Internet access has long been necessary to take part in the modern world. Whether we’re working, learning, or relaxing, we rely on the internet for our online activities.
But what if internet access just isn’t in your budget? When you add up connection fees, equipment, and monthly charges, the costs may be too high.
Don’t despair. Maybe you can’t afford regular internet rates, but you don’t have to stay offline and miss out.
Low-cost internet access is an option worth exploring. If you qualify, you can take advantage of government or nonprofit programs to get discounted internet service. Plus, most major internet service providers (ISPs) offer affordable plans that cost less than $20 a month.
If you’re a U.S. resident, federal assistance programs, internet service providers, or nonprofits may help you access low-cost internet plans. You may need to prove you’re getting federal government aid to qualify for most programs. You also may need to be a new applicant with no unpaid bills or outstanding debts with the provider. But here are a variety of ways you can save on internet service.
|Lifeline||Phone or internet (either but not both)||Participation in a federal assistance program or annual household income ≤135% of federal poverty level guidelines||Up to $9.25 monthly discount|
|Tribal Lifeline||Phone or internet (either but not both)||Eligibility for Lifeline and proof of tribal status, residence on federally recognized tribal land, or receipt of tribal services||Discount of up to $34.25 per month, and up to $100 off first-time connection charges|
|Frontier Communications (Lifeline partner)||6-25 Mbps||Lifeline eligibility guidelines||$10 per month with Lifeline|
|Kinetic by Windstream (Lifeline partner)||Internet access||Lifeline eligibility guidelines||$9.25 per month with Lifeline|
|RCN (Lifeline partner)||Up to 25 Mbps||Lifeline eligibility guidelines||$9.95 per month with Lifeline|
|EveryoneOn||Up to 25 Mbps, computers, online training||Participation in a federal assistance program||$10-20 per month|
|Human I-T||Up to 18 Mbps, computers||Participation in a federal assistance program or annual household income below a certain level||$10-25 per month with no contract|
|PCs for People – Bridging the Gap||Up to 18 Mbps, computers||Valid ID; Income below 2x federal poverty guidelines; Enrollment in an income-based government assistance program||$15 per month|
|Altice USA – Altice Advantage Internet||Up to 30 Mbps||K-12 or college student doing remote learning; or Senior 65+ eligible for or receiving SSI; or U.S. military veteran receiving state or federal aid||$14.95 per month|
|AT&T – AT&T Access||Up to 10 Mbps||Family member participating in the federal SNAP program||$10 per month|
|CenturyLink||Up to 12 Mbps||Participation in a federal program such as HEAP, SNAP, or Medicaid; or income ≤135% of the federal poverty level||$9.95-$19.95 per month|
|Comcast/Xfinity – Internet Essentials||Up to 25 Mbps||Household member receiving state and/or federal assistance such as Medicaid, SNAP, or a federal Pell Grant||$9.95 per month|
|Cox – Connect2 Compete||Up to 25 Mbps||K-12 student in the household and participation in government assistance such as SNAP, School Lunch, TANF, or public housing||$9.95 per month|
|Mediacom – Connect2 Compete||Up to 25 Mbps||At least one child in a free or reduced-price lunch program||$9.95 per month|
|Spectrum – Internet Assist||Up to 30 Mbps||Household member receiving assistance from NSLP, CEP, or SSI||$14.99 per month|
The federal government doesn’t offer internet service directly, but it has a few different assistance programs that help people get service at a discounted rate from internet providers. There are also some nonprofit organizations that work to bridge the “digital divide” and help low-income families.
Lifeline — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) works with many internet providers to offer low-income households cheaper monthly rates. Lifeline offers discounts up to $9.25 a month, which apply to either phone service or internet service (but not both).
Eligibility: Your household can qualify for Lifeline either of two ways:
If a household member is taking part in a federal or tribal assistance program, including:
If your annual household income is 135% of federal poverty level guidelines or less.
__How to enroll: __
COVID accommodations: In response to hardships caused by the pandemic, Lifeline has made it easier for unemployed people and others to enroll and stay enrolled. The program has:
Tribal Lifeline — This offshoot of the Lifeline program offers discounts of up to $34.25 per month to qualified residents of tribal lands.
Eligibility: Qualify for Lifeline (see above); live on federally recognized tribal land ; and show proof of tribal status. You also can qualify if someone in your household is enrolled in any of these programs: 
Everyone On — This project offers low-income families affordable internet service of $10-20 per month, plus low-cost computers. The website provides access to an offer locator tool that’s searchable by ZIP code. It also has free skill training. There are free resources on topics from money and employment to health, education, and computer basics.
Eligibility: Your family must be enrolled in a government assistance program. There are two main programs you might qualify for:
Connect2Compete — EveryoneOn’s flagship program provides affordable internet service to families that have school-age kids and are enrolled in a government assistance program. Connect2Compete partners with leading cable companies including Cox Communications and Mediacom.
ConnectHome USA — Another EveryoneOn project, ConnectHome USA is for families in public housing. It helps with affordable internet service and low-cost devices. It’s sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your family must have school-age kids and live in HUD-assisted housing.
