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.
Top 10 Best Rated Internet Service Providers
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.
|Read 2562 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.
|Read 2017 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.
|Read 14 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.
|Read 18 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.
|Read 70 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.
|Read 163 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.
|Read 141 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.
|Read 58 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.
|Read 1438 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.
|Read 366 Reviews|
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.
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?
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.
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.
Gamers can play video games online, either alone or by connecting with other gamers through the Internet.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.
11 – 19 Best Rated Internet Service Providers
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.
|Read 598 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.
|Read 391 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.
|Read 500 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.
|Read 2626 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.
|Read 2149 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.
|Read 3325 Reviews|
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.
|Read 620 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.
|Read 150 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.
|Read 328 Reviews|