How To Get Free and Low-Cost Internet
High-speed internet is a basic necessity, and both public and private organizations are working to expand access. This has made it possible for many people in the US to get broadband internet free of charge through the Affordable Connectivity Program and other public and private programs.
People in the US have uneven access to the internet, a problem that was made much more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you do if you don’t have access to good speeds where you live? What if you can’t afford any of the providers that are available in your area? And what if no major ISPs offer service where you live?
Long-term internet infrastructure solutions to these problems are complicated. However, there are multiple ways to get internet access completely free of charge or at a reduced cost. These can be important not only during a global crisis, but also during any type of financial stress. We’ll walk you through them.
Commitments to providing free internet
On May 9, 2022, President Biden announced that 20 internet providers had committed to offering eligible households high-speed internet access for $30 or less.12 This is significant because the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) covers up to $30 per month for qualifying low-income families, thus covering the cost completely and giving these families high-speed internet at no cost.
Although the providers that committed to providing plans that work with the ACP cover more than 80% of the US population, not every provider is available in every area. To see which are available in your area, check the table below.
|Providers with ACP commitments
|Jackson Energy Authority
|Vermont Telephone Company
Which internet service providers offer no-cost internet access?
Many internet service providers (ISPs) have programs for helping low-income families. This number increased during the COVID-19 outbreak, when many more joined the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected initiative, which asked companies to continue service, waive fees, and make their Wi-Fi hotspots publicly available. Although the FCC’s initiative has ended, many ISPs still offer programs for those in need of low-cost and no-cost internet connections. Many of these are designed to work with the Affordable Connectivity Program, which, when combined, can lower the cost of your internet bill to $0 per month.
How to get no-cost Optimum internet
Households enrolled in the ACP can get Optimum’s 300 Mbps Fiber Internet for free after applying their ACP credit. This plan requires no annual contract and includes equipment costs.
Alternatively, new Optimum customers can also sign up for the Altice Advantage plan, which offers speeds up to 50Mbps and free equipment.
How to get free Comcast Xfinity Internet
Xfinity’s Internet Essentials program is available for $9.95 for those who qualify, which is an incredible value. Comcast also increased the speed available to the Internet Essentials program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a change which will be permanent.4
The standard Internet Essentials plan costs $9.95 per month and offers speeds up to 50Mbps. Xfinity has also added a new Internet Essentials Plus plan, which costs $29.95 per month and offers speeds up to 100Mbps. Those enrolled in the ACP program can get either plan absolutely free with their ACP credit.
How to get free AT&T Internet
The AT&T Access program is available for low-income families who participate in SNAP or receive SSI benefits in California. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, AT&T expanded the eligibility for its Access program, pushing the cap to 135% of federal poverty guidelines and including families that participate in the the following programs:
- NSLP (National School Lunch Program)
- Head Start
With their credit from the ACP program, eligible households can get internet through AT&T Access absolutely free. This provides fiber speeds up to 100Mbps, as well as free equipment and installation.
To find out more about the AT&T Access program, check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for low-income families.
How to get free Cox Internet
Cox offers affordable internet through its ConnectAssist package. This plan is designed for people receiving government assistance and is available to households who participate in an income-based program such as SNAP, TANF, WIC, Medicaid, and many others.
At $30 per month, Cox ConnectAssist is comparable to its starter internet package, but with speeds up to 100Mbps—four times the speed of its starter plan. This package also includes access to Wi-Fi hotspots and educational resources through Cox Digital Academy. With multiple qualifying programs, ConnectAssist is one of the more widely available discounted internet programs out there.
Eligible customers can get internet through Cox Connect Assist plans at no cost through the ACP program, which will cover their entire monthly bill.
Cox also participates in the Connect2Compete program . Connect2Compete gives you access to internet speeds up to 100 Mbps for just $9.95 per month.
To find out more about the Connect2Compete program, check out our resource on government programs for low-income families.
