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Find the Best Internet Service Providers

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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HughesNet Read 7,753 Reviews

Provides high-speed satellite Internet everywhere in the contiguous United States, including rural areas. HughesNet Gen5 offers a range of plans with fast speeds, built-in Wi-Fi and no hard data limits.

CenturyLink Read 5,043 Reviews

CenturyLink was established in the late 1960s and is headquartered in Louisiana. It offers a variety of telecommunication services, including home phone service. CenturyLink services are available in over 40 states.

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Verizon Fios Read 3,263 Reviews

Verizon FiOS offers high-speed internet connections with corresponding phone lines. With 99.9 percent reliability bolstered by rapid delivery fiber optic technology, Verizon FiOS also provides strong home network support.

Spectrum Read 1,628 Reviews

Formerly Bright House Networks, Spectrum provides TV, internet and phone service to residential and business customers. Spectrum sells communication and entertainment packages and will buy out your current contact up to $500.

Suddenlink Read 853 Reviews

Suddenlink Communication provides television, phone, home security and internet services. Their internet speeds range from 50 mbps to 1 gbps. They offer discounts for bundling services. Visit their website to see coverage areas.

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Comcast Internet Service Read 2,913 Reviews

Offers internet plans through Xfinity. Provides high-speed home internet and access to millions of Wi-Fi hotspots. Speed up to 2 Gbps. Bundle with Xfinity cable services for reduced rates. Monthly cost starts at $39.99.

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AT&T Uverse Read 3,618 Reviews

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Optimum Read 1,216 Reviews

Optimum offers cable television services through Cablevision as well as Internet services. It began as a local Long Island company with 1,500 customers and now offers local news channels in that area and throughout America.

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Windstream Internet Read 655 Reviews

Windstream provides a variety of internet connection options. Their Basic package is suited to web surfing and email, while Max Speed is set up for video streaming and gaming. The company also offers an Internet/DISH-TV bundle.

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Cox Internet Read 689 Reviews

Cox High-Speed Internet delivers a variety of services including Internet-only and Internet-plus-TV access. Clients enjoy fast in-home WiFi, Cloud Drive, security software and more than 400,000 WiFi hotspots across the country.

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What features matter most?

Speed

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.

Services

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.

Support

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

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.

Availability

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

Access

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

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

Mailbox

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

Transit

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

Virtual

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

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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    Company reviews

    Comcast Internet Service

    Comcast is one of the largest Internet providers in the United States. It also offers cable television and phone services, and it has numerous bundling options for customers to choose from.

    Read 2913 Reviews
    AT&T Uverse

    AT&T Uverse Internet service is provided by AT&T, one of the oldest utility companies in the United States. With over 10,000 patents and nationwide coverage, AT&T offers various Internet, telephone and satellite options to customers all over the country.

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    Cox Internet

    Among the largest ISPs in the United States, Cox covers 18 states, with its primary coverage areas in Arizona, California, Nevada and Virginia. Cox is one of the longest-operating ISPs, having started operation in 1996. It often wins PC Magazine's Reader's Choice Awards for its high-speed service.

    Read 689 Reviews
    Verizon Fios

    Another of the largest ISPs, Verizon supports its core mobile phone operations with fiber optic cable Internet. Verizon intends to expand coverage in existing locations, but is not expanding into new regions. Verizon has also sold its FiOS operations in a few states, including Texas, Florida and California.

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    Windstream Internet

    As one of the most popular of the mid-sized ISPs, Windstream ranks among the top 10 largest ISPs in the nation. It is especially well-known throughout the Midwestern and southern states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky and Texas.

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    Netzero

    Just as its name suggests, it is possible to get online for free. Using the freemium model, NetZero is able to offer the free service (200 MB of bandwidth) to some customers because other customers pay a premium for faster speeds and more space (up to 6 GB).

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    Juno Online Services

    Both Juno and NetZero are owned by United Online, which also operates some of the smaller ISPs like BlueLight. Juno offers the same free Internet access as NetZero, and it has dial-up lines in 8,000 cities across North America.

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    HughesNet

    This broadband satellite ISP, known in the market as HughesNet, provides high-speed satellite internet everywhere in the continental United States.

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    AOL

    This is the company with the most Internet experience, going all the way back to the 1980s -- 10 years before the World Wide Web was created. Over the years, AOL has been at the center of many of the most important developments in Internet technology. It merged with Time Warner in 2000, then split off again in 2009. In 2015, Verizon purchased the company.

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    Compare Reviews for Top Internet Service Providers

    Atlantic Broadband Read 257 Reviews

    Atlantic Broadband, headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts, offers turbo-fast Internet service as well as bundles for phone and TV service. It serves regions in Pennsylvania, Florida, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.

    AOL Read 1,594 Reviews

    AOL offers several affordable Internet services including Total Advantage Plus, a discounted phone service, VIP customer service and 24/7 tech support. Assist by AOL provides stand-by experts ready to help with any questions.

    Viasat Read 868 Reviews

    Exede provides affordable satellite broadband Internet using a 26-inch minidish to underserved residential and business areas in rural and small-town America. Customers do not need cable lines or phone lines.

    Google Fiber Read 74 Reviews

    Google has developed its own infrastructure to provide high-speed internet and television service. The service uses fiber-optic cable that gives customers very fast download speeds. It’s available in select locations.

    EarthLink Read 463 Reviews

    Customizable internet plans. Residential and commercial services. Offers dial-up and HyperLink, its premier service. Internet speeds up to 1 Gbps. Also offers security software, EarthLink Protect.

    MSN Read 175 Reviews

    Microsoft Online Services offers accelerated dial-up Internet for quick downloading of photos and documents. Included in the package are photo editing tools, Internet security tools and other Microsoft Network features.

    Juno Online Services Read 87 Reviews

    Juno Online Services is a value-priced Internet company that delivers rapid Internet access, email service with protection from spam and enhanced virus scanning. Sign-up is simple and no credit card is required to begin service.

    Netzero Read 511 Reviews

    NetZero offers reliable mobile broadband, dial-up, wireless and DSL broadband Internet services. The company delivers service in more than 12,000 markets in North America, and concentrates on value, performance and security.

    by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.