The Best Cheap Internet Providers
The speed you need — at the lowest possible price
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DSL, Fiber Optic
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DSL, Fiber Optic
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DSL, Fiber Optic
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Best for Light Users
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DSL, Fiber Optic
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First things first: There’s no one best internet provider. A family of streamers is going to have different needs than your grandma who only uses the internet to comment on your Facebook photos. It all depends on what’s available to you, and what you need from your internet.
Typically, the price you pay your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is directly tied to the speed at which you are able to download and upload (measured in Megabits Per Second, or Mbps). But what’s best for you speed-wise really depends on how many people are using the internet in your household, and what the internet is being used for. To find the best for you, you’ll need to first determine the best speed for your household, and then check what’s available from the providers that service your ZIP code. If you’re like most Americans, you can expect to pay between $20 and $50 each month.
The Best Cheap Internet Providers
How to Find the Best Cheap Internet Provider
We looked at the top 11 service providers in the US — the ones you’re bound to encounter when comparing your options. To help you find the best, we compared speeds and prices in the top cities served by each provider. We also considered speed upgrades, bundling discounts, extras like data caps and fees, and overall customer service.
First, figure out how much speed you need.
The speed of internet you actually need depends on a few factors: how many people are using your network; how many devices will be logged on at once; how these devices are using the internet (HD streaming vs. data transfer vs. casual email).
If you’re just checking email and reading the news, you might not need much; 10 Mbps — usually the slowest speed available — will be plenty.
However, if you’re like most people, you’re using the internet to stream video (streaming video accounts for over 70 percent of internet traffic) and 10 Mbps won’t be enough. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that the average household receives 39 Mbps. This is enough to stream HD video, browse the internet and social media, play online games, and use video conferencing.
To help you find the right speed for your household, we gathered recommendations from each ISP’s website and HighSpeedInternet.com, a site dedicated to providing information and tools to understand high-speed internet. Then we consulted with BroadbandNow co-founder Nick Reese to find the ideal speed ranges for most households.
How Much Internet Do You Need?
Emailing, web browsing, SD streaming
Music and HD streaming, occasional online gaming
HD and 4K streaming, real-time gaming, video conferencing
HD and 4K streaming, real-time gaming, video conferencing, large file downloading
SD = standard definition video; HD = high definition video
Make sure you’re getting adequate data, too.
Data usage is typically measured in gigabytes, or GB, and works similarly to the data usage on your phone. Whenever you send, receive, download, or upload anything, you’re using data. Most ISPs have generous data caps for internet usage. They range from 250GB from CenturyLink, to unlimited data from Frontier Communications. Satellite internet is different — you pay for data, not speed. With Hughesnet, for example, $50 only buys 10GB of data.
For a good idea of how much data you might need, Netflix says “Watching movies or TV shows on Netflix uses about 1GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3GB per hour for each stream of HD video.”
Basic web browsing uses about 50GB a month, but for heavy streaming, downloading, or online gameplay, look for a plan that offers at least 500GB per month.
Then check what’s available in your area.
It’s important to note that price and speed options, even from one ISP, vary considerably based on location. For example, in Chicago, XFINITY from Comcast is $67 per month for 25 Mbps, but in Houston, you’ll pay just $30 for the exact same speed. CenturyLink is similar — $30 will get you 40 Mbps in Phoenix, while $40 only gets you 25 Mbps in Las Vegas. The takeaway: There’s no single provider with universally cheap prices. The cheapest option in one city could be twice the price in another.
Should I get fiber-optic? “Fiber-optic connections are worth the high price. It’ll give you better download speeds and latency speeds. Your experience using the web will be quite a bit faster,” says Reese. Verizon, Frontier, CenturyLink, and AT&T all offer fiber internet in certain areas.
You can use BroadbandNow to compare options available in your ZIP code, but you’ll still need to check with providers to see if they service your specific address. Many providers have regional monopolies. In fact, in 2014, the FCC reported that fewer than 15 percent of Americans have access to more than two internet providers. Those restrictions might be so exclusive that there’s only one option for a specific apartment building.
To help you compare, we requested quotes in each provider’s three biggest service areas. We learned that, like price, speed options vary by location — you can’t always get the advertised speeds at your address. In New York, for example, Verizon Fios advertises 50 Mbps plans, but when we entered a few different addresses to see pricing, the lowest (and only) option was for 940 Mbps.
Customer service at most ISPs is mediocre at best.
Internet service providers are notorious for bad customer service. Customers complain about late installation appointments, billing discrepancies, and poor communication across the board. But some are worse than others. To see how they stack up, we looked at the 2016 data on customer satisfaction provided by third-party research companies including J.D. Power and the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
In short, a highly rated ISP is more likely to tell you exactly what’s on your bill, promptly schedule in-person maintenance, and provide promised speeds — and less likely to forward your call to three different departments.
