DSL vs. Cable: Which Is Right for You?
When you’re looking for a new internet provider, there are two connection types that you’ll notice pop up frequently: DSL and cable. Both are widely available, but which internet service is better? We’ll give you the scoop on what you need to know before you decide if cable or DSL is right for you.
The bottom line
Most customers should opt for cable internet over DSL. Cable internet is much faster, highly reliable, and widely available. DSL is nearing the end of its life cycle as a mainstream internet type, as many DSL services aren’t up to the task of modern internet usage.
Cable internet runs through an underground or aerial coaxial cable network (the same cables used for cable TV). Popular cable internet providers include Xfinity (Comcast), Spectrum, Cox Communications, and Optimum.
DSL broadband internet runs through landline phone wires. Moderate range DSL speeds of 10-25 Mbps are great if you’re looking for internet for light use, like checking email, streaming video on one or two devices, and occasional gaming. You can get DSL internet from providers like EarthLink, CenturyLink, and Frontier.
If you’ve ever wondered what the real difference between DSL and cable internet is, read on to find out which is best for you.
What is DSL internet?
DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It utilizes the standard copper phone lines, which is cool since most of us have a home or apartment that’s wired for a phone—even if we aren’t using landlines anymore.
DSL internet is widely available—even in rural areas—because nearly every part of the country has access to phone service. In fact, DSL is available to 84% of the US population.
A DSL modem will connect your standard phone line jack to the internet. Internet providers usually offer to rent out their own DSL modem and router, but you can buy your own to save some cash long term. The best DSL modem/router combo we’ve found is the Motorola MD1600, a sleek little number that has four Ethernet ports and supports the highest-possible DSL speeds.
You can learn more about how DSL works by checking out our DSL provider page.
Top 3 DSL internet service providers
|Provider||Speeds||Price||User ratings*||Order online|
|1.||10–80 Mbps||$49.95–$69.95/mo.**||3.3/5||View Plans for EarthLink|
|3.||Call for details||$64.99/mo.§||3.5/5||View Plans for Frontier|
* User ratings averaged from reviews submitted to HighSpeedInternet.com. Data as of 12/08/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
** with a 12 month contract.
‡ Speed may not be available in your area. Paperless billing or prepay required. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply. Get the fastest internet speed available at your location (max speed is up to 140 Mbps).
§ w/ Auto Pay and Paperless Bill per month. One-time charges apply.
We chose these as the top three DSL providers based on speed and availability within the largest part of the US. You may have DSL speeds faster or slower, or from other providers, based on your location.
Your DSL internet package will usually be priced according to speed. Faster DSL plans can offer connections over 100 Mbps, which is plenty for most online activities, including video streaming. . For context, streaming HD video requires about 5 Mbps per device, 4K video requires about 25 Mbps per device, and playing games on an Xbox One requires 2 Mbps.
DSL max speed will vary based on the provider and which plan you choose. Lightning-fast plans offer speeds over 100 Mbps, with the slowest delivering speeds less than 1 Mbps. Faster DSL plans will be better for HD video, gaming, or streaming on multiple devices.
Another thing to consider is that a DSL connection worsens as you get further away from the internet service provider. The twisted-pair cabling of a DSL network degrades in strength over long distances, so the closer you are to the ISP, the faster and more reliable your connection will be.
Figuring out how much speed you need at your house can be like taking a shot in the dark. Some people guess too high and pay for a faster connection than they need, and others end up with too little bandwidth to support their devices. Take our internet speed quiz to get a quick estimate of your ideal connection speed.
DSL vs. dial-up
DSL internet service may run on the same wires that deliver landline phone service, but that’s where the similarity to dial-up internet ends. DSL is way faster than the aggravatingly slow connection of yesteryear.
Dial-up is still trudging along at around 45 Kbps, which means you’ll wait more than 10 seconds to bring up a single search on Amazon. Streaming video? Not a good idea with dial-up. Gaming . . . um, good luck.
DSL offers a wide variety of plans, but all of them, even the slowest, race past dial-up. It doesn’t monopolize your phone connection, and it’s much, much faster than the dial-up services of the ‘90s. Plus, DSL is “always on,” so there’s no waiting to connect.
Moderate-speed DSL internet is great for browsing and streaming movies and music, but if you have a lot of devices streaming simultaneously, opt for a faster package.
DSL plans start between $20 and $45 per month.
You may be able to get a cheaper monthly bill with DSL compared to cable internet, though not always. And you certainly don’t get as much bang for your buck. However, DSL may be a good option if your only other option is satellite internet or if you simply don’t need fast internet speeds and can get a good deal.