How to get free Mediacom Internet
Like Cox, Mediacom participates in the Connect2Compete program and is noteworthy for having an even lower rate, with 25Mbps internet access available for just $9.99* a month.
Like some other providers, Mediacom has added a second tier to it’s low-income plans to work with the ACP. The Connect2Compete Plus plan offers speeds up to 100Mbps for $30.00 per month, which can be completely covered by the credit from the ACP plan, reducing eligible households’ monthly bill to zero.
How to get no-cost Synergy Internet
Synergy Internet offers grants for free or low-cost internet through Synergy Charity Services. Households can qualify for these grants if they participate in federal programs such as the NSLP, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, and similar programs. You must also live in an area where Synergy Internet, Spectrum, or Verizon is available, while not having used any of these services in the past 90 days.
How to get free Verizon Internet
The Verizon Forward Program is a discount Verizon offers to allow those who are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program to get internet access at no cost. This discount can also be applied to Verizon customers who already have a Verizon home internet plan and have been approved for the ACP. With both programs, households can get Verizon internet with no monthly charge, no hidden fees, and no equipment charges.
This program applies not only to Verizon Fios, which has worked with the ACP since May of 2022, but also with Verizon 5G Home internet and LTE Home internet, which were added to the Verizon Forward Program a few months later.
Verizon also offers its Lifeline 300 Mbps plan, which is compatible with the ACP. This gives those who qualify for the program fiber speeds up to 300Mbps absolutely free after applying their ACP credit.Learn More
*Data as of 8/15/2023. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots
In addition to expanding their programs for low-income families, many ISPs have also made Wi-Fi hotspots available in public spaces. This doesn’t affect Wi-Fi hotspots that people have set up in their own homes. It just opens up access to hotspots that ISPs set up in public areas like shopping malls, parks, and train stations that were previously available only to paying customers.
Government programs for internet service
In addition to emergency response programs offered by ISPs, there are government programs for low-income families that can make internet access more affordable. To find out more about these programs and how to apply, check out our in-depth look at government programs for free and low-cost internet.
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
This program is still active, but has paused new enrollment until Congress passes a new funding bill.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides $30 per month toward a household’s internet bill, though households on Tribal land or high-cost areas might be eligible for enhanced support of up to $75 per month.11
You may qualify for the ACP if at least one person in your household meets the following criteria:
- Qualifies for the Lifeline Program
- Is approved for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP)
- Has received a Pell Grant in the current year
- Is currently eligible for certain providers’ low-income programs
- Receives assistance through SNAP or WIC
This program replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was instituted in 2021 to help those dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main differences between the two programs is that the monthly benefit has been reduced and some of the qualifications have changed. Families on WIC now qualify for the ACP, while a substantial loss of income in 2020 no longer qualifies a household for the program. The maximum income for qualifying households has also been increased from 135% of Federal Poverty Guidelines to 200%.11 The ACP went into effect December 31, 2021.
Spread the Word!
One of the biggest challenges with the ACP has been making those without internet aware of it.13 The FCC has even created an outreach program to raise awareness.14 If you have friends or family that you think might benefit from this free internet program, make sure you tell them about it!
Emergency Broadband Benefit
In 2021, the FCC announced a new government assistance program known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB).7 This program was specifically designed to support low-income households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualified households could save up to $50–$75 on their monthly internet bills. The program also provided an additional one-time discount of up to $100 toward the purchase of certain internet devices like laptops and tablets.
The EBB program concluded December 31, 2021 and was replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Free internet opportunities in NYC
Qualifying residents can enroll in Big Apple Connect for either Optimum or Spectrum internet service. New customers at participating NYCHA properties can order through Big Apple Connect services for a free cable plan up to 300Mbps. Existing customers can have their monthly bill reduced to $0.
Nongovernmental programs that assist with internet access
Government programs aren’t the only way for low-income people to get assistance. Many programs by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can help you find free or reduced-cost internet.
