for the program directly you’ll want to head to the Lifeline website.

Best free phone service provider through ACP/Lifeline

There are many providers that partner up with Lifeline. This includes all the big guys like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The catch is these programs tend just to add the discount to their existing plans and don’t include extras like a free phone in most cases. In other words, they cost less but generally aren’t free.

The cheapest and truly free plans tend to come from MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that are specifically designed to provide government-assisted service. That said, many of them actually belong to existing carriers. 

There are literally dozens of options out there, especially if you consider that you can also use ACP for an ISP and not just for wireless service. We won’t list them all, but we did pick one carrier that represents each of the major networks. All three are well rated and great options, though they differ in a few key ways. 

Assurance Wireless is a great Tmo-based choice

assurance wireless

Assurance Wireless is actually owned by T-Mobile and is dedicated exclusively to providing phone service to those with lower incomes. Provided you qualify, you’ll get the following benefits from Assurance:

  • Free unlimited data with 25GB of high-speed data
  • Free unlimited talk and text
  • Free 2.5GB of hotspot use
  • A free smartphone

Unlike traditional plans, you often have little say over the free phone you’re getting. Assurance Wireless does list what phones it provides, so at least you’ll have some idea of what you might get. To little surprise, it’s going to be mostly lesser-known brands like Coolpad, hot Ppper, ANS, and Orbic. They do at least have a few Motorola devices, though. 

Don’t like the free phone? You can always bring your own device as well. Be sure to check out our guide to the best unlocked phones for more options.

AT&T Prepaid is a great choice for AT&T coverage

ATT logo stock image 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

While many of the mainline carriers offer ACP support, AT&T does one of the best jobs. AT&T Prepaid is a good choice if you want to get service directly under a major carrier brand. There are actually three plans available. AT&T Prepaid doesn’t give you a free phone, but it has many cheap options out there as well. For a better idea be sure to check out AT&T Prepaid’s phone list, also, be sure to check out our guide to the best cheap phones if you want to go the unlocked route.

SafeLink Wireless is a great Verizon-based choice


SafeLink is actually a subsidiary of Tracfone, which is actually owned by Verizon. This means you get access to Verizon’s massive network at no cost to you. What you get will depend on your region. Here’s a quick breakdown of the best plan:

  • Unlimited talk and text 
  • Unlimited high-speed data (LTE/5G)
  • Up to 10GB of hotspot data
  • A free phone (no model specified) 

The plan is free but you just get 350 voice minutes, unlimited texts, and 4.5GB of data. 

Can you get a free iPhone? 

apple iphone 15 rear standing
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

No, there’s no government program for free iPhones. The only phones available tend to be Android devices from lesser-known brands like Orbic and ZTE, though a few larger brands like Samsung also participate. The list of phones will vary from program to program. 

Are free phones safe?

You may have heard that many of the phones used in these programs are cheap devices from relatively unheard of brands from China. That’s mostly true. It’s also true these phones are relatively low-end.

Are they safe? Yes and no. While your private information is probably safe from hackers, the reality is that, in a few incidents, these phones have been found to have unremovable spyware that injects aggressive ads and more. It’s also very possible anything done on the phone could be more easily tracked by the government than a typical unlocked device. 

While these government discounts are great, if possible we recommend bringing your own device. Check out our guide for some of the best cheap phones available. 

Don’t qualify for Lifeline? There are still a few options

Even if you don’t qualify for Lifeline you might still have a few options open to you. FreedomPop offers a free plan that’s basically designed only for emergency use. TextNow Free gives you free talk and text, though a SIM card will require a one time purchase of $5. 

Your options get better if you’re willing to spend a bit, as there are basic plans out there that can cost as little as $15 a month. Be sure to check out our guide to the best cheap phone plans for more details. 

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