Dial-Up Internet Providers

Find high-speed alternatives in your area.

 

What is dial-up internet

Dial-up internet uses the telephone network to connect. Unlike DSL, which separates internet data from speech, dial-up connections essentially function as telephone calls. That means that dial-up connections don’t require any additional infrastructure other than a phone line, so anyone with a working landline phone can connect via dial-up.

Of course, since every connection counts as a phone call, it’s important to have a provider you can dial in your local area. Otherwise, every minute spent online counts as a long-distance call, so even if your internet service provider (ISP) is cheap, your phone bill will be massive.

Dial-up speeds don’t reach over 56 kbps, which means they don’t qualify as broadband or high-speed internet. This also means that dial-up internet is too slow for streaming video or audio, playing modern online games, and using video chat.

In fact, many websites have trouble loading properly on dial-up speeds. The only thing you can really do on a dial-up connection is access very simple websites, send email, and play some older video games. We strongly recommend considering other provider types before choosing a dial-up internet plan.

Dial-up internet providers

ProviderSpeeds up toPrice Range
NetZero56 kbpsFree–$29.95/mo.
Juno56 kbpsFree–$29.95/mo.
DSL Extreme56 kbps$9.95/mo.–$12.95mo.

Although there were once many dial-up providers, most have either switched their customers over to DSL or stopped offering service altogether. In 2013, only 3% of Americans still used dial-up, and that number continues to go down.1,2 There are some providers, such as NetZero and Juno that still offer dial-up service.

Pros and cons of dial-up internet

Pros

  • Wide availability
  • Low monthly costs

Cons

  • Very slow speeds
  • Need for phone line and number
  • Specialized equipment
  • Difficulty accessing websites

Pros of dial-up

Wide availability—Since dial-up runs over the normal telephone system, anywhere with a functioning landline can technically get dial-up internet service. This gives it a slight edge over DSL, which also runs over telephone lines but requires some additional infrastructure that isn’t available everywhere.

Low monthly cost—Dial-up service is very cheap. In fact, you can get it free from several providers. Just keep in mind that the service fee doesn’t include the cost of the phone line making the call, or any additional charges or fees that you might get from the phone company.

Cons of dial-up

Very slow speeds—Dial-up speeds can reach a maximum of 56 kbps. This is almost 20 times slower than the slowest DSL connection. To put this into perspective, an audio CD that could be downloaded in less than ten seconds on a gigabit fiber connection (1,000 Mbps) would take over two days to download on a dial-up connection.

Need for phone line and number—Although this was once dial-up’s biggest strength, it’s now a major weakness. As cell phones have become more common, landline phones have become obsolete. Even if your home is already wired for a landline phone, you need to have active service through the phone company in order to use dial-up, and this can often be more expensive than the internet service itself.

Specialized equipment—A dial-up modem certainly isn’t cutting-edge technology by any means, but this bit of ‘90s tech doesn’t come standard on computers anymore and most dial-up providers won’t provide one. Fortunately, they’re also used by fax machines so you can still buy them, but that’s an additional cost in order to get the world’s slowest internet access.

Difficulty accessing websites—Sure, waiting for two minutes for a Google search on dial-up is inconvenient, but many sites won’t load at all. This is especially true of secure sites like banks and government agencies, which will time-out before the page loads. This severely limits the economic impact of dial-up internet and is why efforts to bridge the digital divide focus not just on bringing internet access, but on bringing broadband access (25 Mbps or faster).

Alternatives to dial-up internet

There are lots of different types of internet connection and all of them are better options than dial-up. That said, if you’re interested in dial-up because you want the most basic option out there with none of the bells and whistles, here are a few alternatives you might want to consider instead.

DSL internet

DSL internet was one of the first practical alternatives to dial-up and increased download speeds dramatically, up to about 100 Mbps. These days, DSL is an aging technology, and most ISPs are moving away from DSL toward faster and more reliable technologies like fiber. One nice thing is that DSL uses the same telephone network that dial-up uses, so if you had access to dial-up before, there’s a good chance you can get DSL.

4G LTE home internet

Most people have shifted from landline telephones to mobile, and fortunately internet service has moved that direction too. 4G LTE home internet uses the same cellular networks that deliver mobile phone service. Like DSL, it’s not the fastest, usually below about 50 Mbps, but it’s widely available and has some very affordable options.

Satellite internet

Satellite internet is the most widely available internet option, covering almost every part of North America. Satellite internet is faster than dial-up, but it’s also considerably more expensive. If you’re considering dial-up, satellite internet is likely your only other internet option. If that’s the case for you, we still suggest going with satellite internet, as even the cheapest satellite plans will be a huge upgrade from dial-up. Most satellite speeds are around 25 Mbps, but some can reach up to 100 Mbps/

Dial-up internet FAQ

Is dial-up internet still available?

Yes, dial-up internet still exists, though it’s not very practical for navigating the modern internet. You can still get it through providers like NetZero and Juno, both of which have free options.

How fast is dial-up internet?

Dial-up internet has a maximum speed of 56 kbps. In practice, dial-up speeds can be much slower. The FCC defines broadband as any connection with a download speed of 25 Mbps and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. That means that even the fastest dial-up connection would have to be almost 500 times faster in order to meet this standard.

Does anyone still use dial-up internet?

Although dial-up service has largely been replaced by newer technologies like DSL and cable, there were still over 2 million people using dial-up internet in 2015.2 It’s difficult to estimate exact numbers since dial-up isn’t included in broadband internet statistics, but it’s safe to say that there are still many people who use it.

Are DSL and dial-up internet the same thing?

While they share some similarities, DSL and dial-up are two different types of internet connections. Both run over copper phone lines, but DSL is hundreds of times faster and doesn’t tie up your phone line when it’s running. That also means that a DSL connection can stay online all the time, whereas dial-up connections have to dial the number of your provider each time you want to get online.

Is dial-up internet right for me?

Due to the numerous downsides of dial-up internet, we strongly recommend you don’t rely on dial-up internet. While many choose it due to its low cost or wide availability, there are usually better options that are just as cheap and just as widespread.

Dial-up is a practical option really only for people who fit the following criteria:

  • Currently have an active landline phone
  • Already own a dial-up modem compatible with their computer
  • Don’t have access to DSL
  • Can call their ISP using a local phone number
  • Don’t use the internet for work, banking, video, real-time audio, video chat, or data storage

In almost every case, there are better internet options. There are better options for free and low-cost internet. There are better options for rural areas. If you’re not sure which one works for you, find out more by learning about the different internet provider types.

  1. Joanna Brenner, Pew Research Center, “3% of Americans Use Dial-Up at Home,” August 21, 2013. Accessed March 29, 2021.
  2. Camille Ryan, United States Census Bureau, “Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2016,” August 8, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2021.