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Best Internet Service Providers

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by ConsumerAffairs

Research Team

Updated on 03/02/2018

Internet service providers (ISPs) allow users to connect to the Internet, surf the web, check their emails and use many types of online services. Though each ISP provides services only in certain zip codes, they all compete for the fastest download speed.

Many ISPs offer bundle services for home use (landline phones, cable TV) and businesses (cloud storage, email servers). These bundled services are usually offered at a substantial discount over the services priced individually.

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    Compare Reviews for Top Internet Service Providers

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    AT&T Uverse Read 3239 Reviews

    AT&T U-verse provides Internet, TV and phone (VoIP) services that can be ordered standalone or in packages. AT&T is the only national internet provider with 100 percent IP technology, which delivers more variety and control.

    Comcast Internet Service Read 2504 Reviews

    Comcast offers a number of XFINITY packages that provide high-speed internet as well as access to millions of WiFi hotspots. XFINITY plus Premium TV delivers popular TV channels and mobile streaming via the XFINITY TV app.

    CenturyLink Read 4061 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.

    Spectrum Read 994 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.

    Verizon Fios Read 2908 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.

    Hughes Network Systems Read 2749 Reviews

    HughesNet is a leading satellite Internet services company with free installation and 24/7 technical support. HughesNet is ideal for both urban and rural locations.

    Windstream Internet Read 475 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.

    Cox Internet Read 502 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.

    Suddenlink Read 161 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.

    Exede Satellite Internet Read 736 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.

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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.

    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 More
    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.

    Read More
    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 More
    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.

    Read More
    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.

    Read More
    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

    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.

    Read More
    Hughes Network Systems

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

    Read More
    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.

    Read More

    Compare Reviews for Top Internet Service Providers

    AOL Read 1520 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.

    Atlantic Broadband Read 187 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.

    Google Fiber Read 38 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 428 Reviews

    EarthLink High Speed internet brings clients DSL, cable and satellite internet access. The company offers speeds up to 20 Mbps, protection from viruses and allows several devices to share one internet connection.

    MSN Read 157 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.

    DSL Extreme Read 76 Reviews

    DSL Extreme, headquartered in Los Angeles and founded in 1999, boasts Internet speeds of up to 75 Mbps on its fast fiber-optic network. It offers Internet and phone packages to both residential and business customers.

    Juno Read 77 Reviews

    Juno 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 505 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.

    People PC Read 164 Reviews

    PeoplePC Online focuses on affordable Internet service by offering nationwide dial-up Internet access and high-speed DSL Internet. Its Smart Dialer software combines with Accelerator technology for quicker dial-up browsing.

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    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.

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