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. Everyone loves a great deal, especially when it comes to monthly services. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) understand this principle, which is why many of them offer free equipment or other perks when you sign up for service. If you’re not sure what perks your current ISP offers, or if you’re shopping for a new ISP altogether, this guide will help you figure out which provider is offering a deal that you simply can’t refuse.   XFINITY You’re probably familiar with some basic XFINITY® offerings, including fast speeds and a rapidly expanding service area, but what you may not know is that every XFINITY customer also has access to an additional service called Internet on the Go. With Internet on the Go, subscribers have free access to over 8 million hotspots nationwide. This extensive coverage, paired with the XFINITY Connect™ app, makes it easy to keep track of appointments and check email away from home. Another perk is Constant Guard® by XFINITY. All XFINITY Internet customers receive basic online security protection via the Norton™ Security Suite, which provides protection against viruses and spyware. The company also makes it easy to add upgrades to regular monthly bills.   Charter Spectrum Charter Spectrum is one of the only ISPs that provides customers with a free modem across most plan offerings — including bundles. This helps reduce overall monthly costs, as it saves users from paying a rental fee for this necessary equipment. Another feature that Charter Spectrum offers is month-to-month service. Customers can enjoy reliable, fast Internet without being tied down to a contract. This gives users flexibility and freedom to choose the Internet plan that makes the most sense for them, even if their needs change. In fact, Charter Spectrum is so committed to abolishing contracts that certain new customers may qualify for up to a $500 buyout to help them get out of a current contract with another provider.   CenturyLink All CenturyLink Internet plans include basic protection from CenturyLink @Ease® online security by Norton™. Customers can adjust their level of security coverage and take advantage of the peace of mind that comes with Identity Guard for an additional monthly fee. The company also offers a 30-day Satisfaction Guarantee for new Internet customers, a policy that ensures any user who is not satisfied with their CenturyLink service can cancel within 30 days and receive a credit for all Internet service charges, modem or router charges, shipping fees, activation fees, and any other applicable taxes or other surcharges. As an added bonus, subscribers can avoid installation fees by opting for CenturyLink’s self-installation kit, which includes everything necessary to get an Internet connection up and running. Plus, customers who order a CenturyLink bundle online may qualify for a prepaid Visa card worth up to $150. The company also offers prepaid Visa cards for customers who refer friends and family members to CenturyLink.   Cox Subscribers enjoy a variety of free services with their Cox High Speed Internet™ plan. The company starts things on the right foot by waiving installation fees, but it doesn’t stop there. Cox gives customers a free Cox email account with Cloud storage, which is protected by free security through the Cox Security Suite powered by McAfee®. The Security Suite also provides antivirus protection and an online app that customers can use to check the security of their home wireless network. Additionally, Cox gives High Speed Internet subscribers access to Music Choice, a portal that offers a wide selection of music channels, videos, and original programming. Customers can listen to more than 50 pre-made channels or create their own music channels and video playlists.   Windstream Windstream offers its subscribers the ability to sign up for High Speed Internet without the hassle of a long-term contract. Very few other ISPs provide such a winning combination of flexibility and security. Windstream’s solid plan offerings are backed up by an extensive 24/7 help network. In addition to a large library of online support resources, Windstream also provides real-time assistance via their virtual agent, Wendy. Customers can chat live with Wendy, email questions to support, or call the help line directly at any time, day or night.   AT&T AT&T U-verse® Internet plans include up to 11 email accounts and 2 GB of secure online storage. In addition, U-verse customers have access to AT&T’s extensive network of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country and internationally. Users can consult the company’s Wi-Fi location map to find hotspots, whether they are close to home or on vacation. This allows U-verse customers consistent access to their Internet service and other network resources. U-verse also offers one particular benefit that most other ISPs don’t: a battery backup. This device will keep customers’ Internet services up and running, even if the power goes out. The backup only extends power for a few hours, but that can be the difference between saving a current project and losing hours of work. For customers who live in areas where severe weather often affects power, this perk could be a lifesaver.   In addition to all of these great perks, several of the above listed companies offer further discounts for subscribers with limited financial means. So no matter what your situation, if you need Internet service, there are ISPs that can provide the benefits you want. Now that you know the kinds of perks that are out there, it’s time to stop browsing and start shopping. Check out providers in your area today. From DSL to cable to fiber, Internet subscribers are faced with seemingly endless choices when it comes to connection options. While DSL and cable are widely popular services, fiber Internet is unfamiliar territory for many. Despite its smaller user base, fiber-optic Internet actually offers many unique benefits compared to DSL and cable. If you’re considering switching to fiber Internet, this is the guide for you.   What is fiber Internet and how does it work? Unlike DSL or cable, fiber Internet relies on optical cables that are composed of thousands of thin strands of glass that contain three parts — the core, the cladding, and the buffer coating. The cable transmits data via light signals that travel through the core, and the light is reflected back by the cladding, allowing signals to travel along the cable.   