What you need to know
- 68 million Americans have no access to broadband or just one ISP
- ISPs rate poorly for customer satisfaction, historically
- Only get as much bandwidth as you need
- Compare prices with the added fees
How we analyzed the best Internet Providers
The more options an ISP provides you with the better. We gave better rankings to companies with a greater number of speeds, plans, and internet types to choose from.
Fees and other extra charges can make the cost of an apparently inexpensive internet plan skyrocket. We gave better rankings to companies that waived fees often, had a wide range of plan prices, and didn’t charge for exceeding data caps.
The ISP industry is not well known for its customer service. Because of this, we paid special attention to what customers had to say about each provider, giving a better ranking to those that showed higher than average customer satisfaction.
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We receive compensation from thesepartners, which impacts the order they appear on the page. That said, the analyses and opinions on our site are our own and we believe ineditorial integrity.
Our Top Picks: Internet Providers Reviews
Based on the latest census map regions (4) and divisions (9),we chose to focusour reviews based on regional availability.
Best in the West Region
The West Census region consists of thirteen states which are split into two subdivisions. The Pacific division includes all U.S. states bordering the Pacific Ocean— Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington—as well as those lying in it, as in the case of Hawaii. The Mountain division includes the states which are located along the Rocky Mountains, those being Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Despite being part of the same region, these two divisions are vastly different in a number of ways. The geography of the divisions is notably dissimilar and varied, making it difficult for most ISPs to provide service across both of them. Some of the largest ISPs in the nation do offer coverage in several states on both divisions, however.
Additionally, we decided to mention good alternatives for those living in Hawaii and Alaska, where many of the providers were entirely different to those from the mainland.
Best in the Pacific Division: XFINITY from Comcast
Comcast is the largest provider of residential cable Internet by coverage area in the United States, serving 26.5 million internet customers as of July 26, 2018. Under the brand XFINITY, it operates in a total of 40 states, eight of those located in the Western region. It’s available in large parts of all three mainland Pacific states—California, Oregon, and Washington—and in four of the Mountain states, namely Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. It’s also available in a small number of areas of Idaho.
What we liked:
XFINITY internet plans start as low as $34.99/mo for up to 60 Mbps. This is only the promotional pricing for some areas, but remains relatively constant, with the same plan being offered in multiple regions for around $30–$40. This pricing is highly competitive among providers for its level of advertised bandwidth.
Comcast consistently ranks as one of the fastest internet service providers in the country. In Ookla’s 2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report, the company got a Speedscore of 104.67—the highest among all providers that were considered. Comcast also ranks #4 on Netflix’s ISP leaderboard among all other large providers.
Despite common perception, the worst ISP by customer satisfaction is not Comcast. While its level of satisfaction among customers is not ideal, it actually lands somewhere near the middle of the pack, having stabilized this rate unlike other big players, which have taken hits to their numbers.
What we thought could be better:
Comcast’s renewal rates are significantly higher than those of other competitors. Consider the aforementioned $34.99 plan. That plan renews at $74.95—more than double its original rate.
Comcast’s low initial rates are somewhat offset by a substantial installation fee of $90. As far as we know, Comcast doesn’t offer options for waiving this fee, unlike other competitors who may do so for online purchases, for example.
Alternative for those living in Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming: Charter Spectrum
Comcast does not offer XFINITY internet in Nevada, Montana, or Wyoming. It also only covers very small sections of Idaho. Our provider of choice for residents in these states would be Spectrum by Charter Communications. Spectrum does not cover all of these states equally, but it is much more widely available than other competitors.
Spectrum advertises a single cable internet plan nationwide which provides up to 100 Mbps for $44.99. This plan is not associated with any data caps. Although customers can self-install, professional installation is also an option for $49.99, which is less than the average in the industry.
Spectrum is currently in second place among large providers on the Netflix ISP leaderboard, making it an ideal choice for those who use this platform for streaming. It also has a higher than average 49.9% BroadbandNow recommendation rating and 63 ACSI rating.
Alternatives for Residents of Hawaii and of Alaska
In Hawaii, both Charter Spectrum and Hawaiian Telcom would be good choices. The former offers cable internet service, whereas the latter offers DSL and fiber connections. They are both capable of providing broadband-level speeds and are available in seven of the eight major islands of the Hawaiian Archipelago: Ni’ihau, Kaua’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Maui, and Hawai’i.
In Alaska, GCI Communications is one of the most widely available ISPs offering broadband speeds. GCI mostly focuses on cable, mobile broadband, and fixed wireless connections, which it offers over large segments of Alaska.
Best in the Midwest Region
The Midwest Census region consists of twelve states split into two subdivisions, the West North Central and East North Central. The former encompasses the seven traditional “Farm Belt” or “Agricultural Heartland” states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The latter includes the five states most closely associated with the Great Lakes area, that is, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Like the Western region, the Midwest displays big differences in ISP availability between its two divisions. Although both areas have access to high-speed internet, the companies that provide these are mostly confined to their own division. Thus, we decided to choose an overall best provider for each division instead of picking one for the entire region.
Best in the West North Central Division: Cox Communications
Cox Communications is the third-largest provider of cable internet services for residential customers in the U.S. More than 3.5 million consumers are currently subscribed to its internet service, which is available across 19 states. Six of these are located in the Midwest region and four of them in the West North Central division, namely Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Availability in each of these states varies, with most of Cox’s service being centered in Kansas and areas along the Nebraska-Iowa border.
What we liked:
Cox Communications is currently ranked #3 among large providers in Netflix’s ISP leaderboards as of September 2019. It was also in third place in Ookla’s 2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report, where it got a score of 101.84. This shows that Cox is one of the fastest providers available in the U.S. today.