A big perk of DSL internet plans is that you usually won’t get the rate hikes common with cable or fiber internet. Some DSL plans also offer unlimited data (like CenturyLink), which is a big plus in our book.
The future of DSL
Although DSL is still one of the most widely available types of internet in the United States, its days are numbered. Most DSL providers are pivoting toward faster and more reliable technologies like fiber and many are trying aggressively to get their current customers to switch.1
With download speeds that top out at around 100 Mbps, DSL isn’t the best choice for streaming video, online education, or telemedicine, all of which became much more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we see the release of higher resolution TVs, more powerful smartphones, and other new consumer devices, the demand for higher bandwidth will continue to rise just as it always has.
DSL can still be a good choice if it’s a cheaper option that meets your current needs, but for most of us, it won’t be a long-term solution. Look for the right opportunity to upgrade that works with your budget and keeps up with the needs of your household.
Is DSL internet right for you?
DSL internet may be a good option if any of the following apply to you:
- You use the internet mainly for web browsing, email, and other low-bandwidth activities.
- Your household has 2 or fewer internet users.
- You want internet at a low price.
What is cable internet?
Cable internet runs on the same copper coaxial cable lines that deliver cable TV to your house, so it’s available in most areas that support cable TV service. Cable internet is much faster than DSL. Cable is highly reliable and isn’t prone to outages due to storms, like satellite internet.
Since the infrastructure for delivering cable TV is in place for most of the country, cable internet is widely available. Cable internet is available to over 88% of the US population.
You can learn more about how cable internet works by checking out our cable internet provider page.
Top 3 cable internet service providers
|Provider||Speeds||Price||User Ratings*||Order online|
|1.||75–1,200 Mbps||$30.00–$80.00/mo.˚*||3.9/5||View Plans for Xfinity|
|2.||300–1,000 Mbps||$49.99–$89.99/mo.•||3.7/5||View Plans for Spectrum|
|3.||100–2,000 Mbps||$49.99–$149.99/mo.¶||3.7/5||View Plans for Cox Communications|
Data as of 9/29/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
* User ratings averaged from reviews submitted to HighSpeedInternet.com.
˚ Connect Plan: For 12 months. No term contract. Taxes and equipment not included. Includes $10/mo automatic payments and paperless billing discount. Regional price differences may apply.
*Connect More plan: No term contract. Taxes not included. Includes $10/mo automatic payments and paperless billing discount.
Gigabit Extra plan: For 24 months. No term contract. Taxes not included. Includes $10/mo automatic payments and paperless billing discount.
#Fast, Superfast, and Gigabit plans: For 24 months. No term contract. Taxes and equipment not included. Includes $10/mo automatic payments and paperless billing discount.
•Wireless speeds may vary.
¶ For the first 12 months.
We chose these as the top three cable internet providers based on speed and availability within the largest part of the US. You may have speeds faster or slower than those listed above, or you may have additional options that compete with these speeds, based on your location.
Cable internet speeds
When you sign up for cable internet, you’ll select your speed. Like DSL, the higher the speed, the more you pay. Pick the speed you think you’ll need. If you have a roommate who spends all summer gaming, or a big family with lots of streaming on multiple devices, then go with a higher speed plan.
The speeds listed are not guaranteed. Your actual internet connection speed will be equal to or lower than the speed package you purchase, which is usually listed as “speeds up to” since a provider cannot promise a given speed.
Slower internet packages save you money, while higher speed packages cost progressively more the faster they get. Fast connections are better for multiple devices, transferring files to the cloud, and online gaming.
Are you wondering what internet speed is best for your home? Take our quiz to find out how much internet speed you need.
Cable gigabit modems
If you’re looking for the fastest-possible internet connection, cable can deliver—many cable providers nowadays offer gigabit internet plans, with 1,000 Mbps download speeds.
To hit those record speeds, you’ll need a cable modem configured for DOCSIS 3.1.
DOCSIS 3.1 is the latest data transfer standard adopted for cable internet networks. Basically it’s a system that allows cable companies to hit potential max speeds of up to 10 Gbps—a mind-bending 10,000 Mbps—while delivering internet to customers like you.
Nobody offers 10 Gbps speeds yet for a residential internet plan. But a DOCSIS 3.1 modem is a prerequisite for an internet user to comfortably hit 1,000 Mpbs download speeds on a current gigabit plan.
