Guide to Low-Income and Low Cost Internet Options
Topics covered on this page:What is Low Cost Internet? COVID-19 Update for Low Cost Internet Government-Assistance Internet Programs Internet Provider Programs for Low-Income Internet Additional Tips to Save on Internet Service Other Ways to Lower Your Internet Costs Frequently Asked Questions
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 trying to stick to a budget.
Our guide covers U.S. programs designed to provide low-income residents with internet access where traditional options aren’t accessible. Options include plans provided by government-designed programs, nonprofits and more affordable options from internet companies. Read more to find out which plans are available, how much they cost and how they might meet your internet needs.
Check below for available providers within your ZIP code:
What is Low Cost Internet?
Throughout the U.S, residents can access low-cost internet plans through government programs, nonprofits and major internet providers. If you seek internet access through government and nonprofit programs, you’ll usually need to meet specific requirements. For example, some programs only offer services to customers who meet Federal Poverty Guidelines or qualify for government assistance. Common internet providers like Xfinity and AT&T place similar requirements for their low-income plans, though customers usually just need to qualify for some form of federal assistance.
COVID-19 Update for Low Cost Internet
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people without jobs or income stability. In the face of the global crisis, many programs and internet providers are offering special deals and packages that can help residents pay for the internet.
Many major internet providers are offering periods of free internet for customers who qualify. Common qualifications include customers who have students at home, as well as those who are receiving government assistance. For example, Xfinity is offering its Internet Essentials Package with higher speeds for free for two months for customers who are eligible for public assistance programs.
While you’re shopping for low-income internet options, be sure to search for each providers’ COVID-19 updates. Consider contacting different programs to find out what they’re currently offering.
Government-Assistance Internet Programs
|Lifeline||Phone, Internet or Bundles||Customers with income at or less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and participants in federal programs||$9.25/mo.|
|Tribal Lifeline||Phone, Internet or Bundles||Lifeline eligible customers who reside on tribal land||Up to $34.25/mo. off service|
|EveryoneOn||Internet, computers and online training||Customers participating in a government assistance program|
|PCs for People||4G LTE internet||Customers below the 200% Federal Poverty Guidelines and/or enrolled in an income-based government assistance program|
Starting at $15/mo.
|Human-I-T||Internet and discounted computers||Customers eligible for a government program|
Qualify through federal assistance programs
Lifeline is a program created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for low-income customers, and it can reduce your internet bill to as low as $9.25/mo. You qualify for Lifeline if you participate in federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps) or Medicaid. You can also apply if you have a dependent who is on Medicaid or who receives other federal aid.
If you use the following federal assistance programs, you’ll qualify for Lifeline:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Tribal Programs
Qualify through income
To qualify for Lifeline through income, it needs to be at or less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
You can qualify for Lifeline on an income basis for the following reasons within the 48 contiguous states:
- You’re single and make $17,226 or less
- You’re a family of 2 make $23,274 or less
- You’re a family of 3 and make $29,332 or less
- You’re a family of 4 and make $35,370 or less
- You’re a family of 5 and make $41,418 or less
- You’re a family of 6 and make $47,466 or less
- You’re a family of 7 and make $53,514 or less
- You’re a family of 8 and make $59,562 or less
- Features: For residents of tribal lands, Tribal Lifeline provides discounts totalling up to $34.25/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. You can also apply if you or someone in your household takes part in one of the following programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. You must provide proof of tribal status when you apply.
- 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. Individual ISPs may also have their own qualification requirements. For instance, Cox requires users to have at least one student in grades K-12 living in the applying household. Most providers also require that applicants not have an outstanding bill with the company.
- 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. Applicants must also be able to provide an ID and proof of income from the last six months (such as a tax return). Customers must also provide proof of participation in an assistance program, such as food support, social security disability (SSD), extended foster care, Medicaid or supplemental security income (SSI).
