Now that so many of us have smartphones with data plans, you find yourself paying for your cell phone data and home internet. The average home internet bill is $50 a month and climbing as internet service providers across the country continue to increase their bandwidth speeds as households stream cable tv and store everything “in the cloud.”
However, even with the increase in internet rates, there are ways to still get free internet.
Two Secrets You Must Know About Free Internet
Your free internet probably won’t be fast enough to watch Netflix on multiple devices at the same time, but you’ll still be able to surf the web, answer emails, and explore online side hustles.
In addition, most free internet options have monthly usage caps; similar to your monthly smartphone data plan.
If you’re okay with potentially slower data speeds and monthly usage caps, getting free internet is an excellent way to save $50 every month, which is always fun to do.
Where to Get Free Internet
Because of wifi hotspots, it’s easier than ever to get free internet. The only catch is you need to go to a public place to enjoy the free wifi. This might be ok if you only need to use the internet a few hours a week or you live in a major metro area and can walk down the street to a cafe.
But, it’s also possible to get free internet at home too.
This section offers nine ways to get free internet every month. Because there isn’t a true “free lunch,” there might be a one-time equipment purchase required.
FreedomPop offers free internet and cell phone service, so you might be able to save some moolah on your monthly phone bill too if there’s coverage in your area.
For free internet, FreedomPop is probably the best option because of its versatility. It’s just like using the mobile hotspot on your phone without draining your phone’s battery life, because you’re using a separate device that can be connected up to ten more devices all at once!
Each month, you will receive 500MB of 4G non-LTE data with a mobile wifi hotspot using their Basic 500 plan. This may be a good option if you only need to use the internet for checking your email and very limited internet surfing.
To give you an idea of exactly how much data 500 MB is, here’s the estimated amount of activity you can do:
- Browse 900 web pages
- 150,000 basic emails
- 1,000 emails with attachments
- Stream 100 songs
- Stream one hour of video
If you exclusively do one of these activities, such as streaming video, you can watch one hour of funny cat videos each month before FreedomPop starts charging you for additional data.
You can determine if a 500 MB plan is sufficient by gauging how much data you use each month with your smartphone app.
There is one initial startup cost with FreedomPop as you will need to buy a mobile hotspot or USB stick that can cost between $15 and $30. Any electronic device with internet capability can connect to the hotspot. Since the hotspot is portable, you can take the device when you travel or run errands and they don’t have free wifi where you’re at.
Bonus Tip: Get cashback on your wifi hotspot purchase with Ebates and also get a free $10.
Public WiFi Hotspots
Many restaurants, stores, and public places offer free wifi. While many businesses offer free wifi in anticipation that you’ll make a purchase, no purchase is necessary to use their internet. But, the cashier might begin badgering you to either make a purchase or leave to open up the table for another patron.
When looking for free wifi hotspots, consider these places first:
- Panera Bread
- Shopping malls
- Public parks in major cities
- Libraries and community centers
Find Your Closest WiFi Hotspot With Wi-Fi-FreeSpot
Wi-Fi-FreeSpot is a running database of free wifi hotspots across the world. They list the obvious places like Starbucks or your local mall and also the less obvious businesses too. In my own small town of 8,000 residents, Wi-Fi-FreeSpot lists two additional places I never knew offered free wifi.
While you might be expected to make a purchase to enjoy the free wifi when it’s at a restaurant or coffee shop, the price can still be cheaper than your regular monthly bill. And if you like to socialize and meet new friends, going to a public place can be a fun way to interact with others to build a human connection while you surf the web.
Or, you can always type “wifi hotspots near me” into Google too.
Before the days of unlimited home internet, we used to receive CDs with free internet minutes in the mail. While Juno no longer sends CDs in the mail, they still offer 10 hours of free dial-up internet access each month. That’s a far cry from the one hour of free internet we used to get from them 20 years ago.
If you only need home internet for basic correspondence and browsing, it’s worth considering Juno. Keep in mind, you’ll need an active home phone number to dial Juno’s server with.
NetZero also offers 10 hours of free dial-up internet access. The one downside is that NetZero is only compatible with PC and mobile devices. Mac owners will need to consider using Juno or another internet provider instead of NetZero.
To get 20 hours of free internet, you can signup with both Juno and NetZero and switch to the other when your monthly allowance is used up.
Like Juno, you need an active home phone number so your internet modem can dial the NetZero server to access the internet.
200MB Free Mobile Broadband
In addition to the 10 hours of free dial-up access, it’s also possible to get 200MB of free mobile broadband access a month.
But, there are two conditions:
- The free plan is only valid for 12 months and cannot be renewed
- You must buy a NetZero hotspot device ($79.95) or bring your own device
To continue using the NetZero mobile broadband access after your free 12 months end, you’ll have to upgrade to paid plan that costs that start at $17.95 plus a $3.95 monthly access fee.
