Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Internet connectivity can get expensive. Unfortunately, low-cost or free alternatives are few or have strings attached.

We want to know if there is way to connect to the internet without having to pay the high fees that our cable company charges for internet access ($55 a month). We are on a fixed income and in our sixties. We enjoy being connected to our friends thru the internet and playing games like Mah-Jong and Farmville on Facebook. But when it comes right down to it, when being forced to choose between our cable and internet connection (which together cost $115 a month), the internet would be the one that we'd have to cut, as without cable, we receive no television signals. We are homebodies and love each other a lot (married 42 years), but we need the entertainment factor that watching TV and being on the internet provide us. ;-) We read today's edition of your newsletter about a person asking if they could share the password for their router with their neighbor. We think that we got the gist of what you were saying and wonder... Can this “router thing” allow us to connect to the internet without having to go through a separate company? How much does a router cost? Is it hard to hook up? Is it something that we could do ourselves?

A router is not going to get you free internet, no.

Besides, you probably already have one.

I like to compare internet service to your landline phone service: if you want your own phone, you gotta pay for the connection. Without that, all that you can really do is borrow your neighbor's phone or maybe that of a generous business.

But if you want your own connection at home, that's a service that needs to be paid for, I'm afraid.

I'll look at a couple of alternatives for internet, both free and paid, and talk a little more about that router.

About that router

A router is simply a device that allows you to share an existing internet connection.

"The options for getting no-cost or low-cost internet into the home are few."

Because you have internet right now through your cable company, it's very possible that you already have a router, particularly if you have more than one computer. Whether or not you have one, however, a router is simply a device that is used to manage the internet connection that you already have.

In the article about the person sharing her connection with her neighbors, she already had a router connected to her internet service (that she was paying for) and was allowing her neighbors to connect to it.

The two basic types of home internet service

Internet service to the home is often one of either two types of service:

  • Cable - Cable internet makes use of the existing cable coming into your home provided by your cable TV provider. They use that same cable to bring in internet service. In this case, the cable company provides your internet service.

  • DSL - DSL makes use of the existing telephone connection into your home provided by your telephone company. They then use the same wires to provide internet service. In the U.S., at least while the telephone company continues to provide the connection to your home, they are requried to allow other companies to actually be your ISP. Thus, while your phone company might offer you internet connectivity, you might also be able to look around and find additional DSL options from different, often local, ISPs.

For completeness, I should also mention fiberoptical connections, such as FiOS, which are provided by your telephone company, or satellite internet, provided by satellite TV or internet companies. The former has limited availability and the latter suffers from technical issues that make it only a last resort option when nothing else is available, in my opinion.

In your case, I'd at least start checking for the availability of DSL and how its pricing compares in your area.

A third, paid option

Mobile broadband is essentially wireless internet connectivity provided by mobile phone carriers and might be a possible alternative.

As you might expect, there are several options here because there are typicaly several mobile carriers that offer their services in any given region. Most offer devices that can be connected via USB or even standalone wireless routers that allow you to connect to the internet using the mobile network.

I'm not all that hopeful that they'll be as cost effective as a replacement for what you have but they're worth investigating. Be aware that there may be limitations on how much you can do (data transfer limits) and it'll almost certainly be slower than the cable connection that you have today.

Free options

Options for connecting to the internet for free are very, very limited. Essentially, you end up relying on the generosity of someone else who's paying for a connection to share it with you.

  • Your neighbor - Even though I advise against it for most, getting internet through your neighbor could be an option, depending on your relationship with your neighbor. If they have a WiFi access point and its signal is strong enough for you to connect to it from your home, it could work. All that you'd need is a WiFi adapter for your PC if it doesn't already have one. They'll have to trust you not to abuse their connection and stay secure, and you'll have to trust that they won't snoop on the data that you send through their connection.

  • The local library - Usually, this means using their equipment, but some provide free WiFi that you can use by bringing your WiFi-enabled laptop.

  • The local coffee shop or other generous business - For me, this means Starbucks, but many coffee shops and other small businesses are offering free WiFi as a perk for their customers. This does mean that you'll need to bring in your laptop, though.

Shop around

As you can see, the options for getting no-cost or low-cost internet into the home are few.

