Best Internet Providers in 2020
AT&T is the world’s largest telecoms company, selling cellular and landline phone services and internet, over DSL and fiber networks.
Earthlink specialises in DSL internet connections, and offers fiber under its Hyperlink brand
Verizon provides fiber and DSL internet connections to millions of customers across the country
Comcast’s Xfinity is the largest cable internet provider in the US, with services available to over 100 million people across 39 states.
Cox is a cable internet provider available to over 20 million people in 18 states, from California to Massachusetts
Comparing Internet Providers
There will likely be several internet providers operating in your state and city, vying for your monthly bill, promising lightning speeds, fire-sale prices, and attractive bundling options. Which is the fairest—or the most affordable—of them all? Before you sign on the dotted line and commit to a broadband deal, here’s what to consider:
Within states, coverage by ISP varies from city to city and sometimes from street to street. So first you’ll need to winnow the list of providers in your state down further by checking which ones sell services to your address. Do this by entering your ZIP code in our broadband comparison engine.
We all want our monthly internet bills to be cheap, or at least within our budget. Compare prices between providers and see what the norm for internet in your area is—and which providers are offering can't-miss discounts. But the best internet provider isn’t necessarily the cheapest, so be wary of signing up to a bargain-basement service: you might sacrifice speed, data caps, and customer service.
You can buy internet connections with download speeds from 10Mbps to 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps). Most of us will need a plan somewhere in the middle. According to the FCC, 100Mbps is a reasonable speed for a family of four regularly doing data-intensive tasks like streaming video.
While unlimited internet plans are becoming more common in the US, many providers still cap the amount of data you can use each month. Some ISPs institute a flat and usually generous cap across all their plans: 1TB is common and gives you space for 400 hours of TV viewing. Other ISPs strictly limit data on their cheapest and slowest plans, sometimes to just 100GB. Going over these limits can be costly.
Most broadband providers will try to sell you a bundled TV package with your internet service. If you want TV it’s a good idea to get it from your ISP but make sure their service is up to scratch. Consider how many channels they offer and whether your favorites are included. What’s their TV box like? Does it allow you to pause, rewind, and record live TV? How many hours of content can you store?
Internet providers can be a mixed bag when it comes to customer service. But it’s a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch and some ISPs are much more responsive to customer queries than others. We suggest you consult real customer reviews before subscribing to an internet plan, to get an idea of what the company’s service is really like.
Finding the Cheapest Internet Provider
What goes into the price of an internet plan? Why are some connections so much cheaper than others? And what extra costs should you consider so you’re not surprised by ‘hidden fees’?
Here are some of the main factors that will influence the prices of different internet providers’ plans:
In general, the faster your internet connection, the more you’ll pay for it. You can save money by not taking on more speed than you need. But be aware that the slowest connections might crimp your internet style, particularly if you like to stream Netflix or game online, or if your home is crowded with hungry internet-users. As a rule of thumb, a 100Mbps connection will be sufficient for the needs of most modern families. Prices aren’t standardized across the industry, so you might find a plan from one provider that offers more speed at a cheaper price than one from another ISP. This is why it’s important to compare internet providers using a tool like ours.
Upfront charges are standard across the internet market but they vary between provider. Usually, you’ll face an installation fee of between $20 to $125; with satellite internet providers, this will be much higher. Make sure you factor this cost into your first month’s bill. Some providers, like Comcast, can you send you a self-installation kit for a lower fee, if you can manage the installation yourself. But those who aren’t tech-savvy will want to rely on the professionals. Some providers charge a one-time activation fee on top of the installation charge to begin your service—we’ve seen these between $25 and $50.
To use your internet at home, you’ll need a modem and router. Most ISPs give these to you in exchange for an additional charge—usually of around $10—on your monthly bill. In effect, you’re renting these devices, which can be pricy. You can buy your own equipment for the cost of a year’s rental through your ISP. This is a good cost-saving option for people with some tech know-how. But remember that you’ll be responsible for the installation of your own modem and router yourself and won’t be able to turn to your ISP for trouble-shooting and repairs if they hit snags. If you’re signing up to an internet-TV bundle, you’ll also face charges for the TV box and remote, which may be levied upfront or appear as an additional line item on your monthly bill. All those equipment charges can add up, so make sure you account for them before committing to an internet plan.
On top of your standard monthly bill, you can also run into other charges from your ISP. Internet providers are notorious for nickel-and-diming customers. But if you’re careful and knowledgeable about your service you can avoid incurring extra charges. Look out for data overage fees, for blowing past your monthly data cap: these are usually $10 for every additional 50GB your household uses. To avoid them, carefully monitor your data usage, especially at the end of the month, or spring for a plan without a data cap. If you pay your bills late you’ll also be dinged: usually by between $10 to $25 or a percentage of your bill. Set up a direct debit for your internet bill to avoid incurring these unnecessary charges. Additionally, if you’re in a contract with a provider, leaving early can be very costly. Early termination fees are either a flat fee—of up to $300—or a percentage of the bill of all the months you have left. If you want the ability to leave your provider and seek out a new one whenever, look for a provider that sells internet without a contract. Some providers do this as standard and others offer no-contract plans for a slightly higher monthly cost.
