The best internet service provider for you depends on which companies are available in your area and how you’ll be using the internet connection. The unfortunate truth of internet providers is that regional monopolies and natural topography prevent providers from being available everywhere. We’ve done individual reviews of the various internet types, but if you aren’t sure what’s best for you yet, we’ve rounded up our favorites in each category below to help you find the best internet service.
Top 10 Internet Service Provider
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How We Chose the Best Internet Service, Providers
More than anything, where you live will determine which internet providers you can choose from. According to the FCC, 85% of Americans have access to only two options or fewer. (The exception is satellite internet providers, which are accessible virtually everywhere.) And 30% of Americans don’t have any choice at all. Despite the inherently capitalist nature of the industry, providers intentionally avoid competition with each other.
Even landlords are partnering with corporations to eliminate competition, and many apartment complexes come with exclusive broadband agreements. With that in mind, we started with a list of the 12 largest nationwide providers, as they’re the options most likely available in your area.
From there, we cut out any companies that didn’t offer speeds of at least 25 Mbps — the FCC’s benchmark for good internet speed. Because speeds change depending on where you live, we got quotes in each provider’s strongest service area to see what kind of service we could expect on average. We also used data from Broadband Now to gauge maximum speeds, plan options, and availability.
No one likes feeling like they’re going into battle every time they have to call their internet provider. We used customer satisfaction ratings from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and J.D. Power to find out which companies had reputations for excellent customer service. The ACSI puts out a report every year using data from 70,000 customers detailing how happy they are with their service.
How to Find the Right Internet Service Provider for You
Check what’s available in your ZIP code
The first step in finding the best internet provider for you is to check which ones actually provide service to your address. The list is likely to be small. Cable, on the other hand, is pretty hit or miss. Some providers, like Comcast, service 40 states. Others, like Cox Communications, only service 10. Fiber technology is limited, too, but expanding more each year.
You can use our tool at the top of the page to locate the providers available in your area, or enter your address directly into each company’s site. If you have more than one option, you’ll want to compare them on two important features: speed and data caps.
Decide how much speed you need
The speed at which an internet connection uploads and downloads information is measured in Mbps (megabits per second). The more devices and the more demanding the activity, the higher the required Mbps. Different types of internet have different speed capabilities based on their technology.
- DSL: Up to 24 Mbps
- Satellite: Up to 25 Mbps
- Cable: 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps
- Fiber-Optic: 50 Mbps to 2,000 Mbps
To figure out how much speed you’ll need, consider the things you use the internet for an account for the number of devices that will be connected. Activities like streaming video and downloading files will require higher speeds than simply sending an email. The FCC provides a broadband guide with some basic recommendations.
Count your devices
Also, keep in mind that devices can add up quickly. There’s more than just your computer connecting to the Wi-Fi; phones, tablets, TVs, video game consoles, and even smart thermostats can eat up precious bandwidth.
We consulted networking experts, compared online tools from ISPs, and used HighSpeedInternet.com to build a guide that will help you find the right internet speed for your household. Determine where you are on the range of light use to very high use, then match that to the number of connected devices in your home.
Look for higher data caps on high-speed plans
Measured in gigabytes (GB), data usage speaks to the amount of information you’re uploading and downloading (rather than the speed at which that happens). Just like your phone plan, there are limits for your home internet data usage. Data caps range by the provider, from satellite internet’s 10 GB to unlimited data from some cable providers.
For basic web browsing and emailing, you won’t need more than 50 GB at a maximum. But if your household frequently streams downloads or online games, you’ll want a plan that offers closer to 500 GB. If you go over your data limit, your internet access won’t be completely cut off. You’ll either be charged for exceeding the limit or your speeds will be slowed until the next billing cycle.
When it comes to internet service, price is often much higher than what providers advertise. Make sure you take into account things like taxes, equipment rental fees, and installation fees before you make a final decision. Additionally, promotional prices often expire at the end of your contract, so make sure you’re aware of what your non-discounted price will be.