DSL vs. Fiber Internet: Which One Is Right for You?

DSL
  • Download speeds up to 0.5 Mbps–100 Mbps
  • $28.99–$69.99/mo.
  • Widespread availability and fixed rates
Fiber
  • Download speeds ranging from 50 Mbps–2,000 Mbps
  • $49.99–$299.95/mo.
  • Month-to-month or 1–2-year contracts

If you’re shopping for a new internet plan, you’ll find that some internet service providers offer both DSL and fiber-optic internet. Both of these types will get you broadband speeds and a Wi-Fi signal, but they work completely differently. 

Which option should you choose? We drilled down on the details and put together a guide outlining how DSL and fiber work, how much they cost, and where they differ in terms of reliability and speed. Everyone has different needs when it comes to the internet, and we’ve broken it down simply and clearly so you can decide which type works best for your situation.

Bottom line

DSL and fiber internet are a bit like apples and oranges. DSL runs at much slower speeds, though it’s still fast enough for most of what you’ll want to do online. It comes at an affordable price and is available practically anywhere—making it ideal for the average user.

Fiber is capable of hitting much faster speeds and runs on a far more advanced network, so it’s perfect for gamers, content creators, and other advanced internet users. But it’s also more expensive, harder to come by, and may deliver more bandwidth firepower than many users really need.

Run a search to see if DSL or fiber are available in your neck o’ the woods:

What is DSL internet?

DSL, short for digital subscriber line, uses the copper wiring from our dusty old landline phone systems to deliver a humble but hardy internet signal.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 88% of the US population has access to DSL, which is no surprise given that it’s built on long-established telecommunications infrastructure. Like digital water flowing from the faucet of hyperspace, DSL is readily accessible, easy to sign up for, and fairly affordable for everyday internet seekers.

DSL is certainly not the fastest internet type. The most advanced variants of DSL—known among specialists as VDSL and VDSL2 (meaning “very high speed digital subscriber line”)—reach max speeds of up to 100 Mbps. But that pales in comparison to the 1,000 Mbps speeds of fiber. Its connection also gets weaker as you get farther away from the internet provider’s home office. The copper wiring loses strength over distances and becomes more vulnerable to electromagnetic interference.

Despite all this, DSL is still much better than dial-up internet. And though it’s not the fanciest internet type out there, it’ll work just fine for a wide range of activities, from browsing to streaming Netflix to having multiple devices all connected on the Wi-Fi at once.

Just think twice before signing up for any DSL plan that runs under 25 Mbps. According to the standards set by the FCC, anything slower is not classified as “high speed’ or “broadband” and may end up stalling out or buffering more than you’d like—that’s certainly not worth the flat-fee pricing offered by DSL providers.

DSL providers

AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon High Speed Internet are the most prominent ISPs delivering DSL internet these days. All three ISPs offer fiber internet as well, but their DSL plans are more affordable and more widely available for customers. Several smaller providers also have DSL internet options, including Windstream, EarthLink, and Frontier.

Best 3 DSL internet service providers

ProviderSpeedsPriceUser ratingsView plans
AT&TUp to 100 Mbps$49.99/mo.3.83/5View Plans for AT&T
CenturyLink15–100 Mbps$49.00/mo.3.79/5View Plans for CenturyLink
Verizon High Speed Internet0.5–15 Mbps$69.99/mo.*3.96/5View Plans for Verizon
ProviderAT&T
SpeedsUp to 100 Mbps
Price$49.99/mo.
User ratings3.83/5
View plansView Plans for AT&T
ProviderCenturyLink
Speeds15–100 Mbps
Price$49.00/mo.
User ratings3.79/5
View plansView Plans for CenturyLink
ProviderVerizon High Speed Internet
Speeds0.5–15 Mbps
Price$69.99/mo.*
User ratings3.96/5
View plansView Plans for Verizon

We picked AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon as the top three DSL internet providers because they have the widest reach. We also dig their plan options: AT&T and CenturyLink both offer month-to-month contracts, giving customers more flexibility should they decide to switch providers. CenturyLink also offers Price for Life guarantees on its DSL plans.

