Disclaimer: the absolute cheapest way to get Internet is to get the government to help pay for it. Most major cable and DSL providers will offer discounted service starting at $9.99/month for low-income people participating in other public assistance programs such as food stamps or NSLP. These deals are available directly from local providers. The following providers participate:
WHICH PROVIDERS HAVE THE CHEAPEST RATES?
- Xfinity from Comcast: Cheapest cable after accounting for fees and fine print.
- AT&T Internet: cheapest DSL after accounting for fees and fine print.
- Verizon Fios:cheapest fiber after accounting for fees and fine print.
XFINITY from Comcast Coverage
When it comes to plan variety, Xfinity is hard to beat. The service used a variable cost model, meaning that it can be found for cheaper in areas with more competition, whereas something like Comcast is going to be the same price nationwide. Also, the service has made a big push to compete with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu in recent years, offering super affordable bundle packages with more options than much of the competition. The main catch with Xfinity is that the prices often rise after the first year, although customers have reported success calling in tonegotiate lower cable rates.
View Xfinity Deals
AT&T may as well be crowned king of DSL in America; they offer some of the most widespread service options in rural areas that have few (or no) other options for consumers to get connected. If you’re looking for no-frills Internet, this is it, but since acquiring DirecTV, they’ve also introduced several discounted premium TV bundles as well.
Verizon Fios Coverage
Verizon Fios isn’t likely to be the cheapest fiber outright in all markets, but it’s certainly one of the more affordable options that consumers are likely to actually have access to. Services like Google Fiber and Ting are great, but they are only available in a small portion of the country. For the moment, that isn’t likely to change.
View Verizon Fios Deals
HOW TO COMPARE CHEAP INTERNET OPTIONS?
Findingthe best (and cheapest) Internetcan often be a complicated process. Like most other things in today’s world, there are a dizzying array of options out there, but you’ll hear about many that may not be applicable to you.
In this post, we’re not going to be recommending specific providers since this depends on your area (find internet providers in your area here). Instead, we’re going to explain the tech in a beginner-friendly way so that you can figure out what you’re buying and how to get a good price. Before we jump into specifics, however, let’s talk about one of the questions we get asked most often:
HOW MUCH SPEED DO YOU ACTUALLY NEED?
Finding the actual answer to this question will largely come down to what you’re looking to do online on a regular basis. Not all tasks on the Internet are made equally, and it can be easy to misjudge what you actually need to get by, partly due to the amount of advertising we’re exposed to on a daily basis.
To get a reccomendation based on specific devices and activities in your home, see ourInternet bandwidth calculator.
So, cutting to the chase, which speed is right for your needs?
If you want to:
DO BASIC BROWSING AND EMAIL: 1–10 MBPS MINIMUM
Ideally, a service that provides at least 10 Mbps upload and download speed will prevent you from banging your head against your desk when trying to download attachments and watching the occasional Youtube video, but if you want to get really minimal, you can get away with even less than that.
STREAM MOVIES AND TV/PLAY ONLINE GAMES: 15–25+ MBPS MINIMUM
If your family does a lot of streaming and/or gaming, especially on multiple devices simultaneously, you’ll want a connection that can support it without slowing to a grind. At this level, your best bet would probably be a cable provider, as they commonly offer speeds in this realm for affordable prices.
As mentioned above, when trying to decide between several different plans, you’ll need to take into account how many users are likely to be streaming or gaming concurrently. For instance, if you have a family of five, allocating at least 5 Mbps to each device that gets used regularly should ensure that you’re able to do most things online without slowing to a crawl.
DO ALL OF THE ABOVE, PLUS DOWNLOAD LARGE FILES: 50+ MBPS MINIMUM
If you fall into this category, you’re going to need to bring out the big (and more expensive) guns. Unfortunately, this may not be practical depending on where you are located, as the services that offer these sorts of speeds and functionality aren’t available everywhere.
For the most part, you’re only going to be getting these speeds from fiber connections, or cable providers in select areas of the nation. If it’s available in your area, you can count yourself lucky, but you’re definitely going to need to pony up some additional cash to get access to the faster speeds and extra stability these connections bring.
