WiFi certainly doesn’t come cheap, but in a pinch, there are quite a few ways to find free WiFi, no matter where you are. Until Facebook makes good on its pledge to bring free WiFi to the masses, you can use WiFi Hotspot Finders and arm yourself with information before you set out for the day to find free WiFi.
Remember, there are always security issues with public WiFi, which can leave you susceptible to hackers. Karl teaches you how to protect your personal information while enjoying free WiFi connectivity. It’s also worth keeping in mind that you get what you pay for – so, in many instances, free WiFi can be slow and frustrating.
At Businesses and Hotels
With a Starbucks on just about every corner of every major US city, it’s no wonder this coffee shop is a popular option for people looking for free WiFi (and a hot drink.)
Tons of coffee shops, restaurants, fast food joints, malls, and retailers are also the site of free WiFi. You can get free WiFi at the following locations, among other places:
- Apple Stores
- Barnes and Noble
- Panera Bread
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- Buffalo Wild Wings
- Whole Foods
- Best Buy
- Taco Bell
Some hotels also offer free WiFi if you join their loyalty or rewards programs — just don’t expect blazing speeds through these networks. Kimpton Hotels and Omni Hotels, for example, offer free WiFi through a free loyalty program. Some hotels like Hyatt offer free WiFi without the need to join a loyalty program. You can check out this list of hotels that offer free WiFi and how to get it.
There are also quite a few random places you might not think to look for WiFi including laundromats, courthouses, museums, bookstores, and gyms. The hotspot finders listed below are a great way to find more of these locations.
Using WiFi Hotspot Finders
To find out which businesses or locations offer free WiFi in your area, you can use Hotspot finders like WiFi Free Spot. The global database includes free WiFi locations in the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, South and Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Locations are divided by country, state, and city, and includes libraries, hotels, restaurants, and even modes of transportation. The database includes addresses of the locations and links to their websites.
If you want to take the database on the go with you, there are some great mobile apps worth considering. WiFi Map, available as a free iOS and Android app, boasts over 100,000,000 hotspots in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa.
The app also includes user-provided passwords for networks that are password protected and will let you know how far that WiFi hotspot is from your current location. (To view these passwords, you will have to put up with some advertising.)
A paid version of the app which costs $4.99 will extend that 2.5 mile radius and provide offline features, which will definitely come in handy when traveling and trying to avoid exorbitant roaming charges. With the free version, you can only access information on hotspots within a 2.5 mile radius of your current location.
At Airports and On Airplanes
Airport WiFi is often either password protected or, if free, it’s notoriously bad. Still, when you’re stuck in an airport with a long layover, any WiFi is good WiFi. If you want to access the password-protected networks often associated with airport lounges, there are a few ways to find out that information:
Map Of Wireless Passwords: This map of wireless passwords for airport lounges around the world is crowdsourced and regularly updated. It’s easy to filter down to the airport of your choice to see all passwords listed.
Foursquare: Believe it or not, Foursquare is still around, and its crowdsourcing features will come in handy. Check out the Foursquare page of the airport you’re in (or are going to be in) and you can often find WiFi passwords in the tips section.
When traveling, it’s also worth thinking about which airlines offer free WiFi onboard, because it just might not worth paying for. JetBlue offers free WiFi to all travelers, while Alaska Airlines lets passengers use iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger for free on flights where WiFi is available.
A few months ago, Lifehacker also featured a method that could get you free, unlimited WiFi on flights but they require either an iPhone or access to your own server. T-Mobile customers can also take advantage of an offer that gets them one hour of free in-flight WiFi.
Your Town or County
Municipal Internet Access, or Muni WiFi, seems to be an on-again off-again project for most communities. County residents can sign up for a free account and access the internet for little to no cost — a service covered using taxpayer money.
Municipalities also often provide totally free, unlimited internet access at locations such as municipal offices, libraries, and some schools. To find out more about what your community offers, take a look at your local government websites. Free wireless access is a staple of most large libraries, and often no username or password is required. In some cases, you can also use public computers in these libraries.
New York provides a service for families that can’t afford ISP charges. Families with at least one child attending a public school who don’t have at-home internet can apply for free WiFi service at home provided through The New York Public Library’s Library HotSpot program. New York also offers free WiFi on select subway stations.
Your ISP or Cell Phone Provider
Another place to check for free internet access is through your current ISP. Many of them offer free hotspots, many of which you will find concentrated around major cities. Use your zip code to find out where to find hotspots from Xfinity, Cox, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Optimum, and Bright House.
Some US cell phone providers also offer hotspots. AT&T customers can take advantage of a similar free service, which T-Mobile customers will have to pay an additional $9.99 per month for access to hotspots.
As an absolute last resort, you could give All Free ISP a try. The searchable database covers the United States and Canada, making it easy to find a service provider near you. The catch is that most of the services that are completely free are offering dial-up Internet – which if you’ve ever used it – you know it’s going to be painfully slow.
In addition, many of the providers, like Juno for example, will display large banner ads for the privilege of using their service. And of course, if you don’t have a landline, this site really isn’t for you. Depending on where you live in the US or Canada, you simply might not find free dial-up service. It all depends on what constitutes a long distance phone call for you.
To find out if you can get free dial-up in your area, you can either select your state or province from a drop-down menu or enter your telephone area code. All Free ISP breaks the list down into cities, includes a rating system, and lets you know what platforms are supported.
If you can’t find any free WiFi in your area, you can use your phone to create your own private hotspot. You will obviously need to take certain things into consideration including your own data limits. If you have unlimited data, some mobile networks can throttle your speed to limit your hotspot use when you tether your phone to your computer.
We all like a freebie now and again. Got a tip on access being provided by your government? Let everyone know – it’s good to use the services you already pay for.
Know of any other interesting ways to get legal free Internet access? Share it in the comments.
Image Credit:Jiffy Avril via Shutterstock.com
Originally written by Guy McDowell on June 24th, 2009