Compare Internet Providers
Find the best internet provider in your area.
If you’re moving to a new area, 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
What to look for to find the best high-speed internet
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 that can make the difference between a good experience with your internet plan and a terrible one. Here’s what you should look for before you sign up:
- Customer service—Fast internet is great, but if your connection goes out, responsive customer service is invaluable. If you work from home or are running a small business, this becomes even more important. You can get a feel of 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—While monthly plan pricing is generally what we look at first, unexpected up-front costs from installation fees and equipment can place a lot of stress on your budget. It’s also good to know which ISPs provide more options, such as the option to buy or rent equipment like modems and routers.
- Data caps and overage fees—Just as installation fees can be a nasty surprise up front, data caps and overage fees can be a serious problem later down the road. This is especially true if your plan has a hard data cap. Depending on how much data you use in a month, a plan’s data limits might not matter—or they might be a deal-breaker.
- Contracts—Sometimes a low-priced plan isn’t worth getting roped into a long contract. If you know you might be relocating soon or you want to keep the option to switch providers, ISPs that offer plans with no monthly contract might be worth the trade-off.
- Guarantees—Many providers have plans geared specifically toward small businesses that guarantee constant connection, fast tech support, or other benefits. For example, some ISPs offer dedicated connections that are guaranteed to maintain a certain speed no matter how high traffic gets on your network. That speed might not be faster than a standard broadband connection, but at least you’ll know it’ll keep working.
- Quality commitments—Some ISPs have service-level agreements (SLA) that explicitly lay out network expectations like latency, downtime, and the mean time to repair (MTTR) outages.
Again, depending on your situation, some of these factors might not matter at all, or one of them could be far more important in making your decision than connection speed. It’s important to know which ones matter to you. Are up-front costs an issue? Do I use a lot of data? Is speed the only thing I really care about? Once you know what you want, it’s time to compare your options.
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
If speed is the main thing you’re looking for in an internet plan, you’re probably thinking of download speed; however, that’s not the only kind of speed that matters.
If you play a lot of online games, it’s usually more important to have a connection with low latency than it is to have a fast download speed. Fiber and cable connections can have very low latency.
If you’re a content creator and regularly upload video or other large files, the most important speed for you will be your upload speed. Fiber is usually your best option if it’s available. For more information, check out our look at what is a good download and upload speed.
Pro Tip: 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
How fast of an internet connection do I actually need?
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. Here’s a basic overview of internet speed recommendations:
- 0–5 Mbps—Good for checking email, web surfing, or streaming music on one device.
- 5–40 Mbps—Works for streaming video on one device, video chat, online gaming for one player.
- 40–100 Mbps—Enough speed to stream HD video on a few devices or to download large files.
- 100–500 Mbps—Can handle streaming UHD video on multiple screens or online gaming with multiple players.
- 500–1000 Mbps—Works for pretty much everything.
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.
- DSL is delivered to your home over existing phone lines. This makes it one of the more widely available options and one of the least expensive. Speeds vary, but newer phone lines often provide speeds almost on par with cable connections in some areas.
- Cable is generally faster than DSL, but bandwidth is shared with other connections in your neighborhood. That means your actual speeds can vary depending on the amount of traffic.
- 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).
- Fiber-optic internet offers incredibly fast connections and is only getting faster as technology improves. Unlike most connections, which allow users to download information faster than they can upload it, fiber connections have symmetrical upload and download speeds. This can be invaluable for people who stream live feeds, use Voice over IP (VoIP), or regularly upload large files. It’s priced similarly to cable, but it’s available only in certain 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 affect my internet options?
Living in an HOA 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. However, although some unlimited plans don’t have any hard caps or overage fees, they do still place some restrictions on how much data you can use and throttle your speed after you hit a certain amount. If your ISP doesn’t make these distinctions abundantly clear in your contract, make sure that you contact them to clarify the situation, especially if you’re running a business.
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.