What are the benefits of fiber Internet? The greatest advantage of fiber Internet is its speed. It’s the fastest Internet option available because its optical cables can quickly carry large amounts of data over long distances. Some fiber connections offer downstream speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is over 50 times faster than the national average of 18.2 Mbps. If you frequently download music, use Internet-based programs, or stream movies, you’ll quickly notice the difference between fiber Internet and cable or DSL. Another big benefit is that fiber Internet is very reliable. The system network doesn’t generate or carry electricity, meaning your fiber Internet connection is less likely to be interrupted during a power outage. As an added bonus, this also reduces risk of electrical or fire damage. Finally, fiber Internet is private. A dedicated network is installed in your home so you don’t have to share the Internet with any neighbors. This makes your Internet connection somewhat more secure from network traffic lags.   What companies offer fiber Internet? There are more than two dozen fiber Internet providers, from the popular AT&T to local companies such as Cincinnati Bell. Google Fiber is one of the newer providers on the market and is working on expanding its network beyond the three locations it currently services.   Is fiber Internet available in my area? In order for fiber Internet to work, the Internet provider has to build a network infrastructure in each geographic area it seeks to service. That’s why fiber Internet isn’t readily available across the country and is especially lacking in rural areas. For comparison, 89 percent of the U.S. has access to cable Internet providers, whereas only 25 percent can use fiber Internet. However, fiber Internet’s availability is quickly expanding into more markets. The best way to find out if fiber Internet is available in your area is to check with individual Internet providers. Many providers make it easy for you to check availability by looking up your ZIP code.   What equipment do I need for fiber Internet? Fiber to the Home (FTTH) services — where fiber cables run from the provider to your residence, instead of terminating at a remote hub — do not require a separate modem. Instead, they use a terminal to translate light pulses into electric signals that your computer can recognize. You may still need a router to provide a wireless access point to your Internet connection. Some providers offer routers with their fiber packages, but if you want to purchase your own, you’ll need to make sure it’s capable of handling the speeds you’ve subscribed to. As a general rule, your fiber Internet provider will be able to supply some of this basic connection hardware, though you’ll want to confirm if there will be any associated costs beforehand.   Should I switch to fiber Internet? Fiber Internet can save you hours of wasted time downloading large files, loading Internet-based programs, or streaming video or music. And as industry competition increases, prices are becoming more reasonable. If you want a reliable Internet connection that offers the fastest speeds available, fiber Internet is your best option. Start researching local fiber providers to make the switch. In October 2014, AT&T joined Google as a gigabit-capable Internet provider by launching its 1 Gbps Gigapower service in Austin, Texas. It then added Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami and other cities to its network. In late March, AT&T said it would expand GigaPower service, offering 1 Gbps service in Apple’s home of Cupertino, CA. On April 13, residents of Atlanta got the news that it was coming to their town. And go crazy, Cubs fans, because just days ago, AT&T announced service in several Chicago suburbs, with service for the city itself to follow soon. AT&T at least partially credits the expansion to its merger with DirecTV. Although there are some who question the validity of that statement, it does create something of a “what if” scenario regarding the failed Comcast-Time Warner deal. How Badly do You Want It? For the Cupertino market, 1 Gbps service will cost $110 per month. In Atlanta and Oswego, IL, service will cost $10 more each month. And yes, that’s quite a bit of money for Internet access. However, we don’t think the price will be much of an impediment to the service for these four main reasons. 1. Early adopters are always willing to pay more for new technology; these are customers who want it, not necessarily need it. And for businesses that need gigabit speeds and bandwidth, $110 a month is nothing. 2. Few individuals or even families need that much speed, and AT&T knows that. Lower priced, yet still quite fast service will also be available. In Cupertino, for instance, $80 per month will get you 300 Mbps—still more than many consumers actually need, if not want. 3. Prices will eventually decline as gigabit service becomes more common. Over time, bargain plans have become faster, and fast plans have become cheaper. It may take time, but someday, the gig will be commonplace. More subscribers will lower per-subscriber costs to maintain the network. 4. Competition will drive prices down. At first, some ISPs launched gigabit networks in areas that would make them the exclusive provider, but AT&T and Google now both offer service in Kansas City, Austin, and Raleigh-Durham. Indeed in Austin, AT&T’s 1 Gbps plan costs only $70. It’s not a Free Lunch, but We’ll Take It Even if you’re not interested in paying for a full 1 Gbps, residents in these cities may get a welcome bump in speed. When AT&T implemented gigabit service in Austin, it upgraded the speeds of its existing GigaPower customers free of charge. If you don’t live in one of the cities we’ve mentioned, don’t fret. AT&T now offers GigaPower service in 10 cities, plans to launch service in seven more, and is exploring eight other possible locations. That’s 25 total, and that number will certainly increase in the future. Like the redcoats, the gig is coming, so hang a lantern and tell your neighbors. For those whose city is on that map, it’s definitely time to take a look at prices, even if you’re not interested in the full 1 Gbps. And if GigaPower isn’t coming to your town, you still might be surprised at plans that are available, especially if you haven’t checked in a while. Photo Credit: Mike Mozart/Flikr
Back to top

This site is a U.S. Consumer site. You can learn more about our site and privacy policy here.