Cox plans are reasonably priced for the bandwidth they offer. Its cheapest broadband plan costs around $39.99/mo for the first year and provides speeds of up to 30 Mbps. Cox’s plans that offer higher levels of bandwidth are particularly inexpensive in comparison to the company’s competitors. Its 150 Mbps and 1000 Mbps cost $59.99 and $99.99 the first year, respectively.
Cox’s renewal rates are quite reasonable. Generally speaking, all of its plans renew at around $20–25 more than their original promotional rates.
Although Cox does require signing a contract for its plans, they only last for a year’s time and have one of the lowest ETFs we encountered during our research. While still a hefty price to pay for canceling your service early, it’s substantially less than what many other major providers charge for doing so.
What we thought could be better:
Installation is a low point for Cox. Self-installation costs $20, while having the equipment professionally installed costs $75. There is no advertised way of waving either of these fees, either.
Alternative for those living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota: Midco (Midcontinent Communications)
Cox does not offer coverage anywhere in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. A very strong alternative exists for these states, however: Midco. A joint venture of Midcontinent Media and Comcast, Midco offers residential cable internet to approximately 1.3 million people in the aforementioned three states, as well as in certain parts of Wisconsin and Kansas.
Midco ranks highly in Netflix’s ISP leaderboard, where it currently stands #15 among all providers, large and small. Also, its plans are considerably more affordable than what many larger providers offer. It has 500 Mbps plans starting at just $59.95/mo for the first year and renewing at $79.95. Installation is always done by professionals and costs $50—lower than the average for other providers—and its modem is $6/mo, which is less than the average of $10/mo.
Best in the East North Central Division: WideOpenWest (WOW!)
WideOpenWest (WOW!) is a cable and fiber internet service provider operating mainly in the Midwest. Within the region, their service is focused in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. It is the sixth largest cable operator in the United States by coverage area and has 807,900 customers as of December 31, 2018.
What we liked:
WOW! is an outlier in the industry in regard to customer satisfaction. 55.6% of the 8,435 verified user IP addresses subscribed to WOW!’s service said they would recommend it. This is remarkably higher than the national average, which currently sits at 48.2%.
WOW!’s prices are by far some of the most affordable in all of the U.S. Its most basic broadband plans start at around $29.99/mo for the first year and provide up to 100 Mbps. This price goes up steadily: first during the second year, and then once again after that. For the 100 Mbps plan, the rates increase to $49.99 first and then to $59.99.
Installation fees for WOW! Internet are already lower than average at $50. However, consumers who order their internet service online will have the price of installation and setup waived.
Although not considered individually, WOW! also ranks relatively high within the industry on the ACSI. It is grouped into the “All Others” category, which has a collective score of 64, landing in third place.
What we thought could be better:
The most noticeable flaw of WOW!’s service isits early termination fees (ETFs). The cost of canceling WOW! Internet service—up to $345—is one of the highest among all providers we researched.
Although WOW! is available in most East North Central states, its coverage is focused on urban areas. Consumers living far away from metropolitan areas may not have access to the provider’s internet service.
Alternative for Wisconsin: Charter Spectrum
Wisconsin is the only East North Central state that WOW! has no coverage areas in. We recommend that Wisconsin residents opt for Charter Spectrum, which has cable internet coverage throughout nearly the entire state.
Best in the South Region
The South is the largest of all the U.S. Census regions. It encompasses 17 states divided into three regions: West South Central, East South Central, and Middle Atlantic. Many of the largest national ISPs are available in at least one of the three divisions, making it a region rife with competition among providers. Big states like Texas also have a large number of local ISPs that can be found throughout its cities and towns.
Best Overall: AT&T Internet
Despite the region covering the largest number of states, AT&T alone was able to pull through in all three sub-regions and win our category for best overall. It is the second-largest residential DSL provider in the U.S. by coverage area, according to BroadbandNow, covering nearly the entire South region with this service. AT&T also offers fiber optic services in a large number of localities, making it the third-largest provider of fiber broadband in the U.S. by coverage area.
What we liked:
As of September 2019, AT&T’s fiber optic internet service ranks 8th and its DSL service ranks 13th among large ISPs on the Netflix ISP leaderboard. This shows that, regardless of which type of service one chooses, customers can expect high-quality Netflix streaming performance.
The 2018-2019 ACSI Telecommunications Report consistently shows AT&T in second place for customer satisfaction. Although its score of 69 dropped to 68 in the 2018 report, it went right back up to 69 in 2019. Furthermore, JD Power named AT&T the winner of their 2018 U.S. Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study for the South and North Central regions.
AT&T includes $50 in reward cards when their internet plans are ordered online. This partially offsets the $99 cost AT&T’s professional installation—which is required for all new customers.
What we thought could be better:
Despite better displays of customer satisfaction elsewhere, AT&T shows a BroadbandNow recommendation rate of 41.10%. This is noticeably lower than the website average of 48.2%.
Alternative for Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia: XFINITY from Comcast
Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all lie outside of AT&T’s coverage area. Our recommendation for those living in these states is to opt for XFINITY. We already recommend XFINITY for those in the West Census region for its affordable price-to-bandwidth ratio and outstanding performance.
Best in the Northeast Region
The Northeast Census region is the smallest by number of states and territorial extension. It consists of nine states split into two divisions: The Middle Atlantic, which includes New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania; and New England, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The Northeast region is mostly uniform in terms of availability compared to the three other Census regions. Because of this, we didn’t consider it necessary to choose a provider for each division.
Best Overall: Verizon Fios
Verizon is currently the largest provider of fiber Internet in the nation by coverage area. It is available in nine states, five of which are located in the Northeast Census region: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Verizon was one of the first ISPs in the country to invest in last-mile fiber Internet infrastructure, offering true FTTH (fiber to the home) services to residential customers.
