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

  • Better for speed: Fiber
    • Fast speeds
    • Symmetrical uploads and downloads
    • No data caps on most plans
    • Limited availability
    • High prices on gigabit plans
    • Max speeds: 5,000 Mbps
    • Price: $19.99–$299.95/mo.
  • Better availability: DSL
    • Wide availability
    • Easy installation
    • No annual contracts on many plans
    • Slow speeds
    • High prices for what you get
    • Max speeds: 100 Mbps
    • Price: $35.00–$69.95/mo.

Fiber internet is much faster and much more reliable than DSL internet. In some cases, it’s cheaper than DSL too, making fiber the obvious winner if you had to choose between these two connection types.

The only drawback is that fiber-optic internet isn’t as widely available as DSL. So you may be stuck with DSL internet in some areas.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of the differences between fiber and DSL internet.

Pro tip:

Want to get fiber or DSL internet at your house? Enter your zip code to see if it’s available in your area.

Top fiber internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPriceGet connected
1,000–2,000 Mbps$70.00–$100.00/mo.*
200–2,048 Mbps$49.99–$119.99/mo.
300–5,000 Mbps$55.00–$180.00/mo.
CenturyLink 200–940 Mbps$30.00–$70.00/mo.§View Plans
EarthLink 75–5,000 Mbps$64.95–$189.95/mo.View Plans

What is fiber internet?

Fiber is the fastest and best internet you can get. It uses fiber-optic cables and photon signals to deliver your internet connection. It’s a newer technology than DSL, and it’s capable of delivering much faster speeds and requires less upkeep. Fiber-optic internet also doesn’t experience the type of electromagnetic interference commonly found in DSL’s twisted-pair copper wiring, making for faster and more reliable service overall.

Fiber commonly delivers maximum speeds of 1,000 Mbps, although a range of speed options are available (from 100 Mbps all the way to 5,000 Mbps). It’s the only internet type that gives you symmetrical upload and download speeds, meaning uploads are just as fast as downloads. All of this gives fiber internet a very high capacity for activities like gaming, Zooming, and online streaming on multiple devices at the same time.

The only bummer about fiber is that it’s the rarest type of internet—available to only 42% of the US population, according to the latest data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).1 However, AT&T and other fiber internet providers have worked to expand nationwide access to high-speed fiber connections in recent months, so you may see fiber on your block soon enough.

The best fiber internet plans

PlanSpeedsPriceGet connected
Verizon Fios Internet 300/300300 Mbps$49.99/mo.
AT&T Internet 300300 Mbps$55.00/mo.*
CenturyLink Fiber Internet940 Mbps$70.00/mo.View Plans
Google Fiber 10001,000 Mbps$70.00/mo.§
EarthLink 1 Gig Internet1,000 Mbps$89.95/mo.View Plans

You can get gigabit speeds over a fiber plan so long as you’re willing to pay a premium price for fiber internet. That will give you all the firepower you need to do pretty much anything online with lots of devices at the same time.

But you’ll still get excellent speeds if you choose a more budget-friendly option. A speed of 300 Mbps will be enough to support streaming 4K video, online gaming, Zoom calls, and a lot of other activities on several devices at once.

Pro tip:

Take a speed test to figure out what kind of bandwidth you have on your home connection. Is it comparable to what you can get on fiber connections, or could you do better?

Top DSL internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPriceGet connected
CenturyLink Up to 100 Mbps$50.00/mo.*View Plans
Up to 100 Mbps$55.00/mo.
EarthLink Up to 45 Mbps$59.95/mo.View Plans
Frontier Up to 100 Mbps$49.99/mo.§View Plans
Windstream Up to 200 Mbps$39.99/mo.View Plans

What is DSL internet?

Digital subscriber line, or DSL, is a relatively outdated internet type but has a strong user base in rural areas and small towns with limited Wi-Fi options. It’s built on landline telephone infrastructure, using copper wiring to get you speeds of up to around 100 Mbps (although commonly less than that).

DSL is available in pretty much any home with a landline phone, and it’s way better than dial-up or satellite internet. That said, DSL seems to be gradually going the way of the dodo bird. Providers like AT&T and Verizon have been downplaying their DSL offerings to focus more on new tech like fiber and 5G. There haven’t been any advances in DSL technology in recent years, and prices on plans have pretty much stayed the same—even as fiber providers have introduced better options for equal or lower prices.

