Compare Internet Providers

FAQ about internet providers 

What is the best internet provider around?

The best internet provider is EarthLink. With a large nationwide network and excellent customer service, this provider swept to the lead in our annual customer satisfaction survey, taking first place for speed, price, reliability, and overall satisfaction.

Xfinity is also a great internet provider—dare we say it is practically tied with EarthLink. As a cable provider, it offers a range of plans at fair prices and is widely available in the United States. You can get gigabit speeds, or you can pay less for still-robust internet upwards of 100 Mbps.

How fast of an internet connection do I actually need?

Internet speedActivities you can do
0–5 MbpsChecking email, Zoom calling, streaming music on one or two devices.
6–40 MbpsStreaming SD video on two or three devices, online gaming for one or two players.
41–100 MbpsStreaming HD video (720p or 1080p) on several devices, downloading large files in a short time, operating multiple smart-home devices.
101–500 MbpsStreaming 4K UHD video on several screens, online gaming with multiple players, hosting livestreams.
501–1000 MbpsDoing pretty much anything on a large number of devices.

With internet connections, the usual rule of thumb is that faster is better. However, there’s no point in paying for the fastest connection available if you’re not actually going to use all that speed.

For most home web-surfing for one person, a 5–10 Mbps (megabits per second) connection will give you a seamless internet experience. If you’re doing something more bandwidth-intensive, like streaming video, or you have multiple people using the internet simultaneously, you’ll want a much faster connection.

For a more detailed breakdown of how much internet speed you need for different activities, check out our more detailed analysis.

Compare Internet Providers – What kinds of internet connections are available?

One of the main things that your location dictates is the kinds of internet connections available to you. Depending on your neighborhood, you might have several options or you might be restricted to one or two.

  • Fiber-optic internet offers incredibly fast connections and is only getting faster as technology improves. Fiber connections have symmetrical upload and download speeds, giving you much faster uploads than what you get with any other connection type. This can be invaluable for people who frequently use Zoom or Voice over IP (VoIP), host livestreams, or regularly upload large files. Fiber is priced similarly to cable, but it’s only available in certain areas.

  • Cable is fast and widely available, with most providers delivering download speeds up to 1,200 Mbps. Cable bandwidth is shared with other connections in your neighborhood, so your speeds can slow down when there’s a lot of network congestion in your area. But cable is generally much faster than DSL.

  • DSL is delivered to your home over existing phone lines. This makes it one of the more widely available options, and in some cases, the least expensive. Speeds vary, but connections generally top out at 100 Mbps.

  • 4G LTE and 5G home internet uses a wireless signal from a nearby cellular transmitter to get you a connection. It’s a relatively new technology, so availability is limited, but you can usually get fast speeds. Plus, providers have attracted new customers with competitive prices, no annual requirements, and other perks.

  • Satellite internet is delivered to your home over a satellite service, much like satellite TV. It generally offers much slower speeds than either DSL or cable, but it’s available pretty much anywhere (even rural areas).

Are there any hidden fees in internet plans?

There are a number of things to look out for that hide in the fine print, and they can turn into unexpected costs if you’re not aware of them. When choosing a plan, be especially aware of the following:

  • Contract length
  • Setup and activation fees
  • Early termination fees
  • Monthly equipment costs
  • Overage fees
  • Data caps

Does living in an HOA community affect my internet options?

Living in an HOA community or subdivision can have an impact on choosing an ISP because the roads are private. ISPs can’t build a connection unless the HOA board allows them to.

That said, HOAs will usually make certain options available for residents. If you don’t like the options currently available, your best bet is to reach out to your HOA president to talk about allowing new services in.

You also have the option of satellite internet connections that don’t require additional infrastructure to be built. (But you’ll probably have to get that satellite dish approved by your HOA as well.)

Is “unlimited” data really unlimited?

Unlimited data is usually unlimited—unlike with cell phone plans, internet providers with no data caps often let you use as much data as you please without imposing overage charges or throttling your speeds.

However, that can sometimes happen. And you’ll also need to be more conscious of data caps with satellite internet providers. Technically a satellite provider’s data is unlimited, but in reality you’ll often have a small amount of high-speed data to use before your speeds get slowed down considerably.

Are advertised internet speeds accurate?

Most internet plans will advertise connections “up to” a certain speed. The actual speed will vary according to different factors based on the type of connection you have.

If reliability is an important factor, you can contact your ISP to ask about average speeds or to ask about which factors might impact speeds in your location. As mentioned above, some ISPs offer plans with guaranteed speeds for small businesses.

If you’re curious about how fast your current connection actually is, try our internet speed test.

What’s the difference between home Wi-Fi providers and other ISPs?

If you want to set up a Wi-Fi connection in your home, the first step is choosing an ISP. Every ISP offers a wired connection along with a router, which allows you to create a Wi-Fi network in your home. The difference with Wi-Fi as opposed to traditional wired connections has to do with how you connect the devices within your home or business.

Wi-Fi allows you to connect your devices to your network wirelessly as opposed to connecting them to your modem with a network cable. Wireless connections are much more convenient and are necessary to connect many tablets and laptops, though traditional wired connections are more secure.