What we like:
Fiber optic internet access is usually described as lightning-fast but expensive. Yet, Verizon’s plans are remarkably affordable for what they offer. Their lowest bandwidth plans offer 100 symmetrical Mbps and start at around $39.99/mo. Even after renewal, a $54.99/mo rate for that level of bandwidth is highly competitive compared to DSL and cable providers. Moreover, the company does not impose data caps on any of its internet plans.
Verizon’s fiber optic internet is one of the best performing services in the country. It got a 102.57 score in Ookla’s 2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report, landing in second place among the providers that were considered. On the Netflix ISP Leaderboard, Fios is in first place among other large providers and seventh among all others. Fios is also a consistent winner of PCMag’s Fastest Internet awards, both in its region and nationwide.
Verizon Fios has enjoyed one of the highest levels of customer satisfaction across the ISP industry for several years now. It remains at the top of the ACSI’s ISP list for another year in 2019 with a score of 70 and has a much higher than average BroadbandNow Recommendation Rate of 62.5% from a total of 28,634 verified users.
Verizon has received the highest numerical score possible from JD Power for six years in a row, being ranked as the #1 Residential Internet Service provider in the East. It has also won a PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for 14 years straight. In the magazine’s 2019 awards, it was awarded Best National ISP and reported very high satisfaction rates for nearly all aspects of its service.
Verizon waives its standard setup charge—valued at $99—when customers order online. Ordering online also gets customers a Visa® Prepaid Card of varying monetary amount, from $50 to $250.
Verizon offers to pay new customers up to $500 in credit to help new customers cover their early termination fee from a preexisting internet service contract.
What we thought could be better:
Verizon Fios fees seem to be a source of contention for customers. The provider does charge slightly more than the average for leasing its equipment to customers—its modem with WiFi costs $12/mo to lease. It also has an ETF of $345 which is more costly than the average, as well.
Alternatives for Residents Outside Verizon’s Coverage Area: XFINITY from Comcast
Although Fios is an outstanding service provider, its focus is on delivering internet to urban areas, as is the nature of fiber optic technology. Our recommendation for those living outside of their coverage area, which also includes the entirety of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, is to opt for XFINITY. We already recommend XFINITY for those in the West Census region for its affordable price-to-bandwidth ratio and outstanding performance.
More insight into our methodology
In the context of internet service, performance relates not only to how fast a provider’s connection is, but also to how reliable it is. To evaluate performance, we used three main sources: the most recent (2018) Ookla Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Report, the Netflix ISP leaderboard atthe time of this writing (September 2019) , and PCMag’s Fastest ISPs of 2019 awards.
2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report by Ookla®
Ookla is an internet testing and analysis firm based in Seattle, Washington. It’s the company behind Speedtest.net, one of the Web’s most popular tools for measuring Internet speeds. In addition to its consumer performance metrics, Ookla also writes market reports for multiple target regions and countries on a yearly basis. The most recent U.S. Fixed Broadband report was conducted in the second and third quarters of 2018 (from April through September). Ookla states that during that period “24,283,160 unique devices were used to perform over 115 million consumer-initiated fixed broadband tests on Speedtest applications.” Ookla was able to determine the fastest and most consistent ISPs in the nation by analyzing those tests.
Netflix ISP Speed Index and Leaderboard (as of September 2019)
Netflix only considers how well its platform performs on any given ISP network for its Speed Index and monthly leaderboard. However, the sheer popularity of Netflix’s streaming services make it a valuable metric by which to evaluate performance. Given that over 154 million subscribers use its service, it only makes sense we take this into consideration when looking at each provider. Netflix gets its results by calculating the average bitrate of its content in Mbps streamed by members per ISP for prime time during each month.
PCMag’s Fastest ISPs of 2019
Every year since 2011, PCMag has been using its proprietary speed-testing tool to collect upload and download ‘speed’, as well as jitter, latency, location, and IP address info. It takes both speeds and runs a calculation in a spreadsheet that weighs the scores. That, in turn, generates a PCMag Speed Index (PSI) for each ISP as well by location, or by ISPs in a specific location. PCMag then determines the fastest ISP nationwide and per region among major and all ISPs, separately.
The first thing we looked at when considering cost was each company’s plans. We looked for and listed each one’s most expensive and most inexpensive plan. This helped us get an idea of the providers’ price range and the demographic(s) it might be targeting. Providers with the widest range of price in their plans scored higher with us, as did those whose plans clearly stated their actual costs.
Cost is most affected by the type of internet access that a company provides. Companies that offer fiber optic will generally have a more expensive “top” plan, for example, since fiber is the most advanced type of internet access there is today.
In addition to the basic price of a company’s plans, we also looked at the added costs that go into a customer’s final price point. Often, the price advertised by a provider on their website or over the phone is not what it seems. For starters, it’s standard in the industry to present customers with rates that only reflect their first year or two of service, after which prices may skyrocket. Furthermore, many plan prices reflect discounts that customers can get when they opt for auto-payments and paperless billing.
It’s also important for new customers to consider what a provider’s fees are. Consider installation and setup fees, for example. Does the company allow customers to install their own devices? If it doesn’t, how much do they charge for professional installation and is this charge waivable under certain conditions? Also consider early termination fees (ETFs) and how much a provider charges for leasing their equipment to you vs. buying it from them. These are all things we sought to find while conducting our company cost research.
Internet service providers don’t rank highly in customer satisfaction. But, while no ISP enjoys a stellar reputation on this front, some are noticeably better than their competitors. The large players in the industry are particularly notorious for having lower than average customer satisfaction, barring a few exceptions. Smaller, local providers score better on average.
