Best Internet Service Providers

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

21 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
416 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Choosing the best internet service provider

Last Updated September 2020

You probably don't have a landline for your phone, and you don't get a daily newspaper delivered to your house anymore. Also, odds are you've either cut the cord or you’re considering cutting it. That means, having an internet service provider is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity.

The internet is how we communicate with each other, get our news, and consume our entertainment. Because of this, it is essential that you find an internet service provider that can give you and your family everything you want (and need) at a price you can afford.

However, most people don’t feel comfortable shopping for an internet service provider. In fact, many individuals might not even be able to tell you exactly what an ISP is. Throughout this article, we’ve provided information ranging from common mistakes to avoid when choosing an internet service provider to tips that can help you get better service. Our goal is to make you a confident consumer who is empowered to choose the best internet service provider for your needs.

Different internet service providers cover different areas. Your choice of internet service providers depends on which providers offer service in your area.

Key considerations

The most important element to keep in mind when shopping for an internet service provider is that everyone needs something a little different. In many ways it's like transportation. If you live in New York City, walking is a great way to get around. In fact, owning a car in Manhattan can be more of a burden than a convenience. However, if you live in California, it's pretty much impossible to get around without a vehicle.

Before shopping for an internet service provider, you must understand the difference between what you want and what you need. Then you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay for the features that aren't essential to your needs. The following are the key elements to consider when choosing an internet service provider.

Speed

When it comes to internet service, it all comes down to speed. Although internet speed is measured by the megabits (Mbps) or gigabits (Gbps) transferred in one second, it makes more sense to think of speed as fuel. An individual who only drives a few miles each week doesn't need much fuel. On the other hand, a family of six, all of whom have their own vehicle and drive over a thousand miles each month, has a much greater need for fuel.

If you live alone and only use the internet for email and browsing the web, you might be able to get by with speeds as low as 5 Mbps. If you live with someone and you like to stream high-definition movies or you work at home, you're going to want a plan that offers at least 25 Mbps. If you have a family that includes gamers, you may need as much as 100 Mbps.

Equipment

An internet service provider brings internet service to your home. However, in order to take advantage of that service, you need certain pieces of equipment (at least a modem and probably a router). Some internet service providers require you to rent their equipment, which ends up costing much more than purchasing it. Most, however, are compatible with third-party products. If you already own equipment, it’s important to determine if that equipment will work with your new service. If it doesn't, you'll have to buy new equipment or rent it from your internet service provider.

Security

As soon as you connect to the internet, the internet connects to you. Information flows both ways. Therefore, it’s vital that you ask your potential internet service provider what type of security options are available. You also want to find out if those options are part of your package or if you have to pay extra for your privacy and protection.

Customer support

Once you have it, internet service is something you depend on nearly 24/7. If there is an interruption in service or you have a problem, it’s important to know if that problem will typically be resolved in a matter of hours or days. Do not overlook the importance of a company that offers outstanding customer service.

Contracts and promotions

For many customers, price is the primary concern. While we believe many other elements trump price, it’s definitely an important factor. Many sites advise against locking into a limited contract or taking advantage of a special offer. Our advice is if the terms are good, you understand them fully, you honestly benefit from them, and they are finite, why not take advantage of what you’re being offered? When you think of it in a more traditional way, it would be like saying, "No, thank you, I don't want the sale price. I'd like to pay more."

When your contract runs out or the promotion is over, you will have the option to renegotiate or find a new internet service provider. Often, the provider you’re with will negotiate to keep you as a customer. However, we cannot stress the fact enough that you must read all of the fine print and know exactly what you’re getting into and how long the terms are for this to potentially be a good thing. Otherwise, it’s better to stay away from contracts that lock you into a particular service.

DID YOU KNOW?

Currently, the FCC defines “high-speed” internet as a 25 Mbps download speed and a 3 Mbps upload speed.

Researching internet service providers

There are three main ways to research internet service providers: check what's available in your area, read the reviews, and ask your neighbors.

Check what’s available in your area

Not every internet service provider offers service in every location. Before getting too excited about a company (or a particular plan), check to make sure it is indeed available in your region. Also, check to make sure that the stated price is available in your area as well.

