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Low-Income Internet Access and Assistance

By Lauren Bringle, AFC®

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.

Low-Income Internet Assistance Programs

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.

In this article


Low-Cost Internet Assistance Programs

PROGRAM FEATURES ELIGIBILITY RATE/DISCOUNT
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

Government and Nonprofit Internet Assistance Programs

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 logo 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).[1]

Eligibility: Your household can qualify for Lifeline either of two ways:

  1. If a household member is taking part in a federal or tribal assistance program, including:
  2. Medicaid
  3. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  5. Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  6. Veterans Affairs Survivors Pension Benefits (VA)
  7. Tribal programs for Native Americans

  8. If your annual household income is 135% of federal poverty level guidelines or less.[2]

How to enroll:
1. Input your information into Lifeline’s National Verifier eligibility screener. 2. Use your ZIP code to search the list of participating providers offering service in your area. 3. Sign up with the ISP at a discounted rate. 4. Renew your subscription every year.

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:[3]

  • Eased rules on applicants’ ID and income documentation.
  • Dropped requirements for users to recertify and reverify their applications.
  • Paused the involuntary removal of applicants from the program.
  • Allowed partner ISPs to provide service to tribal lands, even if applicants haven’t yet fully completed their applications.

FCC tribal lands map 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 [4]; and show proof of tribal status. You also can qualify if someone in your household is enrolled in any of these programs: [5]

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) general assistance
  • Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Food distribution program on Indian reservations
  • Head Start (if you meet income eligibility criteria)

EveryoneOn logo 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 IT logo 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 logo 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:

  • Valid ID
  • Proof of income from the last six months (such as a tax return)
  • Proof of income below 200% of federal poverty guidelines
  • Proof of enrollment in an income-based government assistance program. Eligible programs include food support, SSD, extended foster care, Medicaid, or SSI.

Internet Service Provider Assistance Programs

altice-logo

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:

  • A student (K-12 or college) who needs internet at home for remote learning due to COVID-19
  • 65 or older and eligible for or receiving SSI
  • A U.S. military veteran receiving state or federal aid

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-logo

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:

  • Expanded eligibility for its low-income internet program.
  • Offered new participants two months of free service.
  • Offered service to households participating in NSLP and Head Start programs.

Century Link logo

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-logo

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:

  • Boosted the Internet Essentials connection speeds from 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
  • Established free Wi-Fi hotspots for public use.
  • Offered new customers two months of free service, if they apply and are approved by June 30, 2021.

Cox-Logo

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:

  • SNAP
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Public housing

COVID accommodations: In response to the pandemic, Cox Connect2Compete has:

  • Offered discounted and refurbished equipment via a collaboration with PCs for People.
  • Waived late payment fees through June 30, 2021.

Mediacom-logo

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:

  • Offered Connect2Compete service free for 60 days to new qualifying families.
  • Increased broadband speeds for low-income customers from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
  • Paused monthly data allowances.
  • Opened free access to all Mediacom Xtream Wi-Fi Hotspots.
  • Lowered new-customer price for Access Internet 60 to $19.99/mo. for 12 months.

Spectrum-logo

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:

  • Offered free broadband connections to K-12 and college students and educators for 60 days with any plan up to 100 Mbps.
  • Waived late fees and stopped shutting off service to residential or small-business customers who are unable to pay.
  • Opened Wi-Fi hotspots for public use.

Low-Cost Internet for Families

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:

  • AT&T Access provides low-cost service to families in which at least one member participates in the SNAP program.
  • CenturyLink can help families with internet connectivity and low-cost devices. if they take part in the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), SNAP, or Medicaid. You also may qualify if your family's income is 135% of the federal poverty level or less.
  • Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials program offers cheap high-speed internet and free in-home Wi-Fi. Households must receive aid via Medicaid, SNAP, or a federal Pell Grant.
  • Cox Connect2Compete connects families in public housing with low-cost access. Eligible families have at least one K-12 student enrolled in SNAP, NSLP, or TANF.
  • Mediacom Connect2Compete provides high-speed, low-cost internet service. Eligible families have at least one child in a free or reduced-price lunch program.
  • Spectrum Internet Assist offers low-cost internet access to families participating in the National School Lunch Program.

Low-Cost Internet for Seniors

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:

  • Altice Advantage offers discounted service to seniors 65 or older who receive (or are eligible to receive) SSI.
  • Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials program is available for qualifying seniors for only $9.95 per month.
  • Seniors in some states may be eligible for discounted CenturyLink service. This requires an income of less than 150-175% of the federal poverty level. Other seniors may be eligible through state programs.
  • Spectrum Internet Assist offers affordable internet access to applicants 65 and older who receive SSI benefits.

Low-Cost Internet for K-12 Students

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.[6] 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:

  • EveryoneOn’s flagship program, Connect2Compete, serves K-12 students with affordable internet service. The program also offers a digital toolkit for schools.
  • Altice Advantage offers discounted service for families with a student (K-12 or college) who is learning remotely.
  • Cox’s Connect2Compete program helps K-12 students stay connected to affordable internet. The program costs $9.95 a month for families that have at least one K-12 student in the family enrolled in SNAP, NSLP, or TANF.
  • Mediacom’s Connect2Compete program offers affordable high-speed internet service. Eligible families have at least one child in a free or reduced-price lunch program.

Low-Cost Internet for College Students

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:

  • Altice Advantage offers discounted service for families with a student (K-12 or college) who’s remote learning.
  • Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials provides high-speed internet and free in-home Wi-Fi to recipients of a federal Pell Grant. Community college students in Colorado or Illinois can get low-cost service with documents from their financial aid office.
  • In response to the pandemic, Spectrum Internet Assist offered free internet for 60 days to new customers attending college.
  • If you can tether to your smartphone, Verizon Wireless offers a discount for college students.

Low-Cost Internet for Military Members and Veterans

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:

  • Verizon Wireless discounts the monthly rate on Fios fiber-optic plans for military members. Get a discount of $5 for internet only or internet plus TV. Or get $10 off if you bundle internet, TV, and phone.
  • Comcast Xfinity gives veterans a $25 Xfinity coupon for an on-demand rental or credit toward your bill.
  • AT&T offers deals for military families, including upgraded security, hotspot, and streaming capabilities.
  • Altice Advantage offers discounted service for families of U.S. military veterans receiving state or federal aid.

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.

Article Sources

  1. Federal Communications Commission. “Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications," https://www.fcc.gov/lifeline-consumers Accessed December 21, 2020.

  2. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, ASPE. “Poverty Guidelines," https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines/ Accessed December 21, 2020.

  3. Federal Communications Commission. “Keep Americans Connected,” https://www.fcc.gov/keep-americans-connected Accessed December 21, 2020.

  4. 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.

  5. Universal Service Administrative Company. “Additional Support for Tribal Lands," https://www.lifelinesupport.org/additional-support-for-tribal-lands/ Accessed December 21, 2020.

  6. 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.

About the author

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.

Written on February 2, 2021

Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings.
Comments? Questions? Send us a note at hello@self.inc.

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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