Finding free internet access is easier than you think — even inside of your own home.
Of course, it may not always come with unlimited data or lighting-fast download speeds. But if you’re willing to live with service that’s a little bit less than perfect, there are a number of legitimate ways to get online without spending a dime.
Plus, there are free apps that can help you find hotspots, as well as non-profit organizations that have partnered with service providers to offer free or heavily discounted internet to low-income households.
We’ll run down the pros and cons of each of those options in this guide.
Free Internet at Home
It’s easier than you might think to get free internet service in your own home. Here are some of the best ways to get logged on without paying a steep monthly fee.
When you’re looking for ways to save money, having free internet is a quick win that will save you cash instantly — sometimes as much as $100 per month, depending on the internet prices in your area.
FreedomPop — a cellular and wireless internet service provider — offers data, voice, and text plans that start at zero cost. You will have to purchase an inexpensive hotspot, which you can then use to connect all your devices (laptops, desktop computers, tablets and smartphones) to the internet.
If you sign up, you’ll receive the hotspot in the mail within a few days. Then, just plug the USB device into your equipment and you’ll have an instant internet connection.
You will have limited data, however, as the free monthly plan is limited to 200 phone minutes, 500 text messages, and 500 megabytes of data.
If that amount of data isn’t high enough for your needs, there are other affordable plans available. For example, you can opt for the 2GB plan for $9.99 a month when you sign up for 12 months.
FreedomPop’s plans go all the way up to 10GB, which you can get for $19.99 a month with a one-year commitment. That’s not free, but it’s still a good deal.
The speed may not be as great as you’ll find with higher-cost wireless internet service, but FreedomPop has the best speed among the free at-home internet options.
And here’s a bonus saving tip for you. When I was last on the FreedomPop website checking out plans, Rakuten had a 7% cash-back offer for purchases on that site.
Rakuten regularly changes its cash-back offers, so the reward may not always be that high. But if you’re planning on signing up with FreedomPop, consider signing up with Rakuten too.
Related: Rakuten Review: Is It Legit?
With Juno, you can get up to 10 hours of free dial-up internet per month for no cost. You will, of course, need an actual landline phone connection in order to access the service. And while dial-up does offer a generally-reliable connection, you may be surprised at just how slow the speed is — especially if you’re young enough to have never used dial-up before!
If you need something faster and don’t mind paying for low-cost internet, Juno does offer other packages. They have an accelerated dial-up internet service that gives you higher speeds. Those plans start at $29.95 per month.
One thing to note about the accelerated plan is that it will only speed up certain sites. Secured and/or encrypted pages — in other words, any website beginning with https:// — won’t be accelerated.
That’s a big chunk of the web these days, so depending on your circumstances you might want to sign up for the free version first. If you find the speed is lacking, you could upgrade to the faster plan.
The sign-up process is quick, and if you don’t like the service you can cancel it (as you’re not locked into a contract).
This was one of the first companies to offer free internet plans, having done so since the late 1990s. Like Juno, the free internet option with NetZero is limited to 10 hours per month. And it’s also a dial-up service, so you’ll still need a landline phone connection.
If the free plan doesn’t carry enough data for you, there are other data plans available (ranging from low-cost to pretty expensive). The basic plan gives you 1GB for $17.95 per month. The highest-cost plan is the Platinum Plus, which offers 8GB for $79.95. Those prices are a little misleading, however, because NetZero adds a $3.95 monthly access fee to every plan (except the free one).
With any carrier or plan you select, you’ll want to make sure to read all the fine print. That will help you avoid any surprises or hidden fees.
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.
Instabridge is a free app for iOS and Android devices 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 such 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.
#2. WiFi Map
WiFi Map is an app that helps you discover free Wi-Fi hotspots near your current location. It lists more than 100 million free wireless network access points, so you’ll always have plenty of options.
The free version of this app only covers a 2.5-mile radius from wherever you are. If you’re on foot, you won’t want to walk farther than that anyway. If you’re driving, you’ll be able to quickly get to the nearest hotspot and start surfing.
This is a great app to have locally. But it really shines for those who travel frequently. It will help you stay connected for free when you’re on the go, whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure.
And if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll really come to appreciate this app. In many places around the world, WiFi isn’t always free and cellular internet service can be slow or completely absent.
#3. National Chain Stores
Many national stores and restaurants offer free WiFi, so if you decide to ditch paying for internet service you can save money fast by visiting these well-known places. 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.
I’ve used the free WiFi at quite a few national chains while on vacation. Also, since I work from home, it’s a great way to switch up my environment.
Starbucks recently changed its policy, and now welcomes non-paying customers into its cafes. But if you go to a business for the free WiFi and feel obligated to buy something, you might burn through money quickly. A $4 latte every time you visit Starbucks adds up pretty quickly, so you might be better off just paying for home internet.
#4. Public Libraries
Public libraries are always a great deal that people forget about. You can get free books, movies, and audio recordings, on top of saving money by using their free Wi-Fi network.
The best part of using a library for your Wi-Fi is that you don’t need to feel compelled to buy anything. And most cities, whether big or small, have libraries that provide free internet access. They’ll usually have desktop computers you can use for free, too, if you don’t have a laptop of your own.
A bonus feature of going to the library for this is that they have staff waiting and ready to help you. While they may not all be computer experts, the clerks and librarians usually know enough to troubleshoot any minor issues you encounter.
