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It’s impossible to imagine life without the internet, especially after the pandemic forced people to find ways to work from home. Schools and other educational institutions assume we all have the internet to do research and self-study. But what about families who can’t afford the latest greatest broadband technologies? Thankfully, low-income families can get free or cheap internet; here’s how.
- The US Government started the Affordable Connectivity Program to help low-income families get good, affordable internet for under $30.
- Other programs, like the Connect2Compete program for families with children in a K-12 school, also offer free or cheap internet.
- Some ISPs offer free low-speed internet for free, then show ads to those users to make up their income.
- Other providers offer free internet for a limited time to help those who are experiencing temporary financial setbacks.
How Low-Income Families Can Get Free Or Cheap Internet
Great strides are being made to bridge the digital divide and ensure that everyone on Earth has internet access. Many companies and organizations are jumping on board and doing their part to make this a reality. Let’s look at a few of the most effective ways for low-income families to get internet cheaply or even completely free.
1. The US Government’s ACP
President Biden and Vice President Harris endeavored to create a program aimed at helping low-income US families access affordable internet connections. This program is known as the Affordable Connectivity Program or ACP. Its goal is to offer internet connections as cheaply as possible but consistently below $30 per month.
Twenty official partner ISPs have agreed to offer reliable internet connections with at least 100Mbps speeds at $30 or less per month. Qualifying families can sign up for the US government’s ACP benefit program, which will give them a subsidy of $30 per month, essentially giving them their internet connection for free.
Qualifying families can also sign up for any alternative internet connection with over 1,300 different ISPs and use their subsidies to get a $30 per month discount on their internet. Anyone can check their eligibility and apply for the benefit by going to the White House’s official GetInternet website.
2. Altice Optimum Advantage
Altice is currently offering its 50Mbps service free for up to 60 days, after which it’s only about $15 per month, which is still very affordable. The Altice Optimum Advantage service is available to the following households:
- Families that participate in the National School Lunch Program
- Households with children in a New York public school
- Seniors over 65 that qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans that receive state or federal public assistance
This offer applies to Optimum and Suddenlink connections, so anyone who lives in an area that offers either can use Altice’s Advantage service. Furthermore, Altice is also one of the internet service providers that joined the government’s ACP, so it is possible to get your internet connection for free forever through the government subsidy.
HBC is one of the most well-known internet service providers in the United States and one of the first to offer support to families that suffered when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020. HBC immediately announced that it would stop disconnecting users for non-payment and even waived all late fees. To date, HBC has not revoked this policy.
HBC has also been offering an Internet Assistance Program for more than a decade already. This program provides free or affordable internet to anyone with children in a K-12 school who lives in HBC’s connectivity area. This option is still available, and households can apply for it through the school system.
Lastly, HBC is also a partner in the government’s Affordable Connectivity Program, so if you qualify through the process mentioned before, you will be able to apply your $30 subsidy to get fast internet for free through HBC.
4. Comcast Xfinity
Comcast Xfinity offers a plan called Internet Essentials, which is a low-cost internet plan for households that qualify. This plan allows you to get a reliable 50Mbps internet connection for as little as $10 per month.
You may qualify for the Internet Essentials program in the following scenarios:
- If you already qualify for other assistance programs, like the National School Lunch Program, Medicaid, Federal Pell Grant, SNAP, SSI, or housing assistance.
- If you live in a region where Comcast Xfinity is available
- If you haven’t had Comcast Xfinity internet in the last 90 days
- And if you don’t have any Comcast accounts in arrears.
Furthermore, Comcast Xfinity is also a member of the ACP, which means that you can get your internet entirely for free. If you choose the ACP option, you get the choice between 50Mbps and 100Mbps internet, with all your internet connection equipment for free.
Few internet service providers do as much to offer free or cheap internet to qualifying people as AT&T. First of all, the company offers discounted unlimited internet services to healthcare providers as well as the families of first responders. But AT&T is also partnering with the ACP program through the AT&T Access service.
AT&T Access isn’t only tied to the ACP. You can qualify for the Access plan separately from the ACP, and in exchange, you will receive the fastest internet connection available in your area, up to 100Mbps, for $30 per month. It includes unlimited data. You can get AT&T Access if you qualify for one of the following government support programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – Only for residents of California
- National School Lunch
You can also apply for Access if your annual household income is below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
But the Access plan has the exact same qualifying criteria as the ACP, so if you first pre-qualify for ACP before applying for AT&T Access, you will get your internet connection completely free, thanks to the government’s ACP subsidy.
6. Cox ConnectAssist And Connect2Compete
Cox Internet offers two distinct low-cost (or free) internet options for low-income individuals, households, or families.
The first is Cox ConnectAssist. It is a plan that’s developed for individuals that are on a government assistance program, like Medicaid or SNAP. It gives 100Mbps internet access for up to five devices, priced at $30 per month. The internet connection is optimized for web browsing, light streaming, and social media access, so it isn’t designed for hard use like Netflix or large downloads.