The EveryoneOn organization focuses on bringing internet and computer technology to low-income families and marginalized communities. It works to create social and economic opportunities by helping people obtain affordable internet service and computers, as well as delivering training programs for digital skills.
EveryoneOn offers tools for finding low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy training locations.
PCs for People
PCs for People’s primary focus is on providing refurbished computers to low-income individuals and non-profit organizations, though internet connectivity is an important part of that mission. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is now accepting Pell Grant documentation for college students affected by school closures in order to help them obtain low-cost computers and internet for virtual learning.5
Human-I-T was founded with the goal of reducing e-waste by repairing reusable technology and connecting these repurposed devices to people who need them but lack access. In addition to providing low-cost electronic devices, Human-I-T provides free resources for finding low-cost internet for those who are not connected or might be paying too much.
Devices for Students
Founded in response to the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public school system, Devices for Students works to provide students in need with reliable, long-term access to computers and internet access. Its goal is to ensure that students have the tools they need for remote learning in the event of school closures, as well as for eventually reaching graduation and entering college.
More ways to get free internet
If none of those programs are quite what you’re looking for, there are still other ways of finding free internet.
Back when I was in high school, NetZero was my lifeline. No one else in my family was interested in connecting to the internet, and even if I’d had money, I was too young to have a credit card, which every ISP at the time required. Fortunately, there was NetZero, which kept me connected throughout the glorious dotcom bubble days of the 1990s.
NetZero has mostly transitioned to being a normal ISP; however, it does still offer free dial-up internet access for those who are absolutely determined not to pay a dime. Dial-up’s not particularly useful for watching videos, playing online games, or even voice chat just because the speeds are so slow. Its free service will get you speeds from only 28.8Kbps to 56Kbps—less than 0.3% the speed of the slowest broadband connection.
Another limitation of NetZero’s free plan is that your time online is restricted to a mere 10 hours a month. Still, if you just need an internet connection to perform the absolute basics, this might be right up your alley.
Another company offering completely free internet service is FreedomPop. It boasts the world’s first 100% free mobile plan while also offering free wireless internet and free home broadband.
Its free plans reach speeds up to only 1Mbps, and it has low data caps, so it’s not for heavy internet users. But there are lots of paid upgrades that can get you more data and speeds up to 25Mbps.
For the highly motivated and tech-savvy users out there, a more long-term and sustainable option for free internet access is the construction of mesh networks. Mesh networks have been called “the future of free internet access,” so this won’t be the last time you hear about them.6
Setting up a community mesh network is also a much more involved and technically challenging task than simply signing up with your local ISP. Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there for getting started and plenty of mesh networks currently in operation in the US.
Mesh networks are created by connecting multiple wireless routers together in a given area. Instead of each router getting its information through the same centralized source, as you would with a traditional internet connection, the routers can get information from any of the other routers, or “nodes,” in the network that are within range.
Mesh networks do have drawbacks, especially when it comes to speed. Every hop that your data makes from router to router slows the flow of information, so in a large network, devices far from the base node can experience significant drops in speed. All that hopping from node to node also poses a lot of potential security risks.
Internet cost and the digital divide
Most people would jump at the opportunity to save money on any of their monthly bills, but internet access is an area where fair and affordable pricing is especially important. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, many day-to-day activities have moved to the internet. If your job depends on the internet, it’s not just a convenience—it’s a necessity.
This dependency on the internet has allowed many companies to engage in anticompetitive practices and has created a lack of competition among broadband providers.8 Even though the internet was developed in the United States and created with public funds, Americans pay higher bills and get lower speeds than people in many other countries.9, 10
In July 2021, President Biden issued an executive order instructing the FCC to address some of these issues by preventing ISPs from engaging in certain anticompetitive practices, making pricing more transparent, limiting excessive early termination fees, and restoring net neutrality.8 If implemented by the FCC, these measures could reduce the cost of internet access for many Americans.