CHEAPEST WIRED INTERNET: DSL
Digital subscriber line (or DSL for short) is almost always going to be the cheapest option to get connected in your area. DSL providers such as CenturyLink or AT&T charge less than other types of service because you’re going to be getting a significantly slower upload and download speed.
This is because DSL makes use of the good old telephone lines running all over America to bring you your Internet, and this comes with some serious limitations in how much bandwidth you can be receiving at any one time.
The Bottom Line: This is a bare-bones solution that won’t do much else than just getting you online, but if that’s all you’re looking for, it fits the bill.
CHEAPEST TV + INTERNET: CABLE
If you’re looking for the cheapest Internet that also includes TV service, you’re going to want to focus on bundled cable providers such as Xfinity or Spectrum. These services are often advertised heavily in their bundle form, meaning that it shouldn’t be hard to spot the ones available in your area.
You can expect middle-of-the-road Internet speeds of anywhere from 10–150+ Mbps, depending upon your specific area and which provider you opt for. Because of their popularity, there are often specials and limited-time discounts you can find from the larger providers like Charter and Comcast.
The Bottom Line: Bundle packages are extremely popular in this range, and for the majority of users, everything you’ll need can be found right here.
CHEAPEST TECHIE OPTION: FIBER
If you’re on the hunt for gigabit speeds, it’s going to come down to finding a fiber provider like Google Fiber or Ting. The trick is, these are only available in select areas, and expansion has slowed to a trickle in most places around the country. Once you’ve established that it’s available in your area, you’ll have to get some information on pricing.
If there’s only one fiber option in your area (and chances are, there will be), then you’ll probably be looking at a hefty price to get signed up, comparatively to cable and DSL, at least. If you’re able to make it work, however, you’ll be able to take advantage of these speeds to really unlock the full potential of the Internet.
The Bottom Line: If you practically live online, fiber can be your best friend. Just be sure you’re ready for the extra costs.
SHOESTRING OPTION: JUST USE YOUR PHONE AS A HOTSPOT AND LIMIT DATA USE
If you’re really strapped, but are still looking for a way to get online, you’re going to need to rule out streaming and gaming due to the data caps most mobile plans come with. To use data most efficiently, you can simply turn it on to check email or browse Facebook periodically. It won’t be glamorous, but you’d be surprised what you can get away with if you use your data sparingly.
The Bottom Line: If you’re desperate, you’d be surprised what you can get away with using your cell phone plan (if you’re willing to give up the luxuries).
WIRELESS OPTION: USE A WIRELESS HOTSPOT
Devices like Verizon’s Jetpack hotspot can be a good alternative to satellite for some customers, as well as products like the Karma Go. These have less-than-stellar track records for reliability, however, so if you’re looking for a stable home connection, this isn’t ideal. All the same, these options may present an attractive option for some due to them not requiring a physical dish to be installed somewhere on-site.
In addition, having a wireless hotspot comes with the unique ability to carry your Internet connectivity wherever it is you go (as long as there is coverage at your destination). For those who are frequently on the move, this option may make much more sense in the long run.
The Bottom Line: Hotspots can be a great alternative to satellite, and can also be a versatile tool for people who live travel-centric lifestyles.
IS SATELLITE CHEAP FOR INTERNET?
In short, the answer is no. Though satellite Internet is considered a bit behind the curve in terms of speed and overall functionality, it’s still quite expensive megabit-for-megabit, and it’s probably best-suited for those in rural areas with no other realistic options. The only exception is in situations where DSL is technically available, but too slow to use. See our guide torural Internet optionsfor more information on this tradeoff.
Satellite connectivity may actually be the future of the Internet around the globe, but for now, it can’t keep up with cable and fiber optic connections, and the high cost of maintaining a network of machines orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earthmeans that those additional costs are passed onto you.
WHY IS INTERNET SO EXPENSIVE?
The short answer is, it’s complicated. Basically, theUS has a very real Internet problem, and it centers around several interconnected issues that come together to limit your options for getting online.
