When you’re on a tight budget, it can be a bit tough trying to find an internet provider. You don’t want to pick the cheapest option because you’re probably going to run into several issues with things like speed, reliability, etc. You also don’t want to choose the first option you find because there are so many ISPs out there today that you’re bound to find a better deal.
Finding a good internet provider at an affordable price may seem complicated, but good internet deals aren’t as rare as they seem. There are a lot of providers around today that offer some excellent inexpensive plans.
What to Consider When Choosing a Cheap Plan
Before deciding on an internet plan, you need to stop and think about all the factors involved in that decision. You shouldn’t choose a plan solely on price because there are a few other things that will affect your experience. Some of those things are internet speed, additional fees, price hikes, and contracts. We have a more detailed list below:
Promotional prices may seem significant initially, but they don’t usually last indefinitely. And if you’re budgeting smart, you probably want to consider the long-term costs. Most ISPs will start you off with a nice low price and bump that price up after a certain amount of time. Usually, this will happen after 12 to 24 months, but in some cases, you might see a price bump in as little as three months after using an ISP’s services.
Autopay and Paperless Billing
Many ISPs offer discounted prices when you sign up for autopay or paperless billing. You may therefore be able to get better internet for the same price you were going to pay, simply because you choose one of these options. Autopay and paperless billing ultimately help the internet service provider because it means you won’t miss your payments and cause them to lose money - that’s why some providers have this option available.
An affordable plan won’t be worth it if you can’t even use the internet for what you intend to use it for. The general idea is that you should have an internet speed of at least 25 Mbps, but we recommend going for a speed of at least 50 Mbps for a better experience so that you have more internet capabilities.
Data caps are another thing that you need to consider when choosing an internet plan. If your data cap is too low, you’ll end up going over that cap every month and paying more on your internet bill. You want to ensure you have enough monthly data to use the internet comfortably without exceeding your data cap. You should calculate how much internet you expect to use every month.
You may have to pay equipment fees on top of the other costs with your internet plan. This means that you’ll need to decide to either rent your equipment from your internet service provider or buy the equipment yourself. While purchasing the equipment will be more expensive as a once-off cost, it will save you money in the long run because you won’t always have to pay rental fees.
Depending on the provider that you choose, you may incur some installation fees to allow you to get internet in your home. Installation costs range from $50 to $100 (and some companies may charge even more). The great thing is that a few ISPs now offer self-installation kits at no extra cost, making the installation process easy, free, and efficient.
Contracts and Early Termination Fees
Finally, you’ll need to determine whether there will be a contract involved when receiving a service from an ISP. If there is a contract and you decide you no longer want/need the service you’re getting, you may need to pay an early termination fee (ETF). ETFs can be quite expensive - up to $500 - so this is important to consider before you jump into any contract.
How to Get Cheap Internet
Now that you know everything that needs to be considered before choosing a cheap internet plan, you can go about picking an ISP and one of the plans that the ISP offers. Here is a step-by-step guide to do just that:
Choose an Internet Provider
The first thing you should do when deciding on an internet service provider is narrow down your search. You can do this by seeing which providers offer services in your area specifically. After all, there’s no point in searching through hundreds of providers just to find that many can’t even give you an internet connection.
From the list of providers you find, you can make all the considerations we mentioned in the “What to Consider When Choosing a Cheap Plan” section and come to a final decision as to which provider has the best plans and prices for you.
Pick a Plan
Picking a plan from an internet service provider's list of options is extremely important. You want to make sure that you choose a plan that not only fits your budget but provides you with the necessary download and upload speeds for your specific needs and doesn’t have data caps that will be impossible to stay under. This part of the decision process will likely impact you the most financially down the line, so make this decision carefully.
Buy and Install
Since the next step will be getting your modem and installing the internet in your home, you’ll need to decide whether you’re happy with renting a modem. If you want to save money in the long run and buy the modem, you may be able to do so straight from the internet service provider that you’ve chosen. And if you want to save even more on installation fees, choose to set it up yourself instead of having a professional come in to do it for you.
Explore Free Options
If you can’t find anything within your budget, you can always try to find any free services available in your area. Some government-funded initiatives allow you to apply for free and low-cost internet, which may help you get internet in your home.
The Cheapest Internet Providers of 2023
We’ve compiled a list of some of the cheapest internet service providers around (as well as their strengths and weaknesses) to help you make a more informed decision about which one you should choose.
Best Cheap ISP Overall: AT&T Fiber
When it comes to fiber internet, AT&T offers the lowest starting prices out there, and the speed you can get for its lowest-priced fiber plan is great too. If you want to choose this option, AT&T offers a 300 Mbps line that will cost you just over $50 per month.