DSL speeds

DSL isn’t as slow as dial-up, but it is rather slow, lollygagging far behind the top speeds of fiber and cable internet. It maxes out at around 100 Mbps, but realistically you’re more likely to encounter DSL plans in the range of 5–50 Mbps.

Speeds below 20 Mbps won’t cut the mustard if you’re doing any sort of advanced internet activities. Downloading large files? Hopefully you’ve got lots of time on your hands. Playing fast-paced multiplayer video games online? If you don’t mind clunky images and delayed response times, go for it. Bingeing Tiger King in 4K while your kids watch Disney+ in the other room? Fuhgettaboutit.

However, you’ll be able to do pretty much all of those activities if you have internet speeds more in the range of 25–50 Mbps.

Pro tip:

Take our internet speed quiz to see how much bandwidth helps you live your online life to the fullest.

More on DSL

Here’s some more things you should know about DSL and whether it fits for you. 

DSL vs. dial-up

Some mistake DSL for dial-up internet since they both operate over phone lines. But they are definitely different.

DSL is “always on”—meaning you can use it any time. With dial-up, you have to block the phone lines as you log on, switch on the modem, and surf the net. (Remember that crackling phone-dial sound from the ’90s? That’s what we’re talking about.) You don’t have to do this with DSL, and that’s one of its advantages over dial-up.

DSL is also much faster than dial-up. Dial-up usually runs at about 40–50 Kbps, clopping along like a horse and buggy in an age of rocket cars and autobahns. DSL, meanwhile, runs anywhere from 0.5–100 Mbps—a lot faster, since 1 Mbps is 1,000 times faster than 1 Kbps.

DSL pricing

Oftentimes DSL plans will be sold on a kind of flat-fee basis. The internet provider will offer a set monthly price for whatever speeds you can get in your area.

In some cases, you’ll be required to pay for a phone plan as part of the DSL package, since the internet runs over the phone line. But you typically won’t have to sign away your life on a one- or two-year commitment, as is the case with many fiber plans. And you may even get an incentive to sweeten the pot, such as a Price for Life guarantee ensuring no price hikes on your bill.

Basically, what you miss out on high-tech satisfaction, you make up for in cash-money savings.

Is DSL internet right for you?

You should definitely consider a DSL plan over fiber if you live alone or in a small household (3 or 4 people max), can get decent speeds on DSL where you live, and prefer month-to-month flexibility and Price for Life guarantees over having the latest high-speed technology.

DSL isn’t the prettiest or fastest pony at the stable, but it’ll get the job done if you don’t require the fastest Wi-Fi speeds or don’t mind a potentially slow connection.

What is fiber internet?

Fiber is a type of internet that runs over fiber-optic cabling. The cabling is composed of bundled lines of fiberglass, which transmit computer code via beams of light. It’s an extremely reliable connection, capable of carrying large amounts of data without the interference DSL copper conductors experience.

Fiber internet has created a breakthrough in home internet speeds. It delivers up to 1,000 Mbps, but it can go even faster—Xfinity even boasts a fiber plan featuring a mind-boggling 2,000 Mbps.

Fiber also helps improve upload speeds, which are usually much slower than download speeds. Having a fast upload speed or “symmetrical” upload speed (i.e., equal to the download speed) comes in handy if you do lots of video calls or regularly upload enormous files to cloud servers.

But fiber is also quite a bit more expensive than DSL. And it’s a lot harder to come by. According to the FCC, around 39% of the US population has access to at least one fiber internet provider. That’s less than half of DSL’s availability.

Fiber providers

Verizon Fios, AT&T, and CenturyLink are best known for their reasonably priced internet options over well-established fiber networks. Xfinity also has its superfast 2,000 Mbps fiber plan. Google Fiber also maintains a network in many cities across the country, and smaller providers like Windstream, EarthLink, and Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber offer fiber internet as well.

