How to Get Free Internet and Wi-Fi
Just last year, 40% of low-income parents said their kids might have to use public Wi-Fi to do schoolwork, and 36% said their children might not complete their schoolwork because the family doesn’t have a computer at home.1
It’s true that internet access is more critical than ever for taking care of school and work at home. But if you find yourself unable to afford internet service in your area, you might try one or more of these free internet options instead.
We compared several free and low-cost internet options, checked out ways to get cheap computers, and validated suggestions shared online to pull up a list of ways you can get cheap or free internet and Wi-Fi at home. Let’s dig in and explore your options.
Can you really get free internet?
Yes, you can get free internet. The only thing is, your options are somewhat limited to the following:
- Cell phone hotspots
- Public Wi-Fi
- Dial-up internet service
- Low-cost assistance programs
The other thing about free internet is that you may not get access to free high-speed internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calls 25 Mbps download speeds “high-speed” internet, but some free internet options probably won’t get you 25 Mbps speeds.
Wi-Fi tends to be slower because its signal gets weaker as it travels through objects and even air to get to your device.
And dial-up usually comes with speeds of 56 Kbps. (Remember good old “56K” back in the day?) For comparison, 56 Kbps equals 0.056 Mbps. That’s not very fast by today’s standards.
Is free internet legal?
Yes and no. All of the options for free internet we cover here are legal. But there are definitely illegal ways to get free internet too.
Bottom line: If you’re not sure whether you have permission to use an internet service without paying, don’t use it. Ask first, or try a different way to get free internet.
Free internet services
Free internet service that isn’t Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot is likely going to be dial-up. Right now, there are two nationwide free dial-up internet services: NetZero and Juno.
One thing you should know before you connect to free dial-up internet is that you could rack up long-distance or toll charges. That’s because dial-up uses your phone line. So it’s a good idea to check the dial-up access numbers and call your telephone company to make sure you can avoid a massive bill getting dropped in your mailbox.
NetZero dial-up internet
NetZero dial-up internet is free for 10 hours a month. It also offers thousands of different access numbers to make sure you can connect anywhere in the US. And you can create as many email addresses as you want for free.
NetZero dial-up features
- Free for 10 hours a month
- Access numbers available across the US
- Multiple free email addresses
NetZero also offers a free mobile internet service that comes with 200 MB of data each month. But you’ll need to buy a NetZero device to get its mobile broadband service.
Juno dial-up internet
Juno is another dial-up internet service that’s free for 10 hours a month. In fact, both Juno’s and NetZero’s websites look so eerily similar that we wouldn’t be surprised if they’re actually the same company.
Juno even comes with the same set of perks as NetZero: access numbers covering multiple US locations and the chance to make as many free email addresses as you want.
Juno dial-up features
- 10 hours of dial-up internet for free each month
- Thousands of US access numbers
- Multiple email addresses for free
Free cell phone plans and hotspots
For a completely free mobile internet option, check out FreedomPop. It offers a 25 MB data plan that costs nothing each month.
Another way you can trim your monthly bill down is to cancel your internet service and use a mobile hotspot instead. This might be less costly if you already have a cellphone plan, plus it’s nice to deal with just one bill a month instead of two. (Or more.)
Most every cell phone company offers a hotspot plan, or you can choose to grab a mobile data plan and just use your phone for online activities.
FreedomPop cell phone plans
If you’re looking for absolutely free mobile internet, one of your few choices is FreedomPop. The free data plan comes with 25 MB of data at 4G LTE speeds each month. The only caveat? Your SIM card kit costs a one-time fee of $10, and it’s for GSM phones only.
The best mobile hotspot plans
For those considering cutting ties with traditional internet as a way to lower your bills, we recommend looking at Visible, Verizon, and AT&T hotspot plans as an alternative.
Our mobile experts flagged the following hotspot plans as ones to seriously consider:
You can get more info on how these plans stack up in our guide to the best mobile hotspots. And for reference, 5G speeds average about 50 Mbps, while 4G LTE speeds average a max of 30 Mbps.
|Best hotspot plan||Price||Hotspot data||Hotspot speed||Details|
|Visible Wireless Unlimited Plan||$40/mo. for 1 line||Unlimited||5 Mbps||View Plans|
|Verizon Wireless Do More Unlimited||$80/mo. for 1 line||15 GB||5G or 4G LTE||View Plans|
|AT&T Wireless Unlimited Elite||$85/mo. for 1 line||30 GB||5G or 4G LTE||View Plans|
Data effective 4/6/2021. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
How to turn on a hotspot
Turning your phone’s hotspot on is as simple as flipping a switch.
On my Android device, I found the Mobile Hotspot and Tethering options under the Settings → Connections menu.
Screenshot courtesy of author.
As for Apple devices, choose Personal Hotspot under your Settings menu to turn your hotspot on. Pro tip: If you’re looking for your hotspot network, it’ll probably show up as “[Your Name]’s Phone.”
Screenshot courtesy of author.
Free Wi-Fi maps and networks
If it’s free Wi-Fi you’re after, your best place to start is a map of free Wi-Fi hotspots. A handful of these exist, and the most popular maps are the following:
The NetSpot app that comes with a free version and can be downloaded on your Windows or macOS computer. The app comes with a Discover mode, which scans the area for Wi-Fi networks and shows you the signal strength of each one, along with other details.
And Instabridge, another app for your phone, lets users share free Wi-Fi network info with each other—including passwords.
