Compare Internet Providers
Find the best internet provider in your area.
If you’re moving to a new area or looking to switch internet providers, it’s important to know what internet service provider (ISP) options are available. ISP options might even be a factor in choosing where you move. There’s a lot to compare, and often it’s the minor differences that really make the difference.
Even if you’re staying where you are but just need better service, finding the best internet provider and plan for your needs can make a huge difference in your online experience.
Compare the best internet providers
How do you choose an internet provider?
You can choose an internet provider by searching which providers are in your area and then weighing which one offers you the best options when it comes to internet speed, pricing, data, and extra fees.
Finding the best internet provider depends on what features are most important to you. Speed and price are often the first criteria we look at, but there are a lot of other factors to consider as well. Here’s what you should look for before you sign up:
Make sure your internet is fast enough to meet all of your needs but not so fast that your monthly bill is too expensive. A good rule of thumb is to get at least 25 Mbps of speed for every person in your household—so if you live with three others, then a 100 Mbps connection will do you just fine.
Use our How Much Internet Speed Do I Need? tool to figure out your ideal bandwidth.
A quality customer service team can be a big help when you experience problems with your connection or equipment—sometimes all it takes is a quick call to tech support to resolve an issue. Some ISPs’ customer service teams are also equipped to hook you up with deals and promotions if you’re signing up for service, upgrading plans, or switching providers.
You can get a feel for how easy or difficult it is to address problems with an ISP by looking at our survey of customer satisfaction ratings.
Installation and equipment costs
On top of the monthly fee for your service, you’ll likely also need to pay additional fees for modem rental and installation costs—but not always. The best providers waive these extra fees (at least on the upper-tier plans), and you can also save money by buying your own router and modem. Which reminds us; we’ve got great recommendations for Wi-Fi routers.
Data caps and overage fees
Data caps and overage fees can be a headache, especially if you’re a heavy-duty internet user. Most internet providers give you plenty of data to use every month, and some even hook you up with totally unlimited data. But some budget plans come with sneakily small data limits, and satellite providers have very low data caps.
Signing up for a plan with an annual contract means you’ll be on the hook for early termination fees (ETFs) if you have to cancel your service before the term agreement is up. We recommend avoiding that if possible by going with a no-contract, month-to-month plan. That’s not always an option—but if you can go no-contract, we recommend it.
Additional internet comparison resources
Still need help comparing internet providers? Here are some other resources to help you answer your questions.
What to look for in your internet speed
Download speed is the main criteria that people use to figure out if their internet is fast enough. Most of what we do online involves downloading data—think of streaming movies, downloading files, or playing online games.
However, you’ll also want to consider upload speed. You need a relatively reliable upload speed in order to do things like attending Zoom meetings, hosting livestreams, or posting lots of content to social media. Most internet providers have much slower upload speeds compared to their download speeds. However, fiber internet providers offer symmetrical speeds, so your uploads will be just as fast—another great reason to get fiber if it’s available in your area.
If you play a lot of online games, it’s also important to have a connection with low latency. Latency is the time it takes to process a signal between your device and your internet provider’s server, and vice versa. Low latency rates make for smoother gameplay and fewer glitches, vastly improving your experience in fast-paced games like first-person shooters. Both fiber and cable internet have low latency.
Faster is better, but not all online activities require the fastest plans available. If you’re not sure how fast of a connection you need for your needs, take our test for how much internet speed you need.
Find an internet provider in your area
Once you’re confident that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to narrow down the list to service providers in your area. Enter your zip code to find out which ISPs offer plans near you.
FAQ about internet providers
What is the best internet provider around?
The best internet provider is EarthLink. With a large nationwide network and excellent customer service, this provider swept to the lead in our annual customer satisfaction survey, taking first place for speed, price, reliability, and overall satisfaction.
Xfinity is also a great internet provider—dare we say it is practically tied with EarthLink. As a cable provider, it offers a range of plans at fair prices and is widely available in the United States. You can get gigabit speeds, or you can pay less for still-robust internet upwards of 100 Mbps.
