We’ve done our best to make it simple for you to learn about the various cheap internet programs for low-income Americans, but we understand that it can be confusing because there are so many plans, and they have different eligibility rules, different geographic availability, and not all are fully implemented yet.
We’ve written this page to help you more easily find the right plan for you. Please read the entire page to get a handle on what programs are available.
Low-Income Internet vs Cheap Internet Service vs Free Internet
There are three main links in the navigation menu above that represent the broad categories of low-cost internet programs available.
Low-Income Internet: they are created specifically to provide high-speed internet access to people who are having financial difficulties. Some programs are government-sponsored, some are provided by industry, and others are smaller regional programs started by grass roots or non-profit organizations. All of the programs offer high-speed internet access for under $10 a month.
Non income-based, low-cost Internet Service: If you cannot qualify for a low-income internet program, you’re not out of luck yet. We’ve identified several companies that you can get connected through which are not as expensive as the typical cable or DSL internet companies.
Free Internet: Believe it or not, you can get free internet from a few providers. They are meant for light usage, but maybe that’s all you need. Some free plans are from the companies that provide Cheap, affordable Internet, having a low-end free internet plan, hoping to upgrade you someday.
We cannot tell you which program you qualify for, either by need or by location. The only way for you to know is to go through the program pages we described above and if you think the program is for you, go to the the programs website and enter your address to see if it’s available at your location.
National Low-Income programs available now
The two biggest programs are offered by cable industry giants Comcast and CenturyLink, under the names Internet Essentials and Internet Basics. These are national programs, but just as with the company’s regular internet packages, service is not available in every area of the country. You’ll need to follow our links to their sites to check availability in your area.
Internet Basics, by CenturyLink, is specifically designed for families that meet the criteria set forth for the Lifeline Assistance phone program (you’ve heard of free government cell phones). Our information page on the program has the exact eligibility requirements, but in a nutshell, you qualify if you are already on any government assistance (i.e., SNAP, Medicaid, Section 8 housing) or if your household income is at or below 135% to 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Internet Essentials offers broadband internet for $9.95 and a computer for $150.
Internet Essentials, by Comcast, also offers high-speed internet for $9.95, and a computer for $150. The difference here is that it is not for low-income households in general, but instead is specifically designated for families that have at least one child who receives free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Simple as that.
Connect2Compete is a partnership of non-profit organizations and private companies, which will offer high-speed internet for $9.95 – $14.95 a month, plus a computer with Microsoft Office for as low as $150. There are two ways you can qualify for this inexpensive internet access. 1) your household must (a) have at least one student enrolled in the Free School Lunch Program; (b) not be a current subscriber to broadband (or have subscribed in the last 90 days); and (c) not have an overdue bill or unreturned equipment to the participating service provider, or 2) reside in any of over 14,000 zip codes that have a median household income level of $35,000 or less.
The other programs under “Low-Income Internet” are either not as large a program as the others above, or are regional programs only available in small areas. They are worth checking in case they apply to you.
National Low-income Programs in Development
There are two very large programs that are in the process of rolling out nationally. They are not here yet, but are coming soon in a big way. The Connect2Compete program rolled out on March 21, 2013. Lifeline Internet, an expansion of the Lifeline Assistance phone program, is currently in a pilot program.
Lifeline Internet is going to be an expansion of the federal Lifeline Assistance program which provides free cell phones or discounted landline phones to low-income Americans. By already being on government assistance like SNAP and Medicaid, for instance, you will qualify. You can also qualify strictly on your income if it is below 135-150% of the Federal Poverty Level (depending upon state). Lifeline Internet is currently in a $30 million pilot program. Once they work out the details though the pilot, they will set the final rules and roll it out. We do not yet know if it will be free or if they will charge a minimal monthly fee. The FCC is really interested in this, and we think you could see availability by the end of the year. Keep checking back for updates.
New programs are rolling out all the time
Bridging the “Digital Divide” by helping low-income Americans obtain high-speed broadband internet is an important goal of the federal government, state government, cities, non-profits and private companies. There is a massive push to get everyone in America connected as inexpensively, and as quickly, as possible. You need to keep up to date on both the existing and upcoming programs. The #1 source of this information is CheapInternet.com, so be sure to bookmark the site and check back often. You can also keep updated on any important news by following us on Facebook or subscribing to our free email updates.
We’re here for you. And, please, tell your friends about us so that they to can get the broadband they need in today’s world.