There are a number of safe, simple and legal ways to get free internet. Here’s a list of the best options, starting with a new government program that you may already be eligible for.
The article is broken down into four sections:
- Free internet for low income households: A new government assistance program makes it easy to get free, high-quality broadband internet service, and there are low-cost options for those who don’t qualify for a free plan.
- Free internet from discount service providers: A handful of companies operate in the ultra-low-cost internet service industry, and a few of them offer a free plan with limited speed and data.
- Free public WiFi hotspots: Learn about apps that can help you quickly find and connect to nearby WiFi networks — even those that require a password.
- Free internet FAQs: Answers to some of the most common questions about free internet access.
Free Internet For Low Income Households
The federal government, in partnership with select internet service providers, offers free internet to people who meet certain income requirements.
#1. United States Affordable Connectivity Program
In November 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Better known as “the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” the law authorized more than $14 billion to provide cheap or free high speed internet access to low income households through a new FCC initiative called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
The main feature of the ACP is that it provides eligible households with a $30 per month discount on their internet bill ($75 per month for eligible households located on qualifying Tribal lands).
At the same time, the administration secured a commitment from 20 major internet service providers that those companies will make high speed internet plans available to ACP-eligible households for no more than $30 per month.
In other words, if you qualify for the ACP and are served by one of the 20 companies listed below, you can get your internet completely free.
Participating internet service providers:
- Allo Communications
- AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom)
- Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink)
- Astound by RCN
- Comcast (Xfinity)
- Cox Communications
- Jackson Energy Authority
- Spectrum (Charter Communications)
- Verizon Fios
- Vermont Telephone Company
- Vexus Fiber
- Wow! Internet, Cable and TV
How to Qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program
You qualify for the ACP if your income is 200% or less of the federal poverty guidelines, or if you already qualify for one of the benefit programs listed below.
For more information, the FCC has a page dedicated to helping you determine your eligibility. Keep in mind that you only need to meet one of the listed requirements to gain access to the program.
Here’s a breakdown of the maximum income you can have and still qualify:
And here’s a list of qualifying benefit programs:
- Federal Public Housing Assistance.
- Pell Grant recipients.
- National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP/food stamps).
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits.
- You also qualify if you currently meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low income internet program (even if your income is above the 200% federal threshold).
- Lastly, you qualify if you live on eligible Tribal lands and participate in any of the following: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or Tribal Head Start.
The Affordable Connectivity Program also provides limited assistance with purchasing a high speed internet compatible device (like a new laptop).
How to Enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program
If you’re interested in taking advantage of the program and want to learn how to apply, you can read the specific details on the FCC’s ACP website.
There are two steps to enroll:
- Go to AffordableConnectivity.gov to submit an ACP application. (You also have the option to print a paper application and mail it in).
- Contact a participating provider to choose an internet plan and get the ACP discount applied to your bill. Note that at this stage, the provider may ask you to submit a secondary application; this is normal, and if asked, you’ll need to complete that secondary application to get the discount.
Remember: to get the discount, you must complete the application and contact your service provider!
Ways to Find Discounted Internet (If You Don’t Qualify for the ACP)
If you don’t meet the requirements for the Affordable Connectivity Program, there are other programs that can help you secure deep discounts on your internet service.
- EveryoneOn.org: This national non-profit asks you a few screening questions about your financial and living situation, then shows you a list of internet service discounts that are available in your area (including state government and non-profit programs).
- Internet service providers: Many ISPs offer their own discount programs, and the qualification criteria is often less stringent than the eligibility rules for the ACP. Some examples include AT&T Access, Cox Connect2Complete, Spectrum Internet Assist and Xfinity Internet Essentials.
Free Internet From Discount Service Providers
A handful of companies specialize in providing customers with low-cost internet access, and they often have a free tier with limited speed and/or bandwidth.
FreedomPop offers data, voice and text plans starting at zero cost. However, to take advantage of this offer, you have to purchase an inexpensive SIM card (which costs about $10).
The amount of data you get for free is extremely limited: just 25 megabytes of data, 10 minutes of talk time, and 10 text messages per month.
To put that into perspective, 1 megabyte equals approximately 100 emails.
Keep in mind that this plan only allows you to connect to the internet via your phone. Depending on your device, that may mean switching from your current cell provider (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, etc.).
FreedomPop does support dual SIM devices (like newer iPhones), allowing you to keep your existing phone/text message service while using the FreedomPop SIM for data.
#3. Juno and NetZero
This means you’ll need an actual landline phone to access the service, as well as a computer with a dial up modem port. Since most modern computers lack this port, you’ll also have to purchase an adapter (such as this one).
Dial-up internet does offer a stable connection, but you may be surprised by just how slow the speed is — especially if you’re young enough to have never used dial-up before!
For example, it would take about 1 minute to download an average-length song, compared to a few seconds on a broadband connection.
Free Public WiFi Hotspots
There are many places outside your home where you can access free internet. Here are a few of the best options.
#4. Use the Facebook App
Facebook offers a service called Facebook WiFi that allows you to connect to a business’s WiFi hotspots for free, as long as you have a compatible mobile device. You can learn more about Facebook WiFi here, but this is how it works in a nutshell:
- Open your phone’s network settings and connect to the business’s WiFi hotspot.
- Open the Facebook App, or open Facebook.com in a mobile browser. If you’re connected to the business’s WiFi hotspot, you’ll see a pop-up screen prompting you to take one or more actions. For example, you may need to check in to the location, “like” the business’s Facebook page, or accept their terms of service.
