DSL vs. Fiber Internet: Which One Is Right for You?
Download speeds up to 0.5 Mbps–100 Mbps
Widespread availability and fixed rates
Download speeds ranging from 50 Mbps–2,000 Mbps
Month-to-month or 1–2-year contracts
Fiber internet is a lot faster and more reliable than DSL internet, hitting top speeds of 2,000 Mbps as it runs over efficient fiber-optic cabling. But DSL internet is cheaper and more widely available. It rarely surpasses 100 Mbps (and often is much slower) but it’s easy to hook up over your landline phone wiring.
So which one of these internet types is the best for you?
We drilled down on the details to put together a guide outlining the fiber versus DSL debate. We’ll dive into how much each internet connection type costs, what they can achieve in speeds, and how available they are to users. Read on to see if you’re better off with a pricey but fast fiber plan or a more straightforward DSL connection.
Not sure if you can get fiber or DSL internet in your area? Run a search with our zip check tool.
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.
- Cheap prices
- Flexible monthly contracts
- Straightforward options
- Slow speeds
- Weak connections over long distances
- Record-breaking speeds
- Reliable connections
- Low latency
- Expensive prices
- Limited availability in many areas
What is DSL internet?
DSL, short for digital subscriber line, uses the copper wiring from our dusty landline phone systems to deliver a humble but hardy internet signal. Though it’s pretty slow and old school, DSL has a few main benefits:
- Readily accessible
- Easy to sign up for
- Affordable for everyday internet seekers
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.
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. That’s not particularly “high speed” by today’s standards, when you can find fiber and cable connections topping out at 1,000 Mbps or even faster.
The copper wiring of DSL also loses strength over longer distances and becomes more vulnerable to electromagnetic interference, so your connection will get weaker if you’re far away from the internet provider’s home office.
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. A speed of 25–50 Mbps will be good for any of the following activities:
- Checking email
- Streaming HD video
- Participating in Zoom meetings
- Having 3–5 devices all connected on the Wi-Fi at once
- Downloading modestly sized files (under 1 GB) very quickly
Just keep in mind that you’ll have more connectivity issues with a speed that’s under 25 Mbps. According to the standards set by the FCC, anything slower than that is not classified as “high speed’ or “broadband” and may end up stalling out or buffering more than you’d like.
Best DSL internet service providers
|EarthLink||3–45 Mbps||$49.95–$69.95/mo.||View Plans|
|Frontier||6–45 Mbps||$27.99–$44.99/mo.||View Plans|
|Ziply||Up to 115 Mbps||$35.00/mo.||View Plans|
|CenturyLink||15–100 Mbps||$49.00/mo.||View Plans|
Data as of 3/2/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Most DSL internet providers give you speeds in the range of 3–45 Mbps. Expect to pay around $40 to $50 per month for DSL service, which is worth the money if you can get 25 Mbps or faster but isn’t as good of a deal if your speeds are slower. You usually don’t have to sign up for an annual contract, so you can cancel anytime. But you’ll likely have a monthly data cap.
Want to see if DSL internet is available in your area? Take a look with our zip check tool.
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 Netflix 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.
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
|Connection type||Operates over||Speed||Always on?|
|DSL||Phone lines||0.5–100 Mbps||Yes|
|Dial-up||Phone lines||40–50 Kbps (0.04–0.05 Mbps)||No|
Some mistake DSL for dial-up internet since they both operate over phone lines. But DSL is way faster and a lot more technologically advanced than dial-up. It also doesn’t tie up your phone lines the same way dial-up internet does.
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.
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.
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 a bit more expensive than other internet types and not as easy to come by. But the price is totally worth it because you get a lot of benefits:
- Extremely reliable connection
- Consistent performance even during peak usage hours
- Symmetrical download and upload speeds
Fiber internet has created a breakthrough in home internet speeds. It delivers up to 1,000 Mbps, but it can go even faster—Xfinity and Google Fiber even boast fiber plans 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 stuff like this:
- Make lots of Zoom calls
- Host live streams
- Post videos to social media
- Upload large 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.
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 fiber internet service providers
|Provider||Download speeds||Price||View plans|
|AT&T||100–940 Mbps||$35.00–$60.00/mo.*||View Plans|
|Verizon Fios Connection||200– up to 940 Mbps||$39.99–$79.99/mo.†||View Plans|
|CenturyLink||940 Mbps||$65.00/mo.‡||View Plans|
|Google Fiber||1,000–2,000 Mbps||$70.00–$100.00/mo.§|
|EarthLink||50–1,000 Mbps||$69.95–$99.95/mo.║||View Plans|
Data as of 2/23/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*for 12 mos, plus taxes & equip. fee. $10/mo equip. fee applies
†w/ Auto Pay + taxes & equip. charges
‡Rate requires paperless billing. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply. Speeds may not be available in your area. Maximum download/upload speed of up to 940 Mbps via a wired connection.
§with a 12 month contract.
║with a 12 month contract.
AT&T has some of the cheapest fiber internet you can get anywhere, with plans starting at just $35 a month. (However, prices do go up on your bill after the first 12 months.) Its “slowest” fiber plans are still really fast—you can do all sorts of stuff with 100 Mbps upload and download speeds. The Internet 1000 plan delivers gigabit speeds, which is best for big households, busy work-from-home employees, and huge streaming fans.
CenturyLink has a fairly straightforward fiber option. It offers a single fiber plan capable of delivering near-gigabit speeds, topping out at around 940 Mbps.
Google Fiber 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. It also recently introduced an eye-popping 2,000 Mbps plan.
Verizon Fios Connection
Verizon Fios Connection 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.
EarthLink has higher prices than some of its competitors—but the list price includes all the extra fees you’d normally have to pay on other plans. And customers seem to really love EarthLink, considering it got the highest rankings for overall satisfaction in our annual customer satisfaction survey.
To see what other fiber options you can find, take a gander at our fiber providers page.
Fiber internet speeds
Fiber internet usually ranges in speed from 100 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps. You can get faster plans, but they’re not really worth the money for most internet users.
The fastest fiber internet speed comes from Xfinity and Google Fiber, which both offer plans with totally over-the-top 2,000 Mbps (2 Gbps) download speeds.
Xfinity’s Gigabit Pro plan will run you $299.95 per month and requires an exorbitant $1,000 installation and activation fee just to get started. Google Fiber’s 2,000 Mbps plan is a lot more affordable, costing $100 per month. But it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need speeds this fast.
Every other provider’s fastest plan tops out at 1,000 Mbps, which is still top of the line when it comes to performance. A speed of 1,000 Mbps comes in handy if you do bandwidth-heavy activities like the following:
- Streaming in 4K video on 5 or more devices
- Sharing Wi-Fi with 10 or more people
- Downloading very large files (30 GB or more) on a regular basis
- Attending Zoom meetings with large numbers of participants
- Hosting livestreams
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.