Utilities & Internet

Headline:

Cell phone carriers are switching to 5G, preventing some older phones from making calls, including 911 calls. This shift will also affect some medical devices, including life alerts.

Last-reviewed: 9am, June 23, 2022

Key Resources:

The Basics

  • The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides eligible households $30/month off their internet bills.
  • Winter moratoria protecting eligible utility customers from terminations have ended across the nation.
  • When cell phone carriers switch to 5G, they will stop service to phones, medical devices, and security systems that run only on 3G. People with older phones may not be able make calls including emergency calls to 911.

The Breakdown

Telephone and Internet
  • Cell phone carriers are shutting down 3G networks as part of a transition to 4G LTE and 5G networks. This means that people with older phones may not be able to make calls including to 911. Some networks, such as AT&T, have already shut down their 3G service, while others like Verizon plan to sunset their 3G service by the end of the year. For additional information about the timeline and how to upgrade affected devices, visit the FCC website.
  • The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) replaced the Electronic Broadband Benefit on December 31, 2021. The ACP offers a $30/monthly discount for eligible households. Twenty internet providers are offering ACP-eligible households a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30/month, so these households can receive high-speed internet at no cost. The ACP also broadens income and participation eligibility.
    • Find more information here.   
  • Have you checked out getinternet.gov? More than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is insufficient broadband access.
  • For more information on other resources for affordable internet and free computers to students of low-income families, click here
  • Now is a good time to explore the kinds of telephone and internet resources and protections that are generally available to low-income households. For example, the FCC has taken action to raise awareness about the Nationwide Lifeline Program for affordable telephone service, a benefit for which many consumers may be newly eligible during the pandemic.
Home Energy Utilities
  • The National Center on Law and Elder Rights has this tip sheet to help preserve access to utility service.
  • Each state’s federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help income-eligible energy customers meet their home energy costs. Eligible gas and electric customers can also keep their lights and heat on by asserting shut-off protection rights. The US Department of Health and Human Services maintains a website showing LIHEAP program contact information on a state-by-state basis. 
  • Visit local Community Action Agencies for information about how to apply for fuel assistance or utility arrearage assistance.
  • Any specific protections against utility disconnections are managed at the state level, or by the voluntary commitments of gas and electric companies.
Water

The Bottom Line

  • Care teams can help households apply for other utility shut-off protections (if eligible), maximize budgets, and arrange payment plans for utility debt that may have accrued.
  • CAP agencies are key leaders in the utilities advocacy arena. These are the programs that administer fuel assistance applications.