We used several sources to get as much information on how satisfied customers were with their ISP. Some providers were represented throughout all of our sources, making for a clearer picture of how satisfied their customers were. Others were more sparsely represented, which may have led us to disregard the company for our top list of ISPs. Our four main sources of customer satisfaction information were as follows:
2018 and 2018–2019 ACSI Telecommunications Report
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a widely used economic indicator that annually asks consumers about their satisfaction with goods and services they have purchased. ACSI reports use data from interviews with over 300,000 customers to analyze customer satisfaction, which is rated on a scale from 0 to 100. The results from these reports have been proven to be related to several essential economic indicators, with higher ACSI scores correlating to better performance in the stock market for companies.
PCMag Readers' Choice Awards 2019: Internet Service Providers
PC Magazine (PCMag, for short) is an online computer and technology magazine. For over a decade, PCMag has carried out a yearly survey to measure how happy customers are with products and services they use. One such service is internet service. In the magazine’s surveys, respondents were asked several questions about their overall satisfaction with their product or service. PCMag’s 2019 Readers' Choice Awards for ISPs also displayed results for satisfaction with Setup, Reliability, Speed, Fees, Customer Service, Tech Support, and Repairs. It also asked respondents how likely they were to recommend their provider.
JD Power 2018 U.S. Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study
JD Power is a marketing research company that is focused on consumer insights, data, analytics, and advisory. The company has been carrying out annual wireline studies to evaluate customer satisfaction with TV, internet, and phone service for 17 years now. The ISP study measures customer satisfaction across the following factors: network performance and reliability; cost of service; billing; communication; and customer service. It then names a winner for the East, South, North Central, and West geographical regions. The 2018 study is based on responses from 27,765 customers nationwide.
BroadbandNow Recommendation Rating
BroadbandNow is an online directory and tool for looking up ISP availability. It has a tool for testing Internet speed, does write-ups on Internet-related topics, and releases reports on the state of broadband in America. The website also collects ratings and reviews from IP address-verified users. Based on the ratings given by customers, a BroadbandNow Recommendation Rating is generated by the website that shows how likely customers are to recommend their provider.
Helpful information about Internet Providers
From April 1860 to October 1861, the Pony Express ran from Missouri to California, taking an average of ten days to deliver handwritten messages. At the time, it was the quickest way for a letter to travel from East to West. It was expensive and, due to raids and attacks, the letters didn’t always reach their destination.
Today, we don’t even need to wait days: we can send messages to people from across the globe in an instant. Open an email account, type a message, and click send—that’s all it takes. The number of emails sent worldwide each day—281 billion in 2018 according to Statista— is evidence of how profoundly the Internet has revolutionized human communication… and that’s not even taking into account instant messages.
One of the most significant technological breakthroughs in the history of mankind, the Internet has done more than just enhance the speed and reach of human communication. It has fundamentally changed the very way we live. So many of the things we use or even depend on in our everyday lives are a result of technological innovations which have been made possible thanks to the Internet. Digital television, GPS, satellite radio, RSS feeds, social media and online forums, 100-man battle royals—none of this would exist without the Internet.
Because we all use the Internet for different purposes, not all our needs are the same. Some of us just use it to get our news, make the occasional post on social media, and google things. For others, it’s an essential component of their professional lives: they’re sales representatives, emailing clients day in and out, freelancers streaming a movie to translate its subtitles, or streamers playing online games for a living. There are different levels of use to the Internet, and the need for things such as bandwidth, speed, and data caps will vary from user to user.
It’s a Series of Tubes! or How the Internet Actually Works
The first commercial internet service providers (ISPs) emerged in the early 90s. Before that, the Internet was used by government laboratories and universities for research purposes—commercial use was forbidden. During the late 80s, ISPs began to form; they provided email service, news, and access to regional research networks at a time were usage restrictions were being removed by Congress. This helped develop a framework for public, commercial access to the internet.
In 1989, the first commercial ISP in the United States, the World, opened for business. However, usage of the internet was still limited during the early 90s. Internet access as we know it became a reality thanks to the technology of the World Wide Web (WWW, or “the Web”). People often mistake the terms “Internet” and “Web”, using them interchangeably. It’s important to clarify the distinction between the Internet and the Web in order to truly understand how it all works—and how it relates to ISPs.
The Web is the primary tool billions of people use to interact on the Internet. Users navigate it through a web browser which identifies URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) in order to access web resources. The Web is what you use when you click on a hyperlink, conduct a Google search, or upload a PDF document. On the other hand, the Internet is a global system comprised of numerous interconnected networks, which are themselves comprised of billions of computers and other electronic devices. Essentially, the internet is a network of networks.
ISPs connect users to the internet by making them a part of their network. Providers then connect to a larger network, which grants users access to the web at large. Large ISPs often arrange exchanges in traffic as well, effectively stacking network on top of network. This is how the larger Internet is put together: connecting smaller networks to make big ones.
Providers maintain their networks by hosting large data and routing centers which manage their web traffic. While an individual could theoretically connect to the internet directly, it would require extensive negotiation with ISPs, who own the physical infrastructure required for internet connection. Assuming one got past this step, you would then need to physically install the cables and other devices that would grant you access to the Internet, as well as provide your own maintenance for them.
Types of Internet Access
How you connect to the internet depends on the technology employed by an ISP. Some types of internet access are faster, while others are slower; some are more widely available, whereas others are nearly exclusive to certain regions.
1. Dial-up (Analog 56K): Dial-up was the first type of internet access to be offered commercially. It uses a 56k modem and a phone line to create a connection to the internet. Users must connect the telephone line to the modem in their computer and then install the other end into the phone jack. Since the line is shared, both devices cannot be active at the same time. Dial-up is inexpensive when compared to modern alternatives, but its low speeds and phone line requirement have seen it fall in favor of broadband starting in the early 2000s. Dial-up is often seen in rural areas, where other types of internet access are not found, or in households with very low bandwidth usage.
