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To say that money is essential is a bit of an understatement. When you’re living on a budget, finding simple ways to save cash on even necessary expenses can be a wallet saver. If you’re money-conscious, you may have already cut your cable bill or trimmed the grocery budget, but have you thought about getting free Internet service at home or on the go?
In today’s digital world, access to the Internet can mean finding work faster, keeping in touch with loved ones, getting an education, and finding access to other resources. But access to the Internet can be expensive, so we’ve put together a list of 12 ways to get free Internet.
This list contains free Internet options that don’t require you to figure out your neighbor’s Wi-Fi password. To be clear, most of these options won’t provide you with a massive amount of data, but you’ll be able to access websites, check your email, and visit social media accounts.
(As a point of reference, 200MB of data allows you to visit 400 web pages, post about 50 photos on social media site, and send/receive approximately 1000 emails, according to TigerMobiles. These numbers are with a cell phone, so keep in mind that usage may vary a bit.)
Free Internet For Everyone
FreedomPop requires you to purchase a Wi-Fi hotspot for $19.99. After that, you automatically get 200MB of free Internet every month. While it’s not a ton of data, it’s a great option if you just need web or email access.
FreedomPop also offers paid plans ranging from $7.99 per month up to $33.99 for 4GB per month. Plus, they offer a free trial of 2GB for the first month with the option to upgrade or downgrade at any time. The device works with any Wi-Fi enabled phone, computer, tablet, or smart TV.
If you thought this oldie but goodie disappeared, you’d be wrong. Juno’s free Internet service is a little different than some of the others on this list. The most significant difference: it’s dial-up. You can access 10 hours of free Internet per month. For people who only check their e-mail, browse a few web pages, and access social media a few times a week, this might work well. Surprisingly, they also offer paid dial-up Internet for less than $30 per month. You’ll need a landline to access the free or paid service.
Like Juno, NetZero offers free dial-up service. However, they also provide a free mobile data plan (200MB per month). This free Internet service requires the purchase of a broadband device. For more data per month, they have several plans, the most expensive plan offers 6GB for $90 per month. Their free dial-up is good for 10 hours per month, and you can download any needed software. They offer unlimited dial-up for less than $30 per month.
Municipal Wireless Network
Some major cities offer a free wireless network for people to enjoy. If you live in or near larger cities, you may be able to access their network at no cost. Some major cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia offer Internet gigs as part of their public services. You may also be able to find access to citywide cable, citywide fiber, cooperatives, and open access networks. To find out if you live in a community that offers municipal wireless services, check out this detailed map from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.
This program is an income-based plan that provides free Internet or low-cost Internet access to individuals and families. This nonprofit strives to create more opportunities for people by providing equal access to the Internet. Qualified households can receive free Internet service. Even if you don’t qualify for the free program, you may be eligible for reduced Internet fees as low as $10 per month. The program also offers discounted tablets and laptops. The program goes one step further and provides educational tools to help people learn how to use their computer to find jobs or take classes.
If you receive any government assistance (like CHIP, Medicaid, or Food Stamps), you’ll likely qualify for the free Internet service. Additionally, college students may be able to qualify as well.
Out and About
Whether you need to finish a research project, send a last-minute e-mail, or just want to save on your data plan, there are a few ways you can jump online without paying a dime:
Internet Provider Wi-Fi
Okay, this isn’t technically “free,” but if you are already paying for Internet at your home, you can use the same network while shopping or waiting in the car at an after-school activity. Look for signs that show a “hotspot” for your cable or Internet provider. You can also open the Wi-Fi networks on your enabled device to see if there are any available. You’ll have to log onto your account with the company to gain access. Some companies that offer this service include XFINITY, Verizon, Spectrum, and Cox. Check with your local provider to see if they have hotspots around town.
Most public libraries offer free public Wi-Fi. They know that students and busy professionals may want to hit the Internet in their free time. You should be able to find the library’s free network on your laptop’s list of available Wi-Fi networks. Most libraries will require a password (usually posted on a sign somewhere) and/or you’ll have to agree to follow their rules before using their free Internet.
The usual spots:
If you’re really in a pinch, find a Starbucks, McDonald’s, or Apple Store. They almost always offer free Internet. Just remember, you’re using a public network, so there’s a risk that you’ll be sharing some personal information with other people. Choose your free Internet access spots wisely and avoid banking or other sensitive activities while connected to a public network.
