How to Get Free Internet: Everything You Need to Know

Update: The FCC has extended the Keep Americans Connected Initiative to June 30, urging internet providers to pledge not to terminate service to customers because of their inability to pay and to waive any late fees that they would incur.  In response, each of the providers on this page have extended their original offers until June 30.

The COVID-19 social distancing measures and lockdowns across the globe have confirmed just how much we rely on the internet.

This crisis has also called attention to how uneven internet access is in the US. 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?

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to get internet access completely free of charge, which is especially important if you find yourself in financial distress due to the new coronavirus pandemic. We’ll walk you through them.

Which internet service providers offer free internet access?

Many internet service providers (ISPs) already have programs for helping low-income families connect to the internet, but some ISPs are offering special plans with no cost for the first 30–60 days in response to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s a list of the internet providers offering free internet access in response to COVID-19:

The criteria for qualifying for these free programs, as well as the speeds offered, are different for each one, so it’s important to know which ones might work for you. Let’s dive into the details of each one.

Additionally, many of them are also removing data caps from their standard plans during the crisis, which means you don’t have to worry about incurring additional charges due to being in an extra-long work meeting or deciding to binge-watch your favorite show.

Check to see which internet service providers are available in your area.

How to get free Charter Spectrum Internet

In response to COVID-19, Charter Communications announced that it would offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to new customers with K–12 students and/or college students. This means access to speeds up to 100 Mbps, which is especially handy for students that need to participate in online classes. It is also waiving installation fees during this period. Its plan is also notable for having no data caps, which is one less thing to worry about right now.

One important caveat is that unlike some of the other providers who are offering plans with no cost for the first 60 days, Charter announced only that it would not charge for 60 days, starting from the day of the announcement, March 16.

After that, it is unclear if new customers will be getting a bill for this period, or if they will be billed only for the time after the 60-day period ends. Charter has left this intentionally vague, which leaves open the possibility of an unpleasant surprise for people who haven’t gotten back on their feet financially.

Charter also offers high-speed internet access to low-income families through the Spectrum Internet Assist program, which provides a 30 Mbps connection. This plan assists families enrolled in the following programs:

  • NSLP (National School Lunch Program)
  • The Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP
  • Applicants over 65 who receive SSI

This service costs $4.99* per month, though if you want a Wi-Fi router, it will cost you an additional $5* per month.

How to get free Altice Suddenlink and Altice Optimum internet

Altice is offering new customers its Altice Advantage 30 Mbps broadband plan free of charge for 60 days. This offer is available for families with any K–12 or college students in their household and is available for any area that Altice serves, both in the Optimum region and the Suddenlink region.

As with Spectrum, this offer doesn’t provide the customer with 60 days of free internet from the time they sign up. Rather, it just applies 60 days from the offer’s start date, March 16. During this time, Altice has also pledged not to terminate broadband or voice service to any residential or small-business customers who are unable to pay due to the pandemic, as well as to waive any late fees that this might normally incur.

How to get free HBC Internet

HBC is also providing free broadband internet service for eligible low-income households through its Temporary Free Internet Assistance Program (COVID-19). This offer is available for both new and existing residential internet customers in the HBC service area. It’s offering this to households who participate in the following programs:

  • NSLP (National School Lunch Program)
  • The Telephone Assistance Program (TAP)

This offer is good for 60 days from its announcement, which, for existing customers, means that they will receive a zero charge on their April 2 and May 2 billing cycles for internet service and equipment. It should be noted, however, that while these fees will be waived, other taxes, fees, and surcharges still apply, so be sure to call its office for details.

How to get free Comcast Xfinity Internet

You can get free internet at home from Comcast Xfinity through its Internet Essentials program. In response to the new coronavirus emergency, new customers who apply before April 30, 2020, will receive 60 days of free service, after which the monthly cost is $9.95*, which is still an incredible value.

Current Comcast customers and those who were customers within the last 90 days are ineligible for this program, as are people with outstanding Comcast bills. But due to the pandemic, outstanding debts won’t disqualify you if you apply before May 15, 2020.

The 60 days of free internet is a limited-time offer, so those interested in it must apply before April 30, 2020. To find out more about the Internet Essentials program, check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for low-income families.

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, they are also offering two months of free service to new customers. AT&T has also expanded the eligibility for its Access program, pushing the cap to 135% of federal poverty guidelines and including families that participate in the following programs:

  • NSLP (National School Lunch Program)
  • Head Start

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 the Connect2Compete program. In response to the COVID-19 emergency, they are offering free service for the first month. This is available for new customers, as well as for existing Cox TV and phone customers who don’t get internet through Cox. Connect2Compete gives you access to Cox’s Internet Starter 10 plan, which provides speeds up to 10 Mbps. After the first month, the cost goes up to $19.99* per month, and the cost goes up again at the end of the year.

This offer expires on May 15, so be sure to apply right away.

To find out more about the Connect2Compete program, check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for low-income families.

How to get free Mediacom Internet

Mediacom also participates in the Connect2Compete program and is noteworthy for having an even lower rate, with 25 Mbps internet access available for just $9.99* a month. Due to COVID-19, qualifying families who subscribe before May 15, 2020, will receive 60 days of complimentary Mediacom Connect2Compete service.

To find out more about the Connect2Compete program, check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for low-income families.

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.

Here is a list of some of the internet providers that are providing free hotspot access during the COVID-19 outbreak:

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.

Non-government programs that assist with internet access

Government programs aren’t the only way for low-income people to get assistance. There are also many programs by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that can help you find free or reduced-cost internet.

EveryoneOn

EveryoneOn is an organization that focuses on bringing internet and computer technology to low-income families and marginalized communities. It works to help create social and economic opportunities by helping people obtain affordable internet service and computers, as well as delivering training programs for digital skills.

In response to the new coronavirus pandemic, EveryoneOn has updated its tools for finding low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy training locations.

PCs for People

PCs for People is an organization whose 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.

Human-I-T

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.

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.

NetZero

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 only get you speeds from 28.8 Kbps to 56 Kbps—less than 0.3% the speed of the slowest broadband connection.

Another limitation of NetZero’s free plan is that your time online is limited to a mere 10 hours a month. Still, if your browsing habits haven’t changed in the last 20 years, this might be right up your alley.

FreedomPop

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 only up to 1 Mbps, 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 25 Mbps.

Mesh networks

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.

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 wireless routers together in a given area so that 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.

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 high-speed internet connections with speeds around 5 Mbps to 25 Mbps, although they are typically slower than the paid plans ISPs offer. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, some providers, like Charter, have made much faster connections available to some people. 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 internet through many nationwide service providers, including Xfinity, Cox, AT&T, Mediacom, Spectrum, Suddenlink, and Optimum. To see which of these providers are available in your area, enter your ZIP code in the tool at the top of the page.

How can you get free internet through the government?

The FCC Lifeline program can provide reduced-cost or even free 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 are available for low-income families with school-age children, though several programs focus specifically on providing free and reduced-cost internet for students.

These programs are available for families with K–12 students:

These programs are available for college students:

How can seniors 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.

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. There are also 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.

Author -

Peter Christiansen has been working in tech for over 15 years, working 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. He is currently finishing his PhD at the University of Utah.

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.

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