Low-Income Internet Options
Our world revolves around internet access—from paying taxes to finding a job to submitting a homework assignment—and in order to thrive, you need a solid connection to the internet.
For the majority of Americans, access to the internet is available in their area, either via dial-up, cable, DSL or fiber, but according to a 2019 Pew Research report, 10% do not use it. And if you are outside America, the number rises.
So what do you do if you’re part of that 10% and your budget doesn’t allow for internet access? Set-up fees alone can be high and monthly charges for a reliable connection may rise into the triple digits. Fortunately, there are programs available to help those who can’t afford internet access, or even those who are just sticking to a budget.
Check below for available providers within your ZIP code:
Government-Assistance Internet Programs
- Features: Lifeline is a program created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for low-income customers. It can be used for phone service, broadband internet or voice-broadband bundled service. It’s available in the U.S., including all territories and tribal lands. If you are eligible, this benefit will reduce your plan fees to $9.25/mo.
- How to qualify: Your income must be at or less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or you must participate in federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps) or Medicaid.
- Features: For residents of tribal lands, Link Up provides discounts up to $25/mo. for internet service, along with up to $100 for first-time connection charges at the primary residence.
- How to qualify: You must qualify for LifeLine (see above) and live on a federally-recognized tribal land.
- Features: EveryoneOn is a nonprofit that connects low-income families with low-cost internet service and computers. It also offers training in online skills. Its flagship program, Connect2Compete, offered with the support of several leading internet service providers (see below), is geared for K-12 students. If you are eligible, you may receive internet service for $10-20/mo. The program also supplies low-cost computers and training to families, and serves as a repository of free online resources on finances, employment, health, education and computer basics. Another initiative of EveryoneOn is ConnectHomeUSA which provides internet service and training to families living in public housing (HUD housing).
- How to qualify: Families must be participating in a government assistance program.
- Program: Low-Cost Internet
- Features: This organization offers high-speed 4G LTE internet service with no data caps. Service starts at $15/mo., but there is an $80 charge for a wireless LTE modem. The company also offers laptops and desktop computers starting at $50 each.
- How to qualify: Customers must be below the 200% Federal Poverty Guidelines or be enrolled in an income-based government assistance program. Further information is available on their eligibility webpage.
- Program: Low-Cost Internet
- Features: Working in connection with Frontier Communications, Charter Communications and MobileCitizen, this non-profit group has low-cost internet access available from $10-25/mo. with no contract. Those in California may also qualify for a free Chromebook laptop, and refurbished computers are available for sale at very reasonable prices.
- How to qualify: You must be eligible for a government program such as SNAP, Medicaid, SSI or the NSLP.
Internet Provider Programs
- Program: Internet Essentials
- Features: Created in collaboration with Xfinity and Comcast, this program allows families to get broadband service with 25 Mbps download speeds for $9.95/mo. plus tax, with no contract or installation fees. Once you are an Essentials customer, you may purchase a laptop or desktop computer for $149.99.
- How to qualify: Participants must be in a Comcast service area and be receiving state and/or federal assistance such as Medicaid, SNAP or a Federal Pell Grant.
- Extra fees: None for the Essentials customer.
- COVID-19: In response to the pandemic, Comcast and Xfinity committed to the “Free Internet Essentials” service to low-income families and raised the speed of that program to 25/3 Mbps. On top of agreeing to the FCC’s pledge, they are pausing data caps on all plans through June 30, 2020.
- Program: Internet Basics
- Features: High-speed internet is available to participants ranging from $9.95-19.95/mo., depending on speed of connection, which ranges from 1.5-12 Mbps. Participants may also purchase an iPad mini for $150 through the program, with a two-year term commitment.
- How to qualify: You must participate in a federal program such as the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), SNAP or Medicaid, or have an income that is at or less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Level. Seniors in some states may be eligible if their income is less than 150-175% of the Federal Poverty Level, and others may be eligible through participation in state programs (see application for more information).
- Extra charges: There are activation and modem fees that vary depending on area.
- COVID-19: In response to the pandemic, CenturyLink is waiving late fees and will not terminate a residential or small business customer’s service through June 30, 2020 due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19.