2. Satellite: Internet access can be provided by geostationary communication satellites in the Earth’s orbit connecting with satellite dishes on the surface. Dishes must be positioned in such a way that they can beam signals to the satellite and receive information back, which nearly always necessitates the aid of a certified technician sent by the provider. The dish itself is connected to a modem in the home. Satellite internet is common in rural areas, where cable, fiber optic, and DSL access may not be available. Compared to dial-up, it is more expensive, has bandwidth limitations, and is more unreliable due to the possibility of minor obstructions and weather interference with the signal. It can deliver considerably higher speeds, though.
3. Mobile Broadband: Mobile broadband internet can be provided by USB wireless modems, portable modems, tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices. It comes in 3G and 4G varieties, with 5G broadband currently in early deployment stages. The greatest advantage of broadband is the portability of the devices that provide the wireless signal. Its disadvantages include restrictive data caps, lower speeds, and high latency.
4. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line): DSL uses wireless technology to transmit data over existing copper telephone lines. Being built over telephone lines means this type of internet access is widely available. Unlike dial-up, DSL works within telephone line frequencies, making it possible to make phone calls and use the internet simultaneously. Another advantage of DSL internet is that users get their own, dedicated circuit which won’t be affected by neighboring subscribers, as occurs with cable internet. On the other hand, DSL internet is somewhat slower than cable. The closer you are to the nearest telephone company facility, the stronger your connection will be.
There are two types of DSL internet:
- Symmetrical DSL (SDSL) offers equal bandwidth for upload and download speeds.
- Asymmetrical DSL (ADSL) offers higher maximum download speeds than it does upload speeds. This is the most popular type of DSL connection.
Additionally, there are two faster forms of DSL known as HDSL (High data rate Digital Subscriber Line) and VDSL (Very High data rate Digital Subscriber Line). Both provide higher-than-standard DSL speed at anincreased price point.
5.Cable: Cable internet is broadband technology that operates over coaxial cable TV lines. The speed of cable internet is comparable, albeit noticeably higher, to that of DSL internet. However, because this type of internet access makes use of shared cables, speeds can be considerably lower during peak Internet usage times. Like DSL, the way your connection is established allows for both surfing the Web and watching TV at the same time.
6. Fiber optic: Fiber optics technology is used to construct what is known as fiber to the x broadband architecture. Fiber optic cables are made out of thin transparent fibers of glass or plastic that are enclosed by material of a lower refractive index and that transmit light throughout their length by internal reflections. The way fiber optics work makes it possible to reach speeds unparalleled by other types of internet access—in 2014, record-breaking speeds of 1.4 terabytes per second were clocked using commercial-grade fiber optic cables. Fiber optic internet is therefore the best alternative for bandwidth-heavy activities. A big disadvantage of fiber internet is its price, however, as it’s the most expensive of all the internet access types. It is also limited in scope due to the infrastructure it demands.
The term net neutrality was coined by Tim Wu, a media law professor at Columbia University, in 2003. It stands for the idea that all internet traffic—regardless of user, content, website, platform, application, etc.—should be treated equally. Essentially, advocates of net neutrality are against ISPs blocking sites, slowing down traffic, charging extra, or otherwise making it difficult for users to access the content they want to find online.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) voted to repeal net neutrality in a 3 to 2 vote. Nearly six months later, the repeal of Title II net neutrality regulations took place due to the US House of Representative’s failure to act under the CRA (Congressional Review Act) after having voted against deregulation. This was the climax of a long and lengthy process started by Ajit Varadaraj Pai, chairman of the FCC, who made his plans to repeal net neutrality known early during his time in office.
The repeal of net neutrality is a contentious topic. Studies in 2017 and 2018 showed that an overwhelming majority of voters opposed repealing net neutrality. In spite of bipartisan opposition and drawing the criticism of numerous associations, non-profits, and civil rights organizations, among other groups, the FCC still repealed these regulations. Many states are now drafting legislation to implement their own net neutrality laws.
Despite the harsh criticism directed at the repeal, opinion is still somewhat divided among experts on the topic. Many computer scientists, including co-creator of the Internet Vinton Cerf, and inventor of the Web Tim Berners-Lee, have condemned the repeal of net neutrality, calling it “rushed”, “flawed”, and “irresponsible.” Others, such as internet pioneer and former Chief Technologist for the FCC David Farber, have warned that extensive regulation could stifle innovation within the ISP industry. Some stand somewhere in the middle, such as computer programmer and creator of BitTorrent Bram Cohen, who would not want the Internet to turn into something like cable TV but believes net neutrality laws are very difficult to implement appropriately.
But how does the repeal of net neutrality impact you, the consumer? Since regulation favoring net neutrality was repealed not too long ago, we still lack sufficient evidence to say whether the effect has been positive or negative overall for consumers. There is one big issue that customers may be facing in the near issue as a result of this, however.
Net Neutrality and Monopolization
Using data from the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) found that 51% of Americans are limited to single ISP choice where they live; 10% of Americans can’t even purchase what the FCC considers “basic broadband”. These statistics dispel the common misconception that those who are unsatisfied with their internet service can “just switch” to another provider. For a large number of Americans, that is simply not a choice.
The biggest issue with repealing net neutrality in the United States is that we suffer from serious monopolization in the internet service industry. “ISPs do have too much market power, particularly the cable internet service providers who essentially operate as monopolies in most major markets”, says Rahul Jain, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at USC.
Large ISPs have carved up the country, thereby avoiding competition and resulting in stagnation within the industry. This has created an environment where providers don’t need to make an effort to better their service. Instead, they can just charge you more and more for the same amount of bandwidth. Jain went on,
“We as consumers are paying more for internet service, not less, while in most other developed countries, prices have fallen at a rapid clip. Why?”
Without net neutrality rules, individual ISPs will be able to do more than just give preferential treatment to content creators they favor. They might be able to throttle speeds and do anything they can to drive their customers away from content sponsored by other large ISPs. In a worst-case scenario, the Internet could end up a fragmented shadow of its former self.
