How to Choose an Internet Service Provider

When you’re choosing an internet service provider (ISP), you want one that gives you fast speeds and fair pricing. You’ll also want to know if the ISP has a good reputation for customer service, and it always helps if the provider offers extra perks like no-cost installation, no-contract options, and unlimited data.

Depending on where you live, you may have to choose between two or three different providers operating in your area. We’ll walk you through the process of deciding which ISP is best for your needs.

1. Find internet providers in your area.

The first step in choosing an internet provider is figuring out what’s available in your area.

You can find out quickly by typing your zip code into the search tool below.

Our zip tool pulls all the internet provider info from your area into one place to make it easy to compare and choose a provider. Not every provider is available in every area, so this gives you a more accurate snapshot of what kinds of internet types are available, which speeds you can get, and at what prices.

2. Compare plans, pricing, speeds, and more.

You’ll want an internet plan that gives you adequate speeds, dependable service, and a large enough data limit for the month—all at a price you can afford.

All internet providers have their own specialties, and it helps to pick one that coincides with what you need the most. Here are the biggest issues to consider:

  • Plans and pricing
  • Speeds
  • Installation and equipment costs
  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • Data caps and overage fees

Some providers deliver ultrafast speeds, while others have more straightforward plans that are easier on the wallet. Many providers impose data caps that limit how much internet you can use per month—though some of them offer unlimited data.

You can also sometimes find plans that have no annual contract requirements. We recommend that over a plan with a contract because then you can quit anytime without having to pay early termination fees (ETFs).

As our customer satisfaction survey makes clear, providers vary in terms of issues like reliability and customer service. And of course there are often promotions and discounts, including ones to cover the cost of installation.

Pro tip

Many internet service providers impose data caps to limit how much data you use per month. Read our guide to find providers with the most generous data allowances.

HSI provider comparison reviews 

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 by offering incredibly fast speeds, great prices, or a powerful fiber-optic network. Some do all of the above. 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 check tool to check availability.)

Best for overall customer satisfaction: EarthLink

EarthLink scored the highest in overall customer satisfaction this year, thanks to a combination of great installation, pricing, and customer service.

 
View EarthLink Plans

Best for internet speed: Xfinity

Xfinity took top honors for internet speed, with Verizon and EarthLink following right behind.

View Xfinity Plans
View Verizon Plans
View EarthLink Plans

Best for customer service and tech support: EarthLink

EarthLink also took the top spot in customer service and tech support—and by a fairly wide margin.

 
View EarthLink Plans

Best for monthly billing: EarthLink

EarthLink took first place when it comes to billing practices as well. Optimum and Windstream also received high marks in this area, leading them to solid second and third-place standings.

View EarthLink Plans
View Optimum Plans
View Windstream Plans

Enter your zip code to see which of these providers is available in your area.

3. Look for promotions, discounts, and bundle deals.

Once you’ve shopped around to see what each of the providers in your area can offer, then you should take a look at any potential discounts or promotions you can get by signing up. You also should look into deals you can get on bundle packages if you’re interested in combining your internet service with a TV or phone plan.

Major internet providers like Xfinity and AT&T often give bonuses to new customers in the form of VISA® gift cards or no-cost subscriptions to streaming services. It’s also sometimes possible to get breaks on installation or equipment costs when you sign up for qualifying plans.

Pro tip:

Read our best internet deals guide for the latest ways to save money on internet service.

Get cheaper internet with the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit

Millions of qualified households can save up to $50–$75 on their monthly internet bills through the FCC’s new Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). The program helps low-income American households and those who have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, someone in your household must be enrolled in certain social programs (Lifeline, SNAP, National School Lunch Program, and others)—or you can qualify based on your income. Applications for the EBB opened on May 12, 2021, and the program will last six months after the pandemic is officially declared as over or when EBB funds are depleted.

The program also includes $100 off the purchase of a computer or tablet in addition to the monthly internet discount. Major internet providers like AT&T, Xfinity, Verizon, and many others are participating, so you likely don’t have to change plans to get the discounts. For more information on how to apply and to see a list of participating providers, check out our complete EBB guide.

4. Figure how much internet speed you need.

Now it’s time to figure out how much speed you need. You’ll need an internet plan with adequate download and upload speeds to accomplish all of your everyday Wi-Fi tasks with ease. You want internet that’s fast—but you don’t need it to be too fast necessarily, or else you’ll end up paying too much for bandwidth you won’t use. 

Use our How Much Speed Do You Need? tool to figure out what kind of speed requirements you have at your home or business. All you need to do is answer a few questions and we’ll give you our recommendation.

How much speed you need

Internet speedWhat you can do
0–5 MbpsCheck email, read news articles, stream in HD on a single device
6–40 MbpsStream in HD on 2–4 devices, do online gaming, run 1–2 smart devices
41–100 MbpsStream in 4K on 2–4 devices, play online games with multiple players, download large files quickly, run 3–5 smart devices
101–500 MbpsStream in 4K on 5+ devices, download very big files very quickly, run numerous smart devices
501–1,000+ MbpsStream in 4K on 10+ devices, do basically anything on lots of devices with no slowdowns

There are several questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your speed needs:

How often do you stream movies and TV?

Streaming video in 1080p needs at least 5 Mbps for good performance, while 4K will require download speeds of at least 25 Mbps—if not faster.

How many people stream and download on their devices in your home on a regular basis?

You’ll want faster speeds if multiple people use your Wi-Fi. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 25 Mbps per person—so if you’re living in a household with three other people, then 100 Mbps will be ideal for you to stream, game, work, and attend Zoom meetings with ease.

How fast should your upload speeds be?

You’ll want relatively fast upload speeds if you work or study from home and depend a good internet connection to do things like attending Zoom meetings or uploading files to Google Drive.

Most internet connections have relatively slow upload speeds, but fiber internet gives you “symmetrical” speeds—meaning your uploads will be just as fast as your downloads. Not everyone will need symmetrical upload speeds, but it really comes in handy for upload-heavy tasks.

Uploading activities:

  • Attending Zoom meetings
  • Uploading files to the cloud
  • Hosting a livestream
  • Uploading content to social media

Downloading activities:

  • Downloading files from Google Drive
  • Reading news articles
  • Playing online games
  • Streaming video

How many smart home devices are connected to your internet?

These devices can eat your bandwidth up real quick—especially Bluetooth security cameras, which upload data continuously.

How much internet speed you need button

5. Test your internet speed.

Now that you know what internet speed you need, use our speed test to see how it matches up with your current connection. 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.

internet speed test button

6. Know if you’re switching providers.

If you’re in the middle of switching from one internet provider to another, you’ll want to double-check whether you are currently under a service agreement and what the terms are. If you bail before the contract is up, it could cost you a lot of money in early termination fees (ETFs)—often ranging from $10 to $15 for each month you have left on your contract.

Don’t plan on getting out of paying these fees, either. Most providers are pretty strict on enforcing them—if you don’t pay, the unpaid fees could go to collections and harm your credit score.

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.

For more tips on switching providers, check out our complete guide.

7. 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’ve done your research, and we’ve got your back every step of the way. Go ahead, enjoy your new internet.

If you’re ready to choose a provider, check out the providers available in your area by entering your zip code below.

Author -

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).

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.

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