This free plan can be a good option if you’re going through a rough patch, but you’ll be better off with the FreedomPop hotspot plan as you get double the data and it’s always free.
All Free ISP
Another easy way to find free internet providers near you is with the All Free ISP free internet search engine. You only need to enter your state of residence or area code to look for free and cheap internet plans in your city. The two most prevalent choices will be Juno and NetZero, but you might see another option as well.
Your Local Library
Most public libraries offer free internet from either their desktop computers or wifi network. You might have to apply for a library card to log into the network, but you can also borrow great books to read in your spare time too.
I periodically go to my own public library to use their free wifi hotspot. It’s quicker than my home internet which is a definite thumbs up when I need a change of scenery to work distraction-free. Each session is only one hour, but since I bring my own device I can continually renew the session and have worked in the library all day sometimes because of internet outages at home.
Ask Your Neighbor or Landlord
If your neighbor or landlord has internet access, they might be willing to share their internet with you. When you’re too far away from their router to get a reliable signal, you’ll need to invest in a wifi extender–they cost less than $70 on Amazon–to plug into a wall outlet between their router and where you will sit to normally access internet.
After linking the extender to their internet, it will begin repeating the signal and will be strong enough to surf the web and stream videos.
Before buying an extender you will want to review your local laws and the internet service provider terms and conditions to make sure you can legally use a wifi extender. This option might make more sense if you’re renting a part of the landlord’s house or you live in an on-property guest house and cannot get your own separate internet line installed.
Your Current Internet Provider
While many households are cutting the cord by ditching cable tv and landline phone service to save money each month, bundling your internet, phone, and cable can occasionally be cheaper.
Ask your current internet provider if they offer internet bundles. You might have to downgrade your internet speed, but they might be willing to waive your internet fee if you subscribe to other services.
If you pursue this option, be wary of introductory rate offers that expire after several months and the provider begins charging you for internet again. It is possible to avoid these marketing gimmicks with Trim Financial Manager, a free program that continually monitors your internet provider’s promotional offers to make sure you never overpay for internet and phone access.
If you live in select California communities, you might be eligible for free internet access with the School2Home initiative. Some families won’t qualify for free internet but can get discounted internet for only $10 a month through national internet providers including AT&T and Frontier.
Upgrade to an Unlimited Data Plan
Unlimited cell phone data is back with many cellular networks. By upgrading to an unlimited plan that allows mobile hotspot capability, you can create your own free wifi hotspot. But, your speed and data usage can still be restricted when you’re in hotspot mode.
Cell phone plans regularly change, but here are the current policies for the largest networks:
- AT&T: 10GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot
- Sprint: 10GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot; cellular data throttled after 23GB
- T-Mobile: Unlimited 3G mobile hotspot; cellular data throttled after 50GB
- Verizon: 15GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot; cellular data throttled after 22GB
Some carriers also include free subscriptions to premium streaming networks like HBO and Netflix when you have an unlimited plan. As long as you’re happy watching this programming on your phone, upgrading to an unlimited data plan can save you money in more ways than one.
Having used this option to get free internet in the past to save a few bucks, I will tell you that using your phone as a mobile hotspot on a regular basis degrades the battery life and you will need to replace your phone sooner because the battery won’t hold a charge for more than a few hours.
Bonus Tip: Instead of putting your old phone in a desk drawer until the world ends, sell your phone for cash while it still has some material value remaining. I don’t know about you, but money is more valuable than a phone I never plan on using again.
Low Cost Internet
When 10 hours of free dial-up or 500 MB isn’t enough each month, you might also qualify for a discounted internet plan. These plans usually offer higher speeds and unlimited service, and they’re still affordable enough that these options are cheaper than buying a double shot espresso each time you go to Starbucks to use their free wifi.
The mission of EveryoneOn is to provide home internet access to the 75 million Americans that currently don’t have internet at home. This site is supported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Connect2Compete initiative that partners with national internet service providers to provide fast, reliable home internet for $9.95 a month.
While Connect2Compete isn’t free, you can get the same internet service for a fraction of the cost. To qualify for these discounted internet plans, you must meet the three following requirements:
- Have at least one child eligible or enrolled in the National School Lunch Program
- Not subscribed to home internet in the last 90 days
- No outstanding bills or unreturned equipment
Access from AT&T is one of the cheapest home internet plans for low-income families. Plans start at $5 per month and you can get speeds up to 3 megabits per second which is enough to do some basic video streaming on one device at a time.
Besides the unlimited home wifi internet service, you also get complimentary access to the AT&T wifi hotspot network that lets you access paid wifi hotspots for free.
To qualify, at least one person in your family must be eligible for federal SNAP benefits and live in the 21 state area where AT&T offers wireline internet service.
If you’re privileged to be served by Comcast, you can get 15 Mbps connection speeds at home with Internet Essentials for $9.95 a month; you might not be able to stream multiple videos at once but it’s plenty fast for ordinary internet activity. Internet Essentials comes with free wi-fi router access so you can connect multiple devices at once.