Best Internet Providers For Different Users
Not everyone needs a gigabit-capable connection. Most households will be perfectly content with a middle-of-the-road internet plan—not too expensive, not too slow, just right for all your social media and Hulu-watching needs. Here’s how to pinpoint exactly how much speed you need, depending on your family’s internet habits.
Note that all the internet users in your household will be sharing bandwidth, so the more people who are logged on, the slower the speeds you'll receive on your device. If many people and their tablets are logging onto your WiFi at once, you’ll want to make sure you have the bandwidth to accommodate them all.
|Up to 15Mbps||Casual internet users, who primarily browse the web and check their email. These speeds will suit most seniors.|
|15 - 50Mbps||Moderate internet users, who surf the web and occasionally stream HD video.|
|50 - 100Mbps||Binge-watchers, those who frequently stream HD video content. 50Mbps is the minimum speed you want if you’re cutting the cord and ditching cable TV for streaming services.|
|100 - 200Mbps||Busy families of internet users, especially if family members are simultaneously watching streaming services in different rooms and playing online games.|
|200Mbps +||Heavy internet users, committed gamers and anyone regularly downloading large files.|
Fiber internet connections deliver the internet using dedicated fiber-optic wires and are generally the fastest internet connections available. They're usually the most expensive internet plans but deliver the best performance. They’re ideal for gamers and anyone doing remote work, particularly uploading files to a server.
DSL internet connections deliver the internet using the landline phone network, with speeds of between 5 and 35Mbps. They’re good entry-level connections, particularly for casual or occasional internet users and they’re likely available to you, reaching 90% of US households.
Cable internet connections use coaxial cables and achieve speeds between 10 and 500Mbps. Cheaper and more widely available than fiber, they’re a good option for busy households with many internet users but a tighter monthly budget.
Anyone can receive a satellite internet connection they’re available wherever you can see the sky. However: speeds are slow, data limits strict, and bills expensive, especially when you account for installation and the satellite dish. But for some rural households, these are the only internet connections available.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on your state. For instance, Texas is served by 161 internet providers while Alaska is served by just 17. Most states fall somewhere in the middle so you’ll certainly have enough deals to choose from. To find out how many and which internet providers operate in your state, use our interactive map.
There’s no one internet provider which is the cheapest across the country and for all services. Some will offer the best deals for DSL, some will offer budget cable. Some national providers like AT&T and Earthlink also vary the prices of their packages from market to market, so your sister in another state may be paying less for the same service. In general, Xfinity is a good bet for affordable overall service. CenturyLink is known for being good value for money. AT&T has economical bundles, and Windstream is often the cheapest for rural residents.
First, use our state interactive map to find a list of those operating in your state. To narrow the list down further, use our deal finder and enter your ZIP code. You’ll get a personalized list of the ISPs active on your street.
To find a new internet connection, start by comparing plans available to your address. Make note of their price, speed, data caps, bundling options, contract length, and the provider’s reputation for customer service. When you find a deal that ticks all your boxes, order it and schedule an installation date with your new provider. You’ll want to make sure your new service is live before canceling your other service, however, as otherwise you could be left without internet service for days or weeks.
But be aware that if you’re currently in a contract with your ISP, you’ll face hefty early termination fees for leaving it early—fees which will likely erode any savings you made by switching. In most cases, it’s advisable to stay in your existing contract and begin the search for a replacement six weeks before it’s up.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations require that ISPs allow you to keep your landline phone number if you’re switching providers and remaining in the same area code. To retain your phone number, simply provide it to your new ISP. Unfortunately, that ISP is allowed to charge you to ‘port’ that number.
You bought a package expecting 50Mbps internet speeds but your connection is crawling: Netflix is buffering, pages take seconds to load and downloads take ages. What gives?
Unfortunately, your internet connection may not be delivering the speeds you were promised. This is more likely to be true for DSL and satellite connections. Performance may particularly lag on your DSL connection the further you live from your ISP’s local office and poor weather can impact a satellite connection's service. Fiber and cable plans usually perform better, delivering speeds at or 90% of those advertised To find the speed you’re actually receiving, use an online internet speed checker.
In some cases the culprit is closer to home: an aging or poorly-positioned router can mean a weak WiFi signal that doesn’t deliver all the speed your connection is capable of.
You’re downloading data with every webpage you load. Some online activities, like streaming HD content and online gaming, are more data-intensive than others and will eat into your allowance faster.
The following is a good guideline for the amount of data common internet activities use:
- 1 hour of browsing the web: 10 to 25MB
- 1 hour of streaming music: 100MB
- 1 hour of watching YouTube: 350MB
- 1 hour of watching Netflix SD: 1GB
- 1 hour of watching Netflix HD: 3GB
- 1 hour of video calling: 125MB - 650MB
- 1 hour of online gaming: 40GB
A connection with a 1TB of data allowance will allow you to comfortably watch around 400 hours of streaming services each month—or 13 hours a day. That’s enough for all but the most committed binge-watchers.