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Can you get free broadband? How to get free internet deals

Savings pot

Is there such a thing as a free internet deal?

It’s a question we’re regularly asked. You may have seen free broadband advertised before. In fact, in the past, there were some services that came pretty close to fulfilling that promise.

But what does free broadband mean today? Why don’t you see free broadband deals advertised anymore? Are there any alternatives, like free installation, if you’re on a tight budget?

In this guide, we’ll explain the past and present of free broadband and show you how to save money on broadband to get the cheapest possible deal.

Free broadband: the key points

  • Almost all broadband services require payment.
  • You can save money with a free setup or reward offer with free gifts.
  • Some providers include free Wi-Fi hotspot access.
  • There are free and discounted broadband deals for those on benefits.

Ready to buy? Check out our cheapest deals below:

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What happened to free broadband deals?

A few years back, you'd see free broadband advertised by major providers such as Sky, TalkTalk, and BT. Usually, this would be offered as “free broadband for the first 12 months”.

However, this wasn't good as it sounded. Although the broadband part of the deal may have been free for a limited time, you still had to pay the phone line rental. 

New rules introduced by the ASA put a stop to that. Providers are no longer allowed to separate the cost of the broadband and line rental. Though this might sound like a bad thing, it actually means that you know the true cost of your deal from the start.

The monthly price you now see for a broadband deal has to cover all the bundled services. So, when you sign up for a 12, 18 or 24-month contract, you know exactly what you’re paying each month and what you’re getting for that.

Who used to offer free internet deals?

There have been examples of free internet services in the past. When Orange launched home broadband in 2006, it offered free broadband for life to its mobile customers. It was quickly overwhelmed. You still needed to pay line rental, but Orange customers were free to choose their own phone provider until the scheme ended in 2012.

TalkTalk also became infamous early on for a similar free broadband offer. Customer demand was so high, it led to major issues with customer support and reliability due.

And even further back, in the dial-up days before broadband was widely available, there were numerous freephone internet services. But as with all the other free internet services, you still had to pay for the phone line to use them.

Essentially, any services that offered free broadband in the past weren’t ever truly free. You still had to pay for the phone lines. Nowadays, you know exactly what you’re paying for, and you can still get deals that will save you plenty of money.

What's the next best thing to free broadband?

While free broadband deals may no longer be advertised, you can still find similar offers.

There’s no shortage of cheap deals from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Taking landline rental into account, they work out to be very similar to the old free broadband offerings.

Another option for those of you looking for a great deal is broadband with free setup. Some providers offer this as standard, others as a limited-time deal, and it’s definitely one that’s worth looking out for.

Free TalkTalk Broadband for Job Seekers

TalkTalk has set up a voucher scheme to offer 'free' Fibre 35 broadband connections to jobseekers. 

If you’re interested and are on the correct benefits, this could be a great solution for you. Just remember that the scheme will only provide your broadband for six months. If you want to continue on with them after that, you’ll need to start paying or look for broadband elsewhere.

This scheme, in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, has been rolled out nationwide after a successful trial. Read more on the TalkTalk website or in our guide to broadband for people on benefits or low incomes.

Dynamic deal panel

Alternatives to free broadband

So free broadband isn’t really a thing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money with a great value broadband contract with extras that won’t cost you anything more.

There are plenty of broadband offers out there with free setup, as well as broadband deals with free gifts.

Broadband with no setup fees

Broadband with free setup means you don’t have to pay anything when signing up for the service. This isn’t always a huge saving, but when included with other freebies, it can make the deal even better value.

Some sites may not include Wi-Fi router postage in the setup costs, but our comparison tables will let you know of any up-front fees. This includes postage for routers and other equipment. With Broadband Genie, you’ll always know if you have to pay anything towards set-up.

However, it’s important to note that free set-up may only apply if you already have an active telephone line. If you don’t, you'll often have to pay extra costs for a new line.

For more information about new phone lines, read our guide to phone installation.

Here are some of the best current deals without any set-up cost:

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Broadband with free gifts

The broadband market is very competitive. This is good news because it means providers regularly try to tempt new customers with special offers.

Broadband deals with free gifts are always available, and these can make a huge difference to the overall cost of the package.

You'll often find gift voucher incentives for stores such as M&S and Amazon. But pre-paid credit cards are also pretty popular and are arguably the best value because you can spend them anywhere.

