The Best Internet Service Provider

The best internet service provider for you will depend 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 and priorities that you can navigate to for a specific deep dive. If you aren’t sure what’s best for you yet, we’ve rounded up our favorites in each category.

The 7 best internet service providers

Stellar 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 5/5 rating in all rating factors: 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, getting all the way up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) in some cities. This connection type is awesome for larger households with more heavy internet activity, especially streamers. 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, which is good news for anyone looking for those higher speeds. 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 a ton depending on where you live, we found some of AT&T’s fiber plans to be on the higher side on average. At 100 Mbps, the baseline fiber plan is pricier than competitors that offer similar speeds. 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
Limited 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 named it one of 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 71/100 from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in 2017 and a 70/100 Reader Score from Consumer Reports. It also received JD Power’s customer satisfaction award for the East region, scoring a 5/5 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 the vast majority 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 - 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
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 1-3 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 52/100 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. But HughesNet does offer an Express Repair plan that basically guarantees repairs within one to two business days and 24/7 technical support.

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 their 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 $10-15 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 their 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 56/100 from the ACSI, while Comcast rated 60/100. And J.D. Power gave Frontier a 2/5 rating in all four regions, whereas Comcast was rated 3/5. Frontier does best in the “Cost of Service” and “Billing” metrics, which indicates 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 well above average, with a 65/100 from the ACSI, 66/100 Reader Score from Consumer Reports, and a 5/5 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 WiFi setup (typically $10). Frontier also offers a free installation, but it’s rare to find a promotional deal with this many discounts.

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 states any 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’s 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 their 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 3/5 from J.D. Power and a 59/100 from the ACSI. Although these scores may look disappointing, they’re pretty standard for the industry: CenturyLink’s ratings fall near Comcast's, but far exceed Mediacom and Frontier.

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
More expensive

Why we chose it

Reliably fast speeds

Comcast promises the fastest internet speeds we saw available in our research, going all the way up to 2000 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 2000 Mbps. So whether you’re doing some 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 percent of its customers never 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 we think is pretty ridiculous. 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 56/100 in 2015, to 59/100 in 2016, and 60/100 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 a callback feature that allows you to schedule a time for Comcast to call you (rather than wait on hold).

Guide to internet service providers

How to find your best internet service provider

Check 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.You can use our tool above 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

While it might be tempting to just go for the fastest speeds available, you might end up overpaying for your actual needs. Instead, we recommend taking note of the type of activity you tend to do on the internet, and counting up the number of devices you have connected. 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

As with speed, the type of activity will define your data needs. Streaming video tends to consume the most data. For some context, binging the first season of Stranger Things in high definition would take about 21 GB of data. So if you planned on watching one season of Netflix originals each weekend, you’d need at least 84 GB of data per month, plus whatever you use in other tasks. Our guideline: 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 plays online games — you’ll want a plan that offers closer to 500 GB.

Study pricing

When it comes to internet service, there’s a lot more that goes into what you pay than the price 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.

Internet service provider FAQs

Why don’t I have more options?

According to the FCC’s Broadband Progress Report, about 70% of Americans have fewer than three provider options. And 30% don’t have any choice at all. That’s because internet providers intentionally avoid competition with each other. Building out the infrastructure and wiring to service new areas is an expensive investment — one that may not pay off in an area where a large provider already dominates the regional market. And when providers avoid competition, regional monopolies develop.

What type of internet service should I get?

Each internet technology also comes with limitations that can affect their availability. Satellite internet available virtually everywhere and it’s often the only option for more remote locations. It does still has its own restrictions, though. 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, covering about 90 percent of the United States, but often has lower speeds. Cable internet, on the other hand, is pretty hit-or-miss: Comcast serves 40 states, while Cox Communications only hits 10. Fiber has the highest speeds, but is even more limited, with AT&T and Verizon only serving 21 and nine states, respectively.

Which type of internet is the fastest?

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 in terms of satellite speed.

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.

What if I can’t decide what speed to get?

We recommend erring on the side of more speed. Partly, that’s 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, and even smart thermostats 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 a lot of devices need as much speed as a heavy user with just 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: no neighborhood traffic jams, fast speeds, 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.

What if I go over my data limit?

Don’t worry — 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. Either way, it’s better to have a little more than you need rather than go over your limit.

The best internet service providers: Summed up

AT&T
Fios by Verizon
HughesNet
Frontier
Spectrum
CenturyLink
Xfinity
Stellar Customer Service
Best Fiber Internet Provider
Best Satellite Provider
Best for Cheap Internet
Best Cable Internet Provider
Best for Business Internet
Fastest 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 - 1,000
25
DSL: 24 - 45
Fiber: 500
Cable: 100 - 200
Fiber: 400 - 940
DSL: 25 - 140
Fiber: 1,000
Cable: 10 - 350
Fiber: 100 - 1,000
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