Internet service providers (ISPs) allow users to connect to the Internet, surf the web, check their emails and use many types of online services. Many ISPs offer complementary services as well, such as landline phones, mobile services and cable TV connections in bundled packages. These bundled services are usually offered at a substantial discount over the services priced individually. ISPs also frequently offer business services and Internet-related services like web pages, cloud storage and email servers. The biggest ISPs compete on the fastest download times for the lowest prices, and each ISP provides services only in certain zip codes around the country.

Top 10 Best Rated Internet Service Providers

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bright House Networks offers fast Internet for no contract and no penalties for service changes. The company, which serves regions in California, Florida, Michigan, Indiana and Alabama, also offers phone support for no charge.
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.
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.
AT&T offers several DSL Internet pricing levels and bundles, with nationwide AT&T hot spot network access on all plans and download speeds up to 6 Mbps on some plans. For faster speeds, U-verse plans go up to 45 Mbps.

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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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.

    • Best for Business owners, work-at-home employees and students.
  • 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.

    • Best for Those who need a reliable connection for news, information and homework help.
  • 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.

    • Best for Consumers in the 18 selected states who want the fastest Internet service for high data usage.
  • 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.

    • Best for Businesses and families interested in new fiber optic technology.
  • 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.

    • Best for Windstream is best for smaller businesses, rural consumers and those who prefer a local option with high-quality customer experience.
  • 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).

    • Best for People who need simple browsing at a low price and people who need to connect while on the road.
  • 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.

    • Best for People in remote areas, those who want low-cost access and those who want dial-up services.
  • Hughes Network Systems

    This broadband satellite ISP, also known in the market as HughesNet, works with Earthlink and DirectTV to provide a range of services around the world.

    • Best for Those in search of reliable access to the Internet at good speeds, even in the most remote locations.
  • America Online

    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.

    • Best for Businesses who are concerned about online security and storing their documents in the cloud.
  • Leasenet Services

    LeaseNet Services was formed in 1995 to give small and medium-sized companies in the Dallas area access to reliable Internet connections that can transfer large amounts of data quickly. It currently provides scalable communications solutions to growing businesses throughout Canada and the United States.

    • Best for Small and medium businesses that want access to tier 1 networks, businesses with diverse communications needs and organizations that need high-speed Internet access.

11 – 24 Best Rated Internet Service Providers

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.
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.
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.
WildBlue 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.
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.
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.
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.
SkyWay USA provides satellite broadband Internet to rural, underserved areas in America, using a satellite 22,000 miles into the atmosphere to retrieve and send information. Its plans also offer Wi-Fi compatibility options.
Virginia Broadband makes the Internet accessible to folks in central and eastern Virginia with high-speed broadband service that began in 2004. Its wireless networks are secure, and its customers can choose from several plans.
Virgin Media is a U.K. company that offers fiber-optic broadband packages and bundles for Internet, TV and phone. Internet speeds reach up to 152 Mbps, and the QuickStart program enables customers to self-install many services.
ONE Touch Communications offers DSL and high-speed Internet to residential and business customers at speeds 50 times faster than dial-up service. It provides customer support by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
LeaseNet Services is an Internet service provider based in Addison, TX. The company provides free consultations to help its customers and prospects choose affordable plans that meet their unique needs.
Out of Business
StarBand is a high-speed satellite Internet provider that offers access to customers across America, including those in Hawaii and Alaska. It also offers broadband Internet services but is ceasing services Sept. 30, 2015.
Out of Business
Clearwire has joined Sprint, and while customers can no longer buy devices from clear.com, they can still use their Clear My Account page to manage their service. Sprint plans include mobile 4G wireless Internet.