The best DSL internet plans

PlanSpeedsPriceGet connected
CenturyLink Simply Unlimited InternetUp to 100 Mbps$50.00/mo.View Plans
AT&T Internet Up to 100 MbpsUp to 100 Mbps$55.00/mo.
EarthLink 45 Mbps InternetUp to 45 Mbps$59.95/mo.§View Plans
Kinetic Internet by Windstream 5050 Mbps$39.99/mo.View Plans

Most DSL plans work on a flat-fee basis—you pay a set price for whatever speeds are available in your area. Some providers can deliver max speeds of up to 100 Mbps, but realistically speaking, you’re more likely to get speeds in the range of 10–40 Mbps. Expect a slower connection in rural areas and city outskirts as you get farther away from the provider’s central server.

Fiber vs. DSL—Speed comparison

Connection typeMax download speedMax upload speedView providers
Fiber internet5,000 Mbps5,000 MbpsView Fiber Providers
DSL internet100 Mbps10 MbpsView DSL Providers

Fiber is a lot faster than DSL. Most fiber providers have plans capable of hitting 1,000 Mbps (gigabit) speeds—ten times faster than the absolute max speeds of DSL. Some fiber providers offer speeds of up to 2,000 Mbps or even 5,000 Mbps. By comparison, DSL in some areas will top out at just 25–30 Mbps due to technical and infrastructure limitations.

Fiber has faster upload speeds

While download speed is the most common benchmark for measuring internet bandwidth, you should also consider upload speeds when comparing these two types. Like cable, satellite, and most other internet connection types, DSL internet delivers relatively slow uploads even when it has the capacity for fast downloads.

On the other hand, fiber internet packages give you “symmetrical” uploads and downloads—meaning upload speeds will be just as fast as gigabit downloads. Symmetrical speeds make fiber internet particularly effective for Zoom calls, content creation, and posting to social media, all of which are tasks that require a stable upload throughput.

Fiber has better latency

Latency is the brief window of time it takes for a signal to be processed when you’re communicating from your device with a central network—such as when you hit send on an email or hit a trigger on a gaming controller.

Some latency is inevitable in any kind of internet network, but lower latency is always better, and fiber has much lower latency rates compared to DSL. It uses fiber-optic cabling, which can transfer data more quickly and efficiently than the copper of DSL.

Low latency makes fiber the best option for activities like fast-paced online gaming, in which you need near-instantaneous connectivity for smoother gameplay.

What you get with low latency:

  • Quick reaction times in online gaming
  • Smooth connection over livestreams
  • Stable video and audio feeds on Zoom

DSL has much higher latency rates because it relies on copper wiring (which is often older), is susceptible to electromagnetic interference, and experiences increased rates of signal deterioration over longer distances.

What you get with high latency:

  • Laggy connection over Zoom
  • Delays between audio and video feeds on video calls
  • Chunky movements and poor response times in gaming

Fiber vs. DSL—Price comparison

Fiber is the better-priced option of these two internet types, giving you faster speeds for an equal or even lower price than DSL.

It used to be that if you wanted fiber internet, you’d have to pay a premium for a gigabit internet plan. But these days you can get fiber plans for as low as $40 a month, featuring speeds that aren’t quite gigabit but that are still very fast. Meanwhile, many DSL plans cost upwards of $45 to $50 a month, even though they have slower speeds and fewer added perks.

A DSL plan will still be cheaper than gigabit fiber, which usually costs upwards of $70 to $100 a month. But DSL can’t beat the value of an entry-level fiber plan, which gives you much better service at a lower price.

Fiber vs. DSL—Setup and equipment comparison

Connection typeWhat is needed for installationInstallation costs
Fiber internetOptical network terminal, fiber-optic cabling from home to curb$49–$85; free for self-installation
DSL internetTelephone wiring, telephone jack in home$35–$85; free for self-installation (in most cases)

DSL is generally easier than fiber to install, since it works over telephone wiring that’s common in most homes and apartment buildings. So long as you have that wiring in your home, you can opt for self-installation with a DSL provider, which saves you on expensive installation fees.

Fiber-optic internet requires an optical network terminal to operate, which isn’t commonly available in many homes (especially older ones). Some fiber connections also require professional installation to complete the “last mile” of the network, meaning the connection from the curb or apartment building directly into your home. So you may end up having to pay higher installation costs for a fiber hookup.

