Internet access has become such an important fixture in our lives that, in most American households, it’s considered a required monthly utility, along the lines of the electric or phone bill. And as more people cut the cord to cable TV, cable companies are looking to their internet subscribers to make up for lost revenue. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the average cost of broadband internet service has been climbing quickly, approaching $50 a month in 2015.
While that’s not a terrible price to pay if you’re cutting a $100 cable TV bill down to zero or you rely on broadband internet to do work at home or school, not everyone is getting their money’s worth. That’s why we’ve scoured the web for cheap Internet providers, which we’ll get to below. First, though, here are some general tips to help anyone save on their monthly internet bill.
Six Tips to Lower Your Internet Bill
As with any type of monthly service, one of the easiest ways to lower your internet bill is to shop around and compare prices occasionally. Just because the service provider you signed up with had the best price a few years ago doesn’t mean they still hold the title for the cheapest Internet service in your community.
It’s worth taking the time to shop around for a better price every year or two. However, be aware that choices can be limited in some communities, including both rural areas with few available providers and cities where one company has negotiated a long-term contract. You can see what internet providers serve your area using BroadbandMap.gov.
Determine What Type of Internet Service You Need
There are many different types of Internet connections available; broadband is the general term for basically any service faster than old-fashioned dial-up.
One option is DSL, which is delivered over a standard telephone line. For the average home user who casually surfs the internet and streams some movies, TV shows, and music, a DSL connection is usually sufficient. DSL also tends to be on the cheaper end of most internet options. With download speeds in the neighborhood of 3 to 10 Mbps, it’s usually fast enough to stream HD video — though probably not on a few devices at once (a key caveat if you have teenagers at home or live with roommates).
Another option is cable internet, which is delivered via your cable TV provider. While cable internet is typically much faster than DSL, it also tends to be much more expensive, and the number of users in your local area can affect your connection speeds, resulting in slow service during peak usage times.
A third and relatively new option is fiber optic. The benefit of a fiber optic cable system is that it can deliver information much faster and over much longer distances. However, this service is not widely available as most homes and businesses are not wired for fiber optic internet.
In addition to those broadband options, more alternatives are becoming available as technology advances. One avenue some consumers are taking is to rely exclusively on wireless 4G data from a cell phone provider. If you can get reliable 4G LTE service from one of the four main carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile – you can expect download speeds of 3 to 40 Mbps, which is well in line with most broadband internet options. What’s more, you can take your internet service with you wherever you go. However, as you’ll see below, these services are most economical in low doses — usually for those who use less than 2 gigabytes (GB) of data per month.
Depending on your usage and needs, you may be able to save money by switching to a different type of internet connection.
Downgrade Your Plan
Most casual home internet users don’t need a high-end internet plan; however, providers do try to market super-fast speeds to customers. For example, in the Boston area, Comcast’s cable internet options for existing customers range from the $50/month “Performance Starter” plan (with download speeds of 10 Mbps) to the $83/month “Blast!” plan, which gets you speeds of up to 150 Mbps (not to mention a splashy exclamation point).
Let’s be honest: We all like fast, but most people don’t need to be downloading stuff at 150 Mbps. So if you’ve never had any kind of delay or lag in your internet service and you’re looking to trim your expenses, it’s worth checking what speed you’re signed up for and whether you can downgrade without losing a noticeable amount of speed and reliability. If you decide the lower-priced plan is in fact too slow, your internet provider will gladly sell you back into the faster one.
Purchase Your Own Modem and Router
Many internet providers, including the cheap ones listed below, will happily lease you a modem and wireless router for a few bucks a month – but as the months (and years) tick by, those fees add up.
Time Warner and Comcast charge subscribers $8 and $10 a month, respectively, for leased modems, which means an average-priced modem bought on Amazon pays for itself in about a year or less. And how long do you plan to have the internet? The answer is probably somewhere between a year and forever.
The only trick here is that it takes some research and a bit of technical savvy: Make sure the modem and router you buy are compatible with your internet provider. Most internet service providers maintain an online list of acceptable equipment (you can find Comcast’s here), or you can call them up to verify the model number. And if you don’t know the difference between a router and a modem, call a tech-savvy friend for help hooking them up.
Sign an Extended Contract
If you know you’re going to be living in a place for an extended period of time, you can sometimes secure a lower promotional price by signing up for a one- or two-year contract instead of paying month to month. Just remember to shop around again when the contract ends, as the rate might go up after your promotional price expires.
