Last Updated on March 20, 2018

The Best Cheap Internet Providers

There’s no one best internet service provider for everyone. The monthly price you’ll pay is directly tied to speed — and the amount of speed you need depends on multiple factors, including how you use the internet and how many people live in your household. Additionally, internet pricing and promotions can change frequently. We’ve updated this content to reflect current pricing as of March 20, 2018 — and will continue to do so to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

How We Chose the Best Cheap Internet Providers

Coverage

Aside from satellite internet providers like HughesNet, all ISPs serve limited coverage areas. 85% of Americans have access to two or fewer internet service providers — which means where you live will affect what plans and providers you can choose from. We began our research by comparing the 12 largest providers in the U.S. because they’re the ones you’re most likely to come across.

Price

Monthly plan pricing is important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. We requested quotes from each provider on our list to compare current prices, installation and equipment rental fees, minimum contract terms and available discounts.

Speed

Everyone likes a deal, but if you choose your internet plan based on price alone, you may end up with a connection that’s too sluggish to serve your needs. Old-school dial-up internet is inexpensive or even free, but in the age of streaming, gaming and the internet of things, most households will be happier with broadband (high speed) service. Our top picks offer multiple plan options that provide 25 Mbps or more — the FCC’s threshold for broadband internet — so you can get the speed you need.

Our Top Picks for the Best Cheap Internet Provider

Now that we’ve done the research, we’ve compiled a concise review with things we liked and points to consider for each provider.

Fast, Affordable DSL
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
  • Broad coverage & array of plans
  • Fast, affordable DSL
  • Equipment included
Cons
  • Confusing plan structure
  • Price of fiber plans
  • Volatile speed & pricing of DSL plans

Why We Chose It

Broad Coverage & Array of Plans

You’re likely to come across AT&T during your search for an ISP. It’s the largest DSL broadband provider in the nation, delivering high speed DSL to about 120 million people — and fiber-optic service to an additional 11 million. That broad coverage area is good news for consumers. Between AT&T Fiber, which offers speed up to an incredible 1,000 Mbps, and AT&T Internet (DSL service), the company offers plans for nearly every budget.

Fast, Affordable DSL

Many cable and fiber ISPs offer DSL plans that are significantly slower (but priced similarly to) their higher-speed plans. AT&T Internet stands out with respectable DSL speeds up to 100 Mbps — by far the fastest DSL option on our shortlist. In fact, AT&T Internet’s max speed tier overlaps with AT&T Fiber’s baseline plan: Both get you up to 100 Mbps download speed (though the fiber plan offers much more upload speed.)

Equipment Included

Good news: Whether you choose a fiber or DSL plan, your AT&T router is included at no extra charge. That’s a fairly unusual benefit among major ISPs; you’ll usually pay $5-10 per month to rent your equipment (or a flat fee upfront to purchase it).

Points to Consider

Confusing Plan Structure

AT&T’s plan structure can be confusing to navigate. Plans are named for their speed tier (i.e. Internet 50, Internet 100), and since AT&T Fiber AT&T Internet plans overlap at 100 Mbps, it can be unclear whether you’re looking at a fiber or DSL plan in the online cart. Check in with a chat agent or call before you order to make sure you understand what you’re getting.

Price of Fiber Plans

With speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, AT&T Fiber plans could be a great fit for power users or large families. However, if you don’t need that much speed, the baseline 100 Mbps plan is more expensive than competitors’ in a similar speed range. Looking for more modest speed at a lower price point? Check to see if AT&T Internet (DSL) plans are available in your area.

Volatile Speed & Pricing of DSL Plans

Speed and pricing can vary by location, no matter which ISP you choose — and AT&T is no different. We were quoted $40 per month for 25 Mbps in small town Georgia — the same price as 50 Mbps in Houston, Texas, for half the speed (and less than AT&T’s lowest advertised speed tier). Your mileage may vary; check availability with your ZIP code to find offers in your area.

No-Contract Fiber Plans
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
  • No-contract, high-value fiber plans
  • Special offers
  • Waived of manageable installation fee
  • Savings for verizon wireless customers
Cons
  • Limited fiber availability
  • Value of DSL service

Why We Chose It

No-Contract, High-Value Fiber Plans

Verizon Fios, Verizon’s fiber-optic internet service, delivers reliable speed at a fair price (and upload speeds as fast as your download speeds!) Many other providers we considered offer 25 - 60 Mbps for close to what Verizon charges for 100 Mbps — and require a one- or two-year agreement. Verizon doesn’t require a contract for standalone internet (fiber or DSL), which means you can avoid a hefty early termination fee (ETF) if you move or switch providers.

