The high cost of staying connected in today's technology-driven world has many people on the hunt for cheap internet providers. The dilemma, however, is that "cheap" is a relative term. There are more than a few ways to get on the web for next to nothing, or even literally nothing. The answer to whether this will be useful to you depends upon your online activities.
While there are plenty of options for lower cost internet access, they are not all created equal. Some are truly bare-bones and will end up being hugely frustrating even for watching something as typical as a YouTube video. Others cost a bit more but come with better speeds and data packages.
The good news is that with so many different service options and pricing tiers, you can easily customize your choice to your needs and budget. Below I've provided you with an overview of the types of internet access and what you can expect to pay, along with the needs each choice can meet.
The Cheapest Way to Get Internet: Dial-Up
Yes, dial-up is still around, and in fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 3% of Americans were still using dial-up internet as of 2013. There's no doubt this is the cheapest way to get internet, although it obviously comes with some constraints. Dial-up speed is 56Kbps (kilobits per second), while broadband - used by 70% of Americans - averages 200 times that at just over 11Mbps (megabits per second).
Dial-up won't cut it if you've got a high-tech household with several devices which need to stream media, but it does still have a few applications for those seeking cheap home internet service. You might be able to get away with this affordable service if:
- You only use your connection for email and light Googling
- You only have one or two computers and don't need to be online simultaneously
- It's the only type of internet service available where you live
Even in this era of high-tech everything, rural internet options are still somewhat limited. The lack of population density in these areas prevents cable companies from investing in the necessary infrastructure for faster internet service. So if dial-up is all there is available to you, you'll definitely want to know how to get the best deal on it.
Cheap Dial-up Options
1. NetZero: This option has experience on its side, having been in the dial-up game since 1998. Choose from free dial-up service with a 10-hour per month limit, or unlimited for $24.95/month.
2. AOL: Unlimited dial-up from the industry leader comes in packages ranging from $7/month to $26. AOL offers unique perks as you move up the tiers, including gems like Verizon discounts and complimentary LifeLock Identity Theft Protection.
3. Juno: Another one of the cheapest internet providers, Juno also offers a free option with 10 hours per month. Their other plan is $24.95 per month and comes with unlimited access.
Notable fact on "high speed" dial-up: You will see some cheap home internet plans referred to as "HiSpeed" or "Accelerated", along with claims of speeds 5x faster than traditional dial-up. It's important to keep in mind that this technology does not allow for faster music downloads or streaming. As PCMag explains, it's simply a data compression technique which allows normal web pages to load faster, particularly those which you've already visited in the past.
Cheap DSL Internet Service
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is one of the cheapest high-speed internet options available. Its speed and reliability rival that of cable internet and it's typically less expensive.
How DSL Works
DSL uses the regular phone line as its gateway just like dial-up does, however, you may still be left out in the cold if you live in an extremely rural area. This is because DSL requires a local office in order to transmit data to your home.
Access and Speed
Even though it doesn't have the virtually 100% geographical coverage of dial-up, availability is wide because most of the major cable companies are also DSL internet providers for customers within their service area. Speeds range from 769Kbps to 15Mbps, which Verizon Internet claims to provide with its enhanced high-speed DSL package. One thing to keep in mind is that the farther you live from the DSL office, the weaker your connection is and the slower your speeds will be.
DSL isn't the cheapest home internet option, but it's typically much more affordable than cable or fiber optic internet. Prices start at about $30/month for up to 6Mbps speed. The thing to remember about DSL is that it does require a home phone landline, so this is a good choice if you've already got phone service with your provider. You can usually get a discount for subscribing to the additional service, and your household can still do all of the things it normally does on the web, like stream music and videos and download or upload large files.
A notable fact about DSL: Unlike dial-up, you can talk on the phone while surfing the web. This is because there is extra "room" in the wiring along phone lines, allowing DSL to utilize the additional bandwidth to power your internet connection without interrupting your phone calls.