- Program: Access from AT&T
- Features: Participants receive either 768 Kbps-3 Mbps service for $5/mo. or 3-10 Mbps service for $10/mo., depending on what’s available where you live. There is no deposit or installation fee, and a WiFi gateway and access to the AT&T WiFi hotspot network is also included at no extra cost.
- How to qualify: At least one family member must participate in SNAP, have an address in an area served by AT&T and be without outstanding debt for AT&T’s fixed internet service. In California, you are eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If you are not eligible for Access but are looking for low-cost internet, AT&T has high-speed internet service starting at $49.99/mo.
- Extra charges: AT&T charges $7/mo. for a modem rental fee. If you exceed your data cap (caps vary by area), you’ll incur a $10 charge for an extra 50 GB.
- COVID-19: In order to help its customers who may be experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus, AT&T announced that through June 30, customers who notify AT&T of economic hardship due to COVID-19, have 90 days from their initial past due date or until June 30, whichever comes first, to pay their past due balance. AT&T is waiving late payment fees and overage charges for customers who notify them that they are impacted by COVID-19. This offer is an extension of the original end date of May 13 through June 30, 2020.
- Program: Internet Assist
- Features: Qualifying households can receive a connection with up to 30 Mbps download speed, a free modem and security suite, no data cap or contracts and the ability to use parental controls. It is $17.99/mo., plus taxes and fees. For an additional $5/mo., you can receive a wireless router.
- How to qualify: A household must participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP or be receiving SSI benefits and be over 65 years old.
- Extra charges: Spectrum charges a $5/mo. modem rental fee.
- COVID-19: During COVID 19, Spectrum will not terminate service for residential or small business customers who are unable to pay due to economic circumstances related to COVID-19. They are waiving late fees residential or small business customers accumulate due to economic circumstances related to COVID-19. The company also opened WiFi hotspots for public use.
- Program: Connect2Compete
- Features: This program, a collaboration with EveryoneOn, offers up to 10 Mbps for $9.95/mo., plus taxes and fees. There’s no deposit or contract, and it includes a WiFi modem via a no-cost lease.
- How to qualify: You must live in an area that is serviced by MediaCom, have at least one student in grades K-12 living at home who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches through the NSLP and you may not be a current Mediacom customer or have outstanding Mediacom bills or equipment.
- Extra charges: If you exceed the data cap, you’ll pay $10 for every 50 GB.
- COVID-19: During the national pandemic, Mediacom extended their response through June 30, 2020: Offering the Connect2Compete low-cost Internet program free for 60 days to new qualifying families, pausing monthly data allowances, providing complimentary access to all Mediacom Xtream Wi-Fi Hotspots and extending the pricing of Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 service to new customers at $19.99/mo. for 12 months.
- Program: Connect2Compete
- Features: In collaboration with EveryoneOn, Cox, like Mediacom, offers the Connect2Compete program. Cox offers high-speed internet for $9.95/month with download speeds of up to 25 Mbps. There are no contracts, deposits or installation fees, and participants receive a free WiFi modem, access to more than 650,000 hotspots across the country and the Cox Security Suite. The company has additional resources with a General Awareness Toolkit for parents, caregivers, educators and organizations, and digital literacy training for the entire family.
- How to qualify: You must have at least one child in grades K-12 and participate in the NSLP, SNAP or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); or receive tenant-based vouchers, project-based vouchers or Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA); and/or who live in public housing. If you are not eligible for the Connect2Compete program, Cox still has some of the most reasonable internet prices out there, starting at $29.99/mo.
- Extra charges: Some plans qualify for free modem rental, while others will cost you $9.99/mo. If you need more data, you add 500 GB of data for $29.99/mo.
- COVID-19: Cox's COVID-19 response including not terminating service and waiving late fees to any residential customer with an inability to pay a bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This commitment is currently in effect through June 30, 2020.
- Program: LifeLine
- Features: If you are in an area serviced by Windstream, participation in the government’s LifeLine program can bring your costs down to roughly $10/month.