Special Offers

Most internet service providers offer discounts to entice new customers. These offers change frequently and may vary based on where you live or what plan you choose — but we’ve consistently seen strong promotions for Verizon Fios. Recent offers have included Visa® gift cards, free Netflix and a $20 per month discount for Verizon Wireless customers who purchase select Fios bundles. Check Fios availability to learn more about current offers in your area.

Waived or Manageable Installation Fee

At time of publication, the installation fee for Verizon Fios plans is waived for online orders (a $99 value). Verizon High Speed Internet (DSL) plans have an $89 installation fee, but it’s broken up into three monthly installments of $29.97 to reduce your startup cost.

Savings for Verizon Wireless Customers

If Verizon is your cell phone provider, you can save $20 per month on select Verizon Fios bundles.

Points to Consider

Limited Fiber Availability

Verizon Fios is an excellent option — if you can get it. While the company boasts 5.8 million internet subscribers, its coverage area is limited to the Northeast ever since Frontier acquired its infrastructure in California, Texas, and Florida.

Value of DSL Service

Some customers without access to Fios can get Verizon High Speed Internet, with top download speeds maxing out at 15 Mbps. Because DSL requires home phone service, which raises the total cost about $10 per month, the 1.1 - 15 Mbps Verizon High Speed Internet plan costs about as much as the 100 Mbps Fios plan. Verizon’s baseline DSL plan offers just 0.5 - 1 Mbps download speed, the least impressive base-level DSL speed among our top picks, at a comparable (or higher) price to what many competitors offer for more speed.

Free Equipment
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
  • Affordable plan options
  • Free or low-cost equipment
  • No contract plans with price lock
Cons
  • Customer feedback
  • Value of DSL service

Why We Chose It

Affordable Plan Options

At $30 per month, Frontier FiOS’ 100 Mbps plan is very reasonable; we found that many cable providers charge more for half the speed or less. (Note: This includes a “limited time speed upgrade” from 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps, and the offer could end at any time.) According to the FCC’s Household Broadband Guide, 100 Mbps is more than enough speed for 4+ users and “advanced use,” which includes data-intensive activities like video conferencing and streaming HD video. While they offer less speed, Frontier’s Vantage Internet (DSL) plans are also affordable: We were quoted $20 per month for up to 6 Mbps, the lowest-priced plan on our list.

Free or Low-Cost Equipment

If you choose a plan with a contract, your modem and router are included at no extra cost. But a contract isn’t required to get Frontier FiOS or Vantage Internet service — and equipment rental is just $5 per month for no-contract plans. Most providers charge $10-15 per month equipment fees.

No Contract Plans With Price Lock

To our previous point, Frontier internet offers contract-free plans, which means you can cancel anytime without paying an early termination fee. But unlike other providers’ no-contract plans, most Frontier plans include a two-year price lock. (Note: Available plans and offers can vary by location.)

Points to Consider

Customer Feedback

In 2016, Frontier acquired Verizon Fios’ fiber-optic infrastructure in Texas, Florida, and California. Service interruptions occurred during and after the changeover, and Frontier received a high volume of negative feedback. These interruptions have since been resolved, but some concerns remain; Frontier scored a 56 out of 100 on the 2017 American Customer Satisfaction Index. More recent feedback includes billing concerns and difficulty changing plans or canceling service.

Value of DSL Service

If Frontier FiOS isn’t available in your area, you may have access to Vantage Internet, the company’s DSL service. These plans are affordable, too — but you’ll get significantly less speed. In some areas, you’ll pay about the same price as the 100 Mbps Frontier FiOS plan for 25 Mbps Vantage Internet. That’s likely enough speed for casual users and small households, but it doesn’t offer the same bang for your buck as FiOS by Frontier.

Fastest Max Speed
Connection type
Cable, Fiber-Optic
Pros
  • No contract option
  • Low starting price
  • Autopay / EcoBill discount
Cons
  • Upload speed
  • Value of lower-tier plans

Why We Chose It

No Contract Option

Prefer to avoid a commitment? Good news: XFINITY offers a no-contract option for standalone internet service. You’ll pay $10 more per month for the privilege, but that might be a good tradeoff if you’re considering a move soon. (Related: There’s also a prepaid internet option that might appeal to customers who don’t have a bank account or want to avoid a credit check. Note that it’s more expensive per month and offers less speed than traditional XFINITY plans.)

