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ByDanika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika is currently covering the internet and entertainment beat. Her previous work lives in random corners of the internet and fiction anthologies hidden in university libraries.

The Best Cheap Internet Service Providers

The best internet service provider (ISP) will be different for everyone. Monthly price is directly linked to regional availability, data caps, and speed. Bundled services can also affect the final price, as most internet providers offer discounts if you get your TV, phone and internet service together. The other major factor is promotional/introductory rates, which tend to jump after the first year of the contract. All of these elements combine to determine your internet price. We’ve updated this content to reflect current pricing as of Aug. 30, 2019 and will continue to update so you always know your best internet.

The 7 Best Cheap Internet Service Providers

The Best Cheap Internet Service Providers Comparison

  AT&T Verizon Frontier Xfinity CenturyLink Spectrum Cox
Starting Price $40/mo. $40/mo. $28/mo. $30/mo. $45/mo. $45/mo. $30/mo.
Best for Fast, affordable DSL No-contract fiber plans Low-cost equipment Fastest max speed Price for life guarantee Contract buyout offer Low sign-up cost
Connection type DSL, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic Cable, Fiber-Optic DSL, Fiber-Optic Cable Cable
Download speeds in Mbps DSL: 50-100
Fiber: 100-1,000
DSL: 0.5-15
Fiber: 100-940
DSL: 1-25
Fiber: 50-1,000
Cable: 15-100
Fiber: 1,000-2,000
DSL: 12-40
Fiber: 40-940
Cable: 60-940 Cable: 10-1,000
Data cap 1,000 GB/mo. N/A N/A 1,000 GB/mo. 1,024 GB/mo. N/A 1,024 GB/mo.
Contract 1-2 year None None 1 year None None None
Shop plans Shop plans Shop plans Shop plans Shop plans Shop plans Shop plans

AT&T — Fast, Affordable DSL

Fast, Affordable DSL

AT&T Internet
AT&T
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
Broad coverage
Fast, affordable DSL
Equipment included
Cons
Confusing plan structure
Value of mid-tier plans
Volatile speed and pricing

Why we chose it

Broad coverage

AT&T is the largest DSL broadband provider in the nation, delivering high-speed DSL to about 122 million people and fiber-optic service to an additional 20.4 million. That broad coverage area is good news for consumers. Between AT&T Fiber, which offers speeds up to an incredible 1,000 Mbps, and AT&T Internet (DSL service), the company boasts plans for nearly every level of internet use and 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 of up to 100 Mbps. That’s by far the fastest DSL option on our shortlist. In fact, the AT&T Internet max speed tier overlaps with the baseline plan from AT&T Fiber: Both get you up to 100 Mbps download speed (though the fiber plan offers much more upload speed).

Equipment included

Whatever AT&T plan you choose, your router is included at no extra charge. That’s a fairly unusual benefit among major ISPs; you’ll usually pay $5 to $10 per month to rent your equipment (or a flat fee of around $50 to purchase it upfront).

Points to consider

Confusing plan structure

AT&T’s plan structure can be hard to navigate. Like most plans, AT&T’s are named for their speed tier (i.e., Internet 50, Internet 100), but AT&T Fiber and AT&T DSL plans overlap at 100 Mbps, so 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.

Value of mid-tier 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 mid-tier plans (like the 100 Mbps plan) are more expensive than those of competitors.

Volatile speed and pricing

Speed and pricing vary by location, no matter which ISP you choose. AT&T is no different. We were quoted $40 per month for 5 Mbps in Houston, Texas. However, for only $10 more, you can get 100 Mbps in Freeport, Texas. Your mileage may vary; check availability with your ZIP code to find offers in your area.

