Internet access and a home computer are no longer a luxury amenity. They are a necessity in today’s modern world. Having reliable access to the world wide web is crucial to succeeding in school, searching for jobs, finding housing, learning about local community programs. For many people, it is required for work – even while at home. With Internet costs rising, many low-income families are being passed up for education, housing, and employment opportunities – not because they are less qualified, but because they do not have access to the postings or application processes. While this may seem discouraging, what’s encouraging is that many people have stepped up to try and work towards closing the gap between socioeconomic status and reliable Internet access. There are many programs in place that can help to reduce the cost of Internet access in your home based upon your income. Here is a brief guide to gaining Internet access as a low-income household in the United States.
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Low Income Internet And The Average Cost for Reliable Internet
The cost for a reliable home Internet connection varies and is dependent upon multiple factors. For example, going with a basic cable Internet plan versus a cable-free Wi-Fi plan will have differing costs. Depending upon your download speed – the megabits per second offered in your plan – the cost will vary, and even your location can affect your monthly bill. On average, for a standard Internet plan, no bells and whistles and not the fastest, the cost should be somewhere between $50.00 to $60.00 per month. With megabits ranging anywhere from 5-2000, some Internet plans with the fastest download speeds can be as costly as $299 a month!
Technically speaking, high-speed Internet is a connection with 25 megabits per second or more, but for many working Americans affording even a slower Internet plan is unrealistic. Having a reliable Internet connection has become much like any other utility – deemed vital for a minimum quality of life standard. However, this is not the case for millions of Americans who struggle just to put food on the table and keep the lights and water running. For many Americans, finding a more affordable Internet plan is a MUST.
Government Assistance for Low Income Internet Users
Lifeline is a government program that provides subsidies for low-income families in need of phone service. In 2016 they expanded their services to add broadband Internet service as an assistance option. This change went into effect after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of adding broadband Internet to the Lifeline program, a huge win for many lower-income families. There are two ways to qualify for Lifeline: through your income or through another government program. To qualify for Lifeline using your income, your household annual income must be 135% of the federal poverty guideline or less. The guidelines for meeting the federal poverty guideline varies with the size of your household and the state that you live in. In order to qualify through a government program, if you or someone in your household already participate in another federal assistance program such as SNAP, SSI, or FPHA you may also qualify for Lifeline.
You can check the Lifeline website here to figure out if you qualify and to see if there are participating Lifeline providers in your service area. If you do qualify for Lifeline, users of the program are limited to one benefit per household and you must choose either a phone line or an Internet subsidy – users may not receive both. If you do not qualify for Lifeline there are other options for attaining affordable Internet for your low-income household. Many Internet service providers offer their own assistance programs for families struggling financially or under other circumstances that would otherwise keep them from affording Internet access in their home.
How to Choose from Low Income Internet Providers
Many Internet service providers have stepped up to the challenge of helping everyone in the United States attain a reliable Internet connection for their home by offering their own assistance programs. Even households in need of a low-income plan are paying customers, and these Internet service providers will compete for your business. Here are a few examples of discounted plans offered to qualifying families by some of the country’s biggest Internet service providers.
Xfinity: with their Internet Essentials Program, qualifying customers can get a plan for $9.95 a month, plus tax. This plan is rumored to come with Internet speeds of 15 megabits per second, no activation fees, no equipment rental fees, and access to free Internet training online. Additionally, Xfinity offers the option to purchase a home computer for under $150.
Spectrum: Through the Spectrum Internet Assist program, qualifying customers are able to receive high-speed Internet at 30 megabits per second, no contract or start-up fee, and an included Internet modem for around $14.99 a month. While this more expensive than Xfinity the Internet speed is much faster, appealing to many customers. Additionally, Spectrum allows qualifying households to add in-home Wi-Fi to their plan for only $5.00 more a month.
AT&T: AT&T has created a program called Access, offering low-cost wireline home Internet service to qualifying customers. However, the highest megabit plan offered is 10 megabits per second, they only offer this Access program in 21 states, and one member of the household must be a participant in the government program Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the household to qualify. These qualifying factors coupled with the slower Internet speed and limited service areas make the AT&T program much less competitive than Spectrum and Xfinity.
Various other Internet service providers such as CenturyLink, Frontier, Cox, Windstream, and RCN offer similar low-income plans for families. Their qualifying conditions, monthly rates, contract requirements, data caps, and Internet speeds vary, as do the locations and states they service. Therefore, it is important to do your research before choosing which Internet provider you will go with.
The Catch: Things to Watch Out For
Customers who work out an affordable fixed income plan with their Internet service provider still need to be on the lookout for a few common happenings. Keeping an eye out for the following things should help you to avoid surprises and upsets with your service and bills.
- Many Internet plans come with an introductory price, with prices gradually increasing as time passes. You’ll want to watch your monthly bill to see if these increases are occurring, especially around the 6 months, one year, and two-year mark, as these are likely times your introductory rate may switch to a higher one. You can always call your Internet provider if you notice your bill increasing, renegotiate your fixed income plan, or shop around if they are unwilling to work with you and your budget.
- Some Internet service providers are not completely forthcoming with their “out-the-door” price. You may have been quoted a fixed income rate of $15.00 a month but your bill is really closer to $30.00 after all of the hidden taxes and fees. Additionally, the fine print of your contract may include things such as hefty termination fees, start-up fees, equipment rental fees, or other additional costs. When calling around for an Internet service quote ensure you follow up on these points and get your TOTAL monthly billing amount – including taxes and service fees.
- Many households have more data or more megabits per second than they need. Consider trying a cheaper and slower plan to help you stay within budget – it is likely that you may not even notice the slower connection for everyday Internet activities.
If you are currently struggling to pay for your Internet, or you need low income Internet service, there are options out there for you! Even families who don’t qualify for the government-funded Internet assistance programs may qualify for a private Internet service provider’s assistance program. Start by getting a comprehensive list of Internet service providers in your area and then go down the list – calling each one to find out the details of what their assistance programs offer and finding out whether you qualify. Reliable Internet access can greatly enhance your life. There is no reason to settle without having it anymore.