No matter if you’re a student, a freelancer, looking for a job or researching how to improve your finances, an internet connection is necessary. Free internet access is beneficial for people on a budget and for maintaining access to school work, home banking tools, streaming services and more.
The average consumer spends approximately $800 for internet services annually. This guide explores how to avoid those costs and get free internet instead. Learn how to find free internet service, where it’s available and how to best keep your information safe while using it.
How to get free internet service
Because connectivity is such a necessity, finding legal ways to get free internet is becoming more of a priority. Here are a few methods for finding free internet service.
Use apps to find free WiFi hotspots
There are many smartphone apps that will show you where to find free WiFi hotspots. For example, WiFiMap and Avast WiFi Finder compile databases containing every free WiFi hotspot throughout the world. Wi-Fi Free Spot offers a tool to find free WiFi hotspots by state, including hotels, airports, restaurants and even campgrounds.
Find free Wi-Fi hotspots from internet providers
Another option is to sign up for a service like FreedomPop, which offers a portable router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot. The service offers 500 MB of data for free each month ($0.02 cents per MB after that), which should be sufficient for simple internet browsing.
Use your mobile phone as a hotspot
Also known as tethering, you can connect your laptop to the internet by using your phone’s 4G or 5G data connection. The steps to take to set your phone up as a hotspot depend on the brand of your device. For most newer iPhones, for example, you can easily find this feature by navigating to Settings, tapping Personal Hotspot and setting it to “on.”
Free internet for your home
Finding free internet services for your home is a little more challenging, though not impossible, especially if you don’t mind using a dial-up connection. For example, NetZero offers consumers free internet with a dial-up connection. If you only use the internet for the essentials, Juno provides ten hours of internet for free every month.
If you’re a paying cable customer, some companies may offer deals if you bundle internet with another service. Call your provider and ask if there are any available deals or find a new provider.
Federal programs offering discounted internet
ConnectHomeUSA is a program launched by EveryoneOn.org, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the White House in 2015. The program, which provides free or low-cost broadband access to low-income families, currently has 28 pilot communities throughout the country.
Where to get free public internet
Many businesses offer their guests free WiFi. Here’s a list of a few places you can find free public internet service.
National chains offering free internet services
In some communities, you don’t have to travel far to find free internet. For example, you can find it at the Apple Store, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Best Buy, Target, Whole Foods and more. When visiting these locations, you’ll often see a link posted to the company’s free WiFi or, when you click on your WiFi icon on your phone, you’ll find a connection option in your list.
Free internet in bookstores, libraries, museums and more
For those looking for quieter locations to find free internet, check out your local bookstore or larger chains like Barnes & Noble. You can also find free WiFi at your local library, at some public parks, in museums and when you’re traveling by bus or train. You might have to ask for a password to access their WiFi connection, and, in places like hospitals, that password will change periodically.
How to be safe when using free public internet
It’s important to consider that free public internet connections aren’t always going to be secure. Each time you connect to a network with other users, your personal information is at risk. Take the following precautions to ensure your information stays safe when using free public internet:
- Use free VPN services: Programs like Hotspot Shield Free VPN and TunnelBear help protect your device by connecting to a virtual private network (VPN), an extra layer of security when you’re connecting using a hotspot.
- Avoid inputting sensitive information: When you’re on an insecure free connection, avoid accessing your banking or shopping apps. That way, you’re not inadvertently exposing yourself to credit card fraud or identity theft.
- Avoid data sharing: Unless you’re using an encrypted connection, avoid sharing data when using hotspots or public WiFi. Disable file sharing when you’re on a public network to prevent strangers from sending you malware or trying to access your files.
- Stick to using secure websites: Each time you see “https,” that means you’re visiting a secure website. Some sites, like email providers and Facebook, automatically convert URLs to a safe connection. If you’re a Chrome user, you can also install an extension that encrypts data.
- Uncheck the option to connect automatically: If you’re in range of a free internet connection or hotspot that remembers your device, that could put you at risk. It’s a good idea to opt to have your device forget the network and reconnect manually each time you’re in range.
- Use two-factor authentication on password protected sites: Visiting password-protected websites means you need an extra layer of protection. For these sites, add two-factor authentication to provide an extra layer of security when logging in.