Connection typeWhat equipment do you need?
Fiber internetWi-Fi router, Ethernet cable
DSL internetDSL modem and Wi-Fi router, telephone cable, Ethernet cable

As for equipment, both DSL and fiber require a router to get your Wi-Fi flowing. You can rent a router from your provider for $10–$15 a month depending on your package. Another option: buy your own router, which we think is a much better idea.

Pro tip: Buy your own router to save money

Buying a router (as opposed to renting one) saves you money in the long run and lets you be more choosy about things like security features, parental controls, and the router’s Wi-Fi standard.

Need a router rec? Take a gander at the best routers for streaming and the best long-range routers. Or just put in an order for the Google Nest Wi-Fi mesh router (the best router for your bucks).

Fiber vs. DSL—Availability comparison

Connection typeAvailability (to % of US population)*Get connected
Fiber internet42%View Providers
DSL internet88%View Providers

Since DSL relies on landline telephone wiring, DSL connections are easy to access in a wide majority of American homes, especially older ones where a phone line was installed when the home was built.

Fiber, by comparison, is a lot less widely available—mostly because internet providers have dragged their feet in laying the fiber-optic cable on a large enough scale to expand fiber networks.

Some fiber-optic internet providers have been working to build up fiber access nationwide. If you want fiber internet in your area, consider attending community meetings with your local elected officials to rally for increased fiber access. Fiber providers often reach out to the community to measure interest, and some cities and towns have built up municipal fiber networks of their own.

Tap in your zip code to see if there’s fiber or DSL internet near you.

Other types of internet and how they compare

Comparing fiber internet with DSL is a bit like comparing an elegant white swan with a common street pigeon—they’re quite different, and there are a lot of other options in between. Here’s a gander at other common internet connection types.

Cable internet

Cable internet is cost-effective, widely available, and fast. Running over the coaxial copper wiring of a cable company, it’s the next best thing after fiber-optic internet. Cable gives you reliable speeds (including gigabit capability) at a fair price.

You won’t be able to get the same upload speeds as with fiber. You’ll likely also experience internet slowdowns during peak use hours. But all in all, it works well.

4G LTE and 5G home internet

4G LTE home internet and 5G home internet is the new hipster internet for cord cutters and early tech adopters. It uses wireless signals from nearby 4G and 5G cellular towers to get you a Wi-Fi connection over a router installed in your home.

Availability is limited, and a wireless internet connection’s performance can depend on factors outside your control—like bad weather and geographic obstructions that impede a cell signal. But these services are affordable and usually come with some enviable perks (such as flat rates, unlimited data, and no annual contracts). The speeds are good too, ranging from 100 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps depending on the provider.

Fixed wireless internet

Fixed wireless internet is very similar to 4G LTE and 5G home internet, since it also uses wireless signals to get you a connection. But an internet connection that’s advertised as “fixed wireless” (as opposed to 5G or 4G internet) is generally tailored for rural customers who live in remote areas with few other Wi-Fi options. It’s the best alternative to satellite internet, with speeds similar to DSL and relatively manageable pricing.

Satellite internet

Satellite internet is available in even the most rural places and forbidding landscapes, since the signal beams down from space. But satellite has slow speeds, high prices, and onerous data caps. You should get satellite internet only if there are no other internet connection types available in your area.

Pros and cons: DSL vs. fiber

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

Verdict—Fiber is better than DSL in almost every way

If you can get fiber internet, definitely get it. Fiber is way faster, more reliable, and sometimes actually more affordable than DSL. It’s harder to come by and may deliver more bandwidth firepower than some users need, but it’s the best out there.

DSL runs at much slower speeds than fiber, but it’s still fast enough for a lot of what you’ll want to do online. It’s available practically anywhere, making it ideal for the average user. The price isn’t always the best for the speeds you get, but it’ll work in a pinch—and it’s still way better than satellite or dial-up.

FAQ about fiber vs. DSL internet

Is cable internet better than fiber-optic internet?

Cable internet is slightly slower and sometimes more expensive than fiber-optic internet, so it’s not exactly better. Also, cable internet doesn’t have symmetrical speeds like fiber does. But it is more widely available than fiber internet and also sometimes comes at budget prices you can’t get from fiber. So it’s still a great internet option if you want fast speeds and reliable service.

Is cable internet better than DSL internet?

Cable internet is a lot faster than DSL internet—as much as 10 times faster in some cases. It gives you better speeds for the money and is just as widely available as DSL, so we’d say it is definitely a better option than DSL internet.

Sources

  1. Federal Communications Commission, “Compare Broadband Availability in Different Areas,” December 2020. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Author -

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 - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.