The best internet providers tend to present customers with a variety of options when possible. Most will offer a cheap internet plan, a high-speed plan, and one or two that fall somewhere in between cheap and fast. Nearly all also have a discounted internet plan available to qualifying low-income households, but few providers offer an affordable prepaid internet plan.
Prepaid internet plans are separate from an ISP’s standard plans and often come with easy enrollment conditions — no credit checks, minimal or no upfront costs and no contract requirements — and straightforward, pay-as-you-go pricing. They’re also separate from low-income internet plans in that there are no requirements or qualifications to sign up. Speeds and overall value are often a drawback to prepaid internet (aside from Verizon Fios; more on that below), but many may consider slower speeds a fair trade to get simple, affordable internet service.
Considering the continued economic strain and remote working and education necessitated by the pandemic, more prepaid internet options would be ideal, but Cox, Verizon Fios and Xfinity are currently the only major ISPs with prepaid plans. Consequently, they make up our list of the best prepaid internet providers. You’ll find everything you need to know about their prepaid home internet services below.
- Starting price: $50 per month plus taxes and fees
- Max speeds: 50Mbps download, 3Mbps upload
- Equipment cost: None
- Contract: None
For the most part, Cox is your run-of-the-mill cable internet provider. Aside from gig service and a 500Mbps plan, speeds are low while pricing could be seen as somewhat high. That said, the provider does have a good prepaid internet plan (not to mention a decent service for gamers).
Cox’s prepaid internet plan, StraightUp Internet, is about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to signing up and paying for home internet service. There are no credit checks, equipment fees or term agreements required, and the monthly price of $50 is good for three years.
Max download speeds of 50Mbps are low for $50 per month — the same cost will get you four times the speed with a standard, post-paid plan from Spectrum — but are enough to support browsing the web on your computer or smartphone along with streaming and online gaming. A wired connection will deliver the best speed and reliability, but the Wi-Fi router included with Cox StraightUp Internet can create a wireless connection suitable for a couple of users and devices.
- Starting price: $40-$80 per month plus taxes and fees
- Max speeds: 100 to 940Mbps download, 100 to 880Mbps upload
- Equipment cost: $200 (skippable) plus a $100 setup charge, no monthly fee
- Contract: None
Verizon is the only major provider with multiple prepaid options, including a gigabit plan. Pricing is roughly the same as standard Verizon Fios plans, but speeds on the two lower tiered plans are a bit slower (100Mbps and 300Mbps compared to 200Mbps and 400Mbps). Still, $40 a month for up to 100Mbps or $60 for up to 300Mbps over a 100% fiber connection is a good deal for a prepaid service — if you can get past the potentially high startup costs.
Unlike Cox, Verizon Fios does not include equipment in the cost. Instead, customers are required to purchase equipment up front for $200 or provide their own equipment. Even if you buy your own compatible router (see our list of the best Wi-Fi routers), a $100 setup fee may still apply. The good news is that, if you choose to purchase equipment through Verizon, the company will waive the cost for your first month of service.
The free month of service is nice, but one of the main appeals to prepaid services is how easy, and often, affordable, it is to get started. With up to $300 in initial costs (equipment purchase plus setup fee), Verizon Fios is one of the more expensive prepaid internet providers, at least in the beginning. If you can make it past that first month, the ongoing speed and value of Verizon Fios prepaid plans could be worth the initial costs.
- Starting price: $45 for the first 30 days, $15 for 7 days or $45 for 30 days thereafter
- Max speeds: 50Mbps download, 5Mbps upload
- Equipment cost: $35 up front, no monthly fee
- Contract: None
Xfinity Prepaid internet comes with one max speed, 50Mbps download and 5Mbps upload, but when and how you pay is up to you. With Xfinity Prepaid, you’ll “refill” (read: prepay) your internet service by the week or by the month.
Like Cox and Verizon Fios prepaid internet services, there is no credit check, deposit or contract required to get started with Xfinity Prepaid. To sign up, all you need is your address, $35 for the equipment purchase and $45 for the first 30 days of service. After that, you can refill seven days of service for $15 or, the more economical choice, 30 days for $45.
The option to prepay for a week of internet is ideal for anyone such as students or out-of-state visitors who need service for a short time, or those living on limited income who would rather break their monthly internet costs up into weekly payments. And if paying for internet service every seven days sounds like a hassle, be sure to sign up for Xfinity’s autopay option (but remember to cancel it if and when you move).
Prepaid internet FAQs
What is prepaid home internet?
Prepaid internet is a pay-as-you-go internet service that allows you to pay for the next week or month of service ahead of time, in order to avoid fees and other conditions that come with most standard internet plans. Prepaid internet plans typically require no credit check, deposit or term agreement.
Is it better to get prepaid internet?
Prepaid internet is best for those who would rather bypass the common conditions of signing up with an internet service provider, such as credit checks and term agreements. Speeds are often lower than you’ll get with standard internet plans — Cox and Xfinity prepaid plans come with a max of 50Mbps — but the ease of signing up and lower fees may make prepaid service the more sensible option for some households.
Do I have to qualify to get prepaid internet?
The prepaid internet providers listed above, Cox, Verizon Fios and Xfinity, do not have any special requirements or qualifications to sign up for prepaid service. Your address and initial costs for service are often all you need to get started.