Verizon — No-Contract Fiber Plans

No-Contract Fiber Plans

Verizon Fios
Verizon
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
High-value fiber plans
Special offers
Waived or reduced installation fee
Savings for Verizon Wireless customers
Two-year price guarantee
Cons
Limited fiber availability
Value of DSL service

Why we chose it

High-value fiber plans

Verizon Fios, Verizon’s fiber-optic internet service, delivers reliable speed at a fair price (and upload speeds that match download speeds). Many other providers we considered offer 25 to 60 Mbps for a comparable price to Verizon’s 100 Mbps, and most require a one- or two-year agreement to boot. Verizon doesn’t require a contract for stand-alone internet (fiber or DSL), which means you can move or switch providers without paying any hefty early termination fees (ETFs).

Special offers

Most internet service providers offer discounts to entice new customers, and we’ve consistently seen strong promotions for Verizon Fios. These offers change frequently and may vary based on where you live or which plan you choose, but generally include a few hundred dollars credit. Check Fios availability to learn more about current offers in your area.

Additional ways to save

At time of publication, the installation fee for Verizon Fios plans is waived for online orders (a $99 value). And if Verizon is your cellphone provider, you can save $20 per month on select Verizon Fios bundles.

Two-year price guarantees

Verizon offers a two-year price guarantee for new customers, which will lock in your monthly rate for the duration of your agreement. This is a much-welcomed option as many ISPs are known for hiking up their service prices when promotional offers expire after the first year of the contract. These plans are also contract free — you can cancel at anytime.

Savings for Verizon Wireless customers

If Verizon is your cellphone 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 6.1 million, 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 can raise the total cost, the 1.1 to 15 Mbps Verizon High Speed Internet plan can cost almost as much as the 100 Mbps Fios plan. Verizon’s baseline DSL plan offers just 0.5 to 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.

Frontier — Low-Cost Equipment

Low-Cost Equipment

Frontier Communications
Frontier
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
Affordable plan options
Contract-free plans with price lock
Cons
Customer feedback
Value of DSL service

Why we chose it

Affordable plan options

At $40 per month, Frontier FiOS’ 200 Mbps plan is reasonable; we found that many cable providers charge more for half the speed or less. (Note: This includes a “limited time speed upgrade” from 100 Mbps to 150 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 four or more 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.

Contract-free plans with price lock

Another perk of Frontier internet is its contract-free plans, which you can cancel anytime without paying for early termination. But unlike other providers’ no-contract plans, most of Frontier’s come with a two-year price lock. 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 55 out of 100 on the 2018 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 50 Mbps Frontier FiOS plan for 18 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.

Xfinity — Fastest Max Speed

Fastest Max Speed

Comcast XFINITY
Xfinity
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

If you don’t like to commit to any one internet service, Xfinity has you covered. Its no-contract option for stand-alone internet service costs $40 with speeds up to 100 Mbps, which is more than enough for streaming HD TV and other heavy use. There’s also a prepaid internet option that might appeal to customers who don’t have a bank account or who want to avoid a credit check. However, this plan is also more expensive per month than contract plans and offers less speed.

Low starting price

Among our finalists, Xfinity quoted us one of the lowest prices for its base-level, stand-alone internet service. Granted, there’s a tradeoff with the amount of speed you’ll get compared to our other top picks, but 15 Mbps could be ample for small households or casual users who don’t do a ton of streaming or other data-intensive activities. If you’d like more speed, $60 per month will get you 150 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 not you sign a contract.

Points to consider

Upload speed

Xfinity’s economical 15 Mbps plan will suffice for people who truly don’t need much speed. But it’s worth noting that while 15 Mbps download speed is adequate for light to moderate use, you’ll only get 2 Mbps upload speed with this plan. This means it will take longer to share large files, video conference, and game online.

Value of lower-tier plans

Xfinity’s baseline plan is pricey compared to competitors’ offerings in this speed tier. For a similar price, Frontier FiOS customers get 200 Mbps while Xfinity customers get 15 Mbps. As usual, we suggest comparing multiple providers and plans in your area to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

CenturyLink — Price for Life Guarantee

Price for Life Guarantee

CenturyLink
CenturyLink
Connection type
DSL, Fiber-Optic
Pros
Price for life guarantee
No contracts required
Cons
Speed versus price
Confusing plan structure

Why we chose it

Price for life guarantee

Many providers offer a promotional rate for new customers, which is a nice perk — for the short period that rate lasts. CenturyLink improves the system with a bona fide 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.” While you do need to keep the same plan and place of residence, you don’t have to sign a contract to get the price lock.

