Low-Cost Internet: What Options Are Available for Affordable Internet Service?
Now that the ACP is potentially ending soon, what other programs are available for free or low-cost internet?
As of Feb. 8, 2024, enrollment for the Affordable Connectivity Program has closed. Originally designed as an ongoing initiative without a set expiration, the ACP’s continuation is contingent upon congressional funding. Should the pending bipartisan funding bill fail to pass within the next two months, the program will face closure due to depleted funds.
- Cheap internet is available with several assistance programs from major internet service providers like AT&T and Xfinity.
- Government assistance programs are also available, but the largest one (the ACP) is potentially ending soon.
- Public Wi-Fi networks and hot spots are free, but you should use a VPN service to protect your online privacy.
Having access to reliable internet service is more important than ever. Fortunately, you can take advantage of multiple programs that offer low-income or affordable internet service. Our guide covers low-cost and free internet options for households with low or fixed income and how to apply to government and nongovernmental programs for affordable broadband. Let’s take a closer look.
Government Internet Assistance Programs
|Needed to qualify
|Affordable Connectivity Program (enrollment closed)
|A $30 per month discount on internet services (or $75 per month for tribal communities)
|Eligibility for the ACP includes households with an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, as well as participants in certain government assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline, recipients of a Pell Grant in the current award year.
|FCC ACP Website
|Federal Lifeline Program
|A $9.95 discount on internet services through select providers
|Eligibility for Lifeline includes individuals with an income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or those participating in government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or specific tribal programs.
|FCC Lifeline Program Website
Low-Cost Internet Service Provider (ISP) Programs
|Needed to qualify
|$5 to $10 per month, depending on the plan for 10 Mbps
|At least one person in your household must participate in SNAP
|AT&T Access Website
|$14.99 for 12 months, up to 30 Mbps
|New Spectrum customers with at least one person in the home participating in specific public assistance programs
|Spectrum Internet Assist Website
|$9.95 per month, up to 50 Mbps
|New Xfinity customers who are eligible for public assistance programs
|Xfinity Internet Essentials Website
|$30 per month for up to 50 Mbps
|Eligible for households enrolled in government assistance programs based on income, like SNAP or Medicaid
|$9.95 per month for up to 50 Mbps
|Eligible for new Mediacom customers with a K-12 student in the household who is part of the National School Lunch Program
|Mediacom Connect2Compete Website
Types of Low-Cost Internet, Explained
There are four main internet connection types that differ in speeds and pricing:
- DSL: Slow, reliable, and often the most affordable.
- Satellite: Wide availability, slow, unreliable, and higher pricing.
- Cable: A balance of speed and value.
- Fiber: Limited availability, fast speeds, and higher pricing.
The best type of connection is generally fiber, but it depends on the deals available in your area and your budget for internet service. Free internet options are also available in nearly every location — if you know where to look.
Before evaluating the best free options, it’s important to note you will most likely need to make concessions to get your internet for free.
You can generally expect slower speeds, less reliable connections, and greater limitations on data usage. If you don’t plan to use much data and you’re content with slower speeds, then free or low-cost internet can save you a lot of money.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
The Affordable Connectivity Program has been a crucial lifeline to millions of Americans for years, offering a $30 per month discount on internet services. However, the FCC announced it would stop taking new applications on Feb. 8, 2024, due to funding issues. This program has helped over 20 million households connect to the digital world for work, school, and more.
As the ACP’s funds started to dwindle, it became clear that Congress would need to step in to secure additional funding. A proposed solution, the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, seeks to inject $7 billion into the program, receiving broad support from over 400 organizations. This move underscores the program’s critical role in supporting both the people who need internet access and the larger goal of expanding America’s digital infrastructure.
The program’s success has been clear, with millions benefiting from the subsidies to keep their broadband affordable. Yet, as spring 2024 approaches, the threat of running out of funds looms large, potentially disconnecting millions and affecting internet service providers that have come to rely on the increased customer base and steady revenue the ACP provides.
Lifeline is a government subsidy program that connects low-income families with discounts from many major providers. To qualify for assistance through Lifeline, you must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level or participate in one of the following programs:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal public housing assistance (Section 8)
Tribal communities also have special considerations that afford eligibility for Lifeline:
- Any of the federal assistance programs listed above
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Head Start (provided income eligibility criteria are met)
To determine whether you’re eligible for assistance through Lifeline, use the official eligibility screener.
What Are the Best Internet Options for Low-Income Families?
There are a surprising number of plans from major providers that offer internet for low-income families without requiring you to apply for a specific program.
Keep in mind that these plans may not be available in your area. Information on provider availability can be accessed easily using the search tool at the top of this page.