AT&T and Verizon both tied for 5/5 and received the J.D. Power award in the regions they service. XFINITY Comcast, Frontier, Mediacom Communications, Charter Spectrum, and CenturyLink each received a 2/5 (the lowest score J.D. Power will publish).
The ACSI confirmed those ratings: In 2016, Comcast received the lowest score (56 percent) while Verizon earned the highest (73 percent). So while AT&T’s and Verizon’s customer service scores are relatively good, the bar for ISPs is still pretty low.
The Best Cheap Internet Providers
Both its fiber-optic and DSL plans start at $40 for 50 Mbps in Houston and Chicago, the two cities with the most AT&T subscribers. For homes with multiple active internet users, 50 Mbps is ideal. However, if you’re the only person using your internet, you probably won’t need speeds that high.
AT&T Internet plans also include some of the highest data caps in the industry: 1TB (1,000GB) per month. XFINITY from Comcast also offers up 1TB, while Frontier has no limit. To put that in perspective, heavy internet households typically need 500GB per month. AT&T offers double that.
AT&T won the award in the North Central region for J.D. Power’s US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study in 2016, with a 5/5 rating in nearly all categories. In the South and West, it came in second to Verizon — falling short in performance. Based on those high ratings, AT&T is more likely to communicate clearly and have reliable service compared to providers like Comcast (which scored 2/5).
If you’re looking for higher speeds with consistent performance, check AT&T’s website to see if the fiber-optic option is available in your area — it’s usually a better value. Because the internet is transmitted through strands of glass, unlike the copper wiring of cable, fiber-optic isn’t affected by environmental conditions and the connection speeds can be faster. Pricing starts at $60 per month for 100 Mbps. That’s $0.20 less per Mbps.
Plus, the upload speeds of fiber-optic internet can match its download speeds. For comparison, a DSL plan with download speeds of 25 Mbps typically offers upload speeds of just 3 Mbps. Faster upload speeds make things like sending emails (especially with attachments), video-chatting, and uploading to the cloud much quicker.
If you live in an area where Verizon Fios is offered and need internet for multiple users, it’s an all-around winner. Because it’s fiber-optic, it has upload speeds that match its download speeds.
Verizon Fios is the largest fiber-optic provider in the US, though it currently only services 10 states in the Northeast region. In the areas we looked at, pricing starts at $40 for 50 Mbps and reaches up to 940 Mbps for $70 — more internet than a single household typically needs.
Verizon is another provider working to change the bad reputation ISPs have for customer service. It won the J.D. Power customer satisfaction award in the East, with a 5/5 rating, and earned a 73 percent from the ACSI, the highest ACSI rank among our picks.
If you can see yourself sticking with this provider for more than a year, we recommend signing up for the two-year contract. Your rate will be $10 cheaper per month for the first year, and you’ll get an extra year of promo prices before its rates hike to “standard prices.” In some areas, that’s an additional $30 per month.
Verizon also offers DSL internet, but it requires a home phone plan. Its max speed is 15 Mbps for $35 — better for just one person using internet at home, mostly to browse the web and occasionally stream videos.
Best for Bundling
CenturyLink CenturyLink is popular in the West and offers internet and TV packages through DirecTV or their own service, Prism TV. Speeds vary by location, but most internet plans start at $30 or $40.
CenturyLink is primarily available in the the West. In some locations, it only offers one price and one speed for internet-only plans. When we requested quotes from three different cities, we found that prices range from $30 to $40 for speeds between 10 and 40 Mbps. It also offers long-term contracts that lock in prices for two or three years. These plans are optimal for smaller households with one moderate to heavy internet user, or multiple light internet users.
While their speeds are relatively slower, CenturyLink does offer a few bundling options through its partnership with DirecTV or Prism TV — CenturyLink’s fiber-optic television service. Direct TV bundles start at $65 for more than 150 channels, while Prism TV/internet/phone bundles start at $135 and include “Whole Home DVR” so you can watch and record shows on multiple TVs.
Heavy downloaders or 4K streamers take note: CenturyLink enforces a 250GB monthly data limit. CenturyLink is currently a DSL-based provider, but it’s slowly rolling out fiber-optic internet to 13 cities, including Seattle, Orlando, Denver, and Las Vegas.
While CenturyLink’s prices may be cheap, its customer service leaves much to be desired. It scored a 2 out of 5 by J.D. Power for customer satisfaction, the lowest possible published score, and earned a 63 percent by ACSI. Additionally, if you have any discrepancies regarding billing, payments, changing services, or general non-technical complaints, you’ll have to make time to call. There’s no live chat and its phone line only operates during business hours.