No contracts required

CenturyLink plans are month-to-month. That means there’s no early termination fee if you cancel your service — good news if you have an upcoming move or simply prefer a little flexibility with providers. Note that Price for Life plans do require prepayment each month, and your service will renew automatically until you cancel.

Points to consider

Speed versus price

CenturyLink service is an appealing option for customers on a budget, with a low starting price that’s locked in for life. 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 unsure of your options.

Spectrum — Contract Buyout Offer

Contract Buyout Offer

Charter Spectrum
Spectrum
Connection type
Cable
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

Spectrum stands out when it comes to speed for price. Depending on your city, you can get twice as much speed as a similar plan from Verizon Fios for just $5 more per month. While Spectrum’s pricing is not the lowest on our list, it’s a good value considering its above-average speeds. That said, keep in mind that our comparison is based on a promotional price for new customers. Your monthly plan cost will increase after 24 months — still a better deal than the 12-month increase of many competitors.

Low startup costs

Spectrum is the only one of our top picks that includes a modem and router for free with all plans. That easily knocks a combined $100 off of your initial costs. And at just under $45 total, its installation and activation fees are also lower than the industry average.

No-contract plans with buyout offer

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

Points to consider

Price increase after second year

The regular price for Spectrum’s 200 Mbps plan is $20 more per month after your second year. That’s a bigger jump in price than that of all other providers we researched, save for Mediacom (also $20 more per month). Depending on where you live, there are likely more affordable options once the promotional rate ends.

Speed (and value) may vary

For most households, 200 Mbps is more than fast enough. But as with all providers, where you live impacts what plans you can get and what you’ll pay for them. For example, a Spectrum customer in Los Angeles, California could pay the same price as a Spectrum customer in Charlotte, North Carolina, but for half the speed.

Unspecified upload speed

Spectrum is cagey about how much upload speed you’ll get with any given plan. It was tough finding information on Spectrum’s website or in our quotes. (In fact, we found the online ordering process difficult to navigate in general.) After a lengthy introductory script, a chat agent informed us that we would get up to 10 Mbps upload speed with the 200 Mbps standard internet plan, 20Mbps upload speed with the 400 Mbps Ultra Internet plan, and 35 Mbps with their 940 Mbps Gig internet plan, but the lack of transparency is frustrating when researching plan options.

Cox — Low Sign-Up Cost

Low Sign-Up Cost

Cox Communications Internet
Cox
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 stand-alone internet starting at $30 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.

Finding the $30 plan

Locating the $30 plan on Cox’s site takes some unintuitive scrolling: Plans appear to start at $40 per month, but if you cycle through the plan options, you’ll eventually find the $30 option.

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 helps keep your startup cost low.

Points to consider

Price increase after first year

The 10 Mbps plan is advertised at $30 per month but jumps to $45 per month after the initial 12 months. Cox’s terms of service mention a 24-month Price Lock Guarantee, but when we checked with a chat agent, we learned that it’s only available for internet, TV, and phone bundles. If you want the low monthly price for internet alone, you’ll have just those first 12 months to enjoy it.

Other Cheap Internet Service Providers to Consider

Mediacom

With a promotional rate of $50 per month (regularly $70 per month), Mediacom’s quote wasn’t too far down the lower end of the price spectrum. However, that low monthly price is a bit misleading because the fine print requires an $100 installation fee, $10 activation fee, and a monthly fee $11.50 for a modem, plus a $10 ding for every 50GB when you exceed the plan’s 400GB per-month plateau. Furthermore, it offered less speed than most fiber and cable plans (60 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up). While other providers have no data cap or provide a sky-high 1,000 GB per month limit, Mediacom’s data cap for its cheapest plan is 400 GB per month; this 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 22 states.