Naturally, this is only a hypothetical aftermath. But the lack of net neutrality rules could have opened the floodgates for this kind of exploitative market practices. Some ISPs, large and small, have stated that they will not prioritize certain traffic or charge premiums to access certain content. We considered this during our research and recommend that consumers choose companies that are transparent in this area, although it might be hard to ascertain whether the company is being genuine in its efforts.
How to Choose the Best Provider in Your Area
Due to the ISP monopoly in the United States, some of us may have very little choice in what provider we pick. Unfortunately, the best ISP in one area may not be available in yours. Additionally, barring mobile broadband and satellite internet providers, most companies do not offer coverage nationwide. Because of this, we’ve written a short guide to help those who may not be covered by one of the companies that we rated as “the best” in any given category. This can also help those who want to opt for a local provider but are not sure what they should be looking for.
For Residential Customers
Review the provider’s track record with customers. One of the biggest gripes people have with providers is unreliable customer support. A company’s average customer satisfaction rate can be found on the ACSI’s yearly telecommunication report. After checking with the ACSI, make sure to look up the company on JD Power, the BBB, and other industry review aggregators. Local companies that don’t have much of a presence online are better researched through anecdotal evidence from nearby residents.
Check the provider’s prices and fees. Unless the provider clearly states what goes into its advertised prices, disregard them. Instead, try to find what is included in a plan’s price—and what isn’t. Check for how long the contract’s original price is going to last, if there are any installation fees, if they can be waived, and if opting for paperless billing can bring your final price down. Remember that taxes are added near the end of the process as well.
Verify the types of plan the provider is selling. Assuming you stay with the same provider for some time, your Internet needs could change. Subscribing to a provider with more than a single internet access type and a wider variety of plans ensures that you can upgrade or downgrade your plan, if the need arises.
For Businesses Customers
Ask other businesses about their own experience with a particular provider. Ask what kind of issues they’ve had with the company, if their technicians have done their job swiftly and efficiently, how long they’ve been serviced by the provider, and anything else that could affect your own business.
Make sure the provider can cater to your type of business. Not all ISPs cater to all sizes of business or industries. Some do, but are more experienced working with small, mid-sized, or large businesses. When looking for a provider, make sure to avoid those that advertise their business solutions as a “one-size-fits-all” alternative. Instead, try to find ISPs that have a history of working with companies your same size.
Check if the provider offers 24/7 customer support. Having tech support around the clock is essential for many businesses—especially those that are open at odd hours. Many providers have business solutions, but not all of them include 24/7 support. Of those that do, it’s not uncommon to see them charging an extra fee for it. The extra cost might seem restrictive, but generally pays off.
The term bandwidth has several meanings, but is defined as the capacity for data transfer of an electronic communications system in the field of computing. Bandwidth is generally expressed in bits per second e.g. 250Mbps (megabits per second). Bits, particularly megabits, are often confused with megabytes, but they are not the same unit of measurement. Megabytes are not usually used in residential internet plans and use the acronym MBps rather than Mbps. Basically, the more bandwidth you have, the higher your maximum rate of data transfer will be.
If this is all a bit too abstract, think of bandwidth as a pipe. Higher bandwidth is equal to a larger pipe, which means a higher material capacity (i.e. data) can be transported from one end to another.
This is why your network might be acting “slow” if multiple people are using it for streaming, gaming, and other high-bandwidth activities.
A common misconception is that bandwidth is the same as speed. “Colloquially, they mean the same thing” says Professor Shyam Parekh. He explains that part of the confusion is the word’s origin in the domain of analog technology, where it was used to express hertz. A higher amount of bandwidth does not actually make your internet connection faster—only perceptually so. Rather, the speed of your network connection depends on the type of internet access you are using, when you are using it, the state of your equipment, and how far away you are from your ISP’s nearest data hub. This likely happens because of how ISP’s market their services and plans.
How Much Speed do I Need?
Because we all use the Internet for different purposes, it stands to reason that we don’t all need to pay upwards of $80 for 1GB of bandwidth. Before you begin searching for an ISP in your area—assuming you have more than a single choice—it’s a good idea to review what you use the Internet for. After all, you wouldn’t want to get less bandwidth than what you need, either
Take long-time gamer Hector Cortez, for example. He streams liveplay of videogames on Facebook like Apex Legends and Rocket League nearly every day. When asked what type of service he would recommend to other gamers out there, he told us to “choose a company with fiber optic [technology].” He uses fiber optic himself and suggested that those living in areas with an unstable connection opt for plans with higher Mbps than they would regularly need, in order to ensure video quality.
Another example is Jorge Rodriguez, father of four. He’s been with the same provider for over a decade now, during which his family’s needs have changed. “When it was just four of us, we didn’t need a lot of bandwidth. But after having our third child and moving to the suburbs, we had to upgrade our plan.” He went on to explain how having a fourth child and moving further away from the city required a stronger plan to counteract the change in usage and the distance. “After three of our kids moved out, we were able to downgrade to a cheaper and more adequate plan for us.”
Lastly, we have Heidi Rivera, whose Internet needs lie somewhere in between high and low bandwidth. She’s an independent contractor with 10 years of experience in subtitle translation editing. She told us that “having good reliable internet is crucial to my business.” She mentioned the need for a good amount of bandwidth to stream and watch the content she edits but focused more so on the importance of good customer service. “I’ve had issues with my [internet] service, which is where good customer support came in handy… If I don’t have a service I can rely on, that means I’m losing money—and clients.”
What To Watch Out For When Dealing with ISPs
Almost every ISP that offers cable TV and phone service also has premade or customizable bundles. It’s an easy way to save money for consumers who want more than just internet. But it’s also an easy way for people to lose money if they cave into common sales tactics.