Order Your Service Online
When I recently moved, I noticed there was a serious discount if I set up my future internet service online. This might be because you don’t have to talk to someone on the phone and use up valuable customer service hours. So, I looked online and there was a way for me to get Verizon FiOS internet for $40/month (without phone or TV) as long as I bought it for two years and performed the whole process online. It was very smooth, and I haven’t had a down day of Internet since they came to the house to set it up.
Skip Having Wi-Fi at Home
Depending on your needs, you may be able to skip paying for internet at home and instead rely on a combination of your office or workplace and public places offering free Wi-Fi. In addition to libraries, more and more businesses are offering free Wi-Fi to their customers, and it’s a good option if you aren’t a regular internet user.
A word of caution though: Do not access or send financial or personally identifying information, such as your bank account or credit card, while using unsecured public access internet. And note that you might also feel guilted into buying a drink or two at your local coffee shop if you’re going to be using their Wi-Fi for a couple of hours — if you keep that up, it’d be cheaper just to sign up for home internet service.
Cheap Internet Providers
If you’ve already tried the above or you’re just looking for some seriously cheap internet service, here are a few low-cost internet providers to consider.
You don’t get cheaper than free, and that’s what Freedom Pop offers: A mobile internet plan that allows you up to 500 MB of free monthly data over 4G wireless. For $3.99 a month, you can get 1 GB of data monthly; 2 GB will set you back $19.99/month.
Now for the catch: You do have to make a one-time purchase of a mobile hotspot (prices start at $49) to act as your Wi-Fi hub. What’s more, after you hit your monthly data limit, additional data will cost you $0.02 per MB. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you use up an extra 3 GB in a month — about an hour’s worth of HD video streaming — you’re suddenly looking at a $60 bill.
Freedom Pop is a great option for someone who just wants to check email and browse the web at a super-cheap rate. However, moderate to heavy internet users — people who plan to work online or stream music, videos, or games — would do better to get a more conventional plan.
I switched to T-Mobile for cell phone service about two years ago, but then ended up switching back to AT&T after I couldn’t get reception in the rural area where my in-laws lived. However, T-Mobile has been adding coverage areas and making an aggressive play for subscribers. They also offer 4G wireless internet plans that start at $20 per month; for a reasonable $35 a month, you can get 6 GB of wireless data along with unlimited music streaming — so you can listen to Pandora or Spotify without eating into your data limit.
At 6 GB per month, you could send 100 emails a day, browse the web for a couple hours each day, and kill another two hours a day on Facebook without running out of data, according this data usage calculator. Still, it won’t suffice for families who watch a lot of Netflix, or anyone who intends to cut the cord to cable and rely on streaming video.
NetZero has been around for quite awhile, and is well-known as a cheap Internet service provider. They, too, have joined the ranks of wireless internet providers. The great news is that like Freedom Pop, NetZero offers a free plan — up to 200 MB of data per month — for people who don’t use the internet very often. One gigabyte per month will cost you $24.95, plus a $3.95 monthly access fee, and the rates go up from there.
Like NetZero, Juno is a low-cost internet provider that has been around for quite a while. Its no-frills broadband DSL service starts at around $14/month, with speeds “up to 6 Mbps,” according to the company’s website. Compared to the $40 a month I pay and the average internet bill of $47/month, this represents significant savings over the course of a year for people who don’t need the fastest internet service available.
At just $10 a month, Century Link is definitely a cheap Internet service – if you’re within their service area, and you’re not in a rush. With fairly sluggish download speeds that top out at 1.5 Mbps, it’s good for someone who just needs the basics and doesn’t mind signing a 12-month contract to get such a low rate.
Ultimately, having Internet service is something of a necessary expense these days, especially if you need a reliably quick internet connection to work from home as I do. However, I want to encourage you to negotiate heavily with your internet provider. Whether that means looking for better deals online, getting prices from a few competitors, or simply calling and asking if they’re really offering you the best price and what they can do to keep your business, advocate for yourself and make sure you’re getting the best price.
Lastly, we can’t guarantee that all of the internet providers above will offer great customer service or reliability. Many people have been happy with the companies above, but you can certainly find some negative reviews online — and cable and internet providers (even the expensive ones) are consistently ranked among the worst companies for customer service. So, we urge you to do your due diligence before signing a contract with any internet provider, and if possible to make sure people in your area have been happy with the service provided by that company.