Low Starting Price

Among our finalists, Comcast XFINITY quoted us one of the lowest prices for their base-level, standalone internet service. Granted, there’s a tradeoff with the amount of speed you’ll get compared to our other top picks, but 25 Mbps could be ample for small households or casual users that don’t do a ton of streaming, gaming or other data-intensive activities. If you’d like more speed, $49.99 per month will get you 100 Mbps.

Autopay / EcoBill Discount

At time of publication, XFINITY customers who enroll in Autopay and EcoBill (paperless billing) get a $5 per month discount for 12 months. Better yet, this discount is available whether or you sign a contract.

Points to Consider

Upload Speed

Folks who don’t need a ton of speed may be perfectly happy with XFINITY’s economical 25 Mbps plan. But it’s worth noting that while 25 Mbps download speed is adequate for light to moderate use, you’ll only get 2 Mbps upload speed with this plan — which means it will take longer to share large files, and activities like video conferencing and online gaming could be affected.

Value of Lower-Tier Plans

XFINITY’s baseline plan is pricey compared to competitors’ offerings in this speed tier. For a similar price, AT&T Internet customers get 50 Mbps, and Frontier FiOS customers get 100 Mbps (compared to XFINITY’s 25 Mbps). Compare multiple providers and plans in your area to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

Price For Life Guarantee
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
  • Price for life guarantee
  • No contracts required
  • No credit check
Cons
  • Speed vs. price
  • Confusing plan structure

Why We Chose It

Price For Life Guarantee

Many providers offer a promotional rate for new customers, but CenturyLink takes it a step further. With the Price For Life guarantee, your monthly rate will stay the same indefinitely “unless you change your services, including change of address, and/or sign up for a different promotion.” You don’t even have to sign a contract to get the price lock. Which brings us to our next point.

No Contracts Required

CenturyLink plans are month-to-month. That means there’s no early termination fee (ETF) if you cancel your service — good news if you’re considering an upcoming move or simply prefer the flexibility of a no-contract plan. Note: Price For Life plans require prepayment each month, and your service will renew automatically until you cancel.

No Credit Check

Most internet service providers (and most utility companies) require a credit check to establish service. CenturyLink doesn’t, so you don’t have to worry about a hard inquiry on your credit report, and you won’t have to pay an additional deposit due to a low credit score.

Points to Consider

Speed vs. Price

CenturyLink service is an appealing option for customers on a budget, with a low starting price and the Price For Life guarantee that ensures your price won’t creep up over time. However, CenturyLink offers less speed than competitors in both fiber and DSL plans. For close to what you’ll pay for a 40 Mbps CenturyLink fiber plan, you’d get 100 Mbps with both XFINITY and Frontier FiOS. 40 Mbps is adequate for moderate use, but gamers, telecommuters and large families might prefer a plan that offers more speed.

Confusing Plan Structure

Since CenturyLink’s fiber-optic and DSL plans overlap at 40 Mbps in some areas, it can be unclear which plans you’re looking at in that speed range. If you check availability online, fiber-optic plans are marked with an “Advanced Fiber Technology” badge in the quote. You can always call to speak with a sales representative if you’re still unsure.

Contract Buyout Offer
Pros
  • Highest speed in its price range
  • Low startup costs
  • No contract plans with buyout offer
Cons
  • Price increase after first year
  • Speed (and value) may vary
  • Unspecified upload speed

Why We Chose It

Highest Speed in Its Price Range

In some cities, Spectrum offers twice as much speed as a similar Fios plan for just $5 more per month. While its pricing is not the lowest on our list, it’s a good value for the amount of speed you get. (Note: That’s a promotional price for new customers, valid for your first year. Monthly plan cost will increase in year two.)

Low Startup Costs

Spectrum is the only one of our top picks to include a modem and router for free with all plans. (Frontier includes equipment with contracted plans but not its no-contract options.) And at just under $45 total, its installation and activation fees are lower than the industry average.

No Contract With Buyout Offer

You don’t have to sign a contract to get Spectrum internet. Even better, Charter will pay your current provider’s early termination fee if you break your contract to switch, up to $500.

