While options for inexpensive and even free video content have flourished, most would-be cord cutters remain tied to an expensive broadband Internet connection.
The major internet service providers, or ISPs, including Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), and AT&T (NYSE:T), have managed to keep the price of this access relatively high. Americans pay a roughly $60-$65 average monthly price for broadband access, according to research from Point Topic conducted in early 2014.
It's possible to lower that cost in markets served by more than one provider by shopping around and looking for the best promotional deal. In some cases, it's also possible to get your existing provider to cut your price simply by asking (and showing a willingness to leave for another company).
It's also possible to get Internet service for almost nothing and, in limited cases, actually nothing. Here are three ways to do so.
1. A tablet with free T-Mobile access
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) made a splash last holiday season with its sub-$200 series of Windows laptops and tablets. The company received a lot of press for its HP Stream 7, a 7-inch Windows 8 tablet that costs $99.
The 8-inch HP Stream 8 did not receive as much notice, perhaps because it has a $179.99 list price. That seems like a big jump for an extra inch of screen space, but the Stream 8 comes with a huge bonus -- 200 MB of 4G wireless data a month from T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS), for free, for the life of the device.
That's not a lot of data, but it's enough to check email and do some basic Web surfing. What's also nice about the tablet is that once the data allotment is used, T-Mobile offers users the ability to purchase more in inexpensive chunks with no overage charges. Prices vary depending upon how much you buy at a time, but it works out to roughly $2-4 per extra 1GB.
The Stream 8, which is the tablet I use when traveling, is a tremendous deal. The free Internet access is not much, but many months it's enough, and when I have had to purchase more, T-Mobile makes it easy.
2. Free hot spots
While the Stream 8 offers limited free Internet access, that service is specific to that tablet -- it can't be used as a way to connect other devices. However, FreedomPop, an alternative wireless and broadband access provider, actually offers hot spots that come with free Internet access.
FreedomPop offers free plans for its mobile hot spots. Actually signing up for the service can be a bit of a challenge as the company's signup pages attempt to street you toward pricier (albeit still very cheap) upgrade packages.
Still, it's possible to get a 4G hot spot from the low-cost/no-cost provider with 500MB a month for absolutely nothing. There's no catch, except you have to put a credit card because any overage costs $0.02 a MB. Currently, FreedomPop is even offering an extra 1GB of data per month as an incentive to sign up for its free offer.
You do have to pay for the modem hot spot device, however, which allows you to receive the free data. There are a number of choices, all under $100, which is in-line with what higher-priced providers charge.
3. Dialing in
While FreedomPop's plans start at free for high-speed service, NetZero, which offered free dial-up service as far back at the 1990s, will now give customers 10 hours of free dial-up a month. It's not as fast, but the company offers "thousands of access numbers nationwide," which makes it convenient in a pinch.
NetZero also has cheap 4G Internet along with a free device which allows users to connect. The company offers data plans starting at 2GB for $19.95 -- not as good as free, but still a decent deal. The company also sells DSL service starting at $11.95 a month.
Let's be realistic
While it's possible to get cut-rate and even limited free Internet access, there is no magic service that replaces a traditional ISP without charging you. It's also unrealistic to think that the various free and low-cost Internet options will allow you to play online games, stream video, and do any other bandwidth hogging tasks.
While none of the above services equal even a basic traditional Internet connection, all offer internet services nonetheless. Specifically, the Stream 8 and connectivity devices from FreedomPop and Netzero offer reasonable solutions for free, very limited Internet access while traveling.
Of course, these options aren't perfect, but the price is right, and all three of these services offer connectivity where traditional connections may not.