The Best Internet Service Providers

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.

The 7 Best Internet Service Providers


Best Customer Service
AT&T Internet
AT&T
Industry-leading customer satisfaction and fiber-optic service in 21 states.
Pros
Excellent customer service
Impressive speeds
Broad coverage
Cons
Price of fiber plans

Why we chose it

Excellent customer service

AT&T consistently tops the charts for how it interacts with its customers: The company won J.D. Power’s U.S. Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study award for the North Central region in 2016 and 2017. More impressively, it was the only provider to score a rating of five out of five in all categories: overall satisfaction, performance and reliability, cost of service, billing, communication, and customer service.

Impressive speeds

AT&T’s fiber-optic networks deliver incredibly fast internet speeds, climbing all the way up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) in some cities. This connection type is awesome for larger households with heavier internet activity, especially streaming. If you’re not in an area that’s equipped with fiber-optic internet lines, AT&T’s DSL is also a solid option for lighter internet usage and smaller households, delivering speeds all the way up to 100 Mbps, by far the fastest DSL option we found.

Broad coverage

AT&T is available to more people than any other non-satellite internet provider in the country. Its fiber network is available to 11.3 million people, second only to Verizon Fios. Its DSL service is even more impressive, servicing nearly 120 million people — about 72 million more than the next closest provider, CenturyLink.

Points to consider

Price of fiber plans

Although prices vary depending on where you live, we found some of AT&T’s fiber plans to be on the higher side on average. The baseline 100 Mbps fiber plan is pricier than similar plans from competitors. If you’re considering plans around these speeds, it’s worth looking into AT&T’s DSL plans, as the speeds might be comparable for a much lower price.


Best Fiber Internet
Verizon
Verizon
Fiber-optic high speeds and renowned customer satisfaction.
Pros
Fast speeds
Two-year contract discounts
Excellent customer service
Cons
Availability
Expensive DSL plans

Why we chose it

Fast speeds

Verizon’s fiber service offers speeds from 50 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). And the FCC’s 2016 report showed that Verizon’s actual speeds average more than what the company advertises — 111.28% of advertised speeds, to be exact. This is great news for anyone who uses the internet for more data-intensive activities like video streaming, video conferencing, and online gaming. Verizon Fios in particular excels at service for gamers: After collecting latency and jitter data from over 1,000 registered readers, PCMag found that Verizon had faster, more consistent speeds than any of the providers on our list, and thus named the company one of the the top gaming internet providers of 2017.

Two-year contract discounts

If you can see yourself sticking with Verizon 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.” Depending on pricing in your area, that can save you up to $30 per month.

Excellent customer service

Verizon outranked all providers with a 70 out of 100 from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in 2018 and a 70 out of 100 Reader Score from Consumer Reports. It also received J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction award for the East region, scoring a five out of five for overall satisfaction, performance and reliability, cost of service, billing, communication, and customer service.

Points to consider

Availability

Unfortunately, Verizon Fios is only currently available in nine states, servicing 33 million people in the Northeast. Granted, that’s the largest reach of any fiber-optic internet provider, but it still leaves out most of the country.

Expensive DSL plans

If you don’t live in an area with access to Verizon’s fiber network, you’re probably better off going with another provider. Verizon’s DSL service, called High Speed Internet, maxes out at 15 Mbps. You’ll also have to purchase home phone service with this plan, which raises the price another $10. At this point, you’re paying about as much as the base Fios plan for much slower internet speeds. You can go with a cheaper DSL plan from Verizon — the lowest one gives you 0.5 to 1 Mbps download speeds — but this was the slowest option of any of our top picks.


Best Satellite Provider
HughesNet
HughesNet
25 Mbps for all plans, plus nationwide availability.
Pros
Nationwide coverage
Fast speeds for satellite internet
Reasonable pricing
Cons
Data caps and speed limits
Low customer satisfaction

Why we chose it

Nationwide coverage

Because HughesNet is a satellite internet provider, it’s available virtually everywhere. It reaches an astounding 308.7 million people, more than any other ISP in the country. No matter where you live, HughesNet is an option.