Points to Consider

Price Increase After First Year

While studying our quote, we realized the regular price for the 200 Mbps plan is $20 more per month after your first year — higher than other providers we researched, except for AT&T (+$30 per month) and Mediacom (+$20/month). Depending on where you live, there are likely to be more affordable options once the promotional rate ends.

Speed (and value) May Vary

200 Mbps is more than enough speed for most households. But as with all providers, where you live can impact what plans you can get — and what you’ll pay. For example, new Spectrum customers in some parts of Los Angeles pay the same price as Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas customers — for half as much speed.

Unspecified Upload Speed

Spectrum is mysterious about how much upload speed you’ll get with any of their plans; we couldn’t find the information on their website or in our quotes. (We found their online ordering process difficult to navigate overall.) After a lengthy introductory script, a chat agent informed us that we would get up to 10 Mbps upload speed with the 200 Mbps plan.

Low Sign On Cost
Connection type
Cable
Pros
  • Affordable baseline plan
  • Lower-than-average installation fee
Cons
  • Price increase after first year
  • Value

Why We Chose It

Affordable Baseline Plan

With standalone internet starting at $29.99 per month, Cox was on the low end of quotes we received. It’s true that the speed you’ll receive (10 Mbps) reflects that — but light users and small households on a budget may find the speeds adequate. (Cox recommends its 10 Mbps plan for three devices or fewer.)

Lower-Than-Average Installation Fee

It’s common for internet installation and activation fees to hover around $100. Cox charges $20 for self-installation, which will help to keep your startup cost low.

Points to Consider

Price Increase After First Year

Cox doesn’t require a contract for standalone internet service. That’s a good thing if you’re looking for the flexibility to cancel without paying an early termination fee but not such a good thing when you consider that the price of your plan will increase after just one year. (The regular price of the $29.99 10 Mbps plan is $42.99 per month.) Cox’s terms of service mention a 24-month Price Lock Guarantee, but when we checked with a chat agent, we learned it’s only available for internet, TV and phone bundles — so there’s no way to lock in the promotional price.

Value

Though the baseline plan is affordable, you won’t get much speed for your money — especially compared to competitors like Frontier, which offers 100 Mbps in that price range. 10 Mbps is enough if you use the internet more often for reading the news and checking email than for video chatting or online gaming. Need more speed? For $39.99/month (regularly $64.99), you can upgrade to 30 Mbps.

Other Options

Mediacom

With a promotional rate of $29.99 per month (regular $34.99 per month), Mediacom’s quote was on the lower end of the spectrum. However, it offered less speed than most fiber and cable plans (60 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up). While other providers have no data cap or a 1,000 GB per month limit that most users are unlikely to hit, Mediacom’s data cap for its cheapest plan is 150 GB per month, which could be an issue for heavy streamers, gamers or those with many web-connected devices. Its availability also seems limited to bigger cities despite being advertised as offered in 21 states.

HughesNet

Because it’s powered by satellite rather than earthbound infrastructure, HughesNet is available in places many other internet providers aren’t. HughesNet plans look more like a cellular provider’s than a traditional ISP’s: Rather than choosing a speed tier, you choose a plan based on a monthly data allotment, ranging from 10 - 50 GB per month. (All plans offer the same download speed, up to 25 Mbps.) Compared with cable and fiber providers, prices are higher for the speed and amount of data you’ll get. But if you live in a remote location, satellite internet may be your best option.

Guide to Cheap Internet

How to Get Online Without Blowing Your Budget

Check Coverage

The first step in choosing an internet service provider is to check availability in your area. Satellite providers like HughesNet aside, most providers are only available in certain states. Plus, plans, pricing and current promotions can vary widely depending on where you live.

Take a Close Look at Pricing

The monthly plan cost is important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. (Tip: Our provider comparison grid summarizes what we found in our research and in the quotes we requested.)

