Internet for Low-Income Families
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.
Low income and want to see what options are available now? Search your zip code:
Low income internet options
All pricing is as of 2/27/2020
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 across all U.S. states, territories and tribal lands. If you are eligible, this benefit will reduce your plan fees by $9.25/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 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps) or Medicaid.
- Features: For those living on tribal lands, Link Up provides discounts of up to $25/month 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/month. 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.
Internet provider programs
- Program: Internet Essentials
- Features: Created in collaboration with Xfinity and Comcast, this program allows families to get broadband service with 15 Mbps download speeds for $9.95/month 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.
- Program: Internet Basics
- Features: high-speed internet is available to participants ranging from $9.95-19.95/month, depending on speed of connection, which ranges from 1.5-12 Mbps. There is an activation and modem fee. 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 Federal Poverty Level, and others may be eligible through participation in state programs (see application for more information).
- Program: Access from AT&T
- Features: Participants receive either 768 Kbps-3 Mbps service for $5/month, or 3-10 Mbps service for $10/month, 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 $50/month.
- 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. Monthly cost is $17.99 plus taxes and fees. For an additional $5/month, 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.
- Program: Connect2Compete
- Features: This program, a collaboration with EveryoneOn, offers up to 10 Mbps for $9.95/month, 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.
- 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 a month.
- 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.
- 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 $27.99/month internet plan that includes speeds of up to 6 Mbps and a price-for-life guarantee.
PCs for People
- Program: Low-Cost Internet
- Features: This organization offers high-speed 4G LTE internet service with no data caps. Service starts at $15/month, but there is an $80 charge for a wireless LTE modem. The company also offers laptops starting at $100 and desktop computers starting at $75.
- 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/month 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.
COVID-19 internet assistance
- Free unlimited data usage caps for all internet customers.
- Offering internet access for limited-income households at $10/month.
- Pledged to not terminate service to any customer who can’t make payments and will waive any late payment fees for the next 60 days.
- Keep Wi-Fi hotspots open to the public.
- Committed to the FCC’s pledge over the next 60 days.
- Unlimited data to residential customers during this period.
- As of March 16, Cox is offering its Connect2Compete service for free to families in need for two months.
- Remote support at no charge until May 15, 2020 and is waiving late fees/missed payments.
- Frontier Communications promises zero data caps and is “proactively implementing even more capacity” since it anticipates larger demand for internet during the outbreak.
- Mediacom is increasing its Connect2Compete’s internet speed to 25 megabits per second.
- Giving 2 months of complimentary Connect2Compete service to qualifying families who subscribe before May 15, 2020.
- Free access to all its hotspots for 60 days.
- No monthly data caps on all Mediacom broadband service through May 15, 2020.
- Opening Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S., as well as waiving fees and late payments for 60 days.
- Free Wi-Fi for the next two months to “new Pre-K to 12, college student and teacher households who don’t currently have internet or WiFi service,” according to a support page on its website.
- Until May 13 the company won’t charge you a late free or terminate your service if you can’t pay your bill due to the outbreak. To qualify, you have to fill out a short form on Verizon’s website.
- Verizon is also waiving activation and upgrade fees .
- Free Internet Essentials service to low-income families for two months and raising the speed of that program to 25/3 Mbps.
- On top of agreeing to the FCC’s pledge, it’s pausing data caps on all plans.
Search your zip code to see which providers are available in your area:
How to save money on internet packages
Make sure you’re only paying for what you need
It’s easy to think you’ll need super fast speeds, but if you’re an average internet user you may not need that expensive package. Unless you’re a hard-core gamer or do a lot of HD streaming, a lower-end or middle-of-the-road package is probably fine for you. If you’re paying too much, consider lowering your data cap or cutting out unnecessary features to save money.
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 ten 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 you a 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/month 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/month. 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 offers 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.