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Best Internet Service Providers

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Internet service providers (ISPs) compete for the fastest connection and strongest network support. Read our guide to research and find the best internet service provider for you. We explain what to look for, including speed, customer support, availability and connection types.

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What features matter most?


For many users, speed is the most important factor when considering ISPs. Connection speed determines how much time it takes to perform various tasks on the Internet, how long it takes to load images and whether audio and video arrive in little bursts or stream in real time. In general, browsing websites requires a lower connection speed than tasks like watching a video or listening to audio files.

  • Upload speed: When users send data from their computer to the Internet, the speed of the transfer is called the upload speed.
  • Download speed: When users receive data from the Internet to their computer, the speed of the transfer is called the download speed. Download speed is normally many times faster than upload speed.


The services provided by an ISP can vary greatly, with service offerings based on pricing tiers, speed or business needs. Some companies offer the same services to all of their customers, while others specialize in online access only or specialty services like cloud storage and security software.

  • Residential: Most ISPs offer service to homeowners or renters.
  • Commercial: In general, ISPs usually offer different packages to commercial customers such as corporations or nonprofit organizations.
  • Small Business: While many ISPs lump small business customers together with other commercial customers, some offer distinctive packages at a lower price to small businesses.
  • Bundling: Internet service providers that also offer telephone or television services often offer bundled packages of multiple services at a discounted rate.


There are many reasons why customers may need support, including slow speeds, pages that won't load and unusual charges on their bills. Most ISPs prefer to communicate by email or chat, though some still offer customer support over the phone. Great customer support refers to both helpful agents and experienced troubleshooters who can fix problems remotely, reducing the need for technician visits. Sometimes a contractor must be dispatched to the customer's home to look at hardware issues.

  • Installation process: The installation process is usually quick and efficient; many ISPs provide this at little or no cost with a qualified contract. Each connection type has a different installation process. For example, dialup usually does not require any installation of hardware or software. Cable often requires drilling holes through outside walls and pulling in new wires, in addition to setting up the router and a modem inside the house. Satellite connections need a dish installed outside and synced up to a precise angle. The process can take several hours.
  • Email, phone or chat support: There are various ways to connect with each ISP support service, and some are quicker and easier than others.


Reliability refers to both the signal, which is sometimes lost and has to reconnect, and the speed, which varies greatly depending on usage. ISPs that use dedicated lines, such as copper cables, fiber optics and DSL, are very rarely completely unavailable. Dial-up and satellite connections are more prone to outages. Dedicated lines also usually offer unlimited data or generous data limits, while dial-up and satellite generally have bandwidth limits.

  • Connection quality: A good Internet connection has strong signal strength, and outages are rare.
  • Data caps: Some ISPs cap data at a certain level each billing cycle; others allow unlimited data usage.


Not all Internet service providers are available in all areas of the country. Customers should check with a provider to determine if coverage is an option at their home or business address. Even within the same city, there are different providers and package options according to zip codes. Often, the first step for the customer is to go to provider websites and put in their zip code to see what is available at their address.

  • Coverage area: Most areas have a limited number of ISPs available; some areas may only have one or two.
  • Connection types: The different connection types include, dial-up connections using existing phone lines, cable which requires installation of new broadband wires, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) uses existing copper telephone lines and satellite which requires a dish to be installed outside the house. As well as, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) which is for high speed connections requiring and adapter for existing phone lines and optical fiber which is cable that used spun glass instead of copper for ultra high bandwidth connections.

Extra features

Often an ISP offers extra features for an additional cost; sometimes these features are included free with any Internet plan.

  • Anti-virus software: Anti-virus software helps protect computers from malicious attacks from other Internet users.
  • Personal or business website: Many providers offer services to help build and maintain personal or business websites.
  • Email address: One or more email addresses are often included with the Internet service.
  • Wi-Fi access: Some ISPs offer unlimited Wi-Fi access through various hot spots across the United States.

What are different types of internet service providers


Most ISPs fall into this category. Access ISPs offer Internet access to customers through a specific type of connection, such as broadband or dial-up. Some access ISPs offer additional services like email hosting.


Hosting ISPs offer space online for a website or provide a place to store various services like email accounts, websites, virtual machines and servers.


These ISPs offer a place to store email accounts and messages. They also provide services for sending and receiving emails.


Transit ISPs provide services to connect access ISPs with mailbox or hosting ISPs.


Virtual ISPs let customers access or use the hosting services of a large ISP under a different company name.

Who’s it for?

Business owners

Internet access is important for any business owner's success. The Internet is a great resource for advertising, research and conducting business transactions.


Students use the Internet extensively for research and entertainment. Many college students can take courses online, which requires an Internet connection.

Work-at-home employees

Employees who have the option to work from home usually require Internet access to perform their duties effectively when they are away from the office.

Online gamers

Gamers can play video games online, either alone or by connecting with other gamers through the Internet.

Internet service providers FAQ

Can I get Wi-Fi without an internet provider?

Yes, technically. You can have a Wi-Fi network without an internet provider, but you won’t be able to connect to the internet. Many people use these terms interchangeably to mean an internet connection, but Wi-Fi is simply a wireless alternative to plugging your computer into a local network. However, you still need access to the internet.

If you don’t want to pay an internet service provider, you can pay for a mobile hot spot, tether your device to your smartphone’s cellular data or connect to free public internet.

How much does internet cost?

Most Americans use broadband access, which costs around $50 to $75 per month, but the cost of connecting to the internet depends on how fast of a connection you want and your data transfer liimit. Popular options include:

  • DSL: $20 - $50
  • Cable: $20 - $70
  • Fiber: $30 - $95
  • Satellite: $50 - $100
  • Dial-up: $5 - $15

Many phone and cable providers offer bundling discounts as well.

Can I get internet without a provider?

You can’t get private internet access without a provider, whether that’s through a traditional ISP, a hot spot or cellular data on your smartphone.

You can access the internet through public hot spots at coffee shops or libraries, but your connection might be limited or monitored by whoever is paying for your connection. Stay away from unprotected private Wi-Fi networks — in most cases, it’s illegal to use someone else’s internet connection without their consent.

How do I choose an internet provider?

Choosing an internet provider is simple:

  1. Find out what providers exist in your area. There may be different options within your city or neighborhood, depending on how far a company has run cables.
  2. Calculate how much speed you need. If you frequently stream video and have multiple devices connecting to the internet at once, you need more speed than if you only connect one computer to check emails occasionally.
  3. Compare available plans based on their prices, speeds and fees.
  4. Check for specials, discounts and coupons.
  5. Make your decision.
What is the cheapest way to get internet service?

Generally, the cheapest way to get internet service is bundling your internet with your phone or cable television service. Slower internet plans are usually cheaper as well, but you get what you pay for. Always comparison shop and ask providers for discounts before signing a contract.

Is satellite internet a good option?

Satellite internet is the only option in some locations, but for people in urban areas, satellite internet is more expensive than other, better options. Satellite signals often have some lag and experience frequent interruptions during storms. Trees and other buildings can obstruct the signal as well.

Not sure how to choose?

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