Free internet FAQ
How do I get free high-speed internet at home?
Most of the free and low-cost internet plans offered by ISPs give you internet connections with speeds around 5Mbps to 25Mbps, although they are typically slower than the paid plans ISPs offer. To figure out which plans will work best for your household, find out how much speed you need.
How do I find free internet near me?
You can find free or discounted internet through many nationwide service providers, including Xfinity, Cox, AT&T, Mediacom, Spectrum, and Optimum.
How can you get free internet through the government?
The FCC Lifeline program can provide reduced-cost or even no-cost internet access. You can go to the Lifeline Support site to check your eligibility and to apply to the program. You can also check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for free and low-cost internet.
How can students get free internet?
Nearly all the programs mentioned above are available for low-income families with school-age children, though the Connect2Compete program focuses specifically on providing free and reduced-cost internet for students. Both Cox and Mediacom participate in the Connect2Compete program.
There are also many ISPs with programs directed at providing affordable internet for college-age students. To find out more about these programs, check out the best internet plans for students.
How can seniors and veterans get free internet?
Seniors can get free internet through the FCC Lifeline program if they participate in the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit. Many programs, such as the Comcast Internet Essentials program and EveryoneOn, also provide free or affordable training courses for seniors.
For more information, check out our look at the best internet plans and discounts for seniors. We also have a listing of the best internet plans for veterans and military families.
What’s the difference between ACP and lifeline?
Both the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the Lifeline program are government programs that provide a discount to low-income households and those who participate in certain government assistance programs. The main differences are that more people qualify for the ACP and it also offers a larger discount on your internet bill than the Lifeline program.
There are also many internet providers who have created plans specifically tailored to the ACP so that the benefit covers the entire monthly bill, giving customers internet access completely free of charge.
How can I get free lifetime internet access?
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many emergency assistance programs currently available. But if you want completely free internet access for the rest of your life, your best options are NetZero or FreedomPop. You can also work toward other long-term solutions for affordable internet, such as building a community mesh network or working with organizations like ConnectHomeUSA in starting a digital inclusion program in your area.
How can I lower the cost of my current internet connection?
Low-income internet access programs make a big impact, but they don’t cover everyone who needs help with their bills. It also takes a lot of time and effort to switch providers, which is something not everyone has in abundance. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can try in order to lower your current monthly bill. You can find out more in our look at how to save money on your internet.
- Altice, “In This Together,” Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Hiawatha Broadband Communications, “HBC Extends Keep America Connected Pledge Through June 30,” May 1, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Hiawatha Broadband Communications, “HBC Announces Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” July 2, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Comcast, “Comcast Response to COVID-19,” December 7, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- PCs for People, “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates,” Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Sam Bocetta, Foundation for Economic Education, “Why Mesh Networks Are the Future of Free Internet Access,” October 9, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- FCC, “Emergency Broadband Benefit,” Accessed March 17, 2021.
- The White House, “FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” July 9, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.
- Alexandra Mosher, USA Today, “Superfast Internet? South Korea Wins, U.S. Lags Far Behind,” June 30, 2016. Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Jane Lee, Public Knowledge, “Why Does South Korea Have Faster Internet for a Cheaper Price Tag?” Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Federal Communication Commission, “Wireline Competition Bureau Seeks Comment on the Implementation of the Affordable Connectivity Program,” November 18, 2021. Accessed November 30, 2021.
- The White House, “FACT SHEET: President Biden and Vice President Harris Reduce High-Speed Internet Costs for Millions of Americans” May 09, 2022. Accessed May 12, 2022.
- Stacy M. Brown, Black Press USA, “Comcast Pushing Program Offering Free Internet Service for Millions of Households.” July 5, 2022. Accessed August 24, 2022.
- Federal Communication Commission, “FCC Establishes Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program.”
- Verizon News Center, “Verizon expands free Home Internet program to help bridge digital divide,” October 6, 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022.
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for HighSpeedInternet.com. Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Aaron Gates