When you need to access your internet on the go, Internet Essentials give you 40 one-hour Comcast Xfinity wifi hotspot passes each month.
PCs for People
PCs for People offers unlimited Sprint 4G LTE mobile broadband for $10 month with their Bridging the Gap plan. As a national carrier, there’s a good chance you live inside Sprint’s 4G LTE coverage area.
Because the mobile coverage is unlimited, you can take your hotspot everywhere you go and downsize your smartphone data plan to offset the $10 monthly subscription fee. With this service, you might spend less than before because you get unlimited internet for $10 a month. And, multiple devices can connect at once.
Frontier Lifeline Program
Frontier offers dial-up internet for $9.25 a month. You can either have landline phone service or standalone internet service to qualify for this discount internet program. Eligibility requirements will vary by state, but you must qualify for the Federal Lifeline program as a general rule of thumb.
CenturyLink Internet Basics
CenturyLink Internet Basics gives you internet speeds up to 1.5 Mbps for $9.95 each month. You must meet all of the four requirements to qualify for Internet Basics service:
- Reside in CenturyLink service area
- Not subscribed to CenturyLink internet service
- Do not have an unpaid CenturyLink bill or unreturned equipment
- Follow Lifeline or TAP phone service guidelines
It’s also possible to get discount home phone access with CenturyLink too if you still need a home phone for your family.
By itself, Karma isn’t a free wifi service because you have to pay a monthly fee, but you get 100mb free each time you share your hotspot with other Karma members. This option probably works best if you have other friends and family members using a portable wifi hotspot too.
Karma operates on the Sprint LTE network and your first 5GB of data of free before you begin paying for a monthly plan. You will need to buy a Karma Go wifi hotspot for $199 and subscribe to a monthly plan. The cheapest plan costs $3 a month plus $10 for each gig of data you use, so you can pay as little as $13 every month for 1 GB of mobile internet.
Safely Using Free WiFi
Free public wifi used to be a novelty a few years ago that only a few restaurants, airports, and hotels offered. Now, it’s becoming virtually commonplace. While free internet is convenient, you need to be careful what you do on free wifi networks to protect your sensitive personal information.
While most people use free wifi for honest purposes, identity thieves with some advanced computer skills can potentially hack into your computer, phone, and tablet and steal your personal information without your knowledge.
If you don’t have internet at home, you might have no choice but to use free wifi to access your bank information, file your taxes, and make an Amazon purchase where you need to enter your credit or debit card information to pay for the goods. Using your friend’s home wifi network or your work internet might not be an option at the moment, so public wifi is your only choice.
With millions of free wifi hotspots worldwide, the odds of having your personal information stolen is relatively low but it only takes once and it can happen when you least expect it.
That’s why it’s so important to take the following precautions:
Verify the WiFi Server Name With the Cashier
If there are multiple wifi networks available, verify the correct hotspot name with the cashier. Computer hackers might name their personal hotspot to closely resemble the legitimate wifi hotspot hoping an unassuming customer will click on it.
For example, the correct hotspot network to join is “Panera” but you might also see an option for “Panera1.” Some businesses offer multiple networks so a single network doesn’t get overloaded and so Panera1 could very well be a legit network. Regardless, it’s always better to ask and be safe than assume and get scammed.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Whether you connect to the internet with a phone, computer, or tablet, you really should always connect to a free network with a virtual private network service like NordVPN. Using a VPN network encrypts your internet activity and makes it extremely difficult for scammers to steal your personal information.
If you use free wifi hotspots on a regular basis, a VPN is an absolute must to safely use public wifi for less than $3 per month.
Only Visit Secure Websites
Most websites are transitioning to using “https://” instead of “https://” for additional security, but not every site has yet. With Google Chrome, you can tell if the site your visiting uses https encryption or not because you’ll see a green padlock and the word “Secure” beside it.
If you don’t see that icon, be careful where you click on the site as it can be a phishing scam. Browsers also block certain sites they know are prone to phishing scams as well and you have to click a second box to visit these select unsecured sites.
Disable Your File Sharing Functions
Many devices automatically enable sharing functions that instantly transfer documents to the cloud or your friend’s device. This can be a backdoor way to access your personal data if you accidentally click a button to enable sharing with a stranger.
Turn Off WiFi When Not In Use
Finally, turn off your wifi router when you’re not using the internet. Not only will you save battery power, but a hacker can’t get into your computer if it’s not connected to the internet.
Free internet comes in three different forms: home dial-up, mobile hotspots, and free public wifi. A combination of these three mediums can make it possible to never pay for internet again, but you might have to pay for an upgraded plan if you need to use more data, require faster connection speeds or you want your own private network to protect your personal information.
How do you access the internet for free and how would you rate your current service?