Cheap Cable Internet Service
Cable is one of the most popular options for internet access due to the fact that it's delivered through the same wiring as your cable television. The International Business Times reports that 83% of American households subscribe to pay television service, which means cable may be the cheapest high-speed internet option for the majority of people. Why? Because bundling allows you to get a better rate on all of your services.
You may very well be able to get cheap high speed internet from your cable company by calling and asking about their bottom tier offer.
For example, if you choose Time Warner cable Internet and you also want cable TV, you can get speeds up to 60Mbps for $30/month in addition to your cable bill. Bundling saves you $10 per month off of the retail price of $40/month when purchasing Internet separately. Find out more about cable and Internet bundles to examine your options for bringing down the costs of both services. Just be sure to read the terms because the cheapest internet plans typically come at a temporary introductory rate that expires after six months to a year.
Notable fact on cheap cable internet: Some of the best cable providers only list their most popular (and most profitable) deals on their website. You may very well be able to get cheap high-speed internet from your cable company by calling and asking about their bottom tier offer. The speeds are typically lower, but still plenty sufficient for what most households need.
Cheap Wireless Internet Providers
Today's busy, on-the-go lifestyles have spawned some other unique internet access options. One such service is Karma Go, which is a pocket-sized pod which gives you a connection no matter where you are. Granted, this route isn't the cheapest wireless internet out there, but with pay-as-you-go options, it beats getting roped into a contract. You also get to take your internet everywhere, which can save you money on data if you typically use your cell phone as a hot spot when working away from home or the office.
How It Works
- Buy the Karma Go unit for $149.
- Choose between buying one GB at a time for $15 each or monthly allotments of 5 to 50 GB for between $40 and $150.
There are other portable choices for getting online, however, they aren't exactly what I'd call cheap internet plans. There is a provider with free wireless access, FreedomPop, however, I found the website to be less than user-friendly and the "free" option only includes 500 MB of data. You must also, of course, purchase the hotspot device and speeds are rumored to be painfully slow.
One good possibility for mobile wireless internet is to check with your cellular provider, as many now offer devices which give you wireless access without having to tether your phone.
Cheap Internet Service for Low Income
In March of 2016, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) expanded their Lifeline program to include subsidization for broadband internet service. The program has been in place since 1985, providing discount phone service to low-income Americans in order to enhance their access to job opportunities and other essential life functions. The FCC has broadened the Lifeline program with the goal of making vital technology in today's global world affordable for low-income families.
The best part of this expansion is that the FCC is working with partner companies to provide cheap high-speed internet that is the same as any other customer would receive at the same level. It's not a watered down version with slower speeds or fewer features. Here are the essentials:
- Your service is provided by one of the big industry players, like AT&T Internet and Comcast Internet.
- Prices sit right around $10 per month, typically with no installation fee.
- You get speeds up to 10Mbps.
- Most partner companies provide in-home Wi-Fi.
- Depending upon your state, you must provide either proof of participation in a public benefits program, or proof of low income (either 135% or 150% of the poverty level, depending on where you are).
If you fall into the low-income category, this program is an ideal way to gain access to cheap home internet. Just remember that it is your responsibility to notify your provider if you no longer fall within the income guidelines for the program.
A notable fact about the Lifeline program: In addition to cheap home internet, some partner companies also offer you the option to buy a desktop computer for just $150.
Cheap Internet Service Recap
As I stated earlier, you can see that "cheap" depends on what you plan to do online. The cheapest internet service may not pack a punch to your wallet, but it won't do you much good if you need to stream a lot of media or deal with large files for work. On the other hand, there are ways to make high-speed internet cheaper if you're willing to do a little legwork to find the best deal. Also, don't forget to ask your provider for a rate cut - they'll often work with you rather than lose a customer.
There are so many options for affordable internet access these days, you shouldn't have much trouble finding a provider and a plan that suit your budget and your needs. To make things easier, we've provided you with a convenient zip code checker so you can quickly assess which of the best internet providers offer affordable service in your local area.