- Program: Low-Cost Internet
- Features: Working in connection with Frontier Communications, Charter Communications and MobileCitizen, this nonprofit 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 or have a minor child in the home who participates in one of these programs. Proof of government assistance must be provided, including from: SNAP, Medi-Cal, SSI, SSDI or Head Start. If you don’t receive government benefits but could qualify, yearly gross income of the household may be submitted instead.
Internet Provider Programs for Low-Income Internet
|Xfinity||Internet Essentials||Customers in a Comcast service area who receive state and/or federal assistance||$9.95/mo.||Check Availability|
|CenturyLink||Internet Basics||Customers who participate in federal aid programs, seniors in some states below the poverty line||$9.95-19.95/mo.||Check Availability|
|AT&T||Access from AT&T||Customers who qualify for SNAP or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (in California only), have income 135% below the poverty line (temporary), or have a child in the National School Lunch and Head Start Programs (temporary)||$10/mo. or less||Check Availability|
|Spectrum||Internet Assist||Customers who participate in: National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP, or Supplemental Security Income (for applicants age 65+ only)||$14.99/mo.||Check Availability|
|MediaCom||Connect2Compete||Customer who have at least one K-12 student at home and at least one child who qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunch through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)|
|Cox||Connect2Compete||Customers who are not an existing Cox internet customer, have at least one K-12 student and participate in a government assistance program|
|Kinetic||Lifeline||Customers with income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or who participate in federal programs||$10/mo.||Check Availability|
|Frontier||Lifeline||Customers with income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or who participate in federal programs||$9.25/mo.||Check Availability|
- 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. Customers may not be an existing Xfinity internet customer or have subscribed to Comcast internet within the last three months.
- Extra fees: None for the Essentials customer.
- COVID-19 Update: 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. New customers will receive two months of free service. Until Dec. 31, 2020, households with outstanding debt to Comcast who were previously ineligible for Internet Essentials may now apply.
- 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 Update: In response to the pandemic, CenturyLink waived late fees and suspended terminations through June 30, 2020 for financial circumstances associated with COVID-19; customers who are still in need of assistance should reach out to discuss payment deferment options.
- 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 Update: In order to help its customers who may be experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus, AT&T is expanding eligibility based on income and making service available to eligible households participating in National School Lunch and Head Start Programs. The company waived home internet data overage fees until Sept. 30, 2020 for cable internet.
- 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 $14.99/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 Update: 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 Update: During the national pandemic, Mediacom extended their response through the August billing cycle: 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/mo. 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, with 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 Update: Cox's COVID-19 response included the following offers for customers who sign up between July 21 and Sept. 30, 2020: First two months free of Connect2Compete service ($9.95/mo. thereafter), first two months free for remote desktop and phone support through Cox Complete Care, and resources for discounted and refurbished equipment through Cox’s association with PCs for People.
- Program: LifeLine
- Features: If you are in an area serviced by Kinetic, participation in the government’s LifeLine program can bring your costs down to roughly $10/mo.
- 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. Kinetic’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 Update: Kinetic will continue to work with customers who are facing financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but customers must reach out to discuss options (including deferred payments).
- 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 Update: Frontier Communications promised 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 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.
Other Ways to Lower Your Internet Costs
If you don’t qualify for low-income internet plans but still need assistance, there are other ways you can lower your internet bill. If you don’t use the internet daily, you can opt for using free public WiFi hotspots. This solution may be good for users who only use the internet intermittently and may also be able to supplement with a cost-effective mobile data plan.
Using public internet may not be convenient for many users. If you do need a home internet, you can keep your plan costs low by only paying for what you need. If you currently have internet, check your internet speed at home. By a good rule of thumb, 5-40 Mbps is enough for two users who enjoy browsing, gaming, streaming and downloading. If your internet is faster than that, you may be paying too much for speeds you don’t need.
To keep costs low, speak with your internet provider to make sure you’re only paying for what you need. Consider different plan options like bundles, where you can keep monthly costs low by using the same provider for phone, internet and cable.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.