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.

att availability map

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Now that you’ve used the Zip Finder to narrow down your choices, it’s time to compare the providers in your area to see which is the best fit. Here’s what you need to look at when comparing ISPs:


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, 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’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.)

Best for Overall Customer Satisfaction: RCN

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

View RCN Plans

Best for Internet Speed: Optimum

Optimum took top honors for internet speed, with RCN and Xfinity following right behind.

View Optimum Plans
View RCN Plans
View Xfinity Plans

Customer Service and Tech Support: RCN

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

View RCN Plans

Monthly Bill: RCN

RCN took first place when it comes to billing practices as well. Windstream also received high marks in this area, leading it to a solid second-place standing.

View RCN Plans
View Windstream Plans


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.

How much internet speed you need button

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.

internet speed test button

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:

ProviderEarly Termination Fees
AT&TCharges up to $180.00 to terminate your contract, depending on how much time is left in the term.*
FrontierCharges as much as $200.00.**
XfinityCan 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.

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


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.

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 get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).

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