Despite increasing access to the Internet, options for selecting an Internet service provider (ISP) remain limited across the U.S. The primary factors that contribute to the availability of Internet options are location and the download speeds desired.
Many rural locations only offer satellite-based Internet service while large cities can provide additional options through DSL, cable, and fiber connections. Factors such as infrastructure and funding contribute to a city’s ability to support different types of technology that deliver more robust Internet options.
Speed also makes a difference. Internet options become more limited the more speed that is required. In fact, 55 percent of consumers who want speeds of 25 Mbps or more only have one provider to choose from, and nearly 20 percent of homes have zero access to those kinds of speeds.
How many Internet providers are there in the U.S.?
The exact number of Internet providers across the country can be difficult to nail down. But we do know that cable companies are the most prominent. A 2014 report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used data from 16 main U.S. providers to measure nationwide broadband use.
The expense of putting in a new grid in a new area continues to be the main deterrent to adding new ISP options to more areas. The FCC and private businesses like Google are pushing for increased competition and more options for consumers when it comes to Internet providers.
How do I choose the best Internet provider?
To determine what Internet provider is the best fit, it’s important to understand the different types of Internet services and the speeds needed to accomplish various online activities.
Internet service is available through dial-up, DSL, cable, satellite, and fiber. Dial-up and DSL connections, which both use phone lines, are usually the least expensive options. Cable and satellite Internet are provided through local cable and satellite companies. Fiber optic connections are the newest and usually provide the fastest connection speeds.
Users who plan to use the Internet for personal use on social media and email don’t require high speeds and can get away with just three or four Mbps. Those who use the Internet to stream video and audio need faster speeds, and people who work from home or conduct regular video chats or virtual meetings can require as much as 50 Mbps.
Consumers also need to consider the costs, terms and conditions, reliability, and customer service available when comparing ISPs. Another thing to look for is data caps. Data caps allow ISPs to limit the amount of data customers use each month, and those who go over either incur additional charges or lose service until the next month. Those who plan to use a lot of data each month need to select a provider without data caps.
Finding Broadband Providers in My Area
Internet providers vary from city to city, and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Most areas offer connections through large companies. The best way to find out which providers are active in a certain city or zip code is to use an online tool to find local providers.
Most online tools will help identify providers, compare services, list broadband speeds, and share customer reviews.
Although Internet options are limited it is still important for consumers to identify specific needs and compare service, prices, and reliability.