More expensive infrastructure expansion costs + unclear regulations = less consumer choice
An important thing to keep in mind is that the US has far more land to cover than countries frequently compared to it, such as France and South Korea. In addition, back in the early days of the telephone, American innovation and expansionary views led to an explosion of telephone line infrastructure growth, which at the time was a great thing.
However, this early growth served to stifle expansion in the new age of fiber, due to the high costs of laying massive lengths of fiber optics and the perception during the early stages of the Internet that the current infrastructure was “good enough.”
In addition, in South Korea and several European countries, state regulators have prevented the near-monopoly we face in America by forcing large companies to sell access to their subscriber base as wholesale price points. This has allowed for a large number of ISPs vying for the attention of said users, meaning more competitive pricing and a very tangible drive to increase speeds and functionality.
Meanwhile, in America, only a handful of large corporations dominate the market, and with reduced competition (coupled with the high cost of expansion mentioned above), there is precious little incentive to improve upon the status quo.
FREE PUBLIC INTERNET
Though it’s not a guarantee, many places around the country offer free WiFi hotspots, whether it be retail locations such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and others, or from institutions such as public libraries. For the latter, you can try popping onto Google and typing “public library near me” to see a list of options. Normally, these libraries will list on their website if they have free WiFi services available. Virtually all do.
In addition, you can always try a WiFI listing service like Boingo. That said, not all of these options will be free, but the service offers an affordable monthly rate that grants you access to over a million hotspot locations nationwide.
WHICH PROVIDERS HAVE THE HIGHEST EARLY TERMINATION FEES?
When searching for the cheapest rates online, it’s important to take into account any ETF, or early termination fees associated with the service. Often, when you sign on with a company, you’ll be required to sign a contract as part of the onboarding process. This means that you’ll be locked into paying for said service monthly for a predetermined amount of time (usually somewhere in the realm of six months to a year or more).
If you decide to cancel your service before this period is up, many companies will charge you this fee to get out from underneath your contract. Knowing how much this fee is ahead of time is crucial, especially if you feel that your living situation could change sooner than your contract is set to expire.
In order to help cut through the fine print, here’s our list of ETFs for some of the top providers in the nation for comparison. These are not the only providers with ETFS — they are simply the ones that make their ETF details publicly available. Many companies such as Comcast are known to have ETFs, but do not make the details readily available, or change the ETF depending on your plan details.
|Provider||Maximum ETF||Monthly ETF|
|Exede Internet||$15 x contract length||$15/mo.|
WILL INTERNET GET CHEAPER WITHOUT NET NEUTRALITY?
With the recent (and hotly contested) demise of Net Neutrality, many are wondering if we’ll see a shakeup in the way American Internet services are priced, for better or worse. One interesting prediction is that a byproduct of allowing ISP’s (Internet service providers) more flexibility will be lower introductory rates for basic connection speeds and services.
We’ve actually already seen examples of this elsewhere in the world; on the extreme end of the spectrum, companies have tried implementing programs such as Facebook’s “Internet Essentials,” which grants access to a number of (Facebook-approved) websites and services. Though this idea isn’t inherently bad in and of itself, it was recently banned outright in India, with the government citing concerns about the neutrality of the massive corporation’s choice of approved websites.
The larger point that’s important to consider here is this; cheap (or even free) Internet sources often come with a dark side, and as the Internet landscape in America shifts in the wake of the new FCC ruling, it will be more important than ever before to assess how you’re getting online, and how complete said connection really is.
CHEAP INTERNET ISN’T ALWAYS EASY TO FIND, BUT YOU CAN MAKE IT WORK.
Using the practical tips above, you’ll hopefully be armed with enough information to find the cheapest service available in your area that will work for you. Keep in mind that technology is constantly shifting and evolving, and things likefixed wirelessand mesh networks may soon present viable alternatives for getting online in America. However, you’re going to need to find a more conventional way to get online, for the moment at least.
Written by Tyler Cooper. Last Updated on 03/01/2023.