How to Choose an Internet Service Provider
Choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be tough. You have to wade through confusing contract details, endless package choices, and tons of fine print—and you still might end up making the wrong choice!
If that’s something you want to avoid, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll walk you through the process of choosing an ISP from start to finish. Grab some coffee, and let’s dive in!
1. Find internet providers in your area.
The first step in choosing an internet provider is figuring out what’s available in your area. There are two reasons you need to do this first:
- Not every provider is available in every area. Coverage areas differ from provider to provider, so right out of the gate your choices will be limited to the providers that offer service in your area.
- Prices, speeds, special offers, and package lineups also vary by location. What you see advertised online is not necessarily what you can get. Always check the availability of a package in your area before you decide it’s the one for you. Along the same lines, many providers also have different pricing structures for different areas, so be prepared to possibly pay more—or less—after a move.
To find the best internet plans in your area, you can do one of two things: You can call providers for information and deal with the inevitable headache that comes with that—or you can use our Zip Finder. It pulls all the internet provider info from your area into one place to make it easy to compare and choose a provider.
Just enter your zip code and we’ll list all the providers in your area. Simple as that.
2. Compare plans, pricing, speeds, and more.
- Plans and pricing
- Installation and equipment costs
- Customer satisfaction ratings
- Data caps and overage fees
We’ll give you a brief overview of these things after you enter your zip code, but if you’re looking for a deeper dive, we’ve got that too. You can find all the details on these points in our provider comparison reviews.
HSI Provider Comparison Reviews
At HighSpeedInternet.com, we’re constantly measuring providers against each other to find out which is more deserving of your dollars. In the comparisons listed below, you’ll find overviews of each ISP’s plans, pricing, equipment, mobile apps, availability, customer experience, and more.
We’ll also throw in some interesting points of comparison along with specific recommendations for certain users. Of course, we back it all up with plenty of real-world use, hours of research, and loads of customer reviews.
Top-Ranked Providers to Look For
Some providers go far beyond the rest. Here’s info on top performers and what they’re known for, all based on HighSpeedInternet.com’s annual customer satisfaction survey. (Remember that some or all of these providers may not be available in your area. Use our Zip Finder to check availability.)
3. Find how much internet speed you need.
Once you know which providers offer service in your area and what packages are available, it’s time to figure out exactly what you need out of your internet service. In the end, a company can provide amazing customer service and have nationwide availability, but if the service isn’t fast enough for what you need, it’ll fall short.
There are several questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your speed needs:
How often do you stream HD video?
1080p video needs about 5 Mbps for good performance, while 4K will eat up about 25 Mbps.
How many people stream at once in your home on a regular basis?
You’ll have to multiply those speed requirements in the first question by the number of simultaneous streamers. You’ll probably want to leave yourself a little cushion as well.
How many smart home devices are connected to your internet?
These devices—especially security cameras that upload data continuously—can eat your bandwidth up real quick.
If all that math is too much to keep track of, use our How Much Speed Do You Need? tool instead. It will help you easily determine how much internet speed you need for your home or business. All you need to do is answer a few questions, and we’ll give you your recommendation.
4. Test your internet speed.
Now that you know what internet speed you need, test your current connection to see how it matches up. You probably already have an idea of how satisfied you are with your current internet. But testing the connection to see what your actual speed is will give you a benchmark to compare against other providers and packages.
5. Know if you’re switching providers.
If your answer is yes, are you currently under a service agreement? Otherwise known as contracts, these agreements could end up costing you hundreds of dollars in early termination fees (ETFs). Although many providers have moved to a contract-free model in the last few years, a few still require you to pay up if you break up:
|Provider||Early Termination Fees|
|AT&T||Charges up to $180.00 to terminate your contract, depending on how much time is left in the term.*|
|Frontier||Charges as much as $200.00.**|
|Xfinity||Can charge as much as $230.00.**|
*Prorated by number of months completed. **Varies by service and agreement.
Don’t plan on getting out of paying these fees, either. Most providers are pretty strict on enforcing them, though you can always give it a try.
In addition to shelling out these termination fees, you’ll also be responsible for returning your old equipment, like modems and wireless routers. This is usually a simple matter of taking them to a designated drop-off point, but each provider has different instructions.
6. Choose your internet provider.
Now it’s time for the exciting part! Once you know how much speed you need and which providers offer service in your area, you can make an informed decision that you’ll be happy with. You can do this! You’ve done your research, and we’ve got your back every step of the way.
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).