Are You Overpaying for Internet?

Deciding how much to pay for Internet service can be tricky. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge varied amounts for similar Internet packages, making it difficult to know how to choose the right one. Many people assume that doing a simple price comparison will help them pick the best Internet plan, but there’s a lot more to it than simply comparing costs.

What to Consider When Picking an ISP

The most important thing to consider when choosing an Internet Service Provider is the speed-to-price ratio. There is no standardized cost for any given speed of Internet, so pricing can vary greatly.

As important as speed is, however, it’s far from the only factor to consider. Before you make a decision, evaluate other aspects of each ISP. Do they have high customer service ratings? Is the company known for frequent outages? Are there any data limits or overage charges you should be prepared for? These are all important — and often underestimated — facets of Internet service.

The last important item to consider before picking an ISP is your service needs. Are you a heavy Internet user who streams videos and music? If so, you may need a faster connection. Conversely, if you only use the Internet to check email and Facebook, you may be able to get by with less bandwidth and a lower monthly rate.

Terms to Know

Understanding some basics of Internet service packages will help make your decision easier. If nothing else, you should understand the terms used for different connection types, and you should be familiar with speed tier measurements.

The four main Internet connections are satellite, DSL, cable, and fiber. Each type connects users to the Internet in a different way.

  1. Satellite Internet, as the name suggests, sends Internet data via satellites. To subscribe to this type of Internet, users must have a satellite receiver.
  1. DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is a type of connection that transmits data through telephone lines. Subscribers will have an individual connection point at their location.
  1. Cable Internet is transmitted through coaxial cables, like premium television channels. This option may not be available in rural locations. Cable users are typically linked to a main cable line that services a larger area.
  1. Fiber-optic Internet carries data as beams of light through fiber-optic cables. This option allows for incredibly high speeds, but fiber networks aren’t as widely available as cable or DSL.

As for speed, the most common figure you’ll encounter is bandwidth. Bandwidth is measured in megabits per second (Mbps), and it shows how much data can be moved in a second.

Comparing Internet Service Providers

After you’ve mastered the basics of service terminology, it’s time to do a side-by-side comparison to see how the various ISPs stack up.

Under 10 Mbps

An Internet connection under 10 Mbps will work for checking email, accessing social media, and running simple Internet searches. If you plan on streaming lots of videos or music, this probably isn’t the right connection for you.

Fiber: The AT&T U-verse network offers the best deal in this tier. The U-verse ELITE package offers 6 Mbps for $20 per month. AT&T is also one of the bigger companies on this list, with a long history of customer service and reliability. Frontier offers up to 6 Mbps for $34 per month with a 2-year contract, and that cost includes a wireless router. This is a great no-hassle plan, but that convenience comes with a higher price tag.

Cable: Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Mediacom all offer cable services at speeds under 10 Mbps. Time Warner comes in first, offering speeds up to 6 Mbps for $29 per month, while Cox offers speeds up to 5 Mbps for $34 per month. Mediacom also falls short — while pricing is not listed online until purchase, they are the only cable provider that enforces a data cap, allowing users only 150 GB of data per month.

DSL: Windstream is a solid DSL option, matching Time Warner Cable’s advertised speeds up to 6 Mbps for $29 per month.

Satellite: Satellite subscribers should look to HughesNet for their services. The company offers up to 5 Mbps for $39 per month with a 55 GB cap.

10–30 Mbps

This mid-range Internet service is great for moderate users. It’s perfect for surfing Facebook, watching YouTube videos, and streaming music. While service may slow down during large data transfers, these are not bad plans for the average consumer.

Fiber: In the fiber pool, AT&T U-verse again offers one of the best deals for the money in this service range. Its U-verse MAX TURBO service boasts up to 24 Mbps at $25 per month.

Cable: For cable subscribers, the XFINITY Performance 25 package offers up to 25 Mbps for $39 per month. XFINITY has also recently redoubled its efforts to give users a good support experience, meaning customer service will likely be excellent. Time Warner Cable offers its Extreme plan of up to 30 Mbps for $44 per month and its Turbo plan at up to 20 Mbps for $44 per month. Both of these plans are on the high end of the pricing spectrum for this bracket.

DSL: Windstream’s Enhanced Speed plan offers up to 25 Mbps for $39 per month, making it a strong and affordable DSL plan.

Satellite: If you’re looking to bundle with TV services, DISH might still be a good choice.

30–100 Mbps

This high-speed tier allows users to transfer large amounts of data and stream media with ease. This is great for avid media streamers or those who work from home. Almost every major high-speed Internet company offers a package in the 30–100 Mbps arena.

Fiber: AT&T offers a stellar fiber option. Its U-verse Internet 75 package is $35 per month for up to 75 Mbps. While still a solid deal, AT&T’s U-verse Internet plan would be a better option where available.

Cable: Charter Spectrum offers a cable plan comparable to AT&T’s options, providing up to 60 Mbps for $39 per month. Rounding out this strong group of midrange options, XFINITY charges $44 per month for up to 75 Mbps on its Performance plan. Cox’s Preferred plan runs subscribers $54 per month for up to 50 Mbps, a slightly inflated rate compared to top offers. Time Warner Cable also misses the mark in this speed bracket — its Ultimate plan is $64 per month for 50 Mbps.

DSL: CenturyLink is the DSL leader in this range, currently offering packages with one- and two-year contracts. its one-year package is $29 per month for up to 40 Mbps, which is a great deal considering that most companies charge $25 for half as much speed.

100 Mbps and Up

Anything above 100 Mbps is at the top end of Internet service. These plans are for users who absolutely can’t wait for their computer to catch up with their streaming needs. Plans like this also make large data transfers significantly easier.

Fiber: In the FiOS family, you can get up to 100 Mbps for $54 per month, up to 300 Mbps for $164 per month, or up to 500 Mbps for $264 per month.  These high-speed plans are not for the faint of wallet, but will definitely provide the fastest Internet connections possible. Vivint offers up to 100 Mbps for $59 a month. This plan isn’t the fastest or cheapest, but the revolutionary technology makes it more easily accessible in some areas.

Cable: The XFINITY Blast! plan is one of the best cable deals in this speed bracket. You’ll be paying $49 per month to have up to 150 Mbps at your fingertips. Cox also offers moderately priced plans with tons of speed — its Premier plan offers up to 100 Mbps for $64, while its Ultimate plan is $84 per month for up to 150 Mbps. That’s not as cheap as the XFINITY Blast! plan, but it’s still reasonably priced for the amount of speed offered.

Cable plans step up considerably in price from there, but the amount of speed offered also doubles or triples in most cases. The XFINITY Extreme 250 plan runs $149 per month for up to 250 Mbps of Internet speed. Its XI Gigabit Pro plan offers up to 2,000 Mbps, but comes with a hefty price tag of $299 per month.

Next Steps

There’s a lot to consider when purchasing an Internet plan. Research your options before taking the leap. Take time to see what consumers in your area are saying about any given ISP. It’s also important to remember that most speeds listed for a plan are considered average maximum speeds — not guaranteed speeds. Don’t forget to ask if the plan has a speed cap or if it comes with any usage restrictions. These factors can greatly affect how your plan functions.

If you feel like you’re getting a raw deal on your Internet service, there are plenty of other plans out there. Check out providers in your area to see if you can find a plan that’s right for you.

*Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.