Whether you’re a student, parent, educator, government official, or part of an organization, you should know that we live in a world that’s largely driven by the internet. Therefore, it’s crucial for students to have access to the internet. It’s become a necessity since students need to access a wide range of resources, conduct research, and communicate with others. It forms a core part of achieving academic success, and a lack of internet access is a barrier that hinders students significantly.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the internet due to various reasons, such as financial constraints. It’s not fair for these students to be set back because of something out of their control. What do you do in this situation?
Fortunately, various organizations, governments, and communities have developed programs to ensure students have access to free internet. A few of these programs include Lifeline Assistance Program and Affordable Connectivity Program. These programs give students the necessary tools and resources to excel in their studies and reach their dreams.
This article discusses the various programs students can access to get free internet, the eligibility criteria and application process, as well as other important considerations and benefits. Let’s dive in!
Government Programs Offering Free Internet for Students
There are a few options to choose from when looking for free internet for students. Many of these programs also offer their services at state and federal levels. Some of the most popular options include:
Lifeline Assistance Program
The Lifeline Assistance Program was initiated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and is aimed at low-income families across the US. Therefore, it is not exclusively designed for students, but many students living in low-income families have been able to benefit from it.
Anyone who qualifies for the Lifeline Assistance Program receives up to a $9.25 monthly discount on their internet services. By making a wide range of internet services more affordable, the Lifeline Assistance Program ensures that low-income consumers can afford the latest broadband internet and have access to its vast educational resources.
To qualify for the Lifeline Assistance Program, you need to meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
- Your household income is 135% or less than those set out in the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which is based on the state and size of your household.
- You participate in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- If you live on Tribal lands and participate in any of the above-mentioned programs, Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or Head Start.
- The person’s child or dependent participates in any of the above-mentioned programs.
Keep in mind that you might have to show proof of participation when you apply, such as an official document or benefit letter.
This program offers a number of benefits for students, such as the program directly pays the participating service provider, and it offers a wide range of internet, telephone, and voice bundles. However, a few limitations are that there is only one discount available per household, and you can use the program either for internet or phone services, not both. This limitation could negatively affect students who need extensive interaction options for their studies.
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
The ACP is a federal government program that offers low-income families a discount of up to $30 ($75 for tribal lands) per month for home internet services. This program replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), which offered a $50 discount. While the ACP offers a lower discount, it is focused on long-term benefits and is accessible to more households.
Furthermore, any student that lives in an eligible household can qualify for a one-time discount of $100 or less to enable them to buy a computer, laptop, or tablet from any participating provider. Thus, it's evident that the ACP has a focus on students and keeping them connected so that they can stay on top of their work.
In order for students to participate in the ACP, one of the following eligibility requirements needs to be met:
- Your household income is 200% or less than those set out in the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- You received a federal Pell Grant in the year of application.
- Any member of the household receives benefits through Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or certain Tribal programs.
- Any of the participating provider’s eligibility requirements are met.
- You received approval for benefits in the school year ending in 2020, 2021, or 2022 under the free and reduced-cost school lunch or breakfast program. This includes the Community Eligibility Provision.
You can apply for the ACP online, through a participating internet service provider, or by mail. After you submit your application, you need to wait for a response either to give you approval or request more documentation or information. Once your application has been approved, choose any of the participating internet service providers and sign up for internet service. Feel free to contact the provider first to learn about their available services for ACP recipients.
Additionally, anyone enrolled in the Lifeline Assistance Program automatically qualifies for the discount. It’s possible to receive a discount under each program. However, you will not automatically get the ACP discount once applying for the Lifeline program, you have to opt in.
Many states across America recognize that there is a need for internet access and that many students do not have access to this. As a result, they offer free internet to specific areas in the state, such as rural areas, or try to focus on helping families with financial constraints. Each state has its own eligibility criteria and application process; therefore, it’s crucial to do your own research ahead of time.
A few examples of organizations providing free internet access for students include:
- The 1Million Project
- Google’s Rolling Study Halls Program
Local Projects and Collaborations
Many cities and communities are committed to helping those in need. Therefore, they run local projects and collaborations to ensure members of the community have access to the internet. Oftentimes, these projects are in collaboration with schools, libraries, or community centers. The government also collaborates with non-profit organizations to set up WiFi hotspots around the city and more.