Xfinity from Comcast has something for everyone. It currently provides coverage in 40 states and offers more options than any other provider on our list — plans start at 10 Mbps (ideal for email or basic web browsing) and go all the way up to 2,000 Mbps (enough to power an entire office building). Most plans start at $30 for either 10 or 25 Mbps depending on where you live. In many places, a basic cable package is just an extra $5 per month. Like AT&T, it has a data cap of 1TB, but it reports that 99 percent of its customers don’t come anywhere near that limit.
However, look out for hidden fees and don’t expect too much from its customer service. For example, Comcast is the only provider with a self-installation fee around $15. That’s cheaper than paying for professional installation, but you’re basically paying to DIY.
Although J.D. Power gave XFINITY a 2 out of 5 (the lowest score it will publish), its ACSI overall customer satisfaction ratings rose from 56 percent in 2015 to 59 percent in 2016 — a signal that the business is making an effort to improve its reputation.
Most Widely Available
Hughesnet is a satellite internet provider, which means it’s available nationwide. The company also just launched its Gen5 satellite, making its internet faster and more reliable, but also more expensive.
Its pricing model is simple. All plans get you 25 Mbps, but you choose from different tiers of data: 20GB (enough for one user’s minimal streaming and web browsing) is going to cost $70 per month. That’s twice the price for a fraction of the data you’d get with other DSL or cable providers. But if satellite internet is your only option, Hughesnet offers speeds of 25 Mbps in more areas than its competitors, DISH and Exede.
Mediacom Cable is unique in its flexible service scheduling. Sick of having to skip a day of work and wait around for four hours until the cable technician shows? Mediacom can accommodate. To schedule professional installation, you choose a 30-minute arrival window whenever it’s convenient, including evenings and weekends. XFINITY, by comparison, has two-hour appointment windows.
Plans start at $50 for 60 Mbps, a decent value for that amount of speed, when we pulled prices from Des Moines, Iowa — one of Mediacom’s biggest service areas. The only other option jumps up to $70 for 100 Mbps. Data caps start at 450GB per month, but even that should be enough for some streaming and downloading.
These plans work great for a household with multiple internet users; families with a few streamers will find decent value for their needs here. The data cap could be a limitation for those who are streaming daily on multiple devices, downloading large files, or gaming online.
Mediacom’s customer satisfaction scores are some of the lowest on our list — 2/5 from J.D. Power, and 57 percent satisfaction from ACSI — which puts it just barely above Frontier for customer service.
Best for Light Users
Cox is one of the few providers to offer plans below 10 Mbps, though it’s not necessarily a value. In most cities, 5 Mbps with Cox will cost $30 — just enough speed for basic emailing and web browsing. For $10 more per month, you can get speeds up to 50 Mbps — enough to power a four-person household’s internet needs.
It also offers a new Panoramic WiFi tool — a modem/WiFi extender combo that eliminates dead zones in your home. If you notice the WiFi at home is frequently slowing down or cutting out in certain rooms, this is a way to extend your network without having to set up an additional router.
Cox has been known to have significant discounts for its bundles, and includes free installation with bundle packages, a $100 savings. Make sure you check that post-promo price, though: Some plans rise $100 or more after 12 months. Its starting TV/phone bundle is $90 a month for a year for 50 Mbps, and then jumps to $194 per month.
No Equipment Fees
For those who are really bargain hunting, Frontier also offers a free router (no up-front cost or monthly rental fees). It also offers no-contract plans, so you’re free to go if its service isn’t working for you.
Frontier also offers unlimited data, allowing you to stream and download as much as you want. Plans come with a two-year price guarantee, so you get an extra year before it bumps up the promo prices. Most providers only offer promotional pricing for the first year.
Frontier’s service areas are sprinkled throughout the country, mostly in California, Connecticut, and Florida. It’s primarily a DSL provider, but offers fiber internet in select areas. In Rochester, New York, for example, $40 gets you 50 Mbps of fiber internet — twice the speed of its $40 DSL option (24 Mbps).
Frontier’s customer service ranked the lowest out of our picks, with a 56 percent satisfaction from ACSI. Customers complain about its frequent miscommunication and tendency to redirect calls. They also report discrepancies between prices promised and the prices charged when a billing statement arrives. And bundlers beware: If you choose a bundle and want to disconnect one of those services later on, there’s a $10 “Broadband Processing Fee.”
Charter Spectrum is a cable internet provider, mostly servicing Missouri, Michigan, and California. If you’re here because you’re looking to switch plans, and your current provider has pretty harsh early termination fees, Charter has a $500 contract buyout promo. It also doesn’t require a contract commitment, and data is unlimited.
Pricing starts at $30 for 60 Mbps or $45 for 100 Mbps, depending on your location. For a family of four streaming multiple devices at once, Chater Spectrum is the best DSL value we found. However, if you’re a single user, you might be able to find a cheaper option with lower speeds from another provider. Comcast, for example, offers 10 Mbps for $20.