Read the reviews

There will always be glowing reviews that you can't fully trust and angry reviews that you probably shouldn't trust. Somewhere in the middle you'll find the truth. When reading reviews, focus on the ones that are written from an objective point of view and offer a well-balanced and rational look at the service.

Ask your neighbors

Since internet service can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, asking the people on your street how happy they are with their internet service provider can be the best tool you have for finding the right provider for your needs. Just remember, though, everyone's internet service needs are different, and what is perfect for your neighbor might not be perfect for you.

DID YOU KNOW?

Internet service provider plans may vary from region to region. A plan you see advertised online might not be available in your area.

Common mistakes to avoid

Mistake #1: You think internet speeds are guaranteed

When it comes to internet speeds, there are a lot of variables. Everything from how many devices you have connected to your home network to how many of your neighbors are using the internet can drastically diminish your internet speeds. Unless an internet service provider specifically guarantees a speed, the internet speed you’re paying for is more of a possibility than a promise.

Mistake #2: You don’t add in the hidden costs

Most companies do not include installation costs, cancellation fees, or other fine-print items when quoting a price. Alternatively, some might offer an attractively priced basic package that doesn't give you everything that you need. By the time you add in the à la carte items, you may wind up paying much more than you originally planned.

Mistake #3: You purchase more bandwidth than you need

Everyone likes to have the best. However, if you're paying for 300 Mbps and you only need 100 Mbps, you’re wasting several hundred dollars each year on something you never use.

DID YOU KNOW?

The average person needs much faster download speeds than upload speeds. If this isn’t the case for you, make sure the plan you’re considering has sufficient upload speeds.

Tips

Even if you have a great internet service with a sufficient amount of speed, there can be times when the internet isn't working with the efficiency you've come to expect. When that happens, take a moment to run through this short checklist to see if you can improve your situation.

  • Upgrade your equipment. Older equipment will slow down your home network. Make sure that you always have up-to-date hardware (modem, router, and extenders).
  • Reset your equipment. If you unplug your equipment for a minute, then power it back up again, you may have significantly better service.
  • Be aware of peak times. Using your internet during peak usage hours means you will experience a decrease in service. If possible, use the internet during off-peak hours.
  • Lower the resolution. Streaming content in SD instead of HD may solve all of your buffering problems.
  • Take turns. Trying to watch a 4K movie while your kids are gaming might not be possible. Consider taking turns with internet connections to keep it running at optimum speeds.
  • Use a wired connection. Using a wired connection ensures that you will always have the best connection and have access to the fastest speeds currently available.
  • Rethink your network. If you have trouble with whole-home coverage and are using repeaters, they could be drastically diminishing your speeds. If this is the case, consider switching to a wired WiFi range extender to speed up your home network.
Peak internet traffic typically occurs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but in some areas, it can last as late as 1 a.m. It’s possible you will experience more buffering and greater frustration with your internet during these peak hours.

FAQ

Q. What is a data cap?
A
. A data cap is a monthly limit on the amount of data that you can use. Once you exceed that limit, the cost of using data can increase dramatically. Some providers do not limit your access but instead throttle your speed. For peace of mind, a plan with unlimited data (no data cap), is preferred by many users. However, if you don’t use a lot of data, an unlimited data plan may be an unnecessary expense.
 

Q. Is there a simpler way to determine how much speed I need?
A.
If you're reading this on your computer at home, that means you already have an internet service provider and you’re either looking for one with better service or one that is more affordable. If that’s the case, determining the speed you need is pretty simple. All you have to do is ask yourself if you’re happy with the speed you have now. If the answer is yes, then get the same speed (or slower, if you feel you have bandwidth to spare). However, if you’re plagued by buffering while streaming movies and TV shows and you can't enjoy playing video games, you're probably going to want more speed than your current plan offers.
 

Q. My current internet service provider says I have speeds of up to 100 Mbps. How do I know what speed I am actually getting?
A.
Every major internet service provider has an online speed test. If you don't feel comfortable taking the speed test at your current internet service provider, take one from another provider or an independent site (speed tests are free and only take about a minute). Be sure to take the test under normal conditions and at a few different times throughout the day. Speed varies depending on a number of factors, so this will give you a better picture of your actual internet speed.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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