Cashback promotions also come around every so often. These will either provide the reward as a cheque or a bill credit.

Broadband Genie also regularly offers exclusive free gift promotions which you won’t find anywhere else. Sometimes these are combined with other offers, so you can claim multiple rewards.

Any of these rewards can be a great way to save money, but you must always make sure the whole deal is right for you. Consider the monthly fees, especially after the introductory discount period (if there is one). But also take note of the download speed, as well as any limitations or extras.

Get ready to snap up these Broadband Genie exclusive deals before they're gone for good:

Dynamic deal panel

Cheap broadband for those on benefits

Not everyone can afford a reliable broadband service at home. But there are some options for those on a low income. These offers are known as 'social tariffs'.

Cheap broadband Social Tariffs for those on benefits

One option for those on Universal Credit or other benefits is BT Home Essential. For around £15 per month, including line rental, this provides an average speed of 36Mb. 

Other broadband providers who offer social tariffs for those on benefits include Hyperoptic, KCOM Flex, NOW Broadband, 4th Utility, Virgin Media and Vodafone.

Benefits that qualify for social tariffs with many providers, include:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
  • Pensions Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Care Leavers Support
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

You can find out more on our dedicated page for broadband for people on low income and benefits.

If you can afford to pay a little more, there are cheap unlimited broadband services starting from under £20 per month.

Take a look at these with our handy deals checker.  
 

Broadband Genie deals checker

Free broadband in connected buildings

It’s increasingly common to find broadband installed in newly built homes and blocks of flats. In some cases, this just means that you are restricted to one specific broadband provider or type of broadband.

This might not be a bad thing if it gives you access to ultrafast, full-fibre internet. Full fibre broadband provider, Hyperoptic has been working with housing associations to install fast internet access in new-build social housing. Although the monthly fees aren't subsidised, it does offer incredibly fast full fibre network connectivity at a reasonable price.

Some homes include broadband access for all residents, so you don’t have to worry about signing up for a provider. It's also not unusual to find private landlords offering broadband access as part of the rental agreement. Provided this is fairly priced, it can be a cheap and easy way of getting internet in your home, especially as you never have to worry about setup, contracts, or cancellation.

Other subsidised broadband options

Another type of subsidised broadband is the government grants for improving broadband access. These don’t result in cheaper monthly fees but are meant to help those who lack modern internet connectivity. The grants allow faster services by funding or part-funding the cost of installing the infrastructure people need to be able to access faster speeds.

In Wales, the Access Broadband Cymru scheme is providing grants of £400 for 10Mb+ and £800 for 30Mb+ for homes and businesses. Broadband subsidies for fixed-line and even satellite connections were available in England a few years ago, but the program has now ended. 

How can I use the internet for free?

There are ways to get free internet access, though you’ll probably have to venture outside your home to do it.

Coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, libraries, and many other locations now offer free public Wi-Fi hotspots. There are some security risks you have to consider when using public Wi-Fi. But it’s a practical option if you’re out and about, and need broadband access for no more than the cost of a cup of coffee.

Mobile tethering is another option. Commonly referred to as 'Wi-Fi sharing' on smartphones, you share the data connection of a mobile phone over Wi-Fi, so other devices can get online.

This isn’t free. You'll still need mobile service, but it can provide internet access to another device for no additional cost.

Before using tethering, you should always check your mobile phone network doesn't charge extra for doing this. It’s also important to keep a careful eye on data usage. The caps on mobile services can sometimes be low. It's easy to consume all your monthly data in a very short time while tethering. If you have unlimited data, this shouldn’t be a problem, but you shouldn’t tether too often or use it to download large files.

Expert Summary

Free broadband might not be possible in the way that many of us hope, but there are still options out there for cheap broadband. Especially if you’re receiving benefits.

TalkTalk offers free broadband for 6 months to jobseekers, and there’s a cheaper BT Home Essentials deal for people on Universal Credit or several other benefits.

There are always ways to save money and get something extra. At Broadband Genie, we always highlight rewards deals that offer free set-up or gifts. These deals are a great way to slim down your effective monthly costs.

Meet the author:

Contributor

Matt has been working with Broadband Genie since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.


Specialist subject: The technicalities of broadband

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