Charter Spectrum advertises a free modem, but if you want one that is WiFi-enabled (you probably do), that’ll be an extra $5 per month. Speaking of fees, Charter also has a required professional installation fee ($50), and a one time Wi-Fi activation fee ($10).
Compared to the other providers, Charter’s customer service rankings were pretty average. It earned a 3 out of 5 J.D. power circles and had 63% satisfaction rating from ACSI.
Other Cheap Internet to Consider
Exede Internet is a satellite ISP popular in areas of Illinois, Georgia, and North Carolina. While the majority of its plans are for 12 Mbps, it does offer 25 Mbps in certain areas. Exede also has the highest satellite upload speed at 3 Mbps. Its data tiers are only a slightly better value than Hughesnet, where you can get 10GB for $50. With Exede, $50 will get you 12GB of data. Those plans do have a three-year price-lock guarantee, so you don’t have to worry about your rate going up every year.
All contracts require a two-year commitment, with early termination costing you $15 for every month left in the agreement. It will send you a box for equipment return.
Because of the data caps, Exede will tell you straight on its website, “If you want to stream TV and/or movies in real-time on a regular basis, especially in HD, Exede is not a good option for you.” But if you’re located somewhere rural or remote, Exede and DISH are the only alternatives to HughesNet.
For internet-only plans, DISH’s rates are under lock and key. Pricing and availability aren’t listed on its website, so you can’t order online, let alone view your options. If you really want an internet-only plan with DISH, you’ll have to call to get a quote.
DISH does offer a decent high-speed internet option if you choose to bundle your services — plans start at $50 for 40 Mbps. But that $50 is in addition to a TV package (those start at $40 per month). That’s a potential starting cost of $90, for 40 Mbps and TV, which stays competitive with CenturyLink, whose bundles can go for $99 for 40 Mbps and TV. Contracts require a two-year commitment, but its bundles include a modem and free installation.
Did You Know?
The cheapest plan might be with the provider you already have.
Here are a few ways to make sure you’re getting the most from your current internet service provider:
- Check your speed: Most plans articulate that your package can get speeds “up to” a certain Mbps. Take a few speed calculator tests, like ones from Speedtest and Fast.com. If you’re not getting the advertised speed, consider dropping your plan to a lower speed or investing in a router than can support higher speeds.
- Buy your own equipment: If you’re thinking of switching providers because your internet is too slow, you might consider buying your own router. According to Reese, “If you use the default router and the stock equipment, you'll have network issues and probably won’t get the speed you’re paying for. Buy your own router and you'll have much better luck.” Additionally, purchasing your own router or modem will save you anywhere from $5–$15 a month in rental fees. You’ll want to check with your provider for equipment that is compatible.
- Bundle your services: Sometimes bundling your services can offer a significant discount, Bundle My Service can break down the details of how and why.
- Negotiate your price: Calling up to negotiate is likely the easiest and most common way to lower your internet bill. Tell your ISP you’re considering some of our other top picks and see if it’ll give you a deal. Keep in mind that sometimes only a manager can give you a discount or adjust your rates.
Watch out for cancellation fees.
Internet Service Provider
Minimum Contract Term
Early Termination Fees
$185, down $15 each month into the contract
No contract for internet-only plans
$200 reduced an undisclosed amount each month
XFINITY from Comcast
1 year for promo prices, can call for no contract at standard rates
$230 down $10 each month of contract
$400 if you cancel within the first 90 days, and then $15 less each month after that.
$96-$360, depending on service, $4-15 per month discount
$120, reduced an undisclosed amount
There are alternative options for bare-bones users.
If you only need 1–5 Mbps, consider a pay-service like Karma Go. To get service, you buy a portable pod for $149 and pick your plan: The pay-as-you-go option is great if you’re an ultralight user. It’s $14 per gigabyte (one gig can handle about 15,000 emails, or less than an hour of streaming HD video). It never expires and there’s no way to “go over” — you just pay for more data.
Karma runs on Sprint’s LTE network, so depending on where you’re at, you can expect download speeds of 6–8 Mbps, and upload speeds around 3 Mbps.
The biggest downside is that the shared hotspot isn’t totally private. In fact, it’s part of Karma Go’s marketing plan that anyone near you, say sitting in the next seat over in the airport, can log onto your network (and you’ll get a 100MB bump in your data for the good deed). Karma says you aren’t opening your hard drive up or offering your browsing history to strangers, but if you’re the lockbox type, this definitely isn’t for you.
Low-income households can qualify for subsidised internet options.
A number of major providers — AT&T, Comcast, among others — offer subsidized internet that can cost as low as $5 a month with no deposit, no equipment fees, and no hidden fees. Some even extend offers for discounted technology like tablets and computers. Check EveryoneOn.org to see if you’re eligible.