With inflation and a potential recession looming, anxiety is growing over the mounting costs of goods and the subsequent impact on our shrinking budgets. Where can we save? How can we make our dollars stretch further? What do we need to cut altogether? And could our home internet connection fall into that category?
According to recent Parks Associates data, US households spend an average of $116 a month on home internet, which is a sizable chunk of change. Whether you use it for remote work, streaming your favorite shows, online gaming or video chatting with family, it's hard to live without the internet. We get it. But to keep your budget in check, there may be a few ways to lower your broadband costs and monthly bills. Here are eight suggestions:
1. Get to know your bill
Before you can find ways to save, you'll first need to know what you're currently paying. Read the bills from several previous months, and try to understand what your internet service provider is actually charging. What download speed are you supposed to receive? Do you have a data cap? If so, are you staying within that data limit, or do you typically incur overage fees? It's important to see how much you pay for internet speed and data usage. While you can't remove some fees, you'd be surprised at how many can be eliminated if you ask. So having this info at hand will be key when it's time to negotiate with your provider.
2. Do a speed check
You want the fastest speed available, right? Some folks have access to a 25Gbps plan, for goodness sake! Let's be honest: While most of us like the idea of having the fastest internet speed available, we probably don't need it. Having a suitably fast internet package is probably near the top of your priority list if you work from home and have others in the house (whether several roommates or a family). But that could still mean you might be able to lean on a 500Mbps plan vs. jumping right to a full gigabit tier or even a multigigabit plan.
But if it's just you and a roommate or spouse, or you're not working remotely and use your internet service for little more than email and checking a few sites, you may want to consider lowering your internet speed even more. Perhaps you can hop down from a 500Mbps plan to a 200Mbps tier. This could be an easy way to reduce your bill yet not have it impact the quality of your internet experience.
3. Minimize devices, if you can
This is a tough one because our homes have become increasingly filled with connected devices, including smart TVs, phones, gaming consoles, voice assistants, smart thermostats, security cameras, smartwatches and so on. The more smart home gadgets you have, the more they'll consume your bandwidth. If you're the only one in your household, you may better be able to wrangle these, so they don't eat up your data cap (if you have one) or start to bring down your home's overall speed. Fewer devices mean you might avoid paying data overage fees and get more effective internet service.
On the other hand, this probably won't work if you have other people in your home -- like family or roommates -- and they all have multiple devices. It's one thing to ask your family or roommates to turn off (or minimize the usage of) their devices so you can stream a big game, but it's another to ask them to give them up altogether.
4. Look into low-cost internet options
Another potential way to reduce your spending on your home internet is to dig into what discount programs might be available to you. You should start your search with government programs to help eligible customers cut costs. That starts with Lifeline, a program that offers assistance to low-income households. You'll get just over $9 a month off your broadband bill if you qualify.
If you qualify for Lifeline, you'll also be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a government subsidy from the Federal Communications Commission that provides a discount of $30 a month off your internet service (and up to $75 monthly for households on Tribal lands).
Finally, while you can use the monies and discounts from those federal programs on any internet plan from the more than 1,600 participating ISPs, you can also couple those subsidies with providers' low-cost plans, almost all of which are $30 or less. That means you could get your home internet service for free. In the past, that might have meant paltry speeds of 10Mbps or less, but in 2022, many providers committed to offering low-cost plans with a minimum of 100Mbps download speed. That's a significant difference.
5. Check out available competitors
Now that you know your internet speed, what you use the internet for and what you're paying to receive your home broadband, it's time to shop around. Many competitors are vying for your business. For example, T-Mobile and Verizon are aggressively getting into the home internet space with their 5G home internet products. Other providers will happily give you an introductory rate less than what you currently pay. Sometimes smaller, local ISPs can provide a better rate than the internet behemoths such as AT&T and Comcast Xfinity, but that's not always the case. Use our comparison shopping tool below to research providers in your area.
Before signing up, get an idea of your monthly costs when you switch your internet service to a new provider. Compare what you're paying now to what you'll pay for the next month, six months and year. Along with that, what's the cost after the promo plan ends? Consider your long-term use as well. With the competitive landscape out there, try to avoid signing any long-term contracts unless you know for certain that you're getting the best possible rate at your address.
6. Consider using your own modem and router
Some internet providers charge an extra monthly fee for you to rent a modem and router. Sometimes it's just an extra $5 per month, but some ISPs charge as much as $15 monthly. In the long run, it could prove cheaper to buy your own, which might even boost your speed and performance. My CNET colleague, Ry Crist, goes into further detail on how you can save by using your own modem and router.
7. Bundle broadband with other services
Obviously, your internet connection isn't the only household service you pay for. You could pay less by bundling your internet with other services, such as your cell phone and cable TV plans. See if your provider offers discounted bundle packages. If you like the offer, it's usually easy to sign up through the company's website.
This is a good idea if you use what you buy. If you've cut the cord and are now a streaming household, buying a cable TV package might not be the best move.
8. Try negotiating with your internet provider
You've reviewed your bill and checked your internet speed. You've counted how many devices you have and compared competing offers. Now you can negotiate with your current ISP and call them with confidence.
This isn't always the easiest or most time-efficient step, but it's important. If you've had the same provider for a few years, it's more likely to work with you on lowering your bill. Many will ask the same questions: Can you lower your internet speed? Can you increase your internet speed (they'll often try to lure you to a higher speed by offering better promos and a better cost per Mbps)? Now you're equipped to better answer those questions.
Do your research on the competition. If you mention offers from competitors you've come across, your customer service rep may give you a deal to keep you a happy customer. Knowing about competing offers gives you an advantage: Your provider knows you can move on to another ISP if you don't like what you currently have or what's offered.
Ask your current provider if there are any promotions available for new customers that you would also like to receive. If you haven't found a deal that works for your budget (or you've run into an inflexible sales agent), it's all right to end the call and try again later or plan to end service with that provider.
Don't be afraid to cancel your service. It may take some time to close one account and open another, but if you're saving a significant amount, it's worth it. Remember, though: It's not just about the promotion period. Otherwise, you may need to negotiate your bill this time next year when the promo rate is over.
Save Money on Your Internet Bill FAQs
Is it possible to get your home internet service for free?
Yes. To do so, you'll need to take advantage of some federal programs. Start with Lifeline, a government program that can get eligible customers just over $9 off the monthly cost of internet service. If you qualify for Lifeline, you're eligible for the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program, which nets you a $30 discount on your home broadband connection. Many internet service providers across the country have plans up to 100Mbps download speed for $30 or less, so you can use your federal discounts to get free home internet.
What's the cheapest type of internet connection?
That's a tricky question because so much depends on what's available at your location. Generally speaking, fiber internet will often provide the best value in terms of cost per Mbps, where you'll get more download and upload speed for your money. However, regarding the cheapest internet, at least in terms of what you'll pay right out of the gate, that usually comes from cable internet providers. Their first-year promo prices can be tough to beat. Just be sure to avoid signing any long-term contract so you can opt out once the price increases.
Do internet prices always go up after one year?
Often they do. Many providers will offer an enticing price for your first 12 months of service and then ratchet up the price after one year. However, we see that practice declining as increased competition has developed. Some providers -- like AT&T, Spectrum and Verizon Fios, for example -- don't do promo prices, while others -- including Optimum and Verizon 5G Home Internet -- offer two-to-three-year price guarantees. Not to be outdone, a few other providers (including T-Mobile Home Internet) will do a price-lock guarantee for the life of your contract.