How does review internet providers?

Looking at the fine print, comparing prices, and talking with internet customers make for comprehensive reviews

Peter Holslin
Apr 15, 2024
Icon Time To Read7 min read

At, we believe that boring internet is usually the best internet.

Internet providers often try to win over customers with increasingly fast speeds, impressive perks, and intriguing new tech. But most internet customers just want a dependable and affordable service.

That’s why, when our team sets about reviewing internet providers, we end up being most impressed with providers that stick to the basics. We tend to favor mid-tier internet plans that offer a balance of affordability and reliability. We love fiber internet because it really is the best internet. But we’re just as enthusiastic about providers that offer other internet connections like cable and 5G if they have a proven track record for getting the job done. next zip logo
Looking for a new internet plan? Run a search with your zip code to see what’s available in your area.

Since our website launched in 2015, our team at has built up an enormous amount of expertise around internet services, routers, hotspots, and everything else related to home Wi-Fi. (Of course, we also review mobile phones and plans, home security products, and VPNs.)

In the wake of the global pandemic, we’ve kept tabs on radical shifts in the internet industry, including the rise of 5G internet services, the nationwide expansion of fiber-optic network infrastructure, and the federal government’s successful efforts to raise the bar on broadband speed standards.

A digital divide remains between rural and urban parts of the country, but for millions of Americans, internet is significantly faster, more reliable, and a better value now than it was a decade ago. This has made our job easier in some ways. But with the industry constantly evolving, we do our due diligence so we don’t buy too readily into inflated marketing claims or fleeting tech trends.

At their core, our provider reviews find us getting down to the nitty-gritty with internet brands big and small. Here’s a quick breakdown of how we research these reviews:

  • We analyze proprietary data from millions of speed test results to see how internet providers’ speeds compare.
  • We read the fine print in user contracts and pester providers’ live chat support lines to nail down the facts on hidden fees, data caps, price hikes, and other costly restrictions.
  • We look over proprietary provider data and Federal Communications Commission maps to see where internet providers are available and what their competitors are.
  • We keep up-to-date about connection technology like fiber, cable, and 5G, so that we understand an internet provider’s capabilities in terms of speed and latency.
  • We get on the phone to talk with internet customers, so we can get answers to specific questions about how internet services hold up in real life.
The conclusions we reach are entirely our own.

Hands-on testing isn’t enough for internet services

We have been doing this long enough to understand that reviewing an internet provider requires a unique approach—one very much unlike the usual way to rate a product or service. Although we often test our own internet services at home, the fact remains that individual, hands-on testing isn’t the best way to go about reviewing an internet provider.

An internet company isn’t like a smartphone or a toaster manufacturer. Unlike with consumer products, an internet customer in Manhattan can’t get the same exact service as one in Missoula—service providers are only available in specific geographic areas, and a provider’s networking infrastructure can vary in capabilities depending on the area.

Prices, speeds, connection type, and other capabilities can vary from city to city, even block to block. An individual user’s home networking setup (such as their modem, router, and whether they have Wi-Fi extenders or a hardwired connection through Ethernet) can also have a huge impact on the speed and reliability of an internet connection.

As we review internet brands, we look beyond testing and take an approach more similar to that of an investigator or reporter. Read on for a more detailed rundown of how we review internet providers.

We value editorial independence

Our fact-based research process centers around interviews with internet customers from across the country, helping us understand how internet services hold up against diverse needs and challenges. In order to keep the lights on at, we also rely on brand partnerships to provide us data and generate revenue.

We may make a commission if you click an affiliate link as you’re reading one of our reviews. However, our brand partners do not see or approve our articles before they are published. We conduct our research independently and the conclusions we reach in our reviews are entirely our own.

Also, we don’t use AI—no chatbots allowed

All our articles are written by real people. They’re edited by real people, and real people work on our illustrations and other design elements. Our team has adopted an ethics policy surrounding the use of large language models like ChatGPT. We occasionally use AI for back-end purposes (like sprucing up the grammar in a staff email). But unlike some of our competitors, we don’t allow our writers and editors to use AI for working on drafts. The articles that are published on our website are original works, with no intervention from a chatbot’s algorithm.

Our ratings follow a clear criteria

We measure every internet provider based on a clear criteria, with numbered scores in three core categories:

  • Speed and reliability
  • Dollar value
  • Customer experience

When it really comes down to it, most internet users are looking for reasonable speeds, a reliable connection, and a fair price. The three categories above cover all those bases, and we rely on a mix of quantitative data and qualitative analysis to come to our conclusions.