Fees and Expenses

This category includes anything that can increase the amount of your first bill or monthly service cost. Common fees and expenses include:

  • Installation and activation fees
  • Monthly equipment rental fees or one-time purchase cost
  • Taxes
  • Early termination fees (ETFs) if you cancel

Possible Savings

This includes anything that could save you money or increase the value of your service. The internet industry is often highly competitive, and many providers offer promotions to entice new customers, including:

  • Discounts for autopay or paperless billing
  • Discounts on select plans or bundles
  • Signup bonuses (Visa® gift cards, a free year of Netflix, etc.)
  • Credits to offset the costs of switching from another provider

Future Price Changes

The price you see when you set up your internet service could change, based on the terms of your agreement. Be sure to compare:

  • Promotional cost at signup vs. regular “market” cost (sometimes displayed as a strikethrough price)
  • Cost of a no-contract plan (if available) vs. the same plan with a contract

Decide How Much Speed You Need

Price is important — but it’s equally important to choose an internet plan that offers adequate speed. Larger households and those with many web-connected devices (such as computers, smartphones, streaming devices, and voice assistants) require more speed. And while a basic plan is enough to check your email, activities like gaming, streaming entertainment and video conferencing demand more of your connection. The FCC’s Household Broadband Guide recommends at least 25 Mbps for households with four or more users or devices — and for those that frequently engage in more than one “high-demand application.”

Research Equipment Options: Rent, Buy or Bring Your Own

Once you choose an internet plan, you’ll need a modem and router (or modem/router combo) to log on. But there are a few different ways to get there. You can: a) Rent equipment from your provider; b) buy your equipment from your provider when you set up your service, if that option is available; or c) buy your equipment elsewhere. Compare the costs of these options before you decide — and if you’re bringing your own equipment, contact your provider to make sure it’s compatible with their network before you purchase.

Cheap Internet FAQs

Are there cheaper options if I don’t use the internet often?

If you rarely get online, consider a service like Karma Go, which offers pay-as-you-go plans for ultralight users. You’ll pay $199 for a portable hotspot and a $3 per month access fee, plus $10 per gigabyte of data you use. (One gigabyte can handle about 15,000 emails or less than an hour of streaming HD video.) Your data never expires, and there’s no way to “go over” — you just pay for more data. Note: Many services like Karma Go operate via a cellular network, so coverage, speed and reliability will vary based on where you live.

What’s the advantage of a no-contract internet plan?

When you sign a contract, you agree to maintain service. If you don’t, you’ll usually pay an early termination fee (ETF). No-contract plans offer the flexibility to cancel your service without paying a penalty. (Note: Some providers will let you off the hook if you move to an area they don’t service. And some will pay your current provider’s ETF to encourage you to switch!) On the other hand, a contract ensures your price won’t go up for the length of your agreement.

Do I have to authorize a credit check to sign up for internet service?

Many internet service providers require a credit check when you set up your service. If your credit score is low or limited, you may have to pay an additional deposit. As an alternative, some major ISPs offer plans that don’t require a credit check, like Fios Prepaid and XFINITY Prepaid — but you’ll likely pay a higher monthly price for less speed.

Should I buy my own router?

That depends. Some providers like Frontier, Spectrum and AT&T include your equipment at no additional cost. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need to weigh the cost of renting (or buying) equipment from them against buying elsewhere. Most routers cost about $10 per month to rent, so you could break even quickly with an inexpensive model — but it may make sense to invest a little more in a router with the latest protocols. Need help choosing one? Check out our review of the Best Wireless Routers. (If you find one you like, call your ISP to make sure it’s compatible with your network before you buy.)

Can low-income customers get discounted internet service?

Yes. Several providers offer low-cost internet access starting at $9.95 per month. Eligibility requirements vary, but most programs are available for customers who qualify for an income-based government assistance program, like SNAP, TANF or the National School Lunch Program. Visit EveryoneOn.org to learn more.

Compare all the Best High Speed Internet Providers

Best For
Connection Type
Download Speeds in Mbps
Data Cap
Contract
AT&T Verizon Frontier Comcast CenturyLink Charter Spectrum Cox
Fast, affordable DSL No-contract fiber plans Free Equipment Fastest max speed Price for life guarantee Contract buyout offer Low sign on cost
DSL, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic Cable, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic Cable Cable
DSL: 50 - 100
Fiber: 100 - 1,000
DSL: 0.5 - 15
Fiber: 100 - 940
DSL: 6 - 25
Fiber: 50 - 500
Cable: 10 - 350
Fiber: 1,000 - 2,000
DSL: 12 - 40
Fiber: 40 - 1,000
Cable: 100 - 940 Cable: 10 - 1,000
1,000 GB/month None None 1,000 GB/month 1,024 GB/month None 1,024 GB/month
1 year None None 1 year None None None
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