Before getting cable TV service and a phone line, ask yourself: how often will I be using these? If you aren’t keeping up to date with series currently running on TV or need the phone line for a specific reason, avoid getting swayed into bundling. Even if the cost is just a few dollars more than the internet service by itself, chances are the price of those services will also increase after the end of your payment period.
Additional Fees & Costs
When you visit a provider’s website, one of the first things you’ll see are their advertised prices. Consumers are generally shown three to four plans that the provider wants to sell the most, with any other plans lying elsewhere. Some providers opt against this, showing what their average plans offer and only revealing prices once the user inputs their location.
The plans that providers advertise to customers on their front page are more often than not purely promotional. Providers discount the standard price of their plans and offer them under contract for 12 to 24 months, after which the monthly payments may increase. These promotional plans are usually only available for new customers.
Lastly, the price you see does not take into consideration the price of renting your equipment. Most customers rent their equipment, thereby avoiding the hassle of having to learn how to install it themselves. It’s also less of an upfront investment. However, the cost of getting leased equipment from your ISP can quickly add up—especially if your provider decides to raise the monthly payment. Moreover, most companies charge a fee for the equipment’s installation, although some do waive this for new customers or online orders.
Picture this: It’s been nearly a week since you changed Internet providers. You picked a plan advertising 400Mbps—a considerable upgrade compared to your previous plan of 100Mbps. You’ve been able to watch videos and play games online smoothly so far, although you can’t notice that big a difference. It’s Friday and you get a notification that the new episode of your favorite series is online, so you log in to the streaming platform... And quickly start to notice issues with your connection. The stream is spotty, changing resolution all the time and outright stopping occasionally. After making several speed tests and resetting the router twice already, you call your provider to ask what is going on. The representative explains that your plan does not promise “speeds” of 400Mbps, but rather of up to 400Mbps.
The way ISPs advertise their plans can often be confusing. Consumers may automatically assume that the bandwidth being offered to them is exactly what they are going to get. This is problematic for two reasons. The first is the common misconception that we discussed regarding bandwidth and speed, two things which are not quite the same. The second is the large number of variables that affect Internet connections.
Consumers should never expect to get the exact bandwidth that is being advertised to them by an ISP. Professor Shyam Parekh explains that “The line that goes to your home might have a capacity of 1Gbps, but you are not going to get 1Gbps.” The time of day, the number of users online, your distance from the ISP, and end-user hardware issues, among many other factors, may be at play for your lower-than-expected bandwidth.
Providers could also be throttling your bandwidth for various reasons. This can be checked for through repeated use of free Internet speed testing software, such as Speedtest’s and HighSpeedInternet.com’s. Keep in mind that testing for speed throttling is hard, though, and there is no guarantee that a provider will change what they are doing when presented with evidence to support your claims.
FAQs about Internet Providers
What technology provides the fastest internet speed?
Fiber optic technology provides the fastest internet service. This technology is the most expensive and might not be readily available in rural areas.
What is the best type of service for gaming?
Gamers should get the fastest type of service that is available. Fiber optic service is usually preferred by gamers, but is not available in all areas yet. If you don’t have access to a fiber optic network, then go with a higher than usual download speed to ensure video quality.
What is the difference between bandwidth and speed?
Bandwidth refers to your provider’s potential or capacity to transmit data through its system. Speed refers to the actual amount of data that will be transmitted, and can be affected by factors such as the type of connection you are using (i.e. dial up vs. DSL) , the number of users online at any given time, your distance from the provider’s hub, and the quality of your equipment.
What is the difference between Wi-Fi and the Internet?
Wi-Fi technology enables devices to connect to one another and it is often used to distribute Internet connection in a local network. It is an alternative to the traditional method using cables for connecting devices to access the Internet.
Can I Get Internet Service Without a Phone Line?
The only types of internet access that require a phone line are DSL and Dial-Up. Cable, fixed wireless, satellite, mobile broadband, and fiber optic do not require a phone line to function.Both DSL and Dial-Up technologies transmit data over phone lines. However, DSL technology enables what is known as “Naked DSL”. This type of internet access functions exactly the same as DSL but without the analog phone service.
Can I Use My Own Equipment with a New ISP?
A modem and a router are the two pieces of equipment required to establish a Wi-Fi network. If you have this equipment beforehand, you can use it instead of renting it from your ISP, so long as they’re compatible.Both buying and renting the equipment for a Wi-Fi have their pros and cons. The most obvious advantage of buying your own equipment is that you won’t need to pay your ISP a monthly lease on top of your regular payments. Moreover, having your own equipment makes it easier to change providers, as it eliminates the need to ship it back to your old ISP. On the other hand, using your own equipment means you’ll need to install it yourself, without any tech support from your ISP. Although renting is much more expensive in the long run, it will save you the trouble of installing any equipment by yourself.
Web browser: Users can “surf” the web through the use of software applications or programs known as web browsers. Browsers allow users to reach a web page, access it, and display its content. Example of web browsers are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Microsoft Edge.
URL: Uniform resource locators are used to identify web resources. They function as an address for these online resources.
Web resource: Anything that can be retrieved from the Web—digital, physical, or abstract—is identified as a web resource. E.g. emails, web software and services, html, videos, online quizzes, and surveys.
Peering: ISPs often arrange for traffic exchange with larger other ISPs that have a larger backbone network. By peering, ISPs can reduce total latency and congestion. They can also more easily manage internet traffic, reducing overhead costs.
Backbone network: Backbone networks are transmission lines that carry data gathered from smaller lines that interconnect with it.
Latency: The time that it takes for data to travel from one point to another and back is called latency. Often confused for bandwidth, it is the combination of both that determines how “fast” any given internet connection is.
Terabit: A unit of measurement. One terabit is equivalent to 1000 gigabits.
