The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2016 declaring that internet access is a human right, but that resolution did not wave a magic wand giving all people access to affordable internet. The “digital lives of Americans with lower and higher incomes remain markedly different,” according to Pew Research.
Programs exist to help provide affordable internet, and they’re often relatively easy to access. In some cases, if you’re interested, you can simply complete an application with information about their household, such as the one for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
You may be able to apply using a program’s website or with the assistance of your internet provider, but there are a few ins and outs to know about obtaining low-income internet programs.
Read on to learn how to apply for low-income internet for your household.
How to apply for low-income internet programs
There are several ways to gain access to affordable home internet, including government-funded options and internet service provider programs.
Affordable Connectivity Program
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a monthly discount for internet service as well as a one-time discount on a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating internet companies. Your internet company must participate in the ACP and only qualifying low-income consumers are eligible for the program.
If you qualify, your household could receive a benefit of up to $30 to cover the cost of internet service from your internet provider that meets certain criteria, or up to $75 on Tribal lands. And the device benefit can be up to $100 for a computer, tablet, or laptop with a payment of more than $10 but less than $50. The ACP applies to just one household at a time, not individuals within that household.
Here are the steps you can take to access the benefits of the ACP:
Determine whether you qualify
You may qualify if any member in your household has a household income of 200% or less than the 2022 Federal Poverty Guidelines, or if they participate in certain government assistance programs such as:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Federal Pell Grant
- Head Start
- Lifeline program
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Determine whether your internet provider participates
There are a number of internet service providers (ISPs) that have agreed to provide a high-speed internet plan for people on the ACP for $30 per month — effectively enabling qualifying households to pay nothing for the service. These ISPs include:
- Allo Communications
- altaFiber (and Hawaiian Telcom)
- Altice (Optimum and Suddenlink)
- Cox Communications
- Jackson Energy Authority
- MediacomCable – Affordable Connectivity Program
- Spectrum (Charter Communications)*
- Verizon (Fios only)
- Vermont Telephone Company
- Vexus Fiber
- Wow! Internet, Cable and TV
If your ISP isn’t on this list, don’t fear. You can apply your ACP benefit to a different provider among the 1,300 that accept it.
Apply for the ACP
Before you spend time filling out an application, check with your ISP for information on how to apply because some providers prefer you to apply through their websites. Be prepared to provide personal information about your household, including a driver’s license number or other identifying information, whether you receive government assistance, and/or your household income.
The application involves providing identity verification and addresses along with proof of your qualification. It also requires you to agree to a set of statements you should read carefully as you will need to agree to do things such as tell your ISP if you don’t qualify for the ACP anymore.
Lifeline is separate from the ACP, but you can apply for it just the same if you qualify for the ACP and potentially receive benefits from both programs. It is the FCC’s program that provides subscribers a discount on qualifying monthly phone, internet, or voice-broadband services from participating providers, and it is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
Callout box: Lifeline offers up to a $9.25 monthly discount or $34.25 monthly on Tribal lands.
You’re eligible for Lifeline if your income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and — similarly to the ACP — if you participate in programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, and others.
Use the National Verifier application system to apply for Lifeline to verify your eligibility and recertify your subscription eligibility annually. The application process takes you from qualification to choosing a phone or internet provider to signing up. Once you select your state here, you’ll be taken to this form to start the process.
Internet service provider programs
Some ISPs offer their own programs. Here are details about some of the major programs from nationally recognized providers and how to apply to them.
Internet Essentials from Comcast
Internet Essentials from Comcast is an affordable, high-speed internet service for low-income households. The service costs $9.95 per month with no annual contract and free equipment, but if you’re enrolled in the ACP, that cost will be covered.
The program offers two versions: Internet Essentials + ACP which provides up to 50 Mbps free and Internet Essentials Plus + ACP which provides up to 100 Mbps free. Both options come with free equipment, no credit check, and no term contact.
The service also offers Xfinity Mobile for mobile devices to connect to Comcast’s 5G network. If you have both internet and mobile services and you qualify for ACP, the ACP benefit will apply to internet first, then mobile service.
Access from AT&T
Access is AT&T’s version of low-cost internet for eligible households. Similarly to Comcast, AT&T advertises the service is free with your ACP benefit. The service includes free installation and in-home Wi-Fi, no annual contract, and no deposit.
On this program, you’ll receive the maximum speed available at your address, which determines the cost. It costs $30 per month maximum, and that is if you have 100 Mbps available at your location. That plan includes unlimited data for your household.
AT&T requires you to be approved for ACP before contacting the Access program. To sign up for Access, call 833-351-1472 (English) or 844-400-7739 (Español). Have your National Verifier application ID on hand.
Spectrum Internet Assist
Spectrum Internet Assist is Spectrum’s low-income internet assistance program for qualified households that offers speeds of 30 Mbps, a free modem, no data caps, and no contracts. To be eligible for Spectrum Internet Assist, a member of your household must be a recipient of one of the following programs:
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
- Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (for applicants age 65 and older only)
Fill out your application for the Spectrum Internet Assist program here.
Cox affordable internet plans
Cox offers three tiers of affordable internet plans — the costs of which can be offset by your ACP benefit.
For individuals, it offers ConnectAssist, which provides speeds up to 100 Mbps download, free Wi-Fi modem rental, an unlimited data plan for 12 months, and no-charge installation. This plan costs $30 per month.
For $9.95 per month, families with children can access the Connect2Compete plan as long as they have one K-12 student in addition to the other qualifications. It provides the same service as ConnectAssist, and it doesn’t require any credit checks or deposits. Users will also get access to Cox Digital Academy for educational resources.
The StraightUp Internet option lets you prepay $50 per month for your internet plan one month at a time. It’s a pay-as-you-go model, and the fee includes a modem and taxes. There’s no credit check required, and you need a valid address in service areas.
Start the application process by entering your address to check availability here.
How can I get internet for less than $20?
By qualifying for the ACP, you can offset the cost of many low-cost internet services, reducing your monthly internet bill to well below $20. In some instances, your internet service will be free if you opt for a plan from a provider that costs $30 per month or less and combine that with your ACP benefits.
What is the fastest internet for low-income people?
Providers such as Comcast offer up to 100 Mbps download speeds with their low-income internet assistance offerings. However, your internet speeds — no matter the program you’re on — might depend on the availability of those speeds in your location. For example, AT&T’s low-income internet services depend on the speeds available at your address.
How do I get free internet?
To get free internet, choose a plan from a provider that costs $30 per month or less, and then apply for the ACP. If you qualify for the ACP and receive benefits, your internet costs will be entirely offset by your ACP benefit.
If you are on Tribal lands and are eligible for the ACP, you can opt for a plan that is up to $75 per month and still ultimately pay nothing for that service by using your ACP benefits.
If you’re unsure how to apply for low-income internet, follow the steps above and take advantage of the many programs available for internet assistance. In today’s day and age, no one should be without an internet connection because they are prohibited by cost. There are several avenues that you can take to arrive at low-cost — or even free — internet and mobile services from both government programs and offerings from private providers.
The good news is that even in inflationary times when prices are skyrocketing, internet access seems to not be affected. Broadband prices have actually decreased over the past five years, even as speeds and quality of service increased. Hopefully, both of these trends continue, and internet access becomes increasingly more affordable and high-performing.