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Can you get free broadband?

By Tim Smith | Thursday, October 1st 2020

It used to be that broadband providers offered 'free broadband' to your home. But getting free broadband seems to have got more and more difficult over last the last five years or so. Is it even still possible? Was it ever?

The short, sharp and sad answer to this is that it isn't, and never was. One way or another you were always getting charged for a high-speed broadband connection by the companies that supplied it. They, after all, have to make money. In this guide we look at what happened to that apparent free-of-charge world of broadband deals, and what you can do now to get your broadband as cheaply as possible.

Can I get free broadband?

In short: No. There never were free broadband deals in the UK. There were simply deals that appeared to be free – that's marketing for you. What tended to be left out of the advertising were things like monthly line rental, charges for your broadband router, and even connection charges. These were hidden away behind the checkout.

This was until October 2016 when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that broadband providers could no longer advertise any deals that, for example, excluded line rental or data fees.

In March 2020 the government was said to be in talks with providers to offer free broadband services in response to the challenges of COVID-19 and increased home-working. However, as of September 2020 no action has come from these talks. In short, you won't find free broadband. However, some aspects of a broadband deal could fairly be described as free. We'll talk about those in the next section.

What can I get for free with my broadband deal?

Since the ASA's 2016 clampdown on the use of the term 'free broadband', providers have had to work around this restriction. A raft of terms have been coined to tempt you in, many including the term 'free'. Here are some that you need to be aware of:

First month(s) free – Everybody likes a free month of broadband access, but be sure to check out how long you're tied into the full contract. Also see if the monthly price is fixed for the full term of the contract.

  • Free setup – This should include the installation of any required cabling to the home, installation of cable points, and delivery, installation and connection of your free router
  • Free gifts or cashback – Aside from the fact that all 'gifts' are free by their nature, be on the lookout for extended contracts, installation fees, and data charges behind that free gift when comparing the total package with other deals that don't have free stuff
  • Free router – Make sure this also includes free delivery and installation of the router

Alternatives to free broadband

As we've seen, there really is no such thing as free broadband. If you have a smartphone or tablet device, you may also have a data plan that uses 3G or 4G (and maybe even 5G). But whether mobile or fixed line, you're always going to be paying for your internet access. However, there are some special circumstances where you can pay less, or give up a certain amount of privacy to go online for free.

Government assistance during the COVID-19 crisis

During the COVID-19 crisis, BT and the UK government are offering a six-month free internet connection to disadvantaged families to aid them in home-schooling. This may be on offer in your area and is worth checking out if you need it, provided you qualify.

Free public wifi

You can also get online for nothing via publicly available wifi. The way to check for these hotspots is to look in the usual place on your device for internet connections. If you see any without the padlock sign next to them, you may be able to log on for free.

Be very, very wary though. Some of these connections may be private ones that the owners have forgotten to secure with a password. Some may be masquerading as honest and open public wifi. None of them will be totally secure. So, make sure that you're not using any public connection to send or receive sensitive information such as username, password, or bank account details. Free public wifi comes in several forms.

  • Commercial public wifi – Wifi hotspots that are open to the public are widespread and easy to access. You can find them in cafes, shops, and supermarkets for example. Of course, you're going to need to purchase something from these places in order to use their connections, so once again 'free' is a malleable term
  • Council-provided wifi – More and more urban centres in the UK are seeing value in providing citizens and visitors with free wifi access. Check with your local council, you may be lucky
  • Free wifi from broadband providers – Providers are eager to get your business and will even offer free public wifi in return for details such as your email address and mobile phone number. They will then use these to market to you. Check out our guide on wifi hotspots for more on this

Can the government help pay for my broadband?

While not strictly free-to-use, there is also a scheme available to get you fast broadband with help from the government. The government is keen to get the country connected to high-speed broadband – never more so in fact than during the COVID-19 crisis – and is offering funding via its Gigabit Voucher Scheme to this end.

The Gigabit Voucher Scheme will get you hooked up to fast broadband via a number of named and trusted providers. It's quite a complex process to begin with, and bear in mind that you will also pay for the actual usage once hooked-up. The scheme is primarily aimed at rural communities and businesses, and offers the following:

Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps – Can get vouchers worth £1,500 per home to support the cost of installing a fast and reliable internet connection.

Rural businesses with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps – Can get vouchers worth £3,500 per business to support the cost of installing a fast and reliable internet connection.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get free broadband to my home?

The short answer is 'No, you can't'. Not legally. Because it costs your broadband provider to deliver the service, one way or another you're going to pay for it.

Be wary of 'additional charges apply'

'Additional charges apply' (once known as 'hidden charges') is always a term to be wary of. In the case of broadband deals, make certain to check if you are being charged for items such as connection charges, paper bills, router delivery.

How can I find free public wifi?

Your computer, phone or tablet device will usually show available internet connections. The ones that are public will usually not have the padlock next to them. So, whenever you go somewhere new, it's always a good idea to check and see if a new wifi hotspot is available.

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