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How to Get Free Internet

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No matter if you’re a student, a freelancer, a job hunter, or simply researching how to improve your finances, an internet connection is necessary. Free internet access is beneficial for people on a budget and for maintaining access to school work, medical care, home banking tools, and streaming services.

It can also be crucial for your moving journey. Your move-in date at your new place may be days before your preferred internet service provider can install your service or ship your equipment, so accessing free internet can keep you online.

The average consumer spends approximately $800 for internet services annually. This guide explores how to avoid those costs and get free internet instead. Learn how to find free internet service, where it’s available, and how to best keep your information safe while using it.

How to get free internet service

Because connectivity is such a necessity, finding legal ways to get free internet is becoming more of a priority. Here are a few methods for finding free internet service.

Use apps to find free WiFi hotspots: There are many smartphone apps that will show you where to find free WiFi hotspots. For example, WiFiMap and Avast WiFi Finder compile databases containing every free WiFi hotspot throughout the world. Wi-Fi Free Spot offers a tool to find free WiFi hotspots by state, including hotels, airports, restaurants, and even campgrounds.

Find free Wi-Fi hotspots from internet providers: You can connect to free WiFi hotspots offered by internet providers like Cox or Xfinity if you are a paying subscriber to their home internet services. Another option is to sign up for a service like FreedomPop, which offers a portable router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot. The service offers 500 MB of data for free each month ($0.02 cents per MB after that), which should be sufficient for simple internet browsing.

Use your mobile phone as a hotspot: Also known as tethering, you can connect your laptop to the internet by using your phone’s 4G or 5G data connection. The steps to take to set your phone up as a hotspot depends on the brand of your device. For most newer iPhones, for example, you can easily find this feature by navigating to Settings, tapping Personal Hotspot, and setting it to “on.”

Free internet for your home: Finding free internet services for your home is a little more challenging, though not impossible, especially if you don’t mind using a dial-up connection. If you’re a paying cable customer, some companies may offer deals if you bundle internet with another service. Call your provider and ask if there are any available deals or find a new provider.

Federal programs offering discounted internet: ConnectHomeUSA is a program launched by EveryoneOn.org, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the White House in 2015.

Where to get free public internet

Many businesses offer their guests free WiFi. Here’s a list of a few places you can find free public internet service.

National chains offering free internet services: In some communities, you don’t have to travel far to find free internet. For example, you can find it at the Apple Store, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Best Buy, Target, Whole Foods, and more. When visiting these locations, you’ll often see a link posted to the company’s free WiFi or, when you click on your WiFi icon on your phone, you’ll find a connection option in your list.

Free internet in bookstores, libraries, museums, and more: For those looking for quieter locations to find free internet, check out your local bookstore or larger chains like Barnes & Noble. You can also find free WiFi at your local library, at some public parks, in museums, and when you’re traveling by bus or train. You might have to ask for a password to access their WiFi connection, and, in places like hospitals, that password will change periodically.

Free and discounted internet options

Free internet for low-income families and households

  • NetZero and Juno: These internet service providers offer free dial-up internet service for 10 hours a month
  • Freedom Pop: This wireless internet and cell service provider offers talk, text, and data plans starting at $0.00.
  • Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB): This federal government program was created as a temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides a $50/mo. subsidy for internet to people in need.
  • Lifeline: This federal program lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet service.
  • Human-IT: This nonprofit offers low-cost internet programs and tech.
  • EveryoneOn: This nonprofit connects people with low-cost internet and computers.

Free internet for K–12 students

Free internet for college students

  • Xfinity internet: Xfinity offers varying discounts for college students living in their service areas.
  • Lifeline and the government’s EBB program above also have provisions for Pell Grant recipients and other college students.

Free internet for senior citizens

  • Participants in Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SNAP, Veterans benefits, and other federal and state assistance programs might be eligible for free or low-cost internet through the EBB or Lifeline.
  • Many of the programs listed above also offer senior discounts, as do many internet service providers in your area.

How to be safe when using free public internet

It’s important to consider that free public internet connections aren’t always going to be secure. Each time you connect to a network with other users, your personal information is at risk. Take the following precautions to ensure your information stays safe when using free public internet:

  • Use free VPN services: Programs like Hotspot Shield Free VPN and TunnelBear help protect your device by connecting to a virtual private network (VPN),  an extra layer of security when you’re connecting using a hotspot.
  • Avoid inputting sensitive information: When you’re on an insecure free connection, avoid accessing your banking or shopping apps. That way, you’re not inadvertently exposing yourself to credit card fraud or identity theft.
  • Avoid data sharing: Unless you’re using an encrypted connection, avoid sharing data when using hotspots or public WiFi. Disable file sharing when you’re on a public network to prevent strangers from sending you malware or trying to access your files.
  • Stick to using secure websites: Each time you see “https,” that means you’re visiting a secure website. Some sites, like email providers and Facebook, automatically convert URLs to a safe connection. If you’re a Chrome user, you can also install an extension that encrypts data.
  • Uncheck the option to connect automatically: If you’re in range of a free internet connection or hotspot that remembers your device, that could put you at risk. It’s a good idea to opt to have your device forget the network and reconnect manually each time you’re in range.
  • Use two-factor authentication on password protected sites: Visiting password-protected websites means you need an extra layer of protection. For these sites, add two-factor authentication to provide an extra layer of security when logging in.

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