The ConnectAssist service also includes free access to all Wi-Fi hotspots that support Cox (over 3 million all over the US).
The second option is Cox Connect2Compete. This package is explicitly aimed at households with at least one government assistance program and children in a K-12 school. It includes many of the same features as ConnectAssist, but you also get free access to the Cox Digital Academy, an online portal that’s full of educational resources.
The other great thing about Connect2Compete is its price. It costs one-third the price of ConnectAssist, at only $10 per month.
But Cox is also partnered with the Affordable Connectivity Program, so if you qualify for ACP, you can get either the ConnectAssist or Connect2Compete service 100% free through the government subsidy.
Mediacom is another internet service provider partnered with the Connect2Compete program and the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Mediacom’s Connect2Compete service offers unlimited internet access with speeds up to 25Mbps for approximately $10 per month, available to any household with a child in a K-12 school. But there is also the option to go for Connect2Compete Plus, with speeds of up to 100Mbps for $30 per month, but for this one, you must already be pre-qualified for the ACP program.
These services are not quite as feature-packed as those offered by Cox. For example, they don’t include access to the Cox Digital Academy. But Cox isn’t available everywhere. For those living outside of Cox’s coverage area, or those who prefer not to go through Cox for whatever reason, Mediacom offers the same internet service for the same price tag of $10 or free through the ACP.
8. Synergy Charity
Synergy Charity is a charity service started by the internet service provider, Synergy Internet. The charity receives donations from people and businesses, sometimes in the form of donated real estate, in order to provide low-income families and households with fast, reliable internet access through its Internet Assistance Program (IAP), which is independent and separate from the ACP.
Qualifying individuals or families may get an internet connection from either Synergy Internet, Spectrum, or Verizon Fios. Occasionally, when none of these options are available in an area, Synergy may approve another internet service provider to be used. Still, Spectrum and Verizon have formally partnered with Synergy in the Internet Assistance Program.
To qualify, you have to match specific criteria:
- You must qualify for a government support program like SNAP, Medicare, the National School Lunch program, or SSI (others are also acceptable).
- You must live in an area where Synergy, Spectrum, or Verizon Fios is available.
- You must not have done any business with either of those three internet service providers in the last 90 days.
Since the Internet Assistance Program is charity-based, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to get a connection when you apply. It all depends on the number of charitable grants available at the time. But you are encouraged to re-apply every six months until your application is approved.
NetZero Free Dial-up Internet seems a bit like a blast from the past (even the web page looks like something from the 90s), and with good reason. Through the free service, NetZero offers completely free internet for up to ten hours per month, but there are two catches:
- The service is dial-up only. This means that you can connect from anywhere, as long as you have a regular telephone line and a standard modem. It may seem severely outdated (and it is, in a way), but if you live in an area where none of the other options are supported, chances are you will still be able to use dial-up internet, which is better than no internet.
- The free service is ad-supported. You have to install NetZero’s software on your computer in order to access the dial-up connection, and this software will show you ads to make up the costs involved in providing your link.
FreedomPop offers a sim card with limited free internet access. The free plan gives you only a sim card, you don’t get a phone with it, but the service is entirely free, though it is extremely limited. You will only receive 25MB of data, which means that only a few minutes of browsing will use it all up. But you also get 10 minutes of free calls and ten text messages with it.
FreedomPop may not be the ideal long-term solution for heavy internet use, but it is helpful to have a sim card that can give you some free connectivity when you need it. There is a once-off cost of $10, but after that, you can use it for free until your data allocation has been used up, until the next month, when it gets topped up again. You may also upgrade to a paid service at any time.
Can I Trust A Free Internet Service?
The free internet services are all from established and reliable internet service providers, so you can trust them just as much as you can trust any internet service provider. They collect your personal information and may choose to sell it (legally) at any time. They all follow the same basic privacy policies, so there’s no difference, even if it’s free.
Will My Free Internet Be Sub-Par?
You will be sacrificing something if you’re not a paying customer, and the closer you get to free, the more you will sacrifice. The ISPs that offer ACP services are the best option since you will have free unlimited internet, but they are not optimized for things like downloads and streaming. Other free services are slower, show ads, or have ridiculously low data caps, like FreedomPop.
How Can I Qualify For The Affordable Connectivity Program?
You may qualify for the ACP if anyone in your household fits any of the following criteria:
- If anyone qualifies for the Lifeline program
- If you’ve been approved for the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program
- If anyone in your household received a Pell Grant in the last year
- If you are currently eligible for specific low-income support programs
- If you are already receiving assistance from either SNAP or WIC
How Much Subsidy From The Affordable Connectivity Program?
The standard amount is $30 per month. However, if you live on Tribal land or in certain high-cost areas, you may qualify for as much as $75 per month, but this is determined on a per-applicant basis.