We’ve rounded up several ways to get free internet and Wi-Fi for low-income households.
How to Get Free Internet and Wi-Fi
Internet access is critical for at-home schoolwork, remote work, and digital entertainment. However, finding an internet connection can be a headache if you need help affording internet service in your area.
We have a few suggestions for getting free or low-cost internet service and Wi-Fi at home or on the go.
How can you get free internet?
Yes, you can get free internet. The only thing is, your options are somewhat limited to the following:
The other thing about free internet is that you may not get access to free high-speed internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calls 25Mbps download speeds “high-speed” internet, but some free internet options probably won’t get you those download speeds.
If you can’t get access to public Wi-Fi at a cafe or library, I personally like my smartphone’s hotspot. Web pages may take a few seconds longer to load, but it will be shorter than if you used dial-up internet. Check out these instructions about how to use your phone as a hotspot if you don’t already know how.
Dial-up usually comes with speeds of 56 Kbps. For comparison, 56 Kbps equals 0.056 Mbps. That’s not fast by today’s standards, but it can do the job. You’ll just have to put your patience hat on.
Is free internet legal?
That depends on how you’re getting free internet. All 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 unsure 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.
How can I get free internet service?
There are two ways to get free internet: If you qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), you can get internet service that will cost nothing. If you don’t qualify, there are a few dial-up internet options.
You’ll get $30 each month toward your internet bill if you qualify for ACP. To get your internet for free, we put together the cheapest internet plans we recommend in the table below. If Cox Internet is available in your area, its low-cost plan has the best value.
|Cox Internet’s Connect2Complete||$9.95/mo.*||Up to 100 Mbps||1280 Mbps|
|Spectrum Internet® Assist 30 Mbps||$19.99/mo.†||Up to 30 Mbps||Unlimited||View Plan|
|Connect||$19.99/mo.‡||Up to 75 Mbps||1200 Mbps||View Plan|
If you want to avoid going through the ACP process or need free internet today, 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. It's a good idea to check the dial-up access numbers and call your telephone company to avoid receiving a massive bill in your mailbox.
Both NetZero and Juno are free for 10 hours a month. These internet services also allow you to connect anywhere in the U.S. And—you didn’t hear this from us—but you can create as many email addresses as you want for free.
Free and low-cost government and internet service provider programs
If you're a low-income family, you have a few other cheap and free internet internet options. These government programs can either offer you a special, low-cost internet plan or a benefit or subsidy to help you pay for your internet service.
These programs include the Affordable Connectivity Program, which started as the Emergency Broadband Benefit in 2021, the Lifeline program, and Connect2Compete, plus other programs run by internet service providers (ISPs).
The acronyms in the qualifying programs columns in the table are the following:
- 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.
4.5 GB of mobile data on 4G LTE speeds
|Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials|
NSLP, HUD, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI
Up to 50 Mbps
NSLP, SNAP, LIHEAP, WIC, TANF
Up to 50 Mbps
NSLP, HUD, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI
Up to 25 Mbps
Up to 25 Mbps
SNAP, SSI (CA only)
Up to 50 Mbps
NSLP, SSI, Veteran assistance programs
|Spectrum Internet Assist|
NSLP, SSI, CEP
200–Up to 940 Mbps
Lifeline internet program
We recommend checking out the Verizon Lifeline program if you can get Verizon Fios Home Internet in your area. 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 U.S. 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 survivor 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
Nonprofit 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 organizations can also get you reduced-price technology.
- EveryoneOn helps you find low-cost internet service and devices in your town or city.
- Human-I-T helps you search for low-cost internet and refurbishes donated technology so you can buy it at an affordable price.
- PCs for People resells refurbished technology at affordable prices and offers low-cost mobile internet for $15 a month.
How can I get a free cell phone plan and hotspot?
For a completely free mobile internet option, check out FreedomPop. It offers a free 25 MB data plan at 4G LTE/5G speeds each month. Your SIM card kit costs a one-time fee of $10, and it’s for GSM phones only.
Also, that's a small amount of data to use each month. So don’t expect to stream ESPN+ or play games on your phone with a free FreedomPop plan.
Another way to trim your monthly bill is to cancel your internet service and use a mobile hotspot instead. This might be less costly if you already have a cell phone plan, plus it’s nice to deal with just one bill a month instead of two (or more).
Or you can grab a mobile data plan today and use your phone for online activities.
How can I get unlimited hotspot data with my cell phone plan?
The best unlimited cell phone data plans include those from Mint, Visible, Xfinity Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and T-Mobile.
Mint Mobile gives new customers the best deal at $15 per month for cell phone service and unlimited data. You’ll get this promotional pricing for three months, after which your monthly price will go up to $30—which still makes it the cheapest unlimited data plan on the market.
Visible Mobile is our second favorite for unlimited hotspot data, and you can get it for $35 per month. It also provides great coverage as Visible is on the same cellular network as Verizon Wireless.
How can I get internet access through my hotspot?
By turning on your cell phone’s hotspot, you can get internet access on your device, such as a laptop or tablet. The easiest way to turn it on is to search for “hotspot” in your settings and move the toggle into the green.
Next, you’ll select your hotspot instead of an internet network on your device's Wi-Fi settings. Within seconds, your device will be connected to your phone’s hotspot, ready for you to use the internet.
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 has a free version and can be downloaded onto 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, an 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 secure. 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 free internet access options are municipal wireless networks and community mesh networks.
A city usually runs a municipal wireless network and covers large areas with publicly available Wi-Fi, thanks to many wireless access points like a LinkNYC kiosk. Similarly, a community mesh network can cover a large area with Wi-Fi but uses personally or community-owned Wi-Fi routers.
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 U.S.
Can a VPN get me free internet?
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 keep you protected while 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 favorite free VPN services to get you started.
Check out our comprehensive VPN guide to learn more about virtual private networks and how they benefit internet users.
Catherine McNally also contributed research to this article.