Therefore, there are many projects and programs that students can benefit from. These benefit students in many ways as there are generally no requirements that need to be met, and the internet is easily accessible to students at all hours of the day. This gives students the opportunity to work in a manner that supports them and ensures that students are given the opportunity to make the most out of their academic careers.
Eligibility Criteria and Application Process
In order for students to qualify for free internet access via these government programs, they need to meet the following eligibility requirements:
The government sets a specific income threshold that needs to be met in order for students to get access to certain programs. It's important to check these income requirements on the respective programs' websites before applying. The Lifeline Assistance Program, for example, requires a household income of 135% or below, while the ACP's threshold is set at 200% or below.
Student Status Verification
Individuals have to verify that they are primary, secondary, or post-secondary students to qualify for the program. To prove this, students are required to present IDs, letters of enrolment, class schedules, etc.
Many of these programs prioritize students who have financial constraints and are underprivileged. As a result, many of these programs focus on those living in rural and undeveloped areas. By focusing on areas that have limited internet services or insufficient internet structure, the government aims to achieve increased digital inclusion.
Step-by-step Application Guide
If you’re a student and would like to apply for free internet, follow this simple step-by-step application guide:
- Research available programs and options: Firstly, you’ll have to search for any available local, state, or federal government programs that offer free internet services to students experiencing financial difficulty.
- Check eligibility criteria for selected programs: In order for your application to be successful, you need to meet the specific program’s eligibility requirements. Thus, make sure to check whether you meet them before applying.
- Gather essential documents for the application: The majority of these programs require proof that you meet the necessary requirements. Therefore, ensure you have all the relevant documentation to prove this. Some of the most requested documents include a student enrolment record, proof of income, an academic progress report, and proof of address.
- Complete and submit the application: Once all the eligibility requirements have been satisfied and you have the relevant documentation, it’s time to complete the application form. You will be able to find this on the program’s official website. Before submitting, review it to ensure it is accurate and there are no grammatical errors. Make sure to take note of any submission deadlines to ensure you don’t miss them.
- Follow up on the application status: After submission, you have to wait for a response from the program officials. Often, they’ll ask you for additional information. Therefore, it’s crucial to check your email inbox regularly and reply promptly. This will avoid any delays in the decision-making process.
- Plan installation or equipment pickup: Lastly, if your application is approved, you need to set up an appointment for your internet equipment to get installed. Alternatively, you can arrange to pick up your equipment from one of the designated program offices.
Other Considerations and Benefits
These programs offer much more than just free internet for college students. There are a number of other factors to consider as well:
Additional Benefits and Services
You get much more than internet access with many of these programs. Students get access to unlimited educational resources, support services, and other discounts, such as discounts on laptops or tablets. Make sure to read what each program has to offer to ensure you're choosing the program that will enable you to fulfill your academic needs. Keep in mind that all these factors contribute to the learning process and make the overall learning experience much more positive for students.
Access Points for Free Internet
If you are unable to qualify for free internet under any of these programs or need internet access when you're not at home, there are a number of other places where you should be able to access free internet to get your work done.
Public libraries are excellent places to access free WiFi. You should be able to complete all your school work with the library's internet. However, if you don't already have a library card, make sure to get one! You need this to enter the library and get access to the free internet services.
Schools, universities, airports, and cafes also often provide free internet for low-income students to ensure they have a place to work if they can’t afford WiFi at home. Furthermore, these establishments often offer high-speed internet as well, so you shouldn’t have to worry about any inconveniences.
Alternatively, many cities offer WiFi hotspots in a range of places such as malls, parks, stores, or government centers. Choose the place where you’ll be able to concentrate and get the most work done.
What the Future Holds for Students When It Comes to Free Internet
It’s clear that the government recognizes the importance of free internet and aims to ensure all students across the US have access to the internet so that they can realize their potential. Many of the current programs in place are set up to be long-term programs and are expected to continue well into the future. However, it is clear that there are still many students whose needs have not been met and are still struggling. As the digital world continues to expand, it is clear there will be improvements to these many programs, and more resources will become available to cater to students' needs.
All students deserve to have an equal and fair learning experience regardless of the financial background they come from. There is a clear divide in the educational sector when comparing students that have the wealth of resources provided by the internet to those that don't. Free internetfor students by government entities and other organizations will hopefully correct these imbalances in the future to ensure all students can grow and learn without being held back by a lack of resources.