Low Income Internet Service: Meaning, Programs & How to Get

Low income internet service refers to discounted or free broadband internet access provided to households and individuals who meet certain low income eligibility requirements. With the internet being essential for education, jobs, healthcare and more, lack of affordable internet access exacerbates inequities for low income groups. This issue is referred to as the “digital divide”. Studies show that around 25% of low income households in the US do not have an internet subscription, compared to just 5% of middle and high income households.1 Closing the digital divide is crucial to providing opportunities for all.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for low-income internet service, you generally need to meet certain income requirements or participate in certain government assistance programs. The income thresholds vary by provider, but are usually set between 100-200% of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, AT&T’s Access program is available to households with income at or below 135% of the poverty guidelines.

The most common eligibility criteria include:

  • Participating in Medicaid, SNAP (Food Stamps), SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension or Survivors Benefit, or certain Tribal Programs
  • Income at or below 135-200% of federal poverty guidelines, depending on provider
  • Participating in free or reduced school lunch programs, TANF, or WIC
  • Receiving Section 8 Housing Vouchers

So in summary, the main qualifiers are income level, participation in certain government assistance programs targeted at low-income households, or enrollment in other needs-based programs like reduced school lunches. Each provider has specific eligibility standards, but focusing on these general criteria is a good starting point to assess if you may qualify.

Source: https://networkshardware.com/providers/cox/low-income/

Major Providers

Several major internet service providers offer low-cost internet plans for qualifying low-income households. Some of the biggest providers with low-income programs include:

  • AT&T – Through the Access from AT&T program, AT&T offers internet speeds up to 100 Mbps for $30/month or less based on the maximum speed available at your address. Qualifying residents can also receive free installation and in-home WiFi.

  • Spectrum – The Spectrum Internet Assist program offers speeds up to 30 Mbps for $17.99/month. Eligible customers can also qualify for free in-home WiFi.

  • Comcast – The Internet Essentials from Comcast program provides speeds up to 50 Mbps for $9.95/month. Households may also receive free in-home WiFi equipment, digital literacy training, and discounts on laptops.

  • Cox – Through the Cox Connect2Compete program, low-income customers can get speeds up to 50 Mbps for $9.95/month with free installation and in-home WiFi.

  • Optimum – The Optimum Advantage Internet program offers speeds up to 50 Mbps for $14.99/month with free installation and modem.

Other providers like Lumen, Verizon, Mediacom, and more also offer low-cost connectivity programs in certain coverage areas. The availability of low-income internet plans can vary by location.

Programs Available

There are several programs available to help low-income households afford internet service. Two of the biggest government programs are Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (Source 1). Lifeline is an FCC program that provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on phone or internet service for qualifying low-income consumers. The Emergency Broadband Benefit was launched in 2021 to help households struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This temporary program provides up to a $50 monthly discount on broadband service and up to $100 towards a device.

In addition to these government programs, many major internet providers like AT&T, Spectrum, Comcast and Verizon offer their own low-income internet plans with discounted monthly rates, no data caps, and free installation or equipment (Source 2). For example, AT&T offers internet starting at $10 per month for households enrolled in SNAP. Comcast’s Internet Essentials program offers speeds of 50 Mbps for $9.95 per month. These provider programs have eligibility requirements based on income level or participation in certain government assistance programs. Checking with local providers is the best way to find available options.

Cost Savings

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides substantial cost savings on monthly internet bills for eligible households. According to the FCC, the benefit provides:

  • Up to $30/month discount for internet service
  • Up to $75/month discount for households on qualifying Tribal lands

For example, Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan normally costs $9.95/month for low-income households. With the Affordable Connectivity Program, eligible households can get this plan entirely for free. That’s a 100% savings.

AT&T’s Access plan normally costs $5/month for households in their Lifeline program. With the ACP benefit, these households can get home internet service at no cost, saving them $5/month or 100%.

The program allows low-income families to save a substantial portion of their limited income. Every dollar saved on internet access is a dollar that can go towards other essential needs.

Speeds Offered

Low-income internet plans typically offer slower speeds compared to regular plans from the same provider. However, speeds have been increasing in recent years as providers boost their low-income offerings:

Comcast increased speeds on its Internet Essentials plan from 5 Mbps download to 10 Mbps in 2015 (source).

Cox Communications increased speeds on its Connect2Compete plan from 10 Mbps to 50 Mbps download in 2019 (source).

In New York, providers must offer minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download or match their existing low-income plan speeds if higher (source).

While speeds are lower than regular plans, the increases show providers are making efforts to improve low-income internet access. However, a persistent speed gap remains in most areas.

Data Caps

Most low-income internet plans have data caps, similar to regular internet plans. The standard data cap is typically 1TB (1024GB) per month, though some providers may offer slightly higher caps around 1.2TB for their low-income plans [1].

For example, Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan has a 1.2TB monthly data cap, compared to 1TB for their regular Xfinity plans [2]. AT&T Access from AT&T has a 1TB cap for their low-income service, the same as their regular plans.

Exceeding the data cap results in overage fees or slower speeds, typically $10-15 per 50GB over the limit. Some providers like Spectrum and Verizon Fios do not enforce hard data caps on any of their plans currently, low-income or not.

While 1TB seems high, it’s easy to exceed with multiple high-bandwidth uses like video streaming, gaming, video calls, and working from home. Low-income families need to closely monitor usage and restrict activities to avoid overages.

How to Apply

To apply for low-income internet programs, you’ll need to verify that your household meets the eligibility requirements. This generally involves submitting documents to prove your income level and participation in qualifying assistance programs. Here are the typical steps to apply:

1. Determine your eligibility. You’ll need to confirm your household income is below a certain threshold, often 135-200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines depending on the provider. You may also qualify if you’re enrolled in SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension or Survivors Benefit, or certain Tribal programs.

2. Gather required documents. Have handy things like a government-issued ID, proof of income (tax returns, pay stubs, benefit letters), and proof of program enrollment if relevant. Print out any required application forms.

3. Apply online or by mail. Most major internet providers allow you to apply online. But you may need to mail copies of documentation. Application instructions are available on provider websites.

4. Confirm eligibility. It may take several weeks to verify income and process applications. You’ll be notified if approved and provided details on accessing your low-cost internet service.

5. Recertify annually. To stay enrolled, you must recertify your eligibility each year, which involves submitting updated income documentation.


Affordable internet access provides many benefits for low-income households. It can open up new opportunities in education, jobs, and healthcare. Students with internet access at home can complete homework assignments, participate in online classes, and access digital learning resources (TRIO Gets Connected). This helps bridge the “homework gap” between students from higher and lower income families.

Having an internet connection also allows people to search and apply for jobs online. Many employers require online job applications and access to email. This gives households with affordable internet a better chance at finding and securing employment (Affordable Connectivity Program).

In addition, internet access enables telehealth visits with doctors, downloading health apps, and managing healthcare needs online. This is especially important for seniors, people with disabilities, and those without reliable transportation (Explore AT&T Access).


While the Affordable Connectivity Program provides much-needed financial assistance for internet access, it has faced some criticisms.

One issue that has been raised is the qualification process. To be eligible, households need to meet certain low-income criteria or participate in certain government assistance programs (Kerr, 2023). Some argue the income thresholds are too low, excluding many families in need. There are also concerns about the paperwork required and lack of awareness about the program (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2023).

Another common criticism is that affordable internet access through the program is still not available everywhere, particularly in rural areas. Broadband infrastructure gaps mean some households can’t get high-speed internet even with the discount (Moe, 2023). There have been calls for more investment in rural broadband to address this issue.

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