Xfinity offers inexpensive plans, but it stands out with its bundled services. If you’re looking to purchase high-speed internet with excellent TV service, Xfinity may be your best option.
View Xfinity Internet deals.
Spectrum’s cheapest plan is more expensive than what you’ll find with Xfinity, but a key advantage it offers is plans without data caps or contracts. When your income is limited, the ability to cancel service at will may justify the slightly more expensive monthly cost.
Spectrum’s most affordable plan is fast enough to cover HD streaming, making it an excellent option for people who are willing to shell out a little extra each month for a speedy, contract-free connection.
View Spectrum internet deals.
Verizon Fios provides some of the fastest speeds on the market with no contracts and unlimited data on its plans.
Fios isn’t the cheapest option, but the combination of fast speeds, no contracts, and no data caps makes Verizon worth a look.
CenturyLink is one of the most accessible providers in the U.S. for service in rural areas. The DSL speeds generally don’t compete with cable and fiber providers. CenturyLink’s own fiber service is only marginally faster than DSL, but it’s a reliable (and sometimes the only) option for people who live far from a city.
DSL service is available to the majority of the U.S. due to preexisting infrastructure, but HughesNet satellite service has an even wider range. HughesNet remains one of the top satellite providers despite slightly slower speeds.
View HughesNet internet deals.
Low-Income Assistance Plans From Major Internet Providers
The programs below are designed to provide accessible pricing for people on fixed incomes. If you can’t find information for your specific provider, a phone call to customer support will often get you information about the company’s assistance program.
The AT&T Access program offers basic internet service for low-income families. With speeds up to 100 Mbps for $30 per month, it’s a viable way to stay connected for basic web browsing.
Access is available for families approved for the ACP. If your household doesn’t qualify, AT&T internet deals are generally the lowest consumer-grade option for home internet. Keep in mind that DSL speeds from AT&T are usually slower than cable for streaming video.
To determine if you’re eligible, visit the Access page and fill out an application.
Internet Essentials From Comcast
The Internet Essentials program from Comcast allows qualifying customers to buy a plan for just $9.95 per month. The service also includes free in-home Wi-Fi and it’s available without a credit check.
One unique perk is the ability for customers to purchase a subsidized laptop or desktop computer for $149.99, which is less expensive than what you’d find in a store or online. Depending on the computer you choose, it may include Microsoft Office and Google Docs plus Google Play Store.
To be eligible for the Internet Essentials program, you must have at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and meet many other criteria.
Spectrum Internet Assist
Spectrum Internet Assist functions similarly to the Comcast program and requires families to have a child eligible for the NSLP. The service offers a free modem and a 30 Mbps connection. Wi-Fi costs $5 extra per month with this plan.
To apply for Spectrum Internet Assist, visit the Spectrum Assist website.
Cox Low-Cost Internet is integrated with the Connect2Compete program, which is aimed at helping K-12 students get access to affordable internet. The program costs $9.95 per month, and it’s available to families with a child in kindergarten or first grade to 12th grade.
To be eligible for Cox Low-Cost Internet, your family must participate in a government assistance program like SNAP, NSLP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or public housing.
Visit the Cox Low-Cost Internet website to apply for assistance.
Mediacom is another major ISP that participates in the Connect2Compete program. It offers high-speed internet service for $9.95 per month for speeds up to 25 Mbps or $30 per month for speeds up to 100 Mbps to families with at least one child in a free or reduced-cost lunch program.
Learn more on the Mediacom Connect2Compete website.
Frequently Asked Questions About Low-Cost Internet
Is there any government program that provides free internet?
While the government doesn’t directly offer free internet, programs like Lifeline can significantly reduce internet bills, potentially to zero dollars, for qualifying participants of government assistance programs, such as Medicaid and SNAP. Eligibility extends to those involved in federal assistance programs.
Can I receive internet assistance if I’m on SNAP?
Yes, SNAP participants are eligible for internet assistance through the Lifeline program. Additionally, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer their own low-income assistance programs that SNAP participants can benefit from.
Does the government cover internet costs for eligible households?
Through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), eligible households receive a monthly discount on their internet bill, which can cover part or all of the cost. The standard benefit is up to $30 and up to $75 for households on tribal lands.
What is the duration of the ACP program?
The ACP is intended to be a permanent program, succeeding the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). Its continuation is dependent on ongoing congressional funding, with no predefined termination date.
How can I access internet assistance if I live on tribal lands?
For residents on tribal lands, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) offers funding for broadband services, though it targets entities, like tribal organizations, rather than individuals. For direct household assistance, the ACP provides significant benefits, with enhanced support for those living on tribal lands.