Cheap and Free Internet for Students
Can students get free internet?
Are there student Wi-Fi deals during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Back in March 2020, many internet providers signed the Keep Americans Connected initiative and made it easier for students to access internet essentials. However, that initiative lasted only through June—and the COVID-19 pandemic is still going.
If you or someone you know needs cheap internet for students, we’ll help you find a long-term solution.
What is the best free internet service for students?
If you want free internet, public Wi-Fi hotspots and community internet access points are available to everyone with an internet-ready device. Or, if you’re a college student, you can try using your family’s internet account to access internet provider hotspots.
And if you can afford monthly internet payments, but you’d like the first month or so free, a few internet providers now offer that promotional deal.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots
You’ve probably seen a sign in a cafe window for free Wi-Fi—and that means you’ve been near a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
In addition to businesses that want you to buy a beverage in exchange for a Wi-Fi password, public libraries and town centers often act as community internet access points where the internet is free for everyone.
When you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can see it among the available networks on your device’s Wi-Fi settings. But you don’t have to walk all around town hunting down a free signal—instead, check your location with Wiman.
Wiman has a database filled with all your local free Wi-Fi, and the Android version of the app will even connect your phone automatically. A quick search in this writer’s area shows there’s free Wi-Fi at the local high schools, libraries, and—uh—Arby’s.
Honestly, there are worse places to do your online homework than a parking lot near readily available French dip sandwiches.
Hotspots for college students
Internet for college students can be a costly expense, and you might find yourself missing the days when you could use your family’s internet service for free.
But being away from home doesn’t mean you’re all on your own. Even if you live far away from your family, you could access their internet using hotspots.
Many internet providers offer free Wi-Fi hotspot access to their customers, and some of these hotspot networks are huge. If your folks get internet from one of the providers below, they probably have a hotspot account, and they might not even realize it.
Use these links to learn how to access the providers’ hotspot networks:
If your provider from back home has hotspots around your college town, you might even have one near your dorm.
These provider hotspots your family pays for are free internet for you—but think twice before you share the login info with your friends. Your folks’ account has some private info they won’t want you passing around.
Internet services with free intro periods
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many providers offered a month or two of free internet service for new customers.
Unfortunately, most of those deals have expired by now. But the Xfinity Internet Essentials and Cox Connect2Compete programs still offer two months of free service for customers who sign up before the end of December 2020.
You’ll also get a great deal on the ongoing price of internet service with Xfinity Internet Essentials and Cox Connect2Compete, so you won’t have to worry about huge price hikes after your intro period is over (still more expensive than free, though).
Be aware that you need to be eligible for the National School Lunch Program or another approved government program to qualify for these programs. Free internet is hard come by—you might have to settle for cheap.
What is the best cheap internet for students?
The best cheap internet is available through a few internet provider’s low-income initiatives. These programs offer special prices for low-income customers, and most plans start at $10 per month.
But even if you qualify for one of these provider initiatives, you might not live where one of these philanthropic internet providers are available. If that’s the case, you can apply for the government Lifeline program, which offers a $9.25 per month discount on internet.
Many providers also have cheap internet packages for everyone, which we’ve already rounded up in our “2020’s Best Cheap Internet” article. Those deals start around $35 per month, and they’re a good alternative if you don’t qualify for a low-income initiative.
Who has internet for $10 a month?
AT&T, Cox, Mediacom, and Xfinity all offer low-income household initiatives for about $10 per month. Each provider has different ways to qualify for this low-cost internet, so check the chart below to see if you can snag a deal.
Internet provider programs for low-income households
|Provider low-income initiative|
|Spectrum Internet Assist|
|Internet Essentials from Comcast (Xfinity)|
|Max download speed||Introductory price||Qualifying programs|
SSI (California only)
Head Start (temp.)
|25 Mbps||$9.95/mo.||NSLP||View plan|
Federal Pell Grant (Colorado & Illinois only)
Data effective 10/14/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Taxes and fees may apply.
*Home must have a student in K-12 to qualify.
How to qualify for low-income internet
The qualifications for low-income internet vary by provider, but most require you to already be part of a government assistance program like the ones listed below.
Programs Targeted to Students
- Head Start
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Tribal assistance
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Veteran Affairs (VA) pension
How to get low-income internet if providers in your area don’t offer assistance
The government helps connect low-income households with the Lifeline program. To qualify, you must already be part of a federal assistance program, or your household income must be 135% or less of the federal poverty guidelines.
If you share internet with other low-income households or live on tribal lands, you may qualify for even more internet discounts through Lifeline.
With the Lifeline program, you’ll receive at least $9.25 per month toward your internet bill.
There are limited free and cheap internet options for students who don’t qualify for low-income assistance. But with a little ingenuity—and maybe a late-night trip to Arby’s—there are still ways to find internet access without breaking the bank.
Internet for students FAQ
Which is the best internet provider for college students?
The best internet providers for college students are Optimum, RCN, and Spectrum. These no-contract internet providers offer more flexibility—you can cancel your internet service whenever you want.
Most other providers require 12- to 24-month contracts, which isn’t ideal if you plan on returning home during the summer (or if you have an unexpected breakup with your roomies).
How can I get free internet at home?
If you move right next to a city center, library, or coffee shop, you might be able to mooch off their free Wi-Fi. Otherwise, you’ll need to break out the cash and get your own internet plan.