Best 4 fiber internet service providers

ProviderSpeedsPriceUser ratingsView plans
AT&T940 Mbps$49.99/mo.3.83/5.00View Plans for AT&T
Verizon Fios200– up to 940 Mbps$39.99–$79.99/mo.*3.96/5.00View Plans for Verizon
CenturyLink940 Mbps$65.00/mo.3.79/5.00View Plans for CenturyLink
Google Fiber100–1,000 Mbps$60.00–$70.00/mo.4.0/5.00View Plans for Google Fiber
ProviderAT&T
Speeds940 Mbps
Price$49.99/mo.
User ratings3.83/5.00
View plansView Plans for AT&T
ProviderVerizon Fios
Speeds200– up to 940 Mbps
Price$39.99–$79.99/mo.*
User ratings3.96/5.00
View plansView Plans for Verizon
ProviderCenturyLink
Speeds940 Mbps
Price$65.00/mo.
User ratings3.79/5.00
View plansView Plans for CenturyLink
ProviderGoogle Fiber
Speeds100–1,000 Mbps
Price$60.00–$70.00/mo.
User ratings4.0/5.00
View plansView Plans for Google Fiber

AT&T and CenturyLink have fairly straightforward fiber options. Each of them offers a single fiber plan capable of delivering near-gigabit speeds, topping out at around 940 Mbps.

Google Fiber also offers gigabit fiber internet to 18 cities and counties across the country, including Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, and Seattle. It offers a relatively straightforward and highly reliable internet option with month-to-month agreements, no data caps, and blazing 1,000 Mbps speeds.

Google Fiber also has a type of internet called Webpass. Designed for large apartment buildings, it uses fiber-optic wiring in a building to connect to a wireless signal with a giant antenna. Though it doesn’t hit gigabit speeds, it’s capable of reaching between 100–500 Mbps.

Verizon Fios has a presence across the East Coast and offers a bit more variety, including two plans that give symmetrical speeds. As the names suggest, Verizon Fios’s Internet 200/200 and Internet 400/400 plans deliver matching upload and download speeds of 200 Mbps and 400 Mbps, respectively.

Upload speeds are typically much slower than download speeds. So symmetrical plans like these really help if you’re a programmer, designer, or content creator who needs fast upload speeds to host videoconferencing or upload massive files to cloud servers.

To see what other fiber options you can find, take a gander at our fiber providers page.

Fiber internet speeds

The fastest fiber internet speed comes from Xfinity, which offers a Gigabit Pro plan that delivers totally over-the-top 2,000 Mbps (2 Gbps) download speeds.

Gigabit Pro will run you $299.95 per month and requires an exorbitant $1,000 installation and activation fee just to get started. It’s a rare bird, available in only select regions of the United States.

Every other provider’s fastest plan tops out at 1,000 Mbps, which is still top of the line when it comes to performance.

Frankly, you should be wary of big numbers like these. Unless you’re running a fully automated shoe factory or 25-person Bitcoin-mining operation out of your basement, it’s very likely you’ll never need anywhere near 2,000 Mbps while using the internet.

Even 1,000 Mbps—the go-to rate for fiber plans—is a bit much as far as internet speed goes. It really comes in handy if you heavily rely on the internet for work or require only the best experiences possible out of Wi-Fi–intensive activities like online gaming and 4K video streaming.

But for the rest of us, a slower connection will be just fine. Even 100 Mbps would be plenty fast for a household of several people who all stream video on their mobile devices.

Pro tip:

Take our internet speed test to see how fast your Wi-Fi is. Maybe you need an upgrade?

More on fiber internet

There’s some other things you want to keep in mind if you’re fixing for a fiber plan.

Why isn’t fiber available in my area?