Practically-Free Internet Service
If the totally-free options aren’t cutting it, there are a few other ways you can access the Internet on the cheap. The monthly fee on most of these options is $10 or less. The speeds on these services, marked by the Mbps (megabytes per second), may be slower than your full-priced, high-speed Internet. However, most of these low-cost programs offer at least 10Mbps, which is fast enough to browse the Internet and stream some video.
Comcast Internet Essentials
Comcast offers low-cost Internet access through its Internet Essentials program. For $10 a month, qualified applicants have access to in-home Wi-Fi. The max speed is , (the speed at which content, like a website, is downloaded to your browser) but it boasts unlimited in-home data. There are no activation fees or rental fees. Additionally, customers in this program have access to 40 hours of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots a month.
AT&T Access Program
AT&T provides low-cost access for as little as $5 per month (3Mbps) or $10 per month (10Mbps). Qualifying homes must have at least one person participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and service is limited to certain states.
Families with a K-12 child that participates in the free lunch program can access Mediacom’s Connect2Compete (C2C) program. Service includes speeds up to 10Mbps for $10 a month. There is no equipment rental required.
Spectrum Internet Assist
Qualified applicants can have access to Internet speeds up to 30Mbps, which is double or even triple the speed of some of the other low-cost Internet options, through the Spectrum Internet Assist program. This program is $14.99 a month. Applicants must either parent a student that participates in the National School Lunch Program or be a senior who receives SSI benefits.
Google Fiber is rolling out Internet service across the country. It’s currently only available in some cities (find out which ones here). Google Fiber purports to be “super-fast” with speeds up to 1000Mbps. If you live in Atlanta, Austin, or Kansas City, you may be eligible for rates as low as $15 per month.
Tips for Maximizing your Free Internet options
Many of the free Internet solutions we highlighted offer limited Internet access. If you are more than a casual browser, you can maximize your usage with the strategies below.
- Consider combining a free dial-up program (NetZero or Juno) with a free Wi-fi option (Freedom Pop or NetZero). The combined 10 hours + 200MB may be enough to get you through the month.
- If you qualify for a low-cost Internet plan, consider applying a Lifeline subsidy on top of that. A subsidy allows you to take $9.25 off your phone or Internet bill. If you qualify for low-cost Internet, you are likely eligible for this subsidy. Combining the two could bring your Internet bill down to about $1-$2 per month.
- Reduce the data plan on your phone and connect it primarily to your home network. Alternatively, you could increase your data plan to unlimited and cancel cable/Internet subscriptions. Then use your phone as a hotspot for your tablet, computer, or other Wi-Fi enabled devices. The only downside is that many phone companies will slow your speeds after a certain amount of data is used per month.
- If you really enjoy complicating things, you can combine a few different options to maximize your Internet savings. Assuming you don’t qualify for the low-income options, try pairing the free dial-up and free Wi-fi options (as mentioned in our first tip) with an optimized data plan. You won’t have to pay full-price for unlimited data if you combine these three sources of Internet access. When your data/hour limits start to get tight, head to the library or o hotspot to stay online.
Safety Tips for Using Free Internet Services
Whether you’re downloading a program or stopping by a local hotspot, you can protect your identity and other personal information by opting for a little extra caution. It’s a sad truth that scammers and tricksters are hoping to lure you into their financial spiderweb with misleading offers. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself in your quest for free Internet:
Do Your Due Diligence
Before downloading any program that promises free Internet access, do a little extra research to make sure you are on a reliable website. You may also want to check to see if there are any scams or poor service reviews before allowing a program or company to access your personal information.
Stay Safe on Hotspots
Hotspots are public networks. While you can save some dough on data overages by connecting to one of these networks, you also give away a little of your personal information. Stick with basic tasks like browsing the Internet or sending a quick e-mail. Avoid logging into your bank accounts or social media accounts on these networks.
Install a VPN
A VPN is a virtual private network. Essentially, it’s a bit of added security for when you want to hop on public hotspots. The VPN encrypts the data coming into and out of your network. If you regularly use hotspots, installing a VPN should be a top priority. VPNs aren’t perfect (especially if you already have spyware on your mobile device), but they offer more protection than hooking up to a public network without any extra security measures.
Disable Airdrop and File Sharing
An effortless way to protect your information is to disable airdrop and file sharing functions on your device before logging onto a network that isn’t secure. You’re defending your immediate entrances, which should deter some would-be spies.
We are living in a digital age, and access to the Internet and all its glory can be a powerful tool in creating new opportunities. Don’t give up hope on connecting with the information superhighway when your budget gets tight. Take some time, do a bit of research, and try out one of these free (or almost free) Internet options to keep your budget on track.
Have you tried any of these tools before? Let us know how they worked for you!
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