Stuck-at-Home Guide

Stuck at Home Guide: How to Get Online

wifi networks on a mobile phone

Everybody knows by now that you’re not supposed to go outside now except for the most basic of needs, especially if you’re over 60. That’s social distancing, and it’s supposed to slow down transmission of the coronavirus.

So no more sitting in coffee shops, meeting a friend for lunch, or going to a class at the Art Students League. But in just a week, a whole new world has popped up on the internet. Online Zumba classes, pajama concerts, painting lessons, religious services and more are proliferating faster than the virus itself.

But what about the 41% of seniors without home internet access? If you have ‘borrowed”  connectivity (at a library or other location that may be closed for quarantine), or if you know someone who isn’t connected at home, it’s key to make sure there is access to the connectedness that will get us all through this strange and scary time.

“During this extraordinary time, not having internet service at home is going to leave many seniors socially isolated,” says Charles Douglas, a spokesman for Comcast. “For their own safety, which means now more than ever, it’s so important that we try to help connect as many seniors as possible.”

Low-Cost Internet Access

Many Internet service providers, including Comcast, have stepped up during this COVID-19 emergency to offer 60 days of free internet to seniors, people who receive SSI, Medicaid or housing assistance, and others in need. Almost all the offers are the same: free for 60 days, then $10 to $15 a month afterwards. Just be aware that there is an application process to prove you’re eligible–though it’s a good idea for all seniors, even if they’re not sure they are, to go ahead and apply anyway.

You can also apply online to get your new online service. Catch-22, you say? If you have a mobile phone (see section below), or know someone who can apply online on your behalf, it is possible. Comcast’s Douglas adds that if you live in a modern building with coaxial cable, you won’t need to have a technician visit. They’ll send a free starter kit with instructions of how to get it up and running. Technician visits have been largely curtailed, but are still possible.

Not every Internet company offers service to every location within the US. Click the links or call the numbers provided to see if it’s in your area. And check that the speed is at least 25 Mbps, which is what you need to be able to watch video online. 

Here are some sources for low-cost internet access:

  • Comcast Internet Essentials: 1-855-846-8376 / 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish / video chat in ASL on their site!
    • COVID-19 response policies extended to June 30, 2020
    • New customers will get 60 days of internet for free
    • Includes combined modem & router
    • Increased speeds for new & existing customers
    • After 60 day period cost is $9.95/month + tax
    • Intended for low-income households: eligibility changes regularly so seniors should go ahead and sign up!
    • Xfinity WiFi free for everyone
    • Pausing data caps
    • No disconnects or late fees
    • Service areas in 39 states
  • Spectrum Internet Assist: 1-855-243-8892
    • New customers with a student in the household (K-college) will get 60 days of internet for free & installation fees waived
    • Includes modem + option to add $5/month for router & WiFi
    • After 60 day period cost is $14.99/month + tax
    • Seniors 65+ & eligible for SSI
    • Service areas in 45 states including NY, CA, & TX
  • Altice Advantage: 844-358-3147
    • New customers with a student in the household (K-college) will get 60 days of internet for free & installation fees waived
    • After 60 day period cost is $14.99/month + tax
    • Includes modem & router
    • Discounted installation fee
    • Seniors 65+ & eligible for SSI
    • Service areas include NY, NJ, TX, NC
  • Verizon:1-800-837-4966
    • Verizon participates in the national Lifeline program, which offers discounted internet access to low-income applicants
    • Service areas include DC, DE, MA, MD, NC, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA, and CT
    • If you don’t qualify for the Lifeline program, you can get FiOS internet starting at around $40/month.
  • AT&T: 855-220-5211
    • Offering two months of free service to new Access customers who order by April 30, 2020. $5/mo or $10/mo thereafter, depending on your speed.
    • Expanding eligibility
    • Waiving all home internet data overage fees
    • Free installation
    • Only up to 10 Mbps.
  • CenturyLink: 1-855-954-6546
    • Available in some rural areas
    • Participates in the national Lifeline program
  • Viasat: 855-810-1308
    • Available in some rural areas
    • Participates in the national Lifeline program
  • HughesNet: 1-866-347-3292
    • Satellite Internet service in many rural areas
    • No low-income options, but a good option where other services are unavailable

Use Your Mobile Phone

If you have a mobile phone, you probably have some kind of data plan. When you browse the internet or use many internet- connected apps, you’re using your data. T-Mobile has provided unlimited data for anyone with a data plan. If you don’t have a data plan or don’t know if you do, you can dial 611 to just about any mobile provider to get customer service and find out. Or: check next to your carrier’s name (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) on your phone– you’ll see LTE, 4G, or 5G. You can view your data usage in your Settings app.

Using your data plan, you can connect to Zoom videoconferences, YouTube pajama parties, and Facebook sing-alongs — although, if you’re a complete internet newbie, you’ll have to learn how to sign-up for things online and download apps. I suggest using your mobile phone to dial an internet savvy friend, putting it on speaker phone, and then getting back to the main screen to go through whatever steps are necessary. Good luck! If you’re helping someone else, assure them that it’s ok to bang on things until you get them right. They won’t break the internet. Word of advice: almost all video conference platforms offer a free plan. Don’t put in a credit card number if this is your first internet rodeo.

Internet Hotspots for Wifi

Comcast has opened its nationwide Xfinity wifi hotspots to internet seekers nationwide. This will work with either a smart phone or a computer. If you’re new to wifi, your wifi connection will likely be under Settings (the icon looks like a gearshift). You will get a list of available networks. Most networks around you will have a lock icon, indicating they are private, but Xfinity won’t. Note: open wifi networks are great, but don’t use them for mobile banking or anything that involves money, since they are transparent to hackers.

New York City and many other cities have free wifi networks too. Click here to find municipal hotspots in New York.

COMMENTS

6 responses to “Stuck at Home Guide: How to Get Online

  1. I am contacting you on behalf of an Area Agency on Aging. Do we have your permission to share this information on our online resource directory? Many of our older adults have phones or access to a computer, but are not able to afford an internet connection. This information would be of great assistance.

    I will await your response. Thank you in advance!

  2. Free Conference Call is a way to talk with a group of people at the same time – family, friends, etc. But beware, T-Mobile charges for these calls even if you have a senior plan with unlimited talk, text & data.

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