Fast speeds for satellite internet

Though satellite is inherently slower than other types of internet, HughesNet offers 25 Mbps with every plan. That’s enough to keep several devices browsing the internet at the same time. HughesNet has a track record of living up to these speeds, too. In 2016, the FCC ranked HughesNet first among all internet providers in delivering advertised speeds, coming in at a whopping 187.34%.

Reasonable pricing

There are only two major satellite internet providers, HughesNet and Viasat, and we found HughesNet’s plans to be much more cost-effective. Prices for HughesNet start at $50 per month and reach 25 Mbps download speeds with 10 GB of data per month. Viasat’s cheapest plan costs $70 per month and only goes up to 12 Mbps, although the data limit is a much higher 40 GB.

Points to consider

Data caps and speed limits

HughesNet only offers one speed — 25 Mbps — and different data limits. Most customers can choose from 10, 20, 30, or 50 GB of data per month. You’ll need to choose wisely: Once your data allotment is up, your speeds will dip to 1 to 3 Mbps until the next billing cycle, too slow for anything but basic web browsing. The upside: If your needs change, you can switch your data plan at any time. There’s also a free data zone between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. where your internet usage isn’t counted against your monthly allotment. HughesNet also offers an app to help you track how much data you’ve used, so you’re never in the dark about how close you are to your cap.

Low customer satisfaction

HughesNet rated 52 out of 100 on Consumer Reports, with readers issuing complaints about value, reliability, speed, tech support, and customer service. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of motivation for satellite internet companies to improve, as they’re often the only options for rural customers. HughesNet attempts to assuage service concerns with its Express Repair plan, which basically guarantees repairs within one to two business days and 24/7 technical support, but know that your experience with the provider may not be 100% perfect.

Best for
Cheap Internet
Frontier Communications
Frontier
Lock in fair rates with Frontier’s two-year price guarantee.
Pros
Affordable DSL plans
Free or low-cost equipment
Flexible contracts
Cons
Low customer satisfaction

Why we chose it

Affordable DSL plans

If you’re looking for a bare-bones internet package, Frontier has some of the cheapest plans we saw. For $20 per month, you can get the 6 Mbps plan, which is enough to stream video and browse the web at the same time. Of course, you’ll probably have issues if multiple devices are streaming at the same time, but for a smaller household, it’s a solid option.

Free or low-cost equipment

Unlike most internet providers, with Frontier, your modem and router are included for free when you sign a contract. If you opt for a no-contract Frontier Fios or Vantage Internet plan, equipment rental will set you back an extra $5 per month. That’s still pretty cheap — most providers we looked at charged $10 to $15 per month to let you use their equipment.

Flexible contracts

Frontier was the only internet provider we saw that offers a no-contract option with all of its plans, a nice feature for anyone who might be moving or changing jobs soon. Most companies charge a hefty early termination fee or make you pay the remainder of your contract if you want to get out early. On top of that, Frontier’s no-contract plans still come with a two-year price lock, so you won’t suddenly have your rates hiked without warning.

Points to consider

Low customer satisfaction

Frontier consistently scores below average in overall service. Though it outperforms Mediacom, it still falls short of Comcast. (Despite its notorious reputation, Comcast’s consumer ratings are entirely average — we use them as a benchmark for discussing other providers.) Frontier scored a 54 out of 100 from the ACSI, while Comcast rated 60 out of 100. And J.D. Power gave Frontier a two out of five rating in all four regions, whereas Comcast was rated three out of five. Frontier does best in the “Cost of Service” and “Billing” metrics, which indicates that it offers a decent value for its service and does better than most providers when it comes to communicating price.


Best Cable Provider
Charter Spectrum
Charter
Unlimited data, high speeds, and a $500 contract buyout.
Pros
Fast speeds
Customer service
Generous contract buyout
Cons
Expensive internet-only plans
Short-term promotions

Why we chose it

Fast speeds

When we put in sample addresses on Spectrum’s website, we were never offered any internet plans that started at less than 100 Mbps. And with Charter Spectrum’s huge fiber coverage, many plans start at an incredibly fast 200 Mbps. That’s enough to stream 4K video on your smart TV, play Fortnite on your PlayStation, and browse Twitter on your phone, all at the same time.