If you’re using the public access desktop computers there, make sure to log out of every account you open. That’s crucial for your privacy and security when you’re sharing a public computer. And you should strongly consider using two-factor authentication to increase your account security.
#5. Xfinity Hotspots
This is an option only for Comcast Xfinity customers — but it’s a good one. There are tons of Xfinity hotspots all over the country, and access comes bundled with your home internet or TV package.
If you’re not an Xfinity internet customer, you don’t necessarily have to sign up for their monthly plan to log on. You can get an Xfinity WiFi On Demand pass when you’re at a hotspot. You’ll get a free hour before having to pick a daily, weekly or monthly pass that works for you.
Low-Cost and Low-Income Internet Service Providers
If you don’t mind forking over a little money for low-cost internet access, but you never want to pay full price for anything, there are some good low-cost options. Many of these programs are only available to those with limited incomes and/or those who receive public assistance, so they may or may not work for you.
That said, some of these programs count things like Pell grants and VA benefits as qualifying circumstances, so you should review the full criteria before assuming you’re not eligible.
#1. Xfinity Internet Essentials
You can qualify for Xfinity’s discounted broadband if you or anyone in your household is currently eligible for certain public assistance programs including SNAP, WIC, Medicaid and SSI. The program provides 15 Mbps access (including in-home Wi-Fi) for about $10 per month, with no credit checks, no contracts, and no installation fees.
15 Mbps isn’t lighting-fast, but it’s certainly fast enough for most non-business uses. You can see the full list of eligibility criteria here.
#2. Spectrum Internet Assist
Internet Assist offers speeds of up to 30 Mbps, but it’s more expensive than Xfinity’s program and comes with more restrictive eligibility criteria. The base package is $14.99 per month, and you’ll need to pay an extra $5 per month for in-home Wi-Fi.
To qualify, someone in your household must meet one of the following criteria:
- Be eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
- Live in an area covered by the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP, which is a program that automatically provides free school meals for children in high-poverty areas.
- Be receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Note that Spectrum only accepts applications from people receiving SSI proper (e.g., people who are 65-years-old and older) and not SSDI (i.e., disability).
As with Xfinity and most of the other options on this list, there are no deposits, installation fees or credit checks.
#3. Cox Connect2Compete
Cox offers high-speed internet clocking in at up to 25 Mbps for $9.95 per month. Unlike Xfinity and Spectrum, you must be enrolled in a qualifying public assistance program and have at least one K-12 student living in your household.
Cox’s list of qualifying programs is limited to:
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
- State or federal public housing
Additionally, you must have gone at least three months without being a Cox customer, and you must have no outstanding debt or overdue equipment rentals from the company.
#4. AT&T Access
AT&T’s low-cost internet program is only open to households where at least one person receives SNAP benefits (e.g., food stamps). If you qualify, you can get 3 Mbps broadband for $5 per month or 5/10 Mbps for $10 per month, depending on the speeds available where you live.
In-home Wi-Fi is included, and you’ll also get the perk of being allowed to connect via any of the company’s 30,000+ wireless hotspots.
#5. EveryoneOn.org (Connect2Compete)
This is a national non-profit organization that tries to give everyone the social and economic advantage of having an internet connection.
In today’s world, not having an internet connection can cripple a person’s social and employment opportunities.
This organization works with the Federal Communications Commission and has partnered with local service providers to offer low-cost internet. Since 2012, they’ve helped over 600,000 people get connected.
It helps people find low-cost access by entering their zip code. You’ll also fill out a checklist of questions that may qualify you for a local discount. From there, you’ll be given a list of the best offers in your area.
ISP-In-Area is a database that helps you find free or cheap internet access in your area. The database has a list of free ISP local dial-up access numbers.
To find your best option, select your state or enter an area code. But not every city will have options, so if you live in a smaller area look at the options in one of the larger places nearby.
The database is a good place to start. But many of the options include NetZero and Juno, so if it appears your city isn’t listed, it may not hurt to check with the providers directly instead of relying on the database.
Related: 100 Tips for Saving Money Fast
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 bad thing about this option is that it will be fairly slow, which means it won’t be good for much more than checking your email and browsing the web. If you want to use your internet connection for watching full-screen movies or playing online games, the bandwidth will probably be insufficient.
Before signing up, make sure to check with your phone carrier to see if your plan truly is unlimited (and includes hotspot connectivity). Some unlimited data plans have restrictions, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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. You can learn more about the program and its eligibility requirements here.
No. There is currently no federal program that provides free internet access, regardless of income level. However, many ISPs offer substantial discounts if you meet certain income thresholds, such as the Xfinity Internet Essentials program discussed in this article.
Using free wireless networks (whether they’re open or password protected) does increase your risk of data theft. Understand that anything you transmit over such a network — including credit card numbers, personal photographs, or other potentially sensitive information — 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://). 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.
And of course, you should always use a legitimate anti-virus/anti-malware program (yes, even if you’re using a MacBook). Avast is a well-regarded free option, while MalwareBytes is a great paid product.
The term “VPN” stands for “virtual private network,” and describes a technology that helps you mask your identity when browsing the internet — it has nothing to do with your internet access itself.
Free Internet – Summary
Most readers already know that places like coffee shops and the local library offer some type of free internet. But as this article shows, there are also a number of free internet service providers available, as well as some great discounted programs for those with limited incomes.
These options may not always provide high-speed access, and usually the amount of free data you can utilize every month will be limited. But if you aren’t someone who works from home and who thus 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.