These days it isn't easy to get people to agree on anything. If I said that water is wet, I'm sure you could find 3 out of 10 people to say I'm crazy -- "Everyone knows water is dry!" And you would certainly get a wide variety of opinions if you asked whether the internet is good or bad. But what can't be denied is the importance of being connected to the internet.
According to surveys taken by the Pew Research Center, 75% of seniors 65 and over use the internet, and 64% of seniors use their home broadband connection to do so. These numbers have been steadily rising over the past decade, and they've become even more pronounced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as in-person gathering has been eschewed for FaceTime, Zoom and other video chat tools.
The need to be online is acute, but too often, the price for being connected can be steep -- and a particular problem if you're a retiree on a fixed income. How can you find cheap internet for seniors? We're glad you asked. Here are a few ideas.
Start with some helpful government programs
Unlike your local diner,don't really offer senior discounts. There are certainly some ISP-specific deals worth exploring (and we'll talk about those in just a bit), but your best bet is to begin by taking advantage of federal programs. Two jump to mind -- one has been around since 1985 and the other is a temporary policy that just went into place in 2021.
You should begin your research with Lifeline, a program that's been around for several decades and can help eligible customers with either their phone or internet bill. While it's not specifically geared to the elderly, several of its qualifiers -- including participation in Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit -- apply to seniors. Lifeline is also geared towards helping low-income households, so retirees on an especially tight, fixed income, including those in Federal Public Housing Assistance or those using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, might also be able to participate.
What do you get if you do qualify? Seniors can get up to $9.25 a month off their internet bill for a total of $111 a year off the cost of being connected at home.
Even better, once you qualify for Lifeline, you're also eligible for the government's more recent Emergency Broadband Benefit, a subsidy program from the Federal Communications Commission. Again, this is not specifically geared to seniors, but those eligible for Lifeline assistance can also qualify for this temporary benefit, which provides a monthly discount on the cost of broadband service for however long the federal monies last. Provisions in the latest infrastructure bill would make the benefit permanent, so if that language makes it to the president's desk, you could be looking at a dependable discount for the foreseeable future.
What's exciting is you can use the funds from the EBB toward the ISP-specific programs we list below and you might find it fully covers the cost of your monthly internet bill! One other option is to use the EBB to help pay for a faster plan to help you better stream your favorite TV shows or get a better connection on those video chats with family.
Finally, let me share a note of caution: Beware the "senior deals" pages on some ISP sites. Many are just glorified ads masquerading as helpful tips. Instead of showing you legitimate discounts or unveiling special deals, they're trying to sell you on higher-speed plans. Definitely use some discernment as you shop.
Top internet deals and discounts for seniors
If you receive SSI benefits in California or participate in SNAP in any of the 21 states within the AT&T serviceability area, you're eligible for this program, which features download speeds of up to 25 megabits per second for $5-$10 a month. You won't have to deal with any installation fees, contracts or deposits. Also, through Dec. 31, AT&T is waiving all data overage fees.
This program includes eligibility for people 65 and older who receive SSI, and US military veterans receiving state or federal assistance. The no-contract internet plan features up to 50Mbps download speeds for $15 a month. It also includes discounted installation, unlimited data and a free modem/router combo.
This affordable internet plan is $10 a month and features up to 25Mbps download speeds. No contracts or credit checks are required. Though not exclusively for seniors, it is open to eligible, low-income households and participants in SSI. In addition, RCN is offering the first 60 days for free.
As well as participating in the EBB, Rise Broadband features a discount of 10% off monthly internet service for retired (and active) military personnel.
Sparklight is offering assistance to low-income families and seniors. It will make its 15Mbps plan available for $10 a month for the first three months of service. This will be in effect through December.
Seniors age 65 and over that receive SSI are eligible for this assistance plan. It features up to 30Mbps download speeds for $15 a month and includes a free modem, no data caps and no contracts.
Seniors currently enrolled in the federal Lifeline program can save $20 a month on any Verizon Fios plan offered at their address.
If you're a senior, participating in Medicaid or SSI, or receive a VA pension, you may be eligible for this internet plan, which features up to 50Mbps download speeds for $10 a month. No credit check is required and participants also get free access to Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. Lastly, effective until Dec. 31, eligible new customers will get 60 days of free service.