Some things are easier to shop for than others. Finding the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be one of the tough ones — but it doesn’t have to be. We know that you want to secure the best service at the best price. That’s why we’ve taken a close look at the top Internet providers across the country and compared them based on advertised plan variety, downstream speeds, price, and customer support and reliability. Review our findings and suggestions below, and say goodbye to those ISP shopping nightmares.

 

Plan Variety

Internet habits and needs vary widely, so the number of plans available should be a big consideration when choosing an Internet provider. You need to know that your provider is able to deliver the services you want at a price you can afford.

There are a few different types of plan that ISPs offer. Some are stand-alone Internet plans that provide only a connection to the Internet. Others are bundled plans, combining Internet with other services like television or a phone line.

When it comes to which ISP offers the most advertised stand-alone Internet plan options, the leaders seem to be XFINITY® and Time Warner Cable®. Each company has as many as six widely advertised options, and that doesn’t include any bundled packages. Charter Spectrum falls at the other end of the scale, actively advertising only one stand-alone Internet plan. Most other Internet services, including AT&T and Cox have between three and five stand-alone Internet plans each.

Nearly all providers have bundling options. It’s important to take inventory of your overall needs when shopping for Internet, so that you can choose the plan that makes the most sense for you from both service and financial perspectives. If you are already in a contract with another provider, some ISPs, like Charter Spectrum, have offers that will help buy out your current contract when you switch.

Also keep in mind that not all plans are available in all areas. Providers may have more or fewer plans than advertised, depending on your location. Make sure you reach out to each ISP near you to learn what offerings exist in your ZIP code.

 

Speeds

When it comes to the Internet, faster is usually better — but not always. With multiple people and devices accessing the Internet simultaneously, busy homes need speeds that can handle heavy traffic. A single person, on the other hand, might be satisfied with significantly less speed. If you’re not sure how much speed you need, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a guide to help you figure it out. You can also use an online speed test to see what speeds you are currently getting from your provider.

Today, XFINITY has some astoundingly fast options. In certain areas, the company offers downstream speeds up to 2 Gbps as part of their Gigabit Pro plans. However, XFINITY’s lower tier options — ranging between 10 and 75 Mbps — are likely more cost-effective for normal Internet users.

Cox and Windstream have plans available for up to 100 Mbps, but again, the availability of those speeds may be limited based on location. Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink provide speeds between 40 and 50 Mbps, which is plenty fast for most standard Internet activities.

 

Price

It’s no surprise that the bottom line for choosing an ISP is often how much it’s going to cost every month. Internet plans vary widely, ranging from as little as $15 to over $200 per month. Factors that impact monthly costs include the type of service, speeds, and whether or not the service is combined in a bundle for a discounted rate. First-time customers also often have access to better prices than those available to people who already have an account.

Most providers offer an introductory package at a reasonable price, usually starting at close to $20 per month. Time Warner offers one of the cheapest standard plans for just $15 per month. CenturyLink and Frontier both have Internet packages that start around $20 per month. XFINITY, Charter Spectrum, and Cox all start their basic stand-alone Internet plans between $30 and $45 for monthly service. Some of the most expensive plans on the market are from XFINITY, which has fast options available in limited areas for as much as $300 per month.

Other typical plans across most fiber, cable, and DSL providers range from $30 to $80 per month, depending on the services included. Time Warner, for instance, has 16 different cable Internet package options that range from the aforementioned stand-alone Internet for $15 per month to a bundle with over 200 cable channels, phone service, and Internet downstream speeds up to 50 Mbps for around $130 each month.

When it comes to price, the many variables of location, speed, and bundling can make a big difference. It’s smart to shop around and even check with your current provider to see if they will offer you a break to stay with them instead of losing you to a competitor. If you do sign up for an introductory rate, make sure to pay attention to when the deal expires so you can follow up and ask for an extension or find out what other offers you might be able to tap into.

 

Customer Support and Reliability

It doesn’t matter if you found the best deal or the fastest speeds if the provider isn’t reliable. Equally important is the availability of support when something goes wrong.

Most ISPs provide 24-hour support available via phone, email, or online chat. AT&T offers a fee-based service that guarantees personalized service with no wait to customers who select that option. XFINITY and Cox both offer live chat, as well as online troubleshooting guides. Time Warner has extensive online support tools, too.

In rare instances, a technician may need to be dispatched to your home to assist with a technical problem. Most providers have qualified technicians available in all areas where their services are offered, but it’s a good idea to check before signing any contracts.

In regard to connection reliability, XFINITY, Time Warner, and AT&T have all performed well on third-party tests. These companies experience limited downtime and experienced speeds are generally close to what is advertised.

If you’re in a fairly rural area, wired connections may not reliably reach your home. In that case, you may want to consider a satellite Internet connection. Though costlier than most traditional wired connections, HughesNet is one of the most reliable satellite ISPs — as long as you can access the southern sky, you should be able to connect.

 

The Takeaway

It can pay to do your homework when it comes to Internet service. As you shop around, consider the speeds that you need, the possibility of bundling with other services like TV and phone, and the price you’re willing to pay. Remember that new customers are usually able to take advantage of introductory rates or special discounts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal if you’re a long-term customer.

It’s time to stop thinking about getting a better Internet deal, and start finding one. Use this information to help you secure an Internet deal that keeps you online without breaking the bank.

 

*Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.