Customer service

Since Charter Communications acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, its customer service record has drastically improved. The newly branded Spectrum has customer service ratings that fall above average, with a 60 out of 100 from the ACSI, 66 out of 100 Reader Score from Consumer Reports, and a five out of five from J.D. Power. The acquisition brought a refocus on customer service, and it has certainly delivered. And while it’s still not in the same class as AT&T and Verizon for customer service, Charter Spectrum is unlikely to disappoint.

Generous contract buyout

If you’re looking to leave your current internet provider, Spectrum offers an amazing contract buyout promotion for qualifying Triple Play packages. If you pair your service with TV and phone, Charter will help cover early termination fees up to $500. That Triple Play package also promises a free installation (normally $35), free DVR service ($13 per month), and free Wi-Fi setup (typically $10).

Points to consider

Expensive internet-only plans

If you’re only looking for internet service, you might find cheaper plans elsewhere. In our price tests, Spectrum only offered one internet-only plan for $45 a month. Spectrum really wants you to bundle internet with TV and phone services. It’s actually cheaper to sign up for all three, and you still get the same speeds.

Short-term promotions

Because Spectrum’s contracts only last for one year, the low prices you get used to paying won’t last long. If you bundle with TV service, you’ll also have to start paying for DVR after one year. Even worse, your prices will take another hike after two years. You can always call Spectrum and ask that these promotional prices be extended, but there’s no guarantee.


Best Business Internet Provider
CenturyLink
CenturyLink
Generous compensation for downtimes and many bundling options.
Pros
Compensation for downtimes
Contract flexibility
Transparent terms
Cons
Mediocre customer satisfaction
Slightly lower speeds than advertised

Why we chose it

Compensation for downtimes

Purchasing business internet comes with some unique considerations, most notably a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This contract ensures compensation and solutions for times when your internet goes down. For businesses, loss of internet can mean serious money and productivity loss, so an SLA should state satisfactory solutions for when the technology fails. CenturyLink offers the most transparent SLA, detailing generous compensation for downtimes. For every 30 minutes your service is down, CenturyLink will credit you with one full day of internet service — that’s double the compensation of most other companies.

Contract flexibility

CenturyLink offers two options for its contracts: either a two-year agreement or a month-to-month plan. More established businesses that aren’t expecting hiring sprees will benefit from the stability of the two-year plan. Smaller operations and companies that plan to expand should consider the month-to-month plan, which gives you the flexibility to scale up your internet service as you grow. You can also choose to bundle your service with TV, phone, voice, or home security — a one-stop shop to outfit your office.

Transparent terms

Business internet providers are shockingly unforthcoming about the terms of their services. It took extensive badgering to get SLA details from most companies, and even then, our search often ended in vain. CenturyLink is refreshingly transparent about its contracts. All it took was a simple Google search to find every relevant SLA (which you can see here).

Points to consider

Mediocre customer satisfaction

As far as customer satisfaction, CenturyLink’s scores are pretty mediocre. It received a three out of five from J.D. Power and a 58 out of 100 from the ACSI. These ratings fall near Comcast’s — but while such a low rating is par for the course for internet service providers, it’s still disappointing to see in an otherwise solid provider.

Slightly lower speeds than advertised

CenturyLink advertises business internet speeds all the way up to 40 Mbps, but there’s a decent chance you might not actually reach those heights. In the FCC’s 2016 testing, CenturyLink met 95.87% of its advertised speeds. This was fairly middle of the road. While many companies did much worse, others like HughesNet exceeded their advertised speeds.


Fastest Maximum Speeds
Comcast Xfinity
Comcast
The highest maximum speeds and a track record of actually meeting them.
Pros
Reliably fast speeds
Wide range of plans
Generous data caps
Cons
Installation fees
Poor customer service

Why we chose it

Reliably fast speeds

Comcast promises the fastest internet speeds we saw in our research, going all the way up to 2,000 Mbps (2 Gbps). This is probably well beyond overkill for most households — and it’ll set you back $300 a month — but even if you opt for a more reasonable plan, Comcast has proven that it will meet whatever speeds you choose. Both Netflix and SpeedTest rated it the fastest internet service provider in their most recent rounds of testing.

