The Internet is something different to each individual. It can be the Skype connection to see and talk to your grandchildren who live two time zones away. It can be that dream telecommuting job. Or it might be your child's Thursday night homework assignment on the Great Wall of China.
But as much as we rely on Internet, the cost of having it in your home can be pricey.
In fact, a September 2013 Pew Research Center study on online demographics found that as of May 2013, 15 percent of American adults (18 years or older) do not use the Internet or email.
Within that group, 19 percent reported that the "expense of owning a computer or paying for an Internet connection" was the reason they didn't use the Internet.
Fortunately, there are some little-known ways to get hooked up and surf the Internet for little or no money at all. Keep reading to learn what these tricks are...
Method #1 - See If You Qualify for Low-Cost Internet via Connect2Compete
Paying for Internet can be tough. That’s why some programs across the country are making it easier for people to get connected at a low rate.
Some of these programs are offered by Connect2Compete, a national nonprofit organization that offers low-cost Internet, affordable computer offers, and free computer training.
“This organization offers high-speed Internet for $10 a month - the cost of a box of pizza - through national partners,” says Zach Leverenz, CEO of Connect2Compete. Some of the companies that participate include Cox Communications, Mediacom, Comcast, Brighthouse Networks, Suddenlink, and FreedomPop.
Connect2Compete works with communities and schools to offer various programs to low-income families.
For example, Connect2Compete found that some 14,000 zip codes in the United States have a median income of $35,000. So, anyone living in those zip codes, which include areas within Boise, Idaho; Bronx, New York; and Sacramento, California, are automatically accepted to get the special Internet deal.
“It’s quick and simple to sign up. That is our goal. We are removing as many barriers as possible,” Leverenz says.
Connect2Compete has also prequalified hundreds of partner organizations such as the American Library Association and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Members of those organizations can also receive the reduced Internet price, he says.
You can find out if your zip code qualifies for the special Internet deal by checking the eligibility requirements on www.connect2compete.org.
Method #2 - Hook up with FreedomPop Free Internet
Last year, FreedomPop provided people with free Internet access via their Hub Burst modem, which retails for $99.99. After that initial investment, you can receive 1 GB (gigabyte) of free data each month.
A graph on Connect2Compete's website shows that with 1 GB, you will be able to stream 165 videos or 570 songs, download 255 apps and games, post 2,850 photos, or send 2,500 emails. That’s a lot for free.
FreedomPop also offers low-cost plans for people who need more than 1 GB of data.
“The median American household uses under 5.5 GB per month at home, yet spends over $50 for Internet service,” said CEO of FreedomPop, Stephen Stockols, in a press release announcing the launch of their product. “FreedomPop gives these users an opportunity to save hundreds of dollars per year at a fraction of the inconvenience, especially for more moderate Internet users.”
Method #3 - Pay-as-You-Go Broadband
Like prepaid phones that allow you to buy a certain amount of minutes, the same is available for Internet service. You pay for what you use.
“It’s as simple as going into one of the big box stores like Wal-Mart and buying a wireless Internet card or stick,” says Ben Levitan, a telecommunications expert in Raleigh, North Carolina. Prices will vary depending on how much broadband you want, but can generally be found for as little as $30 or less, says Levitan.
These devices, which attach to your computer, work off of cell phone networks to give you access to the Internet, he adds. You can be in your car, an airport, or on the lake fishing and still use your laptop or tablet to check emails or shop online.
Method #4 - Use Wi-Fi Hotspots
“Using Wi-Fi hotspots can save people a lot of money,” says Kelly Davis-Felner, the marketing and program management director for the Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade association for companies involved in the Wi-Fi industry.
Some popular places for Wi-Fi hotspots are coffee shops and restaurants such as Starbucks and Panera Bread, as well as airports, libraries, campgrounds, government buildings, fast food joints, and universities.
“The user experience with hotspots is variable,” Davis-Felner says. “Sometimes, you will get a high bandwidth experience, and other times, you will get less of a great broadband experience."
But generally, Wi-Fi hotspots are a very good way to get on the Internet for free, she adds.
And if you're worried about the security measures of Wi-Fi hotspots, Davis-Felner says you'll likely be safe from cyber criminals.
“If you are doing anything sensitive like online banking at a hotspot, then most of those websites have encryption methods for security protection,” she says.
You can locate the hotspots in your area through several websites including OpenWiFiSpots.com, WiFiFreespot.com, and JiWire.com (a link to this one is found on the Wi-Fi Alliance website).
Method #5 - Share the Expense
When you can share the expense for anything in life, it sure lightens the load.
That’s exactly what consumer-savings expert, Monica Iannacone, did with her Internet. Over the span of two years, she saved over $780 on her Internet bill by sharing an Internet subscription with a condo neighbor.
“The Internet speed was always good, and I could even access it while I was at my condo’s pool, which was right behind my condo,” says Iannacone, who writes a personal finance blog, MonicaOnMoney.com. “Saving money is easier when you have frugal friends who are always looking for ways to save money, too. I only shared Wi-Fi with one neighbor that I trusted. We created a simple Wi-Fi password and used it to login.”