DOCSIS 3.1 modems are more expensive than modems fitting the previous standard. And you won’t need one if you have a plan that’s lower than 1,000 Mbps. But investing in one will prepare you for the day when cable internet providers offer even faster options. As all great pioneers say, onward and upward we go.
Cable vs. fiber
Another type of internet you may have heard about is fiber. Fiber-optic internet is incredibly fast. Fiber offers speeds up to 5 Gbps (or 5,000 Mbps), which is the fastest internet available anywhere in the US.
What does 5 Gbps internet feel like? You might not notice much difference in your internet performance between 15 Mbps and 5 Gbps if you are browsing through social media or streaming video on Netflix, but if you’re trying to download games like Fortnite, it can turn a two-hour ordeal into a zippy two-minute install. Super fast internet speeds also make a big difference on Skype calls.
Why isn’t fiber available in my area?
This new technology requires new infrastructure to be installed, which comes at a hefty price. Fiber internet is currently only available to 27% of the US population, and is more expensive than cable internet. Many tech companies are interested in bringing fiber internet into their area, and some city municipalities are helping foot the bill for building fiber-optic networks in their area.
You can take a look at fiber internet providers and find out if it’s offered in your area.
Xfinity, Cox, and a few other cable providers offer superfast connection speeds that are comparable to fiber internet. Cable is available in most of the US and is perfect for HD streaming, gaming, and all types of home internet use.
Cable internet pricing
While more expensive than DSL, cable internet is more affordable than fiber and is widely available. It offers blazing fast speeds that perform well even in large households with heavy internet use.
Many cable internet providers offer bundle pricing, which makes cable internet more appealing than DSL to many people. You can bundle cable TV, internet, and home phone services for a discount.
Most cable packages offer a low introductory rate, so you’ll get a price break in the first six to 12 months. The rates hike up after the promotional period ends. As long as you’re aware of this, you will probably be totally happy with cable internet.
If your household includes frequent gamers, Skypers, and a few streamers, opt for one of the faster cable internet packages. Bundle with cable TV and phone to save money.
The future of cable internet
Cable internet may not have all the advantages of a fiber connection, but it can still deliver enough bandwidth to meet most people’s internet needs for the foreseeable future. Even if you upgrade every TV in your house to a fancy 4K OLED TV, your cable connection can handle it.
Cable technology hasn’t run out of potential yet, either. Cable providers are hoping to increase the speed of cable connections as high as 10 Gbps in order to compete with fiber providers.2 This means that even as people’s internet needs increase, cable providers will be able to offer faster plans without having to replace their entire network.
To be fair, the advances in multiplexing that could make 10 Gig cable internet possible benefit fiber even more, so the future might look more like cable companies just barely keeping their heads above water, rather than going head-to-head with fiber providers. The big advantage for many of us is that cable is here now, while fiber might not reach our neighborhoods for several more years.
Is cable internet right for you?
Cable internet is the best option for you if one or more of the following apply:
- You have multiple devices streaming simultaneously in your home.
- You frequently back up large files to the cloud.
- There’s a lot of online gaming going on at your house.
- You have budgeted for a higher-priced internet service that will go up after the introductory price.
Cable internet is a high-performance choice for all kinds of internet users. The higher speed plans will give you ample bandwidth for gaming, multiple device streaming, and everything in between.
Compare DSL and cable internet
|Price||Contract||Download speeds||Installation fee|
|DSL internet||$20–$70/mo.||0–2 years||.5 Mbps–100 Mbps||$50.00–$75.00||View DSL internet plans|
|Cable internet||$20–$125/mo.*||0–2 years|
10 Mbps–1,200 Mbps
|$9.99–$75.00||View cable internet plans|
|Download speeds||.5 Mbps–100 Mbps|
|View DSL internet plans|
10 Mbps–1,200 Mbps
|View cable internet plans|
*Prices subject to change after introductory period ends.
Data effective 5/23/2021. Not all offers available in all areas.
If you’re not a tech wizard, and you’re afraid that switching internet will be a big hassle, don’t worry! Whether you choose cable internet or DSL, the company you select will send a technician to professionally install and bring any necessary equipment. The technician will do the complete setup and make sure everything is working well before they leave.
If you do want to do self-installation, some providers offer a self-install discount.
Check out our handy self-installation guides for step-by-step instructions on getting your internet going.
Are there DSL or cable internet providers in my area?
If you’re wondering which options are available in your area, no worries! We’ve got you covered. We’ve compiled a list of the best internet providers by ZIP code. Check out your options below.