- How to qualify: Your income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or you must participate in federal programs such as SNAP or Medicaid. Windstream’s informative webpage for the program has links to state-based options and applications for residents of Minnesota, Florida, Ohio and other states serviced by the company.
- Extra charges: You can rent a router and modem from them for $9.99/mo. They will charge a little more ($11.99) for their faster plans.
- COVID-19: Through June 30, 2020, Windstream will not suspend service to residential and small business customers because of the inability to pay their bills specifically due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Also, during this time, Windstream will waive any late fees because of customers’ economic circumstances specifically related to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Program: LifeLine
- Features: Frontier participates in the government’s Lifeline program, and that discount plus Frontier’s already low prices may bring your costs down considerably.
- How to qualify: Your income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or you must participate in federal programs such as SNAP or Medicaid. Even if you don’t qualify for LifeLine, however, Frontier features a budget-friendly $19.99/mo. internet plan that includes speeds of up to 6 Mbps and a price-for-life guarantee.
- Extra charges: They can charge up to $10/mo. for modem and router rental.
- COVID-19: Frontier Communications promises zero data caps and is “proactively implementing even more capacity” since it anticipates larger demand for the internet during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Check below for available providers within your ZIP code:
Additional Tips to Save on Internet Service
Explore internet discounts for students
Most internet providers have special discounted packages for students that may include data limits.
Stick with DSL or cable connections if available
It’s true that fiber-optic is the future of the internet, but it’s still pricey enough to make it a questionable choice if you’re on a budget.
Are you a veteran?
Some companies offer a discount to those who are serving or have served in the military. Verizon, for example, will discount your monthly rate on Fios fiber-optic plans by $5 for internet-only or internet + TV, and $10 off if you bundle Internet, TV and phone. Comcast gives veterans a $25 Xfinity coupon that can be used for an on-demand rental or credit toward your bill. AT&T, meanwhile, has a range of discounts and freebies for military families.
Take a look at NetZero or FreedomPop
These two companies advertise free options that may work for you if you’re not a heavy internet user. NetZero Dial-Up includes 10 hours of free internet access a month—although with dial-up speeds, you won’t have very fast access. FreedomPop, meanwhile, advertises 1 GB of free data with DSL-level speeds. There is no income requirement for either of these programs; but you’ll need to check to make sure you’re in an area they service.
Try your hand at negotiating
Sometimes, you can get a special introductory rate just by asking. It helps if you have a competitor’s lower rates to show them, of course. Or if you’re not up to negotiating yourself, consider using an app like Trim to do the fast-talking for you. Be aware that there is a cost involved—Trim takes 33% of the savings they get for you—but they can still net significant savings on your internet costs.
Take advantage of senior discounts
Are you over 65? A few companies offer discounts for seniors that are worth checking out. If you have AARP membership, you can save $10/mo. per phone line with AT&T’s Unlimited Elite plan. If you access the internet mainly from your phone, both Sprint and T-Mobile have plans for those 55 and over that cost less than $40/mo. And if you happen to live in Florida, Verizon’s 55+ plan offers unlimited access at a discounted price for those 55 and older.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I qualify for low income internet?
The easiest way to qualify for low income internet is to have someone in your household who participates in one of many government programs that support those with low incomes. This could be SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps), Medicaid, NSLP (National School Lunch Program) or another program such as Pell Grants for college students. With the documentation from one of these programs, you will be eligible for both a government discount as well as further discounts or even free internet from one of the many internet providers who offer them.
What low income internet programs are available?
The primary government programs are LifeLine and EveryoneOn, but most major internet companies offer discounts if you’re in a low-income situation. We’ve highlighted the best of them in this article, but if you are interested in another internet provider, it is worth your while to ask them if they support low-income families through discounted plans—or even low-cost equipment.
How can I save money on my internet bill?
Even if you do not have a low income, you can save money on your internet bill by determining whether or not you really need all the services and speed that you currently have. Reducing the speed of your internet may not even be noticeable if you’re not engaged in high-bandwidth activities such as gaming. You may also be able to negotiate a reduced rate for your internet plan by talking to a representative at your internet company, rather than signing up online. If you are signing up for a plan with a new company, find out if there are introductory rates that may reduce your costs for the coming year.