My recommendation is that you shop around, perhaps looking to local DSL providers for better price options or even chatting with your cable company to see if they offer reduced services with lower rates.

Article C4923 - September 7, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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21 Comments
MichaelW
September 7, 2011 3:36 PM

And if one REALLY has to cut $$ and is willing to go back to the "World Wide Wait", dial-up services have not all died yet. I still see CDs for NetZero in Walmart every time I go in. I know someone for whom financially that IS her only option.

Liz Adams
September 13, 2011 8:31 AM

I'm aware of at least one free Internet service, though the time is limited each month. I've had a Juno account, free, for several years now through which I can get 10 hours of use each month. Also, my regular cable ISP will usually discount their rates for periods of 1 - 3 years due to "financial hardship" or for Seniors on a fixed income.

BruceR
September 13, 2011 8:49 AM

There are a couple of other lower cost options to consider: First, call the cable company company and tell them you want a lower rate option to compete with DSL. Time Warner lowered my rate from $46/mo to $19/mo and lowered my speed to 3Mbs which is plenty fast enough for everything described in the question. Second, tethering from a 3G cellphone is a bit slower but still acceptable for those on a budget. Virgin Mobile has plans with unlimited 3G data from $35/mo including a substantial number of minutes and unlimited text.
Using a neighbor's wifi, with their permission of course, will probably result in speeds no better unless the signal is very strong which it usually isn't from one house to the other.

Bob
September 13, 2011 8:54 AM

Shop around then call your cable company. They often have customer retention programs where they will reduce your rate, especially if you tell them you are going to disconnect or switch!
It's worked for several of my friends, your mileage will vary,
Cheers

Dan
September 13, 2011 8:59 AM

Or to save cost - they could get rid of the TV service and watch many of their favorite shows online. Many networks show their TV shows after they show up on the broadcast. For around $8, they can add Netflix and get movies and TV shows streamed. So - if they want to cut their bills, and still be entertained, cut the TV portion and still watch some of the shows on the network. Not as convenient as changing channels, but once you know your way around, it isn't too hard to find what you want. As a 60 year old, I know it can even be done by 60 year olds!

Bill F
September 13, 2011 9:29 AM

Dial up is still a viable option for those who primarily want email and some simple surfing and can be reasonably priced.

Check around locally. Some cities have set up wireless internet for their own use that they resell to their customers at very reasonable rates.

Clear.com is not in all markets but has a more reasonable rate than the askers cable company but also has a much lower rate for those who are willing to be limited to 200 meg per month.

Jim
September 13, 2011 9:33 AM

Call your local telephone company and ask what rate they will give a new DSL customer. Then call your cable company and tell them you want to disconnect your service (keep in mind they don't want you to leave) they will give you a promotional rate for a specific period of time 3-24 months. Mark the date on a calendar and repeat at the end of the promo time.

I'm 60 and got rid of TV service and watch my favorite programs over the internet ($55 discounted to $25 a month) and connect my computer to my TV. I also got a $35 antenna and get 45 channels at no cost (granted only 20 are of interest and in English).

A Roku box can connect to an analog TV and give you even more options. Do your homework and you'll find a cost saving solution. Do you really need 300 channels from your cable company when there are only 10 you watch on a regular basis? Good luck.

Bernard Winchester
September 13, 2011 10:15 AM

Sharing a connection with a neighbour can be a practical solution: some years ago, I was using dial-up and my neighbour had a broadband connection which he didn't use much. He suggested sharing, and I ran an ethernet cable to his house and bought a cable router on E-Bay to split the signal from the modem. It was an arrangement which worked for several years: the chief inconvenience was knocking at the door once or twice a month to reset the router! It only came to an end because he stopped using his computer and I was offered free broadband by my telephone company.

Ken Thomson
September 13, 2011 10:53 AM

Try www.toast.com. Thierr DSL is $25. a month.
Reduce your TV cable service to the basic minimums @ about $26.00 a month and then borrow DVD's from your local library for free. You will be a lot happier since cable TV has become so crappy..

Jack
September 13, 2011 11:11 AM

Dan mentioned Netflix but there is also Hulu ,probably all of your news channels and much more.
Also for most all of this NO AD's ,basically.
An internet connection is a win,win situation .

I have not had cable tv for a few years now.