Human-I-T — This nonprofit group offers low-cost internet access at $10-25 per month with no contract. It also sells refurbished computers at reasonable prices.
Eligibility: You can qualify if a household member participates in one of the government programs listed above. Or you can submit proof that your yearly gross income is below a certain level.
PCs for People — This group connects people with low-cost, high-speed internet service for $15 per month with no data caps. Laptops and desktop computers also are available for reasonable prices, starting at $50.
Eligibility: Customers must provide documents including:
Altice Advantage Internet — Up to 30 Mbps download speeds for $14.99 a month. Includes free smart router and modem, unlimited data, and discounted installation.
Eligibility: At least one household member must be in one of these groups:
COVID accommodations: In response to economic hardships caused by the pandemic, Altice has begun offering free service for 60 days to new qualifying applicants.
AT&T Access — Basic web browsing with upload speeds up to 10 Mbps for around $10 a month
Eligibility: At least one family member who participates in the SNAP program.
Options: If your household doesn’t qualify, AT&T internet rates still are often the lowest-priced option for home internet. DSL speeds are usually slower than cable for streaming.
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, AT&T has:
CenturyLink — Rates range from $9.95-$19.95 a month for speeds of 1.5-12 Mbps. You can also buy an iPad mini through the program for $150 with a two-year term commitment.
Eligibility: Participation in the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), SNAP, or Medicaid. Eligibility also comes with an income of 135% of the federal poverty level or less.
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, CenturyLink suspended data usage limits for the entirety of 2020. The company also set up extended payment plans for accounts that went past due during the pandemic.
Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials — A monthly 25 Mbps plan for $9.95 includes free in-home Wi-Fi. You can sign up for this without a credit check. You can also apply to get a laptop or desktop computer for $149.
Eligibility: You must be in a Comcast service area. You also must receive state and/or federal aid such as Medicaid, SNAP, or a Federal Pell Grant.
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, Comcast Xfinity has:
Cox Connect2Compete — $9.95 a month for speeds up to 15 Mbps.
Eligibility: A K-12 student must live in your household and be enrolled in a government program such as:
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, Cox Connect2Compete has:
Mediacom Connect2Compete — High-speed internet service of up to 25 Mbps for $9.95 per month.
Eligibility: Families must have at least one child in a free or reduced-price lunch program.
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, Mediacom Connect2Compete has:
Spectrum Internet Assist — A 30 Mbps connection for $14.99 per month. Wi-Fi service costs $5 extra per month with this plan.
Eligibility: At least one person in your household must receive help from one of the following programs:
COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, Spectrum Internet Assist has:
Families often have a high demand for internet access, especially if kids are participating in school online or adults are working remotely. Several ISPs offer affordable service to families who receive federal aid, including:
Many ISPs offer discounts for seniors. Those who use the internet for limited functions like email may benefit from simpler, cheaper plans. Local internet service providers may also offer senior discounts, so it’s worth checking locally owned ISPs in your area.
Some options from major internet service providers:
Online learning became the dominant educational model during the pandemic, however by some estimates, up to a third of K-12 students lived in a household that lacked either Internet access, a digital device, or both. In response, many programs have offered discounted internet access to families with K-12 students.
Many low-income internet programs focus on connecting students and educators to online resources. Participants may need to be enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or public housing (HUD).
Some options from governmental and nonprofit programs:
Except for public Wi-Fi, free internet for college students is scarce. However, solutions are out there. Here are some options from major internet service providers:
Some companies offer discounts to those who are serving or have served in the military. Often these discounts are not publicized; applicants have to research and ask about them first.
Here are some lower-cost options for veterans from major internet service providers:
You may be a student, educator, or work-from-home employee, or contractor. Maybe you just need the internet to stay in touch with friends or unwind after a hard day’s work. Regardless of your reasons for needing affordable internet options, there are plenty available.
Take time to research service providers, plans, and requirements. See what serves your needs and fits with your budget. You’ll be surfing the net like a pro again in no time.
Federal Communications Commission. “Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications," https://www.fcc.gov/lifeline-consumers Accessed December 21, 2020.
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, ASPE. “Poverty Guidelines," https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines/ Accessed December 21, 2020.
Federal Communications Commission. “Keep Americans Connected,” https://www.fcc.gov/keep-americans-connected Accessed December 21, 2020.
Universal Service Administrative Company. “Eligible Tribal Lands for the Lifeline Program," https://www.usac.org/wp-content/uploads/lifeline/documents/tribal/fcc_tribal_lands_map.pdf Accessed December 21, 2020.
Universal Service Administrative Company. “Additional Support for Tribal Lands," https://www.lifelinesupport.org/additional-support-for-tribal-lands/ Accessed December 21, 2020.
Education Week. “A Third of K-12 Students Aren’t Adequately Connected for Remote Learning, Report Says,” https://www.edweek.org/technology/a-third-of-k-12-students-arent-adequately-connected-for-remote-learning-report-says/2020/06 Accessed December 21, 2020.
Lauren Bringle is an Accredited Financial Counselor® with Self Financial – a financial technology company with a mission to increase economic inclusion by helping people build credit and savings. Connect with her on Linkedin or Twitter.