In most American homes, an internet connection is a necessity, but how do we find budget-friendly internet options that won’t break the bank? Like many other expenses, the monthly cost of internet service has been steadily climbing. As of December 2020, the average internet bill was $60 per month. But unlike cable and subscription boxes, most of us need to have the ability to get online, particularly now that roughly 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full-time. So, what is the cheapest way to get WiFi at home so we can all keep connected? Thankfully, there are several options for finding budget-friendly internet services.
In the last few years, some of the bigger internet providers have made it easier for low-income families to lock in internet services at home. The Access program from AT&T provides discounted internet services to low-income consumers, as long as it’s available in their area, and they meet the qualifications. This particular program is available for households who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are within the service area, and don’t have disqualifying outstanding debts with AT&T. For qualifying households, Access services may be available for as little as five dollars per month. Other providers, like Cox, Mediacom, Spectrum, Verizon Fios, and Xfinity all offer internet provider initiatives for low-income seniors, students, and families.
Comparing prices is not exclusive to your search for budget-friendly internet options. Comparison shopping is always advised when you’re shopping for budget-friendly car insurance options, as well as homeowners or renters insurance, cable, and cell phone providers. Even if your internet (or insurance or cell phone) provider offered the best rate around when you signed up, that doesn’t mean that this will still be true six months or a year later. Take a little time to shop around and get quotes from a few different providers. Set a calendar alert to remind you to do this again a year from now.
Some internet providers might try to upsell, or you might simply assume that you need the highest-speed option available, which would naturally be the most expensive one. But many of us don’t need the ultra-high-speed and expensive internet option. If there are two adults, multiple roommates, several kids, or teenagers in the house that’ll all be streaming things at once, you might want to spring for the high-speed and just price-compare until you find a provider that fits your budget.
But if only one or two adults are using the internet connection to work, stream one movie or TV show at once, or download some music on occasion, the slowest or mid-level internet option may be enough. Most internet providers offer tiered options that make it easier to match up your service to your needs. When in doubt, you can always start with the most budget-friendly option available and bump it up if the downloading speed is torturous.
If you know you’re not going anywhere in the next year or two, ask your current provider and any other internet providers you contact about long-term contracts. Rather than paying monthly, you may be able to secure a lengthy promotional price by committing to a year or two at a time. If you go this route, remember to set a calendar reminder to shop around when the contract is up. After the promotional price expires, most internet providers will jack up the rates and hope you don’t notice. You can also try to combat this by calling to negotiate right before the contract is up. Most providers will work with you to make the rate more reasonable rather than losing your business altogether.
While bigger companies like Comcast have numerous physical branches and extended customer service hours, you might be able to snag a significant discount by setting up your internet service online. Since you don’t have to talk to a customer service rep on the phone and eat up their valuable time, online service providers can offer greater discounts. Most of these online internet services operate through an easy-to-use app and come with step-by-step instructions. If you’re savvy enough to set it up yourself (or ask a willing friend or neighbor to help), you might score a significant discount. Verizon FiOS is one of the most popular options for this type of service.