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Free Wi-Fi: Where to Get It and What to Know

You can get free internet access at home, at the store and even while on vacation.
Oct. 9, 2017
Managing Money, Personal Finance
free wi-fi
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There’s no such thing as free internet access. Or is there?

In some instances, there are legitimate ways to connect to the internet without paying extra for it. Here’s where to get free Wi-Fi and what you should know before you do.

At home

Most people pay a monthly fee for internet service to get Wi-Fi at home. But you can avoid that fee.

FreedomPop, a mobile phone and internet service provider, has plans starting at $0 per month, says Stephen Stokols, the company’s co-founder and CEO. The basic plan offers free premium 2GB data service for the first month, which includes unlimited text and minutes. After that, you get only 500 texts, 200 minutes and 500MB of data for free each month. If you want the free plan, you’ll have to manually go into your account and downgrade after the trial month is over.

You’ll also need a personal hotspot, a device you can keep at home or bring with you to connect to the internet on your Wi-Fi devices. The company is offering a free hotspot with a one-time activation fee of $19.99. The FreedomPop service isn’t available everywhere: check online for more details and to see if your home is eligible.

Another option? Some other companies offer a limited amount of dial-up internet access for free. For instance, NetZero promises 10 hours a month in its free plan. Here, too, you’ll need a hotspot or wireless device to get access. Go online for full details.

At the store

When you’re out at a store or a coffee shop, you can use free W-Fi offered by some major chains, such as Target and Starbucks, at participating locations. That’s helpful, especially if you want to search for coupons. To get connected, go to your device’s Wi-Fi settings, browse the list of available networks and choose the particular retailer’s guest Wi-Fi.

When you’re away from home, you can use free Wi-Fi offered by some major retail chains, such as Target, and coffee shops, such as Starbucks, at participating locations.

But be cautious while you use a public internet connection, especially for shopping, because it can expose your private financial information to hackers. Some 43% of respondents said they use a public Wi-Fi connection to shop online, according to a 2017 survey by Experian.

Around town

If you want free Wi-Fi when you’re out and about, check if libraries, universities and other such institutions offer it. Availability may vary. To track down free access easily, download an app, such as Wi-Fi Finder, to pinpoint locations near you.

Your cable provider might offer additional options. Spectrum Internet, for instance, offers access to free Wi-Fi to its customers through more than 250,000 hotspot locations nationwide. To access it, connect to an available SpectrumWifi network, sign in using your Spectrum account and accept the terms of service.

On vacation

If free internet access is important to you while you’re traveling, look into a hotel’s policy online or call to check before you book your accommodations. Always check the terms: Some hotels offer basic, low-speed access for free, but charge a fee for faster internet speeds. In other cases, you may need to be a rewards member to gain access.

Some theme parks have free Wi-Fi, too. In any case, be cautious about the information you submit over a public network.

If you’re abroad and don’t want to pay for an international cell phone plan, you may be able to find free Wi-Fi options at restaurants, cafes and other places, just like you would in the U.S. Check with your phone company before you leave to ensure you avoid data roaming and other international fees.

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