You can also use Facebook WiFi to find nearby hotspots, based on your current location:
- Open the Facebook App.
- Open the main menu by tapping the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines).
- Scroll down to “Find WiFi” and tap it. Note that on iOS, this is listed under Explore while on Android, you have to click Apps and then See All to locate it.
- Tap “Enable Find WiFi” and grant the app permission to use your location data (if prompted).
This help page has instructions for using Facebook WiFi on different devices.
Instabridge is a free app for iOS and Android that crowdsources WiFi passwords. The service was originally launched as a way for users to easily share their home network credentials with their friends and family, but today the app has lists of Wi-Fi networks in most major cities — from private networks added by people who want to share their bandwidth with the community to businesses wanting to make it easier for their customers to get online.
What makes Instabridge a great tool is its database of up-to-date log-on information. The number of unprotected wireless networks is dwindling as a result of rising security concerns, which means that you almost always need a password to get connected. Instabridge is a worldwide repository of those passwords.
When Instabridge users connect to a secured network, they have the option to share the network password with the rest of the community. From that point on, all other app users can simply connect to the network as usual — Instabridge will automatically enter the necessary credentials.
#6. WiFi Map
Like Instabridge, WiFi Map is a crowdsourced WiFi password app. It has a free version and a paid “pro” version, which comes with extra features like a wider map radius and an ad-free interface.
WiFi Map also offers an optional add-on product called “eSIM,” which is a data-only SIM card that gives you internet access when you’re out of WiFi range.
You do not need to purchase an eSIM plan, or upgrade to the pro version, to use the app’s main features.
#7. National Chain Stores
Many national stores and restaurants offer free WiFi. There are too many chains that offer free internet access to list them all here, but some of the most popular include McDonald’s, Starbucks and Panera Bread.
Note that while Starbucks used to give WiFi access to paying customers only, the chain changed its policy and now welcomes non-paying customers into its cafes.
#8. Public Libraries
Public libraries generally offer one or more ways to get on the internet for free, including both WiFi access and computers with wired internet connections. In most cases, you do not have to be a library member to use these services, though specific policies vary.
Here’s a tool that will help you find your local library.
#9. Xfinity Hotspots
This is an option only for Comcast Xfinity customers, but it’s a good one. There are millions of Xfinity hotspots all over the country, and many people don’t realize that access to these hotspots comes bundled with your home internet or TV package.
Xfinity used to offer 1 hour of free WiFi access every 30 days, but this program was ended in 2020.
#10. Municipal Wireless Networks
Some cities and towns offer residents a municipal wireless network, which is essentially a free (or very cheap) public WiFi network that covers an entire area — like a downtown neighborhood. While there are only a handful of these networks in operation today, the number of them is growing quickly. So if you’re looking for a free internet option, it makes sense to check if your city or town offers one.
Bonus: Use Your Smartphone as a Hotspot
Another option is to sign up for an unlimited data plan with a mobile phone and then use your device’s hotspot at home.
The downside to this option is that it can be fairly slow, which means it may not be good for much more than checking your email and browsing the web. However, this is not always the case; if your signal is good enough to watch movies or play games on your phone, the same should be true for your computer.
Before signing up, make sure to check with your phone carrier to see if your mobile data plan truly is unlimited (and includes hotspot connectivity). Some unlimited mobile data plans have restrictions — such as slower data speeds after a certain amount of usage — so you have to do your homework to ensure you’re getting what you need.
Also, some of these types of plans include a “fair use” policy that prohibits connecting your device to a computer to gain full internet access.
FAQs About Getting Free Internet
Beginning in 2022, the federal government offers up to $30 per month off of high speed internet access to eligible households. This discount can be paired with special pricing offered by certain service providers, resulting in free internet. You can learn more about this program here.
The only free way to get unlimited internet is by qualifying for the Affordable Connectivity Program. However, qualifying for the program does not guarantee you unlimited internet access; each plan is set by the internet service provider in accordance with the program’s rules, so make sure to read the details before signing up.
Using free wireless networks (whether they’re open or password protected) increases your risk of data theft. Anything you transmit over such a network — including personal information like credit card numbers, photographs or other potentially sensitive materials — can theoretically be intercepted by hackers.
That’s why it’s important to use only encrypted websites (those that start with https:// instead of http://). This makes it much harder for people to capture your personal information.
Additionally, you may want to consider a service like Privacy.com, which allows you to create virtual credit cards that can be assigned spending limits and/or locked to a specific merchant. That way, if a hacker does manage to snatch your data, they won’t be able to do much damage.
The term “VPN” stands for “virtual private network,” and describes a technology that helps you mask your identity when browsing the internet. Using a VPN app is a good idea if you regularly access the internet via public WiFi networks, as it offers a layer of protection against hackers. However, the VPN app itself does not provide internet access.
Lifeline is a federally-funded program that lowers the cost of phone or internet service for low-income households. If you qualify, you may be able to reduce your bill by up to $9.25 per month. Some states provide a greater amount of benefits, including free access for senior citizens. You can learn more about the program and its eligibility requirements here.
Free Internet Service: Final Thoughts
These options may not always provide high-speed access, and usually the amount of free data you can utilize every month is limited. But if you aren’t someone who works from home and who needs a super-reliable broadband connection, they can provide a fairly quick and easy way to trim your internet bill and cut back on your monthly expenses.