Wide range of plans

One of the most widely available internet providers in the U.S., Comcast has a ton of options for both its internet and TV packages. Cable internet plans start at 10 Mbps (usually for around $30), which is great for users who just need their connection for email and web browsing. In many places, you can add a basic cable package for just $5. Comcast offers internet in incremental speeds up to 2,000 Mbps. Whether you’re doing basic web browsing or spending hours playing competitive Overwatch, you’ll find a plan that fits your needs.

Generous data caps

Comcast’s plans come with a data cap of 1 TB, but the company reports that 99% of its customers never come near that limit. If you do manage to exceed that cap (perhaps by streaming more than 200 hours of 4K video), you’ll receive a warning the first two times. After a third infraction, a $10 fee will be charged for every 50 GB over (not exceeding $200). If you’re consistently overusing your data, you can pay an extra $50 per month for an unlimited data allotment.

Points to consider

Installation fees

Like a lot of internet providers, Comcast charges you an installation fee. The difference with Comcast is that you’re the one doing the installing. You’ll have to pay $15 for self-installation, which is seriously off-putting. The only way to have the fee waived is to bundle your TV and internet service together.

Poor customer service

Comcast’s consumer satisfaction scores are poor in comparison to AT&T and Verizon, but only slightly below average when compared to all internet service providers. Fortunately, there is evidence that Xfinity is making steady improvement. Comcast’s ACSI scores improved from 56 out of 100 in 2015 to to 59 out of 100 in 2016 and 60 out of 100 in 2017. Though small, this progression is no fluke. Tom Karinshak, the VP of Comcast’s customer service, detailed steps that the company is taking to overhaul its customer service. Some specific initiatives include expanding digital care teams and introducing a callback feature that allows you to schedule a time for Comcast to call you (rather than wait on hold). However, Comcast still has a lot of ground to make up to match the customer satisfaction of AT&T and Verizon.

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.

The various types of internet technology also come with limitations that can affect availability. Satellite internet is the most widely available and often the only option for more remote locations. But even that has technological restrictions. The satellite on your roof must have a clear path to the satellite in the sky, so if you’re tucked in the mountains or set deep in a forest, it may not work. DSL is also widely available and covers about 90% of the U.S.

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 and 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.

FCC-for-Internet-Service-Providers

Image: FCC

The FCC’s guidelines, however, are incomplete, considering the median household internet speed is 39 Mbps. That’s quite a jump over the FCC’s “Advanced” recommendation, and it doesn’t account for the fact that streaming video accounts for over 70% of internet traffic.

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.

Light Use
Moderate Use
High Use
Very High Use
1-3 devices
5-10 Mbps
15 Mbps
25 Mbps
50 Mbps
4-8 devices
15 Mbps
25 Mbps
50 Mbps
100 Mbps
8-10 devices
25 Mbps
50 Mbps
100 Mbps
150 Mbps
10+ devices
50 Mbps
100 Mbps
150 Mbps
200+ Mbps

Light use: emails, web browsing, social media, SD video streaming
Moderate use: music streaming, occasional online gaming, streaming HD video on one or two devices.
High use: Multiple devices streaming HD video simultaneously, real-time gaming, video conferencing.
Very high use: Multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, large file downloading, real-time gaming, video conferencing.

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 provider, from satellite internet’s 10 GB to unlimited data from some cable providers.

Streaming content tends to consume the most data. Netflix says, “Watching movies or TV shows on Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video.” For some context, binging the first season of Stranger Things in high definition would take about 21 GB of data. So if you binged one season of Netflix originals each weekend, you’d need at least 84 GB of data, plus whatever you use in other tasks.

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 slowed until the next billing cycle.

Study pricing

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.