Pat Madd
September 13, 2011 11:15 AM

I am in same situation, being on limited income.
I have internet service & phone with ATT.
I had my house phone disconnected and kept
cell phone. Went over the items on cell phone that I did not use and had them taken off. That saved $3.00 a month.
My internet cost $29 a month.
My monthly bill went from $115 down to $56.
Check out services available, but give ATT a call
and tell them your problems. They are always
willing to work with you.

sVen
September 13, 2011 11:38 AM

http://www.juno.com/
They have different options. One is strictly email, which is free. They also have some low cost options. Someone already mentioned Juno, but I wanted to point out that email-only is free.

John Dove
September 13, 2011 12:41 PM

I know this discussion was presumably only talking about high-speed internet, but NetZero dialup is free for casual use (assuming you have a land line and a modem, of course).
The Internet connection is free for ten hours per month. If you are just checking email, this might be a solution, especially combined with an email client that lets you do POP downloads and offline email reading and reply.
This comment may belong in another topic thread. If so, my sincere apologies.

Jim H
September 13, 2011 1:13 PM

Just a Hodge-Podge of comments based on the other posts-

1) Last year I compared AT&T's Internet service via DSL to my cable via Comcast because Comcast had imposed 250 GB per month download limits and at the time AT&T was still unlimited. After an incredibly difficult effort I finally got the AT&T rep to tell me cost after the specials, introductory offers, etc. For the equivalent Internet service the monthly fee was almost identical. The cost offset was made up and exceeded with AT&T because I would have to rent their modem where with Comcast I bought my own. Since then, AT&T has capped service at 250 GB per month for U-Verse customers and 150 GB per month for non U-Verse customers. I looked into Comcast's phone services after my VOIP service from Vonage went up $10 a month in about a year making no longer the bargain that it was Comcast's was very close. But, I would have to rent a modem from Comcast. I could not buy one and the rental cost in a year would be the same as a very good cable modem. And year after year it quickly became a ridiculous amount. As an aside I looked into At&T's U-Verse TV programming as well. Again, after finally getting the rep to tell me monthly cost once all the teaser rates and new subscriber rates were off, the cost of U-Verse was within a few bucks of what I was paying Comcast. But, there were fewer premium channels available from U-Verse. Some were unavailable at all and many of the premium channels, such as one HBO, rather than the multiple HBOs I get via Comcast so I can watch programs at a number of times, there was only one on U-Verse. It was much less for the same money withing a dollar or two.

2)Netflix on demand viewing counts against your download cap and I don't know of any high speed Internet services that are not capped. With Comcast, exceeding your limit can get you a warning, a per gigabyte charge, bumped into the higher monthly fee commercial bracket, or your account can be suspended or cancelled. If you ever want an amusing 45 minutes getting a non-answer from customer service folks, call your ISP/TV programming provider and ask them to explain how streaming affects your cap.

On other tech blogs I have read that with Netflix's service there are download lags and buffering delays which really screw up the flow of watching a movie. It has also been reported there is a synchronizing issue between audio and video with an effect not unlike older Japanese movies where they are still moving their mouths but no dialog is to be heard. Another frequently complaint was that there number of movies you could stream was limited and after a few months you would have gone through most of the best ones. Yet another issue was quality of the video was not comparable to viewing the same film on DVD, especially Blu-Ray and that special features found on DVDs were not accessible. Netflix recently raised the cost of the service which according to some. effectively doubled it. I think it was for those who get both streaming and home delivery. To be fair, I do use Netflix's home DVD subscription service and I like it a lot. Best of all I don't have to go any farther than my mailbox to pick up and return my DVDs.

I have looked at other streaming based rental such as Amazon's and they are expensive although not as bad as some On Demand rentals which are as high as $8.99.

3)Some ISPs that also offer TV programming have blocked other TV content providers. Most recently a Philadelphia ISP -I think that's where it was- blocked Netflix's streaming service. I haven't tried Hulu, but I had been told that after Comcast offered their service to view TV programming on your PC that services like Hulu and others were going to be restricted or blocked. I see that will be a continuing trend until the FCC does something. I'm not holding my breath for an outbreak of testosterone in DC anytime soon.

