Are There Programs Available to Help Make Internet Service More Affordable?
Internet access is no longer a luxury service. In today’s world, access to the web is crucial for education, work, job hunting, and staying connected. If you need internet access and feel you can’t afford it, or you have access but are struggling to pay for it, there are programs in place that can help reduce the cost. Most options fall into either government-funded programs or private offerings from Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Find out about available government assistance programs, income based programs and ISP low income family plans in the sections below.
Lifeline is a government program backed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It provides a monthly phone or internet service discount for low-income households. At the time of writing, Lifeline benefits give eligible subscribers a discount of at least $9.25 per month off landline phone service, wireless phone service, broadband, or bundled services.
How do I qualify for Lifeline?
- Through your income. If your income is 135% of the federal poverty guideline or less, you can qualify for Lifeline assistance. The guidelines vary with household size and the state you live in, but the average federal poverty guideline is generally about $34,000 for a family of four.
- Through a government program. If you or someone in your household participates in select federal assistance programs, you may qualify for Lifeline. These are the eligible programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefits
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Tribal Programs for Native Americans
You can also qualify if a child or dependent participates in one of the listed programs.
How does Lifeline work?
If you qualify, you choose a participating provider in your area and sign up. You’ll have to provide proof of eligibility and renew your Lifeline subscription every year. You can also have only one Lifeline benefit per household, so you have to choose between a phone or internet subsidy.
Several ISPs participate in Lifeline benefits programs. You can find all your options using the Lifeline provider database. But here are a few examples of companies that participate:
Internet Service Providers
Many ISPs also offer their own assistance programs for families with low income or other needs that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford internet access. If you don’t qualify for Lifeline or prefer to use the benefit for phone service, this can be a great option.
First, find out which providers service your area:
Xfinity offers an Internet Essentials program that allows qualifying customers to purchase a plan for just $9.95 per month. Internet Essentials is designed to help students, seniors, and low-income families. The program offers 15 Mbps internet and free in-home Wi-Fi and requires no credit check.
Xfinity also offers low-cost computers as part of the Internet Essentials program. Customers can choose a laptop or desktop computer for $149, which includes Microsoft Office, Norton Security Suite, and a 90-day warranty.
To get Internet Essentials, customers need to fill out an application and wait to be approved. For a family to qualify, they must have at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program and meet a handful of other requirements.
Spectrum offers an Internet Assist program similar to Xfinity’s Internet Essentials. Internet Assist is 30 Mbps internet with no data cap and no contract. The program is available to households where one member is a recipient of the National School Lunch Program, Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP, or Supplemental Security Income (≥ age 65 only).
Internet Assist costs $14.99 per month and offers faster speeds than Xfinity Internet Essentials. But the ISP charges an extra $5.00 per month if you want Wi-Fi.
To apply for Spectrum Internet Assist, call Spectrum at 1-855-542-6651.
Cox Low-Cost Internet is part of the Connect2Compete program, aimed at helping K–12 students reach their full potential by providing internet access to low-income families. Low-Cost Internet is $9.95 per month and is available to families with at least one child in kindergarten or grades 1–12.
- National School Lunch Program
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Public Housing
To apply for Cox Low-Cost Internet, visit the website and fill out the form.
CenturyLink offers internet access to eligible families for $9.95 per month through the Internet Basics plan. Speeds are only 1.5 Mbps, so it isn’t as fast as offerings from other companies, but CenturyLink is more widely available than many other providers, so it may still be a good option for your family.
- Earn less than 135% of the federal poverty guideline for your state
- Participate in one of several federal low-income assistance programs
Eligible customers can apply through the CenturyLink Internet Basics website.
Mediacom’s Connect2Compete program partners with EveryoneOn to offer inexpensive internet for students eligible for the NSLP. The program includes a 10 Mbps internet connection and Wi-Fi modem for $9.95 per month.
Check your eligibility or sign up by calling 1-855-904-2225 or through Mediacom’s Connect2Compete online application.
How to get free internet
Some families and communities can qualify for free or price-reduced internet through government and social programs like Lifeline and EveryoneOn. But for those who don’t qualify and still want to save money, it can be difficult to find low-cost internet options.
If you need only bare bones internet, there are a few internet providers who offer limited free internet service.
NetZero offers customers up to 10 hours of free dial-up internet use every month. The connection requires a home phone line, and it’s limited to data speeds of around 56 Kbps (about half of 1 Mbps). It’s not a fast enough connection for online gaming or streaming video content, but it’ll do for basic messaging, email, and web browsing if you’re patient.
FreedomPop also has a few options for free internet service. The company offers both free mobile phone service and free home internet service via 4G LTE connections. The high-speed internet claims to be faster than DSL (and definitely faster than dial-up), but you’re limited to 1 GB of data per month.
If you’re struggling to pay for internet, there are options out there to help. Check out these programs, find one that works for you, and enjoy all the benefits of internet access in your life.
Author - Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.