Common internet fees

Installation fee
Modem/router rental fee
Early termination fee
AT&T
$99 self-install
$150 professional install
$2-$10/mo.
$180
Verizon
$99 professional install
$10/mo.
$350, decreases $15/mo.
HughesNet
$99 professional install
$15/mo.
$400, decreases $15/mo. after 90 days of service
Frontier
$75 professional install
$10/mo.
$120
Spectrum
$49 professional install
$5/mo.
N/A
CenturyLink
$125 professional install
Free self-install
$10/mo.
Varies
Comcast Xfinity
$60 professional install
$11/mo.
One-year contract: $10
Two-year contract: $230
Decreases by $10/mo.

Internet Service Provider FAQ

What is the fastest internet speed?

Internet speed varies by connection type. The FCC measured the actual vs. advertised speeds of providers across different connection types, represented in the chart below. Blue shows the percentage of time you’re likely to receive advertised speeds, and red is the time you’re receiving less than 80% of what you paid for. In other words, the more blue, the more reliable; the more red, the less reliable.

DSL suffers the most consistently, while cable is more reliable across the board. The reliability of both fiber and satellite internet varies by provider, with Verizon gaining the edge for fiber and HughesNet being the clear winner for satellite. Currently the fastest internet speed is around 2,000 Mbps, but the reliability of achieving that varies.

What about local internet providers?

In some situations, the little guy might be your best bet. Smaller local internet providers are always better rated for their customer service. If there’s one available to you, we recommend comparing quotes with national providers.

How do I decide what internet speed to get?

We recommend erring on the side of more speed. This is partly because the number of devices adds up quickly. Your computer isn’t the only thing connected to the internet — phones, tablets, TVs, video game consoles, home security systems, and smart technology all pull data from your connection. It’s like being on a highway: Even if the speed limit is 60 mph, too many cars will cause traffic to slow to a crawl. That’s why light users with many devices need as much speed as a heavy user with a few.

What should I look for when purchasing a business internet plan?

Business internet shoppers will want to play close attention to bandwidth, as you’ll likely have lots of devices connecting. When you purchase business internet, you receive a dedicated bandwidth — which means the internet goes only and directly to your business. Translation: fast speeds, no neighborhood traffic jams, and less latency. Residential internet operates on a shared bandwidth that delivers to hundreds of neighbors. Check out our review of the best business internet providers here.

Can I use my hotspot for my home internet?

Internet is internet, and you can use 4G mobile broadband just the same as you do traditional internet. Hotspots aren’t just for a quick connection when you need to send an email in a place with no Wi-Fi, either; you can use them for at-home internet needs, too. This option best suits smaller households with fewer connected devices, as you’ll have more limited data capacity than with traditional ISPs. It’s also more expensive than traditional internet, especially to get a reasonable data usage. We wouldn’t recommend this option unless you’re only using the internet for light web browsing and emailing. You can use your current phone provider, but we recommend Verizon Wireless in our review of the best 4G mobile broadband for its best-in-class customer service and coverage.

Should I buy my own router?

We vote yes. A router is the piece of equipment that communicates wirelessly from the modem to your device. Most ISPs will charge around $10 each month to rent a router, and that same router is likely being rented to all of your neighbors. This can cause spatial traffic, as all of these devices communicate on the same frequencies. Buying your own router saves on rental costs and puts you on a different frequency, ultimately giving you faster speeds. While we have some favorite wireless routers for home use, your purchasing decision depends on how big your home is and how many devices are tuning in.

The Best Internet Service Providers: Summed Up

AT&T
Fios by Verizon
HughesNet
Frontier
Spectrum
CenturyLink
Xfinity
Best for
Customer service
Fiber internet
Satellite internet
Cheap internet
Cable internet
Business internet
Fast max speeds
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Fiber-Optic
Satellite
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Cable, Fiber-Optic
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Cable, Fiber-Optic
Download speeds (Mbps)
DSL: 50-100
Fiber: 100-1,000
100-2,000
25
DSL: 24-45
Fiber: 500
Cable: 100-200
Fiber: 400-940
DSL: 25-140
Fiber: 1,000
Cable: 10-350
Fiber: 100-2,000
Wi-Fi hotspot access
Month-to-month option
Data cap
1 TB
Unlimited
Varies
Unlimited
Unlimited
1 TB
1 TB
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans

Our Other Internet Reviews

If you’re looking for something more specific, or want more detailed information on one provider, check out one of our related reviews.