Free internet access is all around us. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to find a free connection at home or when you’re out. Even if you don’t have a computer, your local public library likely has you covered.
Out and About: Public (and Business) Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi hotspots are commonplace in urban areas. But, even if you’re on a road trip, you’ll probably drive past many businesses that offer free Wi-Fi.
Some cities offer public Wi-FI networks, which may be available in parks and other public attractions. This is more common in bigger cities than smaller ones, however.
Many businesses offer free Wi-Fi hotspots. Coffee shops like Starbucks and other smaller independent cafes are famous for it, but it doesn’t stop there. Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and stores like Walmart and Target offer free Wi-Fi, too. Wi-Fi isn’t available at every single store, but is available at many of them.
These are just examples of big chains that offer free Wi-Fi. Many other chains offer free Wi-Fi, too. Free Wi-Fi is also common in many smaller businesses, including coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.
We call these Wi-Fi hotspots “free,” but you’re generally expected to buy something when you visit a business with free Wi-Fi. Still, if you need to grab a quick coffee or buy something at the store, you can get some free Wi-Fi while you do it.
There are some risks to using public Wi-Fi, but it’s much safer than it used to be.
If You Have Internet at Home: Your ISP’s Wi-Fi
If you pay for an internet connection at home, there’s a good chance your internet service provider operates a network of Wi-Fi hotspots you can connect to for free. These can give you pretty good coverage when you’re away from home. You just have to connect to the hotspot and log in with your ISP account.
For example, AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Optimum, and Spectrum are just a few of the ISPs that offer Wi-Fi hotspots. Comcast calls these “Xfinity WiFi” hotspots. Many internet service providers outside the USA offer similar networks, too. Check with your ISP to see what it offers.
Internet service providers generally turn people’s home routers into public WI-Fi hotspots, so you’ll find these are often widespread in the ISP’s coverage area. For example, if you have Comcast and it’s common in your town, you’ll probably see Xfinity WiFi hotspots all over the place. However, if you travel somewhere where Comcast doesn’t offer service, you may not see them at all.
Assuming you have a home internet connection and want internet access on the go, this is a great way to get free internet access when you’re away from home.
At Home: Get Free (or Very Cheap) Internet
Getting free internet access in your home is a little trickier. If you live in a dense urban area, you may be able to connect to an open public Wi-Fi network and use that as your main internet access. It probably won’t be as fast as a dedicated home internet connection, of course.
You could also try to share someone else’s Wi-Fi. For example, if you have a good relationship with your neighbor, maybe they’d let you onto their Wi-Fi. It’s possible.
You probably can’t get your own free internet connection. If you have a landline phone, it’s still possible to use a free dial-up ISP like NetZero, which will give you 10 hours a month of browsing for free. But it’s packed with advertisements, will be very slow (remember the internet in the 90s?), and requires that landline phone bill. This is far from a good option.
Many ISPs offer subsidized low-income plans. You’ll usually need to already qualify for a public assistance program to get this discounted pricing. For example, Comcast offers its Internet Essentials plan for $10 per month to those who qualify. It’s not free, but these plans offer the cheapest home internet you can pay for. Similar subsidized plans may be available in other countries.
While these plans are intended for low-income families and individuals, you may be able to reduce your monthly internet bill by downgrading your plan to a lower speed tier or negotiating with your ISP. You may be able to save money by buying your cable modem and avoiding those monthly rental fees, too.
Anywhere: What About Free Cellular Access?
Did you know that you can get free cellular internet anywhere in the USA? Some cellular providers offer basic plans with some free data every month. You can use it on a smartphone or even get a Wi-Fi hotspot. They’re betting that they can get money from you somehow after you’re a customer.
For example, FreedomPop offers 200 MB of data free every month. That’s not much at all—but it is free. You will have to buy a FreedomPop SIM card for your phone, tablet, or Wi-Fi hotspot to get started.
Look, let’s be honest: 200 MB isn’t much data at all, and a company like FreedomPop probably won’t have the best customer service. TIME Magazine wrote about its “shady” business practices back in 2013, and we’re not sure how much has changed. We haven’t tried it ourselves and can’t endorse it. But free is free, and it exists.
The FCC also offers a Lifeline assistance program that provides subsidized cellular service to low-income households. If you qualify, you may be able to get discounted or even free cellular data through the Lifeline program. For example, Virgin Mobile’s Assurance Wireless advertises a phone plan with free monthly data through Lifeline.
No Computer Necessary: Public Libraries
Public libraries are powerful, often overlooked resources. Your local public library probably offers free public Wi-Fi you can use for as long as you want along with a comfortable place to sit.
Libraries generally offer computers you can use, too. Depending on your library, there may be a time limit on computer usage so that everyone who wants to use a computer can do so.
Your local library probably offers a lot more, too. Blu-Rays, DVDs, CDs, and maybe even video games are common. Many libraries offer also free access to online courses, newspapers, video-streaming services, eBooks, and audiobooks.
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