Fiber internet won’t be available in your area if an internet provider does not maintain a local fiber network where you live.

Fiber internet has limited availability because it costs so much for internet service providers to build a fiber network. With DSL and cable, an internet provider can build on previously established communications infrastructure to get internet to customers. But with fiber, the provider has to build a whole new network—a massive and expensive undertaking that requires laying fiber wiring under the ground and connecting it to apartments and homes.

Tap in your ZIP code to see if there’s fiber internet near you:

Fiber internet pricing

Fiber is generally more expensive than DSL internet, usually ranging from $50 to $100 per month.

AT&T comes hard out of the gate delivering near-gigabit speeds for $49.99 per month (for the first 12 months)—the mother of all fiber bargains. CenturyLink has a similar plan that’s slightly more expensive but still a formidable option and quite affordable for the quality and speed you’re getting.

Verizon has the highest-priced gigabit plan out of these three providers. But it also has a couple lower-priced plans that deliver symmetrical upload and download speeds.

Google Fiber is probably the most straightforward when it comes to pricing. You can get fiber internet with 1,000 Mbps speeds for $70 per month or 100–500 Mbps speeds through Google Fiber Webpass for $60 per month. That may be pricier than what AT&T or CenturyLink offer, but you won’t have to deal with hidden costs and fine-print price hikes.

Is fiber internet right for you?

Fiber internet is the best option for you if you’re a heavy internet user and require fast speeds and a reliable connection. It’s perfect for these types of activities:

  • Playing online video games
  • Streaming movies in 4K
  • Uploading and downloading large files like video games or movies
  • Teleconferencing with large groups over Zoom or Google Hangouts
  • Operating security cameras and other smart home devices

Personally, we think fiber internet is well worth the extra cost on your bill because you’ll get an excellent and highly reliable connection with some of the fastest speeds around.

DSL vs. fiber internet

Here’s a quick rundown of what makes DSL and fiber so different.

Internet typePriceContractDownload speedsInstallation feeView plans
DSL internet$28.99–$69.99/mo.Month to month0.5 Mbps–100 MbpsFree–$99 (depending on if self-install or professional install)View DSL plans
Fiber internet$49.99–$299.95/mo.Month to month50 Mbps–2,000 MbpsFree–$99 (or $1,000 for Xfinity Gigabit pro plan)View fiber plans
Internet typeDSL internet
Price$28.99–$69.99/mo.
ContractMonth to month
Download speeds0.5 Mbps–100 Mbps
Installation feeFree–$99 (depending on if self-install or professional install)
View plansView DSL plans
Internet typeFiber internet
Price$49.99–$299.95/mo.
ContractMonth to month
Download speeds50 Mbps–2,000 Mbps
Installation feeFree–$99 (or $1,000 for Xfinity Gigabit pro plan)
View plansView fiber plans

Installation

How to install DSL internet

Installing DSL is relatively simple, since it’s just a matter of plugging the right cables into the landline telephone plug in your home and then into the modem and router.

With most providers, you’ll have the option of hiring a professional to do the installation. Or you can pay a small fee (or possibly nothing at all) to get an installation kit in the mail and do it yourself.

How to install fiber internet

To install fiber internet, you’ll need the internet company to figure out where the nearest fiber node is in relation to your home. Then they’ll send a technician to connect the node to your house with cabling and an optic terminal, which translates fiber’s optic signals into an internet connection.

Fiber installation depends a lot on whether the ISP has fiber infrastructure set up just for the neighborhood, or if it can deliver a more direct fiber connection straight to your house or to a nearby public utility installation.

There’s a good chance that your provider will need to lay out extra cabling to extend its fiber network to your home or apartment.

To get an idea of how installation works, peruse a few guides we’ve put together on the topic:

Pros and cons of DSL and fiber

Take a look at this breakdown of DSL and fiber’s finest qualities—and things to watch out for.

