Some days it seems like the stresses just keep piling up. Getting ahead and saving for the future may feel like ideas from the past, and that breaking even is all we can hope for. With a digital economy settling in as our norm, internet access can seem like a major hurdle to leveling the playing field. But relief from the cost of the internet may be available for you and your family. We have reviewed the internet subsidies available to US residents and have compiled a summary so you can find out if any of these options will be a good fit for you and your family.
Digital inequality is the subject of study among government bodies and organizations worldwide. The pandemic shined a light on how far-reaching the impact is. Households without internet access struggle to find suitable work and cannot apply for a remote job or position from home if the internet is required for their job description. Roughly one-third of lower-income families reported difficulties paying for their broadband during the pandemic.
Limited access to the internet has deeper issues, which also came to light during the pandemic. Households without access to the internet struggled to get accurate health information, and many were unable to simply transfer their jobs to a home office or to change careers to one that was internet and home-based.
Several countries have adopted laws that require the state to ensure that the internet is broadly available, including Finland, Estonia, and India, acknowledging that it is an essential part of modern life.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
Originally titled the Emergency Broadband Benefit — this program was put into law in November 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Act. Its purpose is to ensure households can afford the internet access needed for work, school, healthcare, and more.
Qualifying households can receive a discount of up to $30/mo toward broadband service and up to $75/mo for those on qualifying Tribal lands. There is also an additional one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a broadband-capable device like a laptop or tablet.
To be eligible, your household income must be at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or one of your household members has received a Federal Pell Grant in the recent year or participates in one of these programs:
- The National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) formerly known as Food Stamps
- SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits
- or Lifeline
Citizens who reside on Qualifying Tribal Lands who participate in one of the following programs may also be eligible:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribal TANF
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Tribal Head Start (income-based)
Many providers are participating in the program, depending on the state you reside.
Lifeline Internet Subsidy
The federal program Lifeline Internet Subsidy lowers the monthly cost of broadband for eligible households. This discount can be applied to your internet, phone, or bundled services. Your eligibility is based on your income or whether or not you use other programs.
Eligible households will have an income of 135% or less than the federal poverty guidelines. The guideline varies by household size and state. If your household consists of one person who resides in one of the 48 states, you would need to have an income of $18,347 or lower. The income guidelines for Alaska and Hawaii are slightly higher at $22,937 and $21,101, respectively. Citizens who reside on Tribal lands are also eligible under the same criteria.
You may qualify if you or someone in your household uses programs like SNAP or Medicaid. Proof of eligibility will be required when you apply for Lifeline.
Not all service providers participate in the program. Search through the online tool to find out which providers in your area are participating.
Internet providers discounts 101
Throughout the US, several internet providers offer discount services to eligible individuals and households. The eligibility requirements are based on income and involvement in other federally funded programs. We discussed most of those programs above but let’s discuss the internet providers offering discounts. Some of them even provide low-cost equipment as part of the service. Keep that in mind when looking for your discount service provider.
Internet providers’ discount plans
Cox Communications offers qualifying candidates low-cost or free internet services. Their $30/mo ConnectAssist plan is suitable for up to 5 devices looking to use the internet for things like email and social networking as well as moderate web surfing. This plan features a free wifi modem rental, up to 100 Mbps download speeds, easy self-installation at no charge, and an unlimited data plan for up to 12 months. At $9.95/mo, the Connect2Compete plan is suited to students and includes the above features plus the Cox Digital Academy for educational resources. The StraightUp Internet Plan is $50/mo and is a pay-as-you-go plan for month-to-month services. All three programs are eligible for the ACP bill credit of up to $30/mo.
Astound Broadband offers its Internet First service, which provides fast, reliable internet at an affordable price to eligible households. The service offers up to 50 Mbps for $9.95/mo with up to 60 days for free for those who qualify.
Comcast (Xfinity) offers affordable home internet for eligible families. Their Internet Essentials program provides free equipment and no contract for $9.95/mo and can be used with the ACP to get the service for free.
AT&T offers their Access from AT&T service, which features up to 100Mbps, free installation, no annual contract, and no deposit for $30/mo. Participants in the ACP can apply their discount to the bill.
Optimum and Suddenlink offer their Altice Connects and Optimum Advantage Internet plans. The latter offers up to 50Mbps, free installation, free wifi router, and no data caps for $14.99/mo to eligible households.
Spectrum offers their Internet Assist plan, which features a free internet modem, high-speed internet at 30Mbps, no data cap, and no contract to households with a member who is on NSLP, CEP, or Supplemental Income.
Frontier is offering a budget-friendly option to residents of California. To qualify, you must be participating in SSI, Medical, or CalFresh. Their Fundamental Internet package includes free installation and 24/7 tech support for $19.99/mo.
Verizon is offering its 100% fiber-optic network through its Verizon Lifeline Discount Program. The free package includes up to 300Mbps and substantial discounts on their larger plans. You must qualify for the LifeLine internet subsidy program.
Wi-Fi hotspots and public access
Internet access is also becoming available outside of the home at places like libraries, restaurants, and coffee chains. Wi-Fi hotspots are areas where the public can jump into the internet. There are even apps that have a database of wi-fi hotspot locations so you can find a good spot wherever you go.
There are safety considerations when using public wi-fi. Avoid logging into any sites with personal information like government or banking. Consider installing a VPN (virtual private network) on your device. A VPN protects your data while you are on public networks.
Internet access for students
Students of all ages especially need internet access. Elementary students utilize online programs as part of their everyday curriculum because of pandemic-related distance classes and because internet literacy is an accepted part of their future career paths.
College and university students rely heavily on the internet for everything. Most enrollment is done online. Grants, loans, and bursary applications are made online, and even project and paper submissions are made through school-affiliated portals. The internet is also required for research papers and collaboration between students. Many post-secondary institutions offer computer labs and wi-fi throughout the campus, but their need for wi-fi doesn’t end when students leave school for the day.
Some internet providers offer family plans that allow family members to log in to their family’s account to take advantage of wi-fi hotspots specific to a provider. The T-Mobile Project 10 Million program offers 10 million eligible households free internet services. Parents can apply for their child and keep the service for five years. The service includes 100GB of internet per year for five years, a free hotspot with free shipping, and no fees, costs, or annual re-certifications.
Students enrolled in government programs like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), and Federal Pell Grant are eligible for internet discounts.
As the world continues to march headlong into the digital age, broadband becomes an essential service to our everyday lives. Government, banking, and health services are steadily moving to online platforms, and those without access to the internet lose access to more and more services. We hope this information guides you towards a cheaper, more accessible internet service provider for your household so you can get connected today.