But remember, you should get permission to connect to any Wi-Fi hotspot—and even a free Wi-Fi hotspot should be secured. You may need to ask for a password, but that minor annoyance is well worth it to avoid getting targeted by cybercriminals.
Community mesh networks
A couple of lesser-known options for free internet access are municipal wireless networks and community mesh networks.
Source: LinkNYC on Twitter
A municipal wireless network is usually run by a city and used to cover large areas with publicly available Wi-Fi thanks to lots of wireless access points like the LinkNYC kiosk in the photo. Similarly, a community mesh network can cover a large area with Wi-Fi, but it uses personally or community-owned Wi-Fi routers to do that.
While setting up your own mesh network might require a higher learning curve, GoTenna has a map of all self-reported community mesh networks in the US.
Low-cost government and provider programs
If you’re a low-income family, you’ve got a few other options for cheap and free internet. These government programs can either offer you a special, low-cost internet plan or offer a benefit or subsidy to help you pay for your internet service.
These programs include the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which was started in 2021, the Lifeline program, and Connect2Compete plus other programs run by internet service providers (ISPs).
|Plan||Price||Download speed||Qualifying programs||Details|
|Q-Link Wireless||Free||4.5 GB of mobile data on 4G LTE speeds||SNAP, Medicaid||Apply Now|
|Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials||$9.95/mo.||50 Mbps||NSLP, HUD, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI||Apply Now|
|Cox Connect2Compete*||$9.95/mo.||25 Mbps||NSLP, SNAP, LIHEAP, WIC, TANF||Apply Now|
|Internet First||$9.95/mo.||Up to 50 Mbps||NSLP, HUD, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI||Apply Now|
|Mediacom Connect2Compete*||$9.95/mo.||25 Mbps||NSLP||Apply Now|
|AT&T Access||$10.00/mo.||Up to 25 Mbps||SNAP, SSI (CA only)||Apply Now|
|Altice Advantage||$14.99/mo.||30 Mbps||NSLP, SSI, Veteran assistance programs||Apply Now|
|Spectrum Internet Assist||$14.99/mo.||30 Mbps||NSLP, SSI||Apply Now|
|Verizon Lifeline||$19.99–$59.99/mo.**||200–Up to 940 Mbps||Lifeline||Apply Now|
Data effective 4/6/2021. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
*Must have a child enrolled in K–12 school.
**With $20/mo. Lifeline discount.
Not sure what all those acronyms mean? We feel you. Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
- FPHA: Federal Public Housing Assistance
- HUD: Housing and Urban Development’s public housing programs
- LIHEAP: Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- NSLP: National School Lunch Program
- SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- WIC: Women, Infants, and Children Program
We’ve got more info on these government programs, including how to apply and who qualifies, in our low-income internet guide.
If you can get Verizon Fios Home Internet in your area, then we recommend checking out the Verizon Lifeline program. Otherwise, the government’s Lifeline program gives you $9.25 a month to help pay for your internet bill (or $34.25 a month if you qualify for Tribal Lifeline).
Lifeline is available to any household in the US that includes someone who meets the following criteria:
- Your income is 135% or less than federal poverty guidelines
- You’re enrolled in SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, FPHA, or veteran’s pension or survivors benefit
There’s also the Tribal Lifeline program. It applies to anyone living on Tribal lands who has someone in their household enrolled in at least one of the programs listed above or one of the following:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Head Start
- Tribal TANF
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
Other assistance programs
A handful of nonprofits are also ready and willing to help you find low-cost internet. And if a laptop, tablet, or computer is out of your price range, many of these can also get you reduced-price technology.
- EveryoneOn helps you find low-cost internet service in your town or city and low-cost devices.
- Human-I-T helps you search for low-cost internet and refurbishes donated technology so you can buy it at a more affordable price.
- PCs for People resells refurbished technology at more affordable prices and offers low-cost mobile internet for $15 a month.
Now that you know how to get free internet service, check these out next.
Look for internet deals in your area.
Learn more hacks to lower your internet bill.8 WAYS TO PAY LESS FOR INTERNET
Still have questions about low-income and free internet? We’re here to help.
Can I get free internet at home?
Can a VPN give me free internet?
Yes, a VPN can give you free internet by using loopholes in your network, but we don’t recommend this. It’s potentially illegal and requires a certain level of tech savviness.
But VPNs do keep you protected while you’re using free internet—that’s why we highly recommend using a VPN if you’re on public Wi-Fi. Here’s a list of our fave free VPN services to get you started.
How do you qualify for free internet?
You don’t necessarily need to qualify for free internet like the dial-up offered by NetZero or the mobile internet offered by FreedomPop. But government and ISP assistance programs often come with income requirements—or they require at least one person in your household to be enrolled in an assistance program like SNAP, SSI, or TANF.
The qualifications vary depending on which internet assistance program you’re looking at. So we recommend taking a close look at what programs qualify and how you need to provide proof.
What’s the cheapest way to get Wi-Fi?
The cheapest way to get Wi-Fi is to use a free public network. Aside from checking out your local library or Starbucks, the easiest way to find free Wi-Fi is with a map tool like WiFi Map or an app like NetSpot or Instabridge.
- Emily A. Vogels, Andrew Perrin, Lee Rainie, and Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center, “53% of Americans Say the Internet Has Been Essential During the COVID-19 Outbreak,” April 2020. Accessed April 6, 2021.