Pros and cons
- Affordable prices
- Minimal rate increases after intro period
- Great for basic tasks like checking email and streaming on one or two devices
- Slower speeds than cable
- Quality degrades with greater distance from internet provider
- Fast, reliable connection
- Ideal for HD video streaming and gaming
- Low latency on multiple devices
- Higher prices than DSL
- Slower connection during peak hours
- Bigger rate increases after intro period
The final verdict
DSL internet is an excellent choice for folks who enjoy streaming music and videos, shopping online, posting on social media, and browsing the internet. It’s affordably priced and offers increasingly faster speeds as technology advances.
But if your household looks more like the bustling atmosphere of Modern Family and less like Ryan Gosling’s austere bachelor pad in Drive, or if you have some avid gamers in the house, cable internet might be the better choice for you. Faster plans are good at supporting devices streaming simultaneously and multiplayer online gaming. It can be pricier than DSL, but it offers lightning-fast speeds.
FAQ about DSL and cable internet
Which is faster: DSL or cable internet?
Cable internet can reach speeds of 1,000 Mbps, while DSL speeds top out around 100 Mbps. But that doesn’t mean that all cable plans are faster than DSL. If speed is what you’re after, read the details of the plan and pay a little more for faster service.
What is cable internet?
Cable internet runs through your home’s cable wiring on copper coaxial cables. Of course, this means that if you don’t have access to cable TV in your area, you can’t get cable internet either. You can get superfast internet through cable providers with a lot of bandwidth, so it’s the recommended choice if you don’t have a comparably priced fiber plan available in your area.
What is the difference between DSL and cable internet?
DSL and cable internet are different in how they deliver internet to your home. DSL internet runs through standard phone lines that are wired into your home. Cable goes through the cable lines. There is more bandwidth with cable, so cable is usually faster. You can get bundle discounts for cable TV and DSL TV with most internet providers.
Is cable more reliable than DSL?
Many people assume cable is more reliable than DSL because it’s faster. Actually, both cable and DSL are some of the most reliable internet connections available.
Is cable internet available in remote areas?
Cable is available in 88% of the US. If you live in a highly remote location, you may not be able to get cable internet. DSL is available to slightly more of the population, and satellite is available to most remote locations.
Is cable or DSL better for gaming?
If someone in your household is into multiplayer online gaming, you might appreciate that cable internet has less lag time. DSL just won’t cut it. The latest Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report shows that DSL latency (lag time) is higher on average than lag time for cable internet providers. The delay might be frustrating if you play online games where ping rate is important because you might get shot at before you have a chance to respond.
Is DSL considered high-speed internet?
Yes, DSL in many cases meets the criteria to be considered high-speed internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines high-speed, broadband internet as delivering 25 Mbps download speeds or more. Speeds on your DSL network will vary depending on your provider and plan, as some DSL plans can go as low as .5 Mbps. But DSL internet service providers (ISPs) offer many plans at 25 Mbps and above. Generally DSL can reach max speeds of around 100 Mbps.
Is DSL faster than dial up?
DSL internet is more than a hundred times faster than dial-up. Dial-up speeds are around 56 Kbps, while even the slowest DSL connections are around 10–20 Mbps (or 10,000–20,000 Kbps). Some DSL speeds reach up to 100 Mbps.
Is DSL the same as a phone cable?
Yes, it is. DSL runs through the same copper wiring as your telephone landline. However, DSL is not to be confused with dial-up. DSL service is “always on” and lets you surf the web while using your landline phone, while dial-up requires you to not use the phone line while using your modem. Dial-up is also much, much slower than DSL internet.
What type of cable is used for DSL?
DSL runs on the twisted-pair copper wiring of a landline phone network. Since it runs directly into your home, DSL internet doesn’t get bogged down by neighborhood-wide slowdowns during “peak hours” like internet that runs on a coaxial cable network. But DSL’s wiring does lose signal strength as it gets farther away from the internet provider, so the closer you are is better for you.
Interested in EarthLink, Xfinity, or Spectrum?
If you’ve narrowed your search for an internet provider down to just a few options, save time by viewing our side-by-side Internet Service Provider comparisons.
- Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, “How Verizon Lets Its Copper Network Decay to Force Phone Customers onto Fiber” August 14, 2014, Accessed February 16, 2021
- Bernie Arnason, Telecompetitor, “Cable One Plots Course for 10 Gbps Broadband to Compete with Fiber,” November 19, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2021.
Author - Peter Holslin
Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.
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.