How to Get Free or Cheap Internet Access

By Debbie Dragon on 16 October 2012 (Updated 24 October 2012) 13 comments

It is not unusual to pay $15 to $70 a month for cable or DSL Internet service in your home. The lower price is normally obtained by bundling your Internet with other services, such as your home phone and cable television. If you are looking to reduce your monthly expenses but still want to use the Internet, here are some ways you can get free or cheap Internet access. (See also: Cutting the Cable Cord Has More Than Financial Benefits)

Consider Dial-Up Internet

If you don’t use the Internet frequently or don’t have a need for lightning-fast service, you may consider using dial-up Internet service instead of DSL, cable, or FIOS. You can get dial-up Internet for as low as $9.99 a month through NetZero, provided you live in an area the company services. Juno advertises a dial-up plan for $10.95 a month. EarthLink offers a plan for as low as $12.50 a month if you prepay for a year at a time.

Internet Service Through Your Cell Phone Provider

If you already have a cell phone plan, you might save money by using a data plan through your cell phone company rather than having both a cell phone plan and a separate Internet service. Verizon charges between $50 and $100 a month for a cell phone and data plan, depending how much data you use per month. For some people, even the higher price of $100 a month for a data plan and phone service with Verizon would be less expensive than their existing monthly phone service and separate monthly Internet service bills. Verizon also offers a prepaid service for unlimited talk, text, and a data plan starting at $50 per month with no annual contract. If you don’t like the idea of checking your email or social media accounts on your phone, you can often use the cellular data plans through other device, including tablets or laptop computers, by turning your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

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Limit Your Internet Use to Free Wi-Fi Locations

If you’re not a college student, finding free Wi-Fi can be challenging if you are looking for an always-on, always-available location. If you don’t have an absolute need for Internet access in your home, you can get free Internet access from most public libraries. For some people, the library is conveniently located on their way to or from work and could easily take the place of Internet at home if you are someone who only uses the Internet for email or for occasional research.

If you have a wireless-enabled device such as a laptop, phone, or tablet, you can find free Wi-Fi through a variety of coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and even some bars. Use a site like Wi-Fi FreeSpot to search for free Wi-Fi locations according to your location or where you plan to travel.

Internet for Low-Income Americans

There are government programs that exist to provide free or cheap Internet service for lower-income Americans. The availability of programs depends on location, availability of funds, and the applicant’s income level. The FCC announced a program called “Connect to Compete,” which will provide low-cost computers to low-income homes, and Internet access for $9.99 a month.

You may also have luck finding a program for low-income Americans on CheapInternet.com, as well as a listing of possible free Internet programs on this page (while I’m pretty sure the “Google TISP” was an elaborate April Fool’s joke that went a little too far, the other options for possible free Internet look legitimate).

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Guest's picture
Guest

Well-chosen subject and good article!

You also don't need to have different Internet subscriptions for all your devices - just use a routing software and decrease your costs:
http://booksnlibraries.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/how-to-share-the-interne...

Guest's picture

I didn't even know that dial-up internet still existed! We save money on internet by using the free wifi that is available at our apartment building. Although it can get pretty spotty, and even cut out completely sometimes, it is much better than paying the amount that our cable company- Bright House- would charge. If you don't use internet at home too much, Starbucks is a good place to find free wifi.

Guest's picture
Guestmike

Just an idea, but never tried it: If your neighbor has wifi, ask him if you can try it out, and if it works ok, offer to pay him so much per month.

Debbie Dragon's picture

I thought about including this "wifi sharing" in the article, but discovered in most cases it is illegal. So be careful :)

Guest's picture
Abigail

Like Kelly, I wasn't even sure dial-up was still offered. I guess if you know where to look?

I think the one danger with free Wifi is that it's usually at businesses. And you don't want to be the person who never buys ANYTHING but freely uses the Wifi. (That's not even including the temptation of food/coffee all around you.) So it's a fine balance. Then again, since "cheap" Internet starts at $30 a month, buying the occasional cookie at Starbucks would still be a much better deal.

Unfortunately, I need my Internet for work. A painful $79.99, since I needed a static IP for my work from home. Ugh. At least it's tax deductible.

Debbie Dragon's picture

I need reliable, always-on and fast internet for work, too! You are right many locations offering free Wifi are typically businesses, but don't rule out the library. Also, I have met people at our local Barnes and Noble several times and used the free Wifi there without feeling like I had to buy something. (Not sure how Barnes and Noble would feel about that!)

Thanks for the comment!

Guest's picture

Great article. I actually use a lot of my internet thru my cell phone. Mainly because my phone is with me 24/7. It’s a lot quicker and easier.

Guest's picture

I have a T-Mobile Hotspot on my phone for about $15 extra a month. It works great I just have to limit my internet at home to schoolwork only and no videos since they use so much data.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ugh, I would never recommend dial-up internet even to my worst enemy. It's inefficient (have to be in one place with a phone line) and ridiculously slow (even if you disable images.)

Another option if you have a smartphone is to tether it if you only need internet access on a computer occasionally.

Guest's picture

Great article. I featured it on the Frugal News Review podcast episode 14.

Guest's picture
warren currier

I remember reading about a guy who used to park his car outside of a coffee house or restaurant with free wifi for customers. As clever as he must have thought he was he got busted in a big way. Forgot the details yet remember the impact of the story: Be very careful if you decide to steal something that is free if 'free' doesn't apply to your methods.

Guest's picture
Laura

I'm not a fan of promoting using free wifi at businesses.
Once in a while is OK, especially if you are purchasing something. I think of all the times I've been to starbucks or a coffee shop looking for a spot to sit with my coffee and many tables are taken by people who are not buying anything or bought something small hours ago and are taking up space.
Perhaps in a small town with a small population it's not as much of a problem but in major cities like NYC it is.

Guest's picture
Jennifer Faber

All of a sudden my cable and Internet bill through Charter increased by $13.00.
I was originally paying $105 which is rediculious. I am a low income college student and work part time. Therefore I need to have Internet service in order to complete assignments. As far as cable goes, I only want basic cable.( I mean basic like how it used to be 15 years). Can anyone suggest a service that is affordable as I can't afford to pay this amount?
Thank you!
Jennifer