A Complete Guide to Internet Service During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Last Updated: Aug 2, 2022 | Published: Sep 4, 2020
Working from home
Working from home.

Update: The FCC replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which aims to provide a discount of up to $30 per month and a one-time discount for up to $100 to buy a laptop, desktop, or tablet for eligible households. Find out if you’re eligible and how to apply for the ACP here.

As many of us have had to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, staying connected to friends, family, and our working and learning environments is essential. Access is especially critical for rural Americans, where service is often more expensive for slower speeds. However, the information in this guide also applies to urban areas like Portland, San Diego, and Sarasota.

Whether you’re looking to get connected, stay connected, or find resources to support your family online, we have you covered.

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How to Sign up for Free Internet During the Coronavirus Pandemic

If you’re trying to connect to the internet right away, several internet providers have opened up their low-income internet programs, allowing you to receive discounted or free connectivity if you qualify.

Below, you’ll find several low-cost and free options for getting connected:

Provider Sign Up Internet Plan Who It’s For Price
Comcast Xfinity Sign Up Online Internet Essentials – Speeds up to 50 Mbps New customers who are eligible for any federal assistance programs $9.95 per month
Spectrum Call
1 (877) 958-7103
Spectrum Broadband – Speeds up to 100 Mbps New customers who are eligible for any federal assistance programs $29.99 per month (free with ACP discount)
Cox Sign Up Online Connect2Compete – Speeds up to 100 Mbps New customers who have at least one child K-12 in their home and are eligible for any federal assistance program $9.95 per month
Suddenlink Sign Up Online Altice Advantage – Speeds up to 50 Mbps New customers who are eligible for any federal assistance programs $14.99 per month (free with ACP discount)

Will my internet service shut off if I can’t pay my bill during the coronavirus pandemic?

Luckily, most providers are heeding the FCC’s call to avoid disconnecting users during the pandemic. This means that your internet service likely won’t be cut off, even if you can’t pay your bill.

More than 700 internet companies have now signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which means that they have committed to:

  • Not terminate internet service for residential or small-business customers if they cannot pay their bills because of the new coronavirus outbreak
  • Waive late fees incurred if a residential or small-business customer cannot pay their bill because of the new coronavirus outbreak
  • Open its public Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs it

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, don’t panic. If you’re in doubt, call your provider’s customer service line and speak directly with them. Chances are, they will have options available to you.

What internet speed do I need to work from home?

As millions of Americans have been working from their homes, many are wondering if their internet connection is up to the task.

The good news is, many of the common applications you may use for work may not require a very speedy connection, including tasks like working in Google Docs, sending emails, and even participating in voice-based meetings.

That said, video chatting or other high-bandwidth applications may require a faster connection, especially if multiple people in your home are trying to access them. As a general guideline, we recommend a connection that supports at least 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload to keep your entire family connected during this time.

As you can see in our leaderboard of internet speed performance by city, some locations are performing better than others when it comes to handling the internet strain created by the coronavirus pandemic. Our studies saw some cities drop significantly in the early days of the pandemic, although networks overall have held up in spite of the surge in traffic and removal of data limits by most major providers.

Will my internet be slower during the coronavirus pandemic?

Yes, your internet speed may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on where you live and what type of connection you have. Users who use a DSL connection are particularly vulnerable due to the decreased bandwidth capacity of these older connections, but cable internet and fiber internet users may experience moderate slowdowns as well.

If your family has multiple individuals trying to connect at the same time throughout the day, you may experience more significant disruptions, especially when trying to do online activities like video chat with friends, co-workers, and teachers. When possible, try to stagger these between users throughout the day to preserve your bandwidth.

Be sure to read our guide to optimizing Wi-Fi speeds if you’re looking to ensure your family stays connected during this time.

Is my internet data cap still in place during the coronavirus pandemic?

Some internet service providers suspended or paused data caps at the start of the pandemic, but you’ll want to double-check if the provider has resumed implementing data caps per its service disclosure. In the past, the following providers lifted their data cap restrictions:

How can I set my children up for online learning at home?

Remote learning
Remote learning.

For starters, most online learning services recommend having a broadband internet connection in order to ensure an optimal experience for your children.

The FCC currently defines “broadband” as an internet connection that provides at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds. You can check your personal connection’s speed using our internet speed test tool.

Services like Zoom generally recommend a connection that offers at least around 1 Mbps in terms of both upload and download speeds. Thankfully, every plan listed in the resources above meets this threshold.

How to Get Help and Support for Your Children

If you don’t have an internet connection that meets the requirements for online learning, know that you still have options.

For one, many providers are taking measures to ensure more Americans can access connections at home when they need them. Comcast Xfinity, for instance, has implemented measures including flexible payments with waived late fees, a temporary pause on all data caps, and access to free Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. You can view a map of where these are available on XFINITY’s website.

You can also potentially use your existing cellular service to help facilitate your child’s coursework if you have a mobile hotspot function on your smartphone. Keep in mind that you might incur additional charges if you enable this function, depending upon your plan and provider. This will work better in urban areas like Cincinnati and Minneapolis that have strong cell signal — but it can work in more rural areas as well. Reports indicate that many rural residents have been driving to public spaces and parking lots of businesses in town in order to take advantage of stronger signal.

If your child’s school has either implemented a hybrid or exclusive online learning environment, you can still keep their education moving along. Scholastic has launched a free website geared toward providing a robust online learning environment that requires no setup or extra equipment to access.

Additional Low-Income Internet Options

This page will be updated with any additional internet offerings that open up in light of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. For resources you can take advantage of at any time, be sure to read our guide to internet options for low and fixed income households.