How Prepaid Internet Works

Prepaid Internet providers let users obtain Internet access by using prepaid cards. See Internet connection pictures to learn more.
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Dial-up isn't dead. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as of March 2007, 23 percent of home Internet users still use dial-up. This is particularly true in rural areas where high-speed broadband penetration is only 31 percent. Travelers also use dial-up Internet services. Some hotels only offer dial-up, and in some locations it's easier to find a phone connection than an Internet café.

If you sign up for a normal dial-up Internet plan, you'll pay around $10 to $20 a month for unlimited access (although there are additional fees for dialing in from outside the country). But not everyone needs unlimited minutes. What if you do most of your Web surfing at work and only need a home connection to check your e-mail once or twice a day? Or maybe you just want dial-up access as a backup in case your broadband connection fails.

This is where prepaid Internet comes in. Prepaid Internet works just like a prepaid calling card. You buy a certain amount of minutes for a set price and only pay for using those minutes. There are no monthly charges. When you run out of minutes, you simply buy more. Here's how a typical prepaid Internet plan works:

  1. You buy a card. Example: $10 for 10 hours of dial-up Internet.
  2. You enter either a local access phone number or a toll-free number into your computer's dial-up modem settings.
  3. When you connect to the dial-up network, you'll be asked for the access code found on your prepaid card.

There are also prepaid Internet services that allow you to buy minutes online or recharge your account without buying a physical card.

In this HowStuffWorks article, we're going to explain the advantages and disadvantages of prepaid Internet, discuss different types of prepaid plans and what to look for in a prepaid Internet provider.

Let's start with the advantages of prepaid Internet.