To make the Internet more widely available and help bridge the Digital Divide, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer broadband access at discounted rates for qualifying families and individuals through assistance programs. If you or someone you know is being excluded or is disadvantaged due to a lack of affordable Internet access, these programs may be able to help.
Though these low-cost broadband services help millions get online, they are not without caveats. Like all Internet packages, the prices provided by the ISP and listed below do not include taxes or other fees, such as equipment rental fees or price changes after an allotted time period. The download speeds provided also represent a maximum speed, not the actual speed which may reach a location, and data caps may be in place for these plans. Before signing up for any plan, be sure to ask questions about exactly what is provided and all associated costs.
Below are some of the assistance programs currently offered by providers:
When AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015, a condition of the merger approval was the addition of Access, a low-cost Internet service which provides 3 to 5 Megabits per Second (MBPS) download speed for $5 a month and 5 to 10 Mbps for $10 a month, not including taxes. While this isn’t fast enough for online gaming, watching videos, or downloading music, it is generally enough for accessing e-mail, browsing Wikipedia, or reading news articles. Anyone who participates in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), lives in AT&T’s service area and meets some other conditions can qualify. For more information on AT&T Access, visit AT&T’s Access webpage here.
Comcast Internet Essentials
The low-cost Internet package offered by AT&T’s main competitor, Comcast, is almost the same. It was an FCC-designated condition of their merger with NBC, and it includes up to 10 Mbps download speed for $9.95 a month for those who meet certain conditions, such as children eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or those eligible for HUD housing assistance, among others. To learn more about Internet Essentials, visit the website set up through Comcast.
Cox Communications and Connect2Compete
Cox Communications, also known as Cox Cable, delivers Internet services through cable lines, similar to Comcast. Cox Communications works with Connect2Compete, to provide up to 10 Mbps download speed and costs $9.95 a month. Families with a child in grades K-12 who participate in NSLP, SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or public housing, while meeting other criteria, can qualify for Connect2Compete. Other telecommunications companies such as Mediacom and Suddenlink, among others, also work with Connect2Compete and offer similar services. For more information on this program, visit the Connect2Complete website.
Spectrum Internet Assist
Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks merged in 2015, an alliance which included the introduction of Internet Assist. At $14.99 a month, this plan is more expensive than the previous plans, but it is also faster, with speeds up to 30 Mbps. Households participating in NSLP or individuals who are 65 years of age or older and receive Supplemental Security Income may be eligible for this plan. To learn more visit Spectrum’s website here.
PCs for People
PCs for People operates on the Sprint Network and offers anywhere between 6 and 100 Mbps speeds at $10 a month. The speeds provided vary between locations, depending on the availability of the Sprint Network. There are fewer eligibility requirements and low-income individuals without children and below 65 years of age may qualify for this plan. However, the plans must be paid for a year up front and includes additional charges for equipment. For more information visit PCs for People.
These are many of the most popular and wide-reaching low-cost Internet service plans, though there are many others. CenturyLink, Eagle Communications, Midco, and many local providers offer similar programs. To find low-cost broadband options in your area, check with local providers or visit the non-profit group EveryoneOn to search by zip code.
Understandably, it may be difficult to learn more about these programs online without Internet access at home. However, this is the fastest and most efficient way to apply or find eligibility for these plans. Most libraries, schools, and colleges offer free computer and Internet access to help with applying. The websites provided can also be accessed from a mobile device. While these programs alone will not bridge the Digital Divide, they have helped millions get online when other options were not available.
About the author: Sam Stemler is a blogger, copywriter, and novelist. She writes for non-profit groups, marketing agencies, web hosting businesses, small businesses, and more across the U.S. Sam enjoys telling real stories for businesses through social media, blogs, and news stories, and telling exciting fantasy and science fiction stories in her novels. To contact Sam, e-mail her at [email protected].