DSL or Cable? How to Choose the Right Connection for You

by | Jul 12, 2016 | Equipment Guides, FAQ | 5 

Feeling confused? Broadband, DSL, cable, high-speed internet, fiber, coaxial cable, copper lines, bandwidth, upload and download speeds. What is all this jargon anyway? You just want internet connectivity that’s affordable and reliable. We get it and we’re here to help you decide. We’re going to break down the differences between the two most prominent types of high-speed internet service: DSL and cable. We’ll lay out clear advantages to both and give you some guidance about how to pick an internet service provider that works for you. First, let’s take a brief look at the technology that delivers internet to your house so you can better understand the difference between DSL and cable.  

How it works (Pssst… it’s NOT a series of tubes)

There are some basic technology differences in how the internet arrives at your home that are relevant to this discussion, so let’s start with how DSL and cable work.


DSL stands for digital subscriber line and it utilizes the phone lines that already run to your home. Don’t get this confused with your grandma’s dial-up connection, however. DSL internet service may run on the old copper wires that deliver phone service, but it doesn’t monopolize your phone connection and it’s much, much faster. DSL is widely available, even in rural areas, because nearly every part of the country has access to phone service. Unless you’re in the Alaskan Bush gnawing on caribou jerky, you can probably tap into a DSL connection.


This type of internet service is pretty much what it sounds like. Running on the same coaxial cable that delivers your TV service, broadband internet usually provides a faster connection. Unlike DSL, the technology depends upon a shared neighborhood hub and is not available in some rural areas. Want to understand more about the backbone of the internet and how it arrives at your home? See an in-depth explanation on our blog. Why Can I Only Get a Few Internet Providers?  

How to decide whether DSL or cable is better for you

It depends. And like buying a car, it’s not just about speed. You need to pick a provider that’ll deliver internet connectivity reliably at an affordable price. To do that, you’ll need to decide how much speed you actually need first. Use our speed tool to determine your household internet usage before you start searching for a provider, so you don’t end up paying for speeds you won’t use. Having a fancy sports car is exciting, but if it just sits in the garage and you never get to drive it, it’s probably not a great investment. It’s the same idea with high-speed internet.
  1.  Find out how much internet speed you need with our internet speed tool.
  2. Use our zip code tool to identify both DSL and cable providers in your area.

The Advantages



Before we go point by point and give you a clear picture of the advantages of using a DSL provider, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the service itself. As we stated before, DSL is not dial-up. While it uses phone lines to deliver internet connectivity, it doesn’t disrupt your telephone connection. And it’s not a shared line, although the connection speed does diminish given the distance from the provider. Typically, DSL is more affordable because companies don’t have to invest in a great deal of infrastructure or maintenance to deliver internet connection to your home. It uses durable lines that have been there for years. Some of the benefits DSL offers over cable include:  


Cable internet service is generally faster than DSL, but not every household needs the kinds of speeds that cable offers. Unless you frequently stream HD video or do online gaming, most DSL providers in your area should be able to deliver the connectivity you’re looking for. And even if you do have cable internet service in your area, you may decide to opt for a DSL provider like Windstream if your connection frequently slows during hours of peak usage. To see what speeds you’re receiving now, use our handy speed test tool. Some of the benefits cable has over DSL include the following:
  • Faster speeds
  • Best for streaming video, gaming
  • Can bundle with cable TV service for affordability

Is There a Reason to Have Both DSL and Cable?

Not really. For the most part, you’d be doubling your costs without any significant gain in connectivity. If you currently have a cable TV subscription, opting to bundle in internet will get you a price that competes with what you’ll pay to get DSL. But if cable isn’t available in your area, or you only have access to a cable provider that makes you groan every time you pick up the phone (we’re looking at you, Comcast), you may want explore switching to DSL. Here are a few situations in which having DSL as a primary or secondary high-speed internet provider might be helpful.

Data Caps

Ah, the dreaded data cap. You’re streaming, full to the gills with your favorite Netflix shows and happy as a clam, and then it hits. The data cap notice. While several prominent cable providers use data caps, it’s not a common practice among DSL providers. If you find yourself bumping up against your cap in agony, month after month, you may want to switch to a DSL provider to lessen the pain of overage fees.

Peak Hours

If you can tell what time of the day it is not by looking at the clock, but by how long your little buffering circle chases its own tail around and around, then you might be experiencing some serious congestion with your cable provider. Because high-speed internet provided by cable uses a shared hub, you’re at the mercy of your neighbor’s viewing habits. Switch to a DSL provider to experience less latency and lag during peak usage hours.   Now that you know the difference between DSL and cable and what the advantages of having one over the other are, use our internet speed test to help you determine how much internet speed you need then use our zip code tool to identify both DSL and cable providers in your area and compare packages and plans side by side.

About the Author

Kaz is a writer, blogger and social media junkie. She uses her tenacity to investigate the best of the Internets.

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