HughesNet

Because it’s powered by satellite rather than earthbound infrastructure, HughesNet is available in places many internet providers aren’t. HughesNet plans look more like a cellular provider’s than a traditional ISP’s: All plans offer the same 25 Mbps download speed, so you choose a plan based on a monthly data allotment, ranging from 10 to 50 GB per month. Compared to 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 which are available in your area. Satellite providers like HughesNet can reach most anywhere, but all other internet providers are confined to the states where they’ve established infrastructure. For the most part, where they own the wires, they own your internet. Plans, pricing, and current promotions can also vary widely depending on where you live — a good thing to keep in mind if you’re inspired to sign up by an advertised boon.

Take a close look at pricing

The monthly cost of a plan is important, but there are a lot of other figures to consider. Does this price hold out for just the first three months, the first year, or beyond? What will you pay after the introductory period? Should you expect more rate increases moving forward? And, importantly, can you incur any extra fees while establishing or exiting the plan?

Factor in fees and expenses

Plenty of services and penalties can increase the amount of either your first bill or monthly bill. 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 a contract

Make sure to factor these into your calculations as you determine the cheapest plans in your area.

Consider possible savings

Because the internet industry is highly competitive, many providers offer promotions both to entice new customers and keep existing customers from straying. Keep an eye out for these offers:

  • 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

Compare 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 sign-up versus 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 lots of devices (computers and smartphones, but also 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, as well as individuals who use the internet for more than one “high-demand application.”

Factor in equipment costs

Once you choose an internet plan, you’ll need a modem and router (or combination of the two) to log on. There are a few different options for this equipment:

  • Rent equipment from your provider
  • Buy your equipment from your provider when you set up your service (if available)
  • Buy your equipment elsewhere

Compare the costs of these options before you decide. If you’re bringing your own equipment to the table, contact your provider to make sure it’s compatible with the provider’s network before you purchase.

Cheap Internet FAQ

Where can I get internet service for my home?

Somewhere in the United States, there’s an internet service provider for you. And, no matter what state you’re in, there’s bound to be one or two in your state where the different service areas overlap.

Here is just a short list of our top picks and the number of states each covers:

  • AT&T – available in 22 states with the greatest coverage in California, Texas, and Florida.
  • Verizon Fios – available in 9 states with the greatest coverage in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
  • Frontier – available in 38 states with the greatest coverage in California, Florida, and Connecticut.
  • Xfinity – available in 39 states with the greatest coverage in California, Florida, and Illinois.
  • CenturyLink – available in all 50 states with the greatest coverage in Arizona, Colorado, and Washington.
  • Spectrum – available in 46 states with the greatest coverage in California, Texas, and New York.
  • Cox – available in 18 states with the greatest coverage in Arizona, California, and Virginia.

Can I get free internet at home?

Generally, there aren’t a lot of ways to get free internet, but there are cheaper internet options which we’ll go into below. For now, you might want to contact your cable provider. Depending on your provider, you could be eligible for a free WiFi hotspot depending on your plan. You can also check out Freedompop, which offers a plan for free monthly internet access after the purchase of a hotspot and a one-time activation fee. Some service providers can also grant you limited internet access for free, such as NetZero.

Are there cheaper internet options if I don't go online often?

If you rarely get online, consider a service like Karma Go, which offers pay-as-you-go plans. You’ll pay $199 for a portable hotspot and a $3 per month access fee, plus $10 per GB of data you use. (One GB 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. Many services like Karma Go operate via a cellular network, so coverage, speed, and reliability will vary based on where you live.

What are the benefits 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 penalty. On the other hand, a contract locks in your price 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, make sure it’s compatible with your ISP’s network before you buy.

Can low-income customers get discounted internet service?

Yes. Several providers offer low-cost internet access starting at $10 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.

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