How fast of an internet connection do I actually need?
|Internet speed||Activities you can do|
|0–5 Mbps||Checking email, Zoom calling, streaming music on one or two devices.|
|6–40 Mbps||Streaming SD video on two or three devices, online gaming for one or two players.|
|41–100 Mbps||Streaming HD video (720p or 1080p) on several devices, downloading large files in a short time, operating multiple smart-home devices.|
|101–500 Mbps||Streaming 4K UHD video on several screens, online gaming with multiple players, hosting livestreams.|
|501–1000 Mbps||Doing pretty much anything on a large number of devices.|
With internet connections, the usual rule of thumb is that faster is better. However, there’s no point in paying for the fastest connection available if you’re not actually going to use all that speed.
For most home web-surfing for one person, a 5–10 Mbps (megabits per second) connection will give you a seamless internet experience. If you’re doing something more bandwidth-intensive, like streaming video, or you have multiple people using the internet simultaneously, you’ll want a much faster connection.
For a more detailed breakdown of how much internet speed you need for different activities, check out our more detailed analysis.
What kinds of internet connections are available?
One of the main things that your location dictates is the kinds of internet connections available to you. Depending on your neighborhood, you might have several options or you might be restricted to one or two.
- Fiber-optic internet offers incredibly fast connections and is only getting faster as technology improves. Fiber connections have symmetrical upload and download speeds, giving you much faster uploads than what you get with any other connection type. This can be invaluable for people who frequently use Zoom or Voice over IP (VoIP), host livestreams, or regularly upload large files. Fiber is priced similarly to cable, but it’s only available in certain areas.
- Cable is fast and widely available, with most providers delivering download speeds up to 1,200 Mbps. Cable bandwidth is shared with other connections in your neighborhood, so your speeds can slow down when there’s a lot of network congestion in your area. But cable is generally much faster than DSL.
- DSL is delivered to your home over existing phone lines. This makes it one of the more widely available options, and in some cases, the least expensive. Speeds vary, but connections generally top out at 100 Mbps.
- 4G LTE and 5G home internet uses a wireless signal from a nearby cellular transmitter to get you a connection. It’s a relatively new technology, so availability is limited, but you can usually get fast speeds. Plus, providers have attracted new customers with competitive prices, no annual requirements, and other perks.
- Satellite internet is delivered to your home over a satellite service, much like satellite TV. It generally offers much slower speeds than either DSL or cable, but it’s available pretty much anywhere (even rural areas).
Are there any hidden fees in internet plans?
There are a number of things to look out for that hide in the fine print, and they can turn into unexpected costs if you’re not aware of them. When choosing a plan, be especially aware of the following:
- Contract length
- Setup and activation fees
- Early termination fees
- Monthly equipment costs
- Overage fees
- Data caps
Does living in an HOA community affect my internet options?
Living in an HOA community or subdivision can have an impact on choosing an ISP because the roads are private. ISPs can’t build a connection unless the HOA board allows them to. That said, HOAs will usually make certain options available for residents. If you don’t like the options currently available, your best bet is to reach out to your HOA president to talk about allowing new services in. You also have the option of satellite internet connections that don’t require additional infrastructure to be built. (But you’ll probably have to get that satellite dish approved by your HOA as well.)
Is “unlimited” data really unlimited?
Unlimited data is usually unlimited—unlike with cell phone plans, internet providers with no data caps often let you use as much data as you please without imposing overage charges or throttling your speeds. However, that can sometimes happen. And you’ll also need to be more conscious of data caps with satellite internet providers. Technically a satellite provider’s data is unlimited, but in reality you’ll often have a small amount of high-speed data to use before your speeds get slowed down considerably.
Are advertised internet speeds accurate?
Most internet plans will advertise connections “up to” a certain speed. The actual speed will vary according to different factors based on the type of connection you have. If reliability is an important factor, you can contact your ISP to ask about average speeds or to ask about which factors might impact speeds in your location. As mentioned above, some ISPs offer plans with guaranteed speeds for small businesses.
If you’re curious about how fast your current connection actually is, try our internet speed test.
What’s the difference between home Wi-Fi providers and other ISPs?
If you want to set up a Wi-Fi connection in your home, the first step is choosing an ISP. Every ISP offers a wired connection along with a router, which allows you to create a Wi-Fi network in your home. The difference with Wi-Fi as opposed to traditional wired connections has to do with how you connect the devices within your home or business.
Wi-Fi allows you to connect your devices to your network wirelessly as opposed to connecting them to your modem with a network cable. Wireless connections are much more convenient and are necessary to connect many tablets and laptops, though traditional wired connections are more secure.