4)If you can get away from streaming video and are limited to surfing, email, or playing turn based games, there is always good old dial up. USB connected phone modems are still available. It isn't lightening speed but if you aren't doing much, it's OK for email, surfing and the like. With few people using it plenty of bandwidth should mean it won't be as slow as it was back in the day when you couldn't even get on during holidays and such. It's still cheap.

5)If and it's a mighty big IF, but if there are several families close by and everybody can be trusted to hold up their end of the deal, someone could get a connection in their name and then share the connection as a network via Wi-Fi. or other wireless Those using it could split the cost every month. Three people splitting a $50 monthly connection would be paying about $17.00 each which isn't too bad. 4 would be paying about $12.50. Everybody could have a password protected computer to keep their stuff private. I know my wireless and hard wired Ethernet Router finds other wireless networks from a good distance from my house so reasonable distance is possible. You'd have to be quiet about it since I'm sure it violates some provision of the user agreement. Again, it would be heavy on the trust thing.

Black Dahlia
September 13, 2011 1:26 PM

Watch all your favorite TV shows and much, much more whenever you want on your PC. I haven't owned a television since I got a broadband connection over ten years ago.

Margaret Louk
September 13, 2011 1:53 PM

When I discussed ways of reducing the cost of internet and phone, besides bundling, the representative said since my husband was over 65 we could contact an agency that eliminates fees and taxes for seniors. I did not do that, but you can contact your phone company and see if they know who to contact. Look on your utility bills and a large amount is for fees, and taxes.

MMJ
September 13, 2011 3:43 PM

If I had to choose between cable and internet, I would choose to drop cable. For various reasons I didn't particularly like the analog to digital switch. However, one thing it did do was allow broadcasters to offer more programming on sub-channels. If you have an outdoor antenna and a converter box or a digital TV, you can get all the major networks along with independent digital programming for FREE. Success varies with location, but I would bet you'd get enough to entertain you.

Internet, however, is not as easy to replace. There is are low- and no-cost dial-up solutions, but, with more and more elaborate web sites, video, etc. that's not always a viable option. You could do with a laptop and hotspots at libraries, etc. for unsecured surfing.

Also, a lot of networks offer their programming online. I've caught up many episodes out at the CBS or ABC site. One doesn't need to pay for a streaming account to find things to watch.

John H
September 13, 2011 5:21 PM

I too am retired and disabled.
I only have High Speed internet.

Anything I want to watch I get through Netflix.
As one person mentioned you can always watch Digital broadcast TV. Who remembers the days before Cable TV?

I save lots of money by not having standard telephone service. I have a Skype Phone Number for about $3 a month for long conversations. I pay $15 a month for Net10 prepaid phone service as my primary phone.

You may also want to figure in the cost of running your computer 24-7 if you have a large power hungry computer. This can add up to 8 dollars more a month.

I do seriously plan hard to keep my IT budget low.
One last money saver is that I buy 3 or 4 year old used IBM or Lenovo Thinkpads on E-bay. They are built like tanks and draw so little power. They are often given out as toys to executives and some never get used. I just purchased a dual core 2.2GHZ fully tricked out X61 which handles all my media and CAD needs and only draws about 27 watts. $230 shipping included.

I do splurge on large Monitors because of all the money I save.

I have a boat at a Marina. We all share one fellows WIFI for free with his permission. But he makes jokes about the web sites we visit. I use Witopia VPN for confidential browsing. Small price to pay for a free connection.

Carolyn Embry
September 14, 2011 7:38 AM

I use clear internet and majicjack. I pay $30 monthly for internet, and $19.95 for the majicjack which I plug into my old desktop, and I phone service and free long distance. Ocasionally I get static on the phone, but other than that I love it. You can get the Clear modem in just about any place. I got mine at Best Buy. I don't have a phone line. You can take the modem and majic jack on trips. The modem is tiny.

Carolyn Embry
September 14, 2011 7:46 AM

I fogot to mention that the majicjack is only $19.95 a year and you can buy t at Best Buy or most anwhere. So you are getting your phone service with free long distance for only $19.95 per year.

Maureen McCarthy
September 18, 2011 8:21 PM

In Australia the government helps pensioners & disabled & we pay $25.00 a month for unlimited downloads on broadband. Maybe the US has a similar system. I don't have the package including phone & mobile which is a little dearer but I can use my phone when on the internet

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