DSL internet

Pros

  • Cheap prices
  • Flexible monthly contracts
  • Straightforward options

Cons

  • Slow speeds
  • Weak connections over long distances

Fiber internet

Pros

  • Record-breaking speeds
  • Reliable connections
  • Low latency

Cons

  • Expensive prices
  • Limited availability in many areas

Final verdict: Choose fiber internet if it’s available.

Fiber is the fastest, most efficient, most reliable internet you can get for your home network. It’s the gold standard, and you should get it if you can afford it.

The only problem is that you may not be able to access fiber where you live since it’s such a rare and precious utility. It also tends to cost more money than DSL plans.

Though it’s not as fast as fiber, we do have a soft spot for DSL. It’s available practically anywhere, it’s usually quite affordable, and it’s capable of accomplishing a lot. You may experience more issues with lag and buffering if your speed is below 25 Mbps. But if your speeds are above 25 Mbps, you’ll be able to download large files, stream movies, and use multiple devices at once. And you’ll have even greater capacity with 50 Mbps or faster.

Still, in the end, we choose fiber.

Type in your ZIP code to see if you can get DSL or fiber internet where you live:

FAQ about DSL and fiber internet

Is fiber internet better than cable internet?

Fiber internet is faster and more reliable than cable internet because it relies on a more efficient system, using bundled fiberglass cabling to transmit internet with hyper-efficient light signals.

Cable is still a great option for internet, capable of reaching gigabit speeds just like fiber. It’s more widely available to customers than fiber internet. And it’s easier to find options for cheap internet through cable providers as well, since cable companies usually offer a wider range of internet plans to customers.

Fiber plans tend to cost somewhere between $50–$100 per month, while some lower-tier cable plans can go for as cheap as $20 per month.

But fiber has the edge on cable because it’s a better system overall.

Is VDSL the same as fiber?

VDSL is not the same as fiber internet. VDSL stands for very high-speed digital subscriber line. It’s a faster version of DSL internet, operating over the copper wires of a landline phone network and meeting theoretical top speeds of 70 Mbps.

Fiber runs over fiberglass cabling, not phone wires. It’s not as common as VDSL but much faster, with many fiber internet providers offering 1,000 Mbps download speeds.

Does fiber internet require a special modem?

You don’t use a modem for fiber internet like you would with DSL or cable. Instead you use an optical network terminal, which translates the light signals coming from the fiber cabling into digital data to make an internet connection.

You can then connect this to your router, giving you adequate speeds and letting you get Wi-Fi for your mobile devices.

Is DSL better than cable internet?

In terms of speed and reliability, cable internet is better than DSL. Cable is faster, capable of hitting 1,000 Mbps download speeds, whereas DSL maxes out at around 100 Mbps. Cable also has a more robust connection generally, running on the coaxial cables of a cable company while DSL operates on the weaker signals of a landline phone system.

One advantage of DSL over cable is that DSL delivers an internet signal directly into your house through your landline phone system. Cable delivers internet to an area network, which then routes into your house. Because it’s being directed through a wider channel, cable can experience network slowdowns during peak hours.

With DSL, on the other hand, your internet goes steady (just at an overall slower speed).

Is DSL fast?

By the latest standards of broadband internet, DSL is not fast compared to other available internet types. Fiber and cable internet can often hit download speeds of 1,000 Mbps, whereas DSL maxes out at around 100 Mbps download speeds.

Fiber can also get symmetrical speeds, meaning that the download speed will be the same as the upload speed. On the other hand, DSL upload speeds commonly run significantly slower than its download speeds. So, while a fiber plan may get you 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload speeds, a DSL plan that can reach 100 Mbps downstream can still achieve only 30 Mbps upstream.

Author -

Peter Holslin has spent more than a decade writing for Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless other publications. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008. Since then, he has roved from city to city and lived overseas, mastering his craft as an editor, staff writer, and freelancer while also acquiring ninja-like skills to address feeble Wi-Fi speeds and other internet challenges.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.

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