A benefit of choosing AT&T is that your plan will come with unlimited data. This will mean that you won’t have to worry about exceeding a data cap and can do as much as you’d like with your internet. In addition, AT&T has one of the lowest equipment rental fees, which may sway your “buy or rent” decision in favor of renting equipment.
Something that you should remember prior to choosing AT&T, however, is that its fiber option isn’t available to about 70% of the households within its service areas. If that’s the case for you and you still want to use AT&T’s services, you’ll have to choose its DSL option, which will be much slower and not much cheaper.
Best Cheap Cable ISP: Xfinity
While it’s not fiber, Xfinity is one of the cheaper broadband options available throughout most of the US, offering prices as low as $25 per month - depending on the area you’re in. One thing about getting those super low prices is you may be required to sign a one-year contract. And if you’re not 100% sure that it’s the internet plan for you, being stuck in a contract for that long may cause additional costs and/or inconveniences.
As mentioned above, the price of plans you can find with Xfinity may vary depending on location. The names of the plans that it offers may vary. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find it in your area.
Best Cheap ISP for Rural Areas: Mediacom
It might be harder to find good internet plans for reasonable prices if you live in a rural area. Mediacom’s Access Internet 100 plan is one of the most valuable broadband options you’ll find and starts at only $19.99 per month. While it doesn’t have as large of a reach as some other ISPs do, you’ll still be able to find Mediacom services throughout the Midwest, the South, and some parts of Arizona and California.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing Mediacom are that the equipment rental fees will be $10 per month, and secondly, the cheapest Wi-Fi plan has a monthly data cap of 200 GB. In the modern world, where we need to work with more and more data, that’s not a very high data cap.
Best Prepaid Internet Service: Cox Communications
If you’re looking for an affordable prepaid internet service, then Cox is a good option to consider. It also offers free self-installation on many of its plans, including the cheapest Wi-Fi plan, which Cox calls “Internet Essential 100”.
While Cox doesn’t require a contract on all its plans, opting for one will allow you to get the lowest introductory prices. It also offers some of the best discounts on cheap cable and internet bundles, which might help you decide.
Unfortunately, you will likely see steep price increases after the first year of using Cox’s internet services. Depending on your chosen plan, you might add prices as high as $36 per month to your bill.
Best for Price Lock: CenturyLink
CenturyLink has some of the most customer-friendly pricing in the world of internet service providers. What we mean by this is that the company doesn’t have too many extra costs that you’ll incur for the way that you use the internet. The only charges you can expect to add are your modem rental price of $15 per month and your one-time installation cost of $99. You may not even have to pay an installation fee if you have the self-installation option available at your location. There are also no added fees for going over your monthly data allowance of 1TB.
The downside to CenturyLink is that it is limited when it comes to the different plans that you can choose. You’ll likely only be able to find one or two different options depending on the location that you live in, but with all the benefits of its pricing, you might not mind the limitations of one or two plans. And the options that you can find might even suit your needs anyway, so it’s worth checking out.
So, if you happen to be on a tight budget and don’t want your internet bill to cut your budget down even further, you now know what you’ll have to consider, how to set up a cheap internet connection, and which internet service providers you can choose from. Always remember that price isn’t the only factor that should influence your decision when selecting an internet plan.
You need to find a balance between a reasonable price and good service; otherwise, you could become frustrated and spend more to change your plan anyway. Now get out there and put what you’ve learned into action. Good luck!
Is it cheaper to get a month-to-month service or sign a contract?
The price you’ll pay (month-to-month or on a contract) will depend on your chosen internet service provider and the different plans offered. You can find some very affordable month-to-month internet plans out there, but you may also find that some ISPs offer the same plan for a lower price as long as you sign a contract for a specific period of time.
Which providers offer internet-only plans?
There is a long list of providers offering internet-only plans, but some good options are AT&T, Xfinity, CenturyLink, Mediacom, and Cox.
Can low-income families receive free internet?
Depending on your financial situation, you may be able to qualify for free internet through government-funded programs. Even if you don’t qualify for a completely free option, you may still be able to get reduced prices for your internet through the FCC Lifeline program.
What are some cheap internet options available to low-income households?
With all the different internet service providers that exist today, you should be able to find some incredibly cheap internet packages that will allow you to get a connection in your home. Suppose those options are still over your budget. However, you can always apply to a government-funded program such as Lifeline or the Affordability Connectivity Plan to help cover your internet costs.
Can you get cheap Wi-Fi without cable?
You can get cheap Wi-Fi without cable. There are many different types of internet around, as well as various bundle options provided by ISPs that can save you a lot of money. Finding those options might take a little more effort, but they’re definitely out there.