Imagine your relief if you had one less utility to pay for. In some American families, this could make the difference between going hungry and putting more meals on the table.
But with the internet becoming an essential tool for succeeding in careers and education, it’s not as easy as canceling your plan and going about your day — your internet connection is often critical to several routine activities.
So what can you do? There are several alternatives to your expensive internet plan, and you could be surprised by the number of options you can choose to lower your bill.
Before we jump into the more rigorous alternatives below, it’s worth reminding readers that public Wi-Fi can offer you free service. In temporary situations where you’re trying to save money or between plans, this can be a handy tool.
“You can find free internet almost anywhere,” Cam Finley of Real Home Jobs Now explains. “Local libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. Libraries are a plus because they will typically offer timed use of computers too if necessary.”
Using a tool like WiFi Map can help you find Wi-Fi hotspots near you. This can be handy for those who also lack access to transportation and might not have a library within traveling distance. Some other places to find free Wi-Fi include museums, hotels, stores, and gyms
The issue with any free public Wi-Fi is security. A free Wi-Fi hotspot is just as easily accessed by a hacker as it is by you. Also, many public services will be able to see your activity unless you’re browsing using a proxy or virtual private network (VPN). If what you’re researching is personal, public Wi-Fi isn’t the way to go.
Libraries sometimes let you check out free Wi-Fi hotspots, which are devices that allow you to use the internet in your home. This is in addition to a library’s myriad of free services such as online courses and streaming subscriptions; look into what your state’s libraries offer and take advantage of these assets.
Or, if you have a device capable, you can use your phone as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot — your phone acts as the router that allows you to connect other devices. Many phone plans now offer unlimited data, meaning you don’t have to worry about data caps as you surf. If you can’t pay for both a phone plan and internet plan, this might be a temporary fix.
Yes, you can get free internet regardless of your income status.
If you have a phone landline, you can search for free dial-up internet options such as NetZero and Juno. They do have ads, they might limit your monthly access time, and dial-up has the slowest internet speed of any type of service available. But, dial-up service can get a basic job done.
This option isn’t appealing if you have money to spend on a higher quality plan.
What’s more likely to win you over is the option of municipal wireless internet. Free, citywide internet is catching on in several parts of the United States, and you could be the lucky resident of one of these areas.
While the upload and download speeds of many free municipal plans aren’t great, they beat dial-up. And they can also beat traveling to a public location to access free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Low income families have more options than free dial-up and municipal wireless internet. Though internet service providers don’t openly advertise this, many of them offer reduced rates for low income households. These reduced ISP plans provide a balance between cost effectiveness and speed. They aren’t free, but they’re more affordable than your average $50 per month bill.
Take a look at your bandwidth needs; reduced plans won’t get you gigabit internet. “No matter who you select as an internet service provider, you should first consider your bandwidth needs,” Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVOIP, says. “Do you need more than 100 mbps? If so, you're unlikely to find coverage for less than $70 per month (Fiber 1000 through Google Fiber).”
If this sounds okay to you, Finley recommends EveryoneOn as a place to search for reduced plans. “[It’s] a non-profit organization whose mission is to create social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet. Search for low-cost internet and device offers by zip code at everyoneon.org.”
If you want to know the kinds of plans you might find, Patrick Ward, Editor-in-Chief of High Speed Experts, lists three options: the AT&T Access Program, the Comcast Internet Essentials, and the Spectrum Internet Assist program.
“The AT&T Access Program
Requirements: At least one resident in-house participating in U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Address within AT&T's 21-state service area. Must not have any outstanding payments due to AT&T in the last six months or existing debt from program itself.
Service: You receive no commitment, no deposit, no installation fee, no modem fee, and internet for $5–$10 per month.
Internet Essentials from Comcast
Requirements: At least one child eligible for National School Lunch Program. Must not have been subscribed to regular Comcast service within the previous 90 days. Must not have any non-returned equipment or outstanding payments due to Comcast.
Service: You receive no installation fee, no credit check, no contract, In-Home Wi-Fi, 15 Mbps, and internet for $9.95 per month.
Spectrum Internet Assist
Requirements: Must qualify for National School Lunch Program, Community Eligibility Program, or Social Security Income. Must not be a current Spectrum subscriber.
Service: You receive a free modem, no contract, and internet for $14.99 per month.”
Read reviews on AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, and Spectrum to get a better understanding of which may be right for you. These plans are cheaper than many TV streaming subscriptions, which is a far cry from full-price internet service.
It’s worth noting that Cox and Mediacom also offer Connect2Compete reduced plans for $9.95 per month. Both plans require a household to have a K–12 student who’s receiving free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program.
Your help doesn’t end there. “One option for low income individuals is the Federal Communication Commissions program, Lifeline,” Helen Black, Editor-in-Chief of Kill the Cable Bill says. “This program provides those who qualify with a $9.25 per month subsidy towards your internet bill.” Not all internet service providers offer Lifeline, but CenturyLink internet is one major providers that does. The Universal Service Administration Co. lets you view eligibility requirements and find eligible providers in your location.
These reduced plans may not offer high speeds, but many experts claim that prioritizing your devices and using ethernet cables rather than Wi-Fi can reduce the amount of speed you need altogether.
Read also: How to Improve Wi-Fi Speeds in an Apartment
If none of these ideas look ideal for you, you can also look for cheaper plans that still offer high-speed internet. Ward’s team at High Speed Experts created a helpful resource on cheap internet plans that deliver quality mbps bang for your buck. For whichever company you consider, be sure to read their reviews.
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