Megabit: The most common unit of measurement for residential ISPs. It is equivalent to 1,000,000 bits and is expressed by the acronym Mbps.
Megabyte: A megabyte is composed of 8 megabits; expressed by the acronym MBps.
Who is the best Internet provider company? ›
- 10 Best Internet Providers of 2022.
- AT&T Internet.
- T-Mobile Home Internet.
- Cox Communications.
- Comcast Xfinity.
- Verizon Fios.
- Google Fiber.
Comcast is the biggest name in cable, and the company offers its Xfinity internet service to well over 100 million people in the US -- more than a third of the country.Which Internet provider is the fastest? ›
Google Fiber is the fastest internet provider, followed by Xfinity and Verizon. *Data effective 6/17/2022. Data taken from internet user results conducted on HighSpeedInternet.com's speed test between June 1, 2021, to June 1, 2022.Which WIFI is best for home? ›
|Device Name||Key Feature||Antennas|
|TP-Link N300 Wireless Wi-fi Router||VoIP calls||3|
|D-Link DIR 615 Wireless Wi-fi Router||budget-friendly, suitable for small rooms||3|
|TP-Link AC 750 Dual-band wireless wi-fi router||Guest network, parental control||3|
|Mi 4A Dualband Wi-Fi-Router||Gigabit Edition||4|
- #1 Xfinity Internet.
- #2 Cox Internet.
- #3 Spectrum Internet.
- #3 Mediacom Internet.
- #5 Astound Broadband.
- #6 Optimum. #7 SuddenLink.
Here's cable versus fiber in a nutshell: fiber is better at delivering the fastest internet speeds, but cable is much more available and often cheaper. Overall, cable and fiber are both reliable internet connections.Is 50 Mbps fast? ›
Answer: Absolutely! 50 Mbps is plenty of internet speed to do what you enjoy. Your internet service works for you, so whether you're checking social media, streaming your favorite TV show, or jamming out to the latest billboard toppers, 50 Mbps allows you to keep entertained and informed at fast speeds.What is the biggest WIFI company? ›
|Top U.S. Wireline Broadband Carrier Metrics Q2 2017|
Broadband subscribers 2021: 9.2 million
BT is the largest broadband provider in the UK with a customer base of over 9 million.
How do I choose an internet provider? ›
Availability, speed, and price are the three main factors to consider when choosing your ISP. Speed gives you the necessary support for all your online activities, and the price has to be affordable for what you get. The providers available in your area also play a big role in determining the quality of your Wi-Fi.Who offers fastest broadband UK? ›
- Virgin Media is the UK's fastest major broadband provider, and its Gig1 Fibre Broadband is the most widely available ultrafast service. ...
- Hyperoptic also offers similarly speedy services, up to 1Gbps, with coverage in more than 400,000 homes.
T-Mobile hits 150 Mbps in users' average 5G Download Speed
While in the previous 5G Experience report T-Mobile led by an impressive 62.7 Mbps, this time T-Mobile places at least 93.9 Mbps ahead of its competitors, with our users enjoying a 5G Download Speed that's 2.7-3.1 times as fast as Verizon and AT&T's scores.
Communication. According to the cable.co.uk broadband speed league 2022, Taiwan is on top of the world when it comes to fast internet, with an average download speed of 135.88 Mbps - 13.55 more than second-placed Japan.Is 5G the fastest internet? ›
5G can be significantly faster than 4G, delivering up to 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) peak data rates and 100+ Megabits-per-second (Mbps) average data rates. 5G has more capacity than 4G. 5G is designed to support a 100x increase in traffic capacity and network efficiency. 5G has lower latency than 4G.Which kind of internet is best? ›
The best type of internet is fiber-optic internet because it's extremely efficient, reliable, and fast. In most cases, fiber tops out at 1,000 Mbps for both download and upload speeds.What is a good and cheap Wi-Fi? ›
Best Cheap Gigabit Plan
Quantum Fiber, formerly known as CenturyLink Fiber, boasts the cheapest pricing for gig speeds of any major provider: $65 per month with no added equipment fees. That's cheaper than gig service from AT&T ($80), Frontier ($70), Google Fiber (also $70) and Verizon Fios ($90).
- Best overall: TP-Link Archer AX90.
- Best for budgets: TP-Link Archer A10.
- Best for gamers: NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX200.
- Best for Wi-Fi 5: ASUS RT-AC88U.
- Best for mesh: Amazon Eero Pro 6.
Our internet speed test shows the national average internet speed in 2022 is 119.03 Mbps.Who has the fastest broadband in the UK? ›
The fastest widely available broadband in the UK is Virgin Media with their Gig1 package, which offers average download speeds at peak times of 1.13Gb. This is 186Mb faster than the second fastest, TalkTalk, who offer average download speeds of 944Mb at peak times on their Full Fibre 900 plan.
IS NOW TV broadband any good? ›
NOW is a great value budget broadband provider. It offers cheap ADSL and fibre, as well as low-cost internet and TV bundles. But you'll have to pay setup fees and ad-free TV costs extra. Its Wi-Fi router could be better, too.Is Virgin or BT better? ›
BT Broadband speeds.
|Virgin Media speeds:||BT speeds:|
|Virgin Media Gig1 - 1,130 Mbps||BT Full Fibre 100 - 150 Mbps|
|BT Full Fibre 500 - 500 Mbps|
The fastest type of internet connection in the world is full fibre, also known as FTTP (Fibre to the Premises). FTTP, or full fibre can achieve much faster speeds than traditional copper or DSL connections, and blended FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet), because there is no contention.What is a good internet speed? ›
A good download speed is at least 100 Mbps, and a good upload speed is at least 10 Mbps. With 100 Mbps, you can watch Netflix or YouTube, attend Zoom meetings, and play most online games on several devices at the same time. Some people can get away with fewer Mbps, and others need more.