Most internet users want reasonable speeds, a reliable connection, and a fair price

Speed and reliability

Speed is arguably the most important factor in shaping your internet experience. Every internet user needs adequate internet bandwidth to handle whatever tasks they do online throughout the day. But speed isn’t everything—the reliability of your connection is just as important, and many gamers and streamers also rely on low latency (or ping rate) to facilitate rapid-fire gameplay and live sports broadcasts.

To measure an internet provider’s speed and reliability, we do the following:

  • Compare results from our speed test to see how the brand compares to other internet providers.
  • Look over the provider’s package options to see if its speeds meet standards set down by the Federal Communications Commission, which defines high-speed broadband internet as minimum download speeds of 100Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps.
  • Determine how much speed you get for the price you pay. It’s become fashionable for internet providers to offer increasingly fast speeds (all the way up to 10Gbps in some cases), but more speed isn’t always better. We don’t want customers to pay too much for speeds they don’t need.
  • Assess the connection type that the provider offers. Connection type (whether fiber, cable, 5G, or something else) has a huge impact on an internet user’s speeds and the consistency of their connection.
  • Speak with internet customers, company spokespeople, and industry experts to fact-check claims about network capabilities—for example, whether a cable provider also offers fiber-to-the-home services.

Dollar value

We measure dollar value by how the quality of your service compares to what you get. Our goal is to figure out how an internet provider’s prices compare to its speed capabilities and tech type. Additional perks like unlimited data, no-contract signups, and VISA gift cards for new customers add to a provider’s value.

Some internet providers are known to impose extra fees for installation or equipment, as well as restrictions like annual contracts and data caps. We dock points for these hidden costs. We also make sure to point out if an internet provider adopts misleading pricing models that lead to regular price hikes on a customer’s bill.

To assess a provider’s dollar value, we do the following:

  • Compare prices and capabilities with those of the provider’s main competitors, including ones that use the same tech type and ones with different connection types.
  • Confirm perks like unlimited data, month-to-month contracts, or price guaranteed rates.
  • Look closely at the fine print to see if there are hidden costs, such as extra fees for installation or price hikes that kick in after 12 or 24 months.
  • Gather details about discounts, add-ons, and promotional offers available to new customers, which may include bundle deals, VISA gift cards, or free trials to streaming services.
  • Estimate the long-term cost of the internet service over a period of several years and compare that with the provider’s competitors.
Additional perks like unlimited data, no-contract signups, and VISA gift cards add to an internet provider’s value.

Customer experience

The best experience a customer can have with an internet provider is no experience at all. In a perfect world, your internet would be so reliable and consistent that it would fade into the background of your life, requiring no fiddling with equipment or calls to customer service.

That’s not always the case, of course, and our team makes an effort to figure out what kinds of experiences customers have with their home Wi-Fi. From the beginning of your service to the very end, we want to know how much time you have to spend interfacing with your internet provider, and what the internet provider does to make those interactions as painless and productive as possible.

Here’s how we gauge customer experience:

  • Look up the provider’s customer satisfaction ratings in major surveys from, J.D. Power, and American Customer Satisfaction Index.
  • Interview internet customers to gather information about their experiences with outages, tech support, and customer service.
  • Research the provider’s equipment (including its rental modem and router) to determine ease of setup and installation.
  • Make direct calls to customer service to measure how long it takes to reach a human on the other line.
  • Interrogate the provider’s live chat support to see if it’s run by a person and capable of providing direct answers to a range of questions about the service.
Technical specs and marketing claims often go hand in hand in the internet world.

We talk to internet customers

First-hand testing isn’t the best way to review an internet provider: Internet services are geographically focused, and no two customers’ prices, plans, and experiences are going to be alike, even if they have the same provider. That’s why we talk directly to internet customers from across the country to incorporate input from a broad range of experiences.

Here’s what we gather when talking with internet customers:

  • Firsthand accounts of what it’s like to contact customer service, get tech support, and interact with the internet company in other ways
  • Details on the installation process and how manageable it is for an average internet user
  • Takes on the frequency of outages and how they’re handled by tech support
  • Tips on how to negotiate with customer service, avoid price hikes, and get the best value out of an internet plan

How do we find internet customers to talk to?

To find customers, we reach out to colleagues and others in our personal networks who use the services we’re covering. We also scour social media platforms and even make cold calls to local businesses to find customers in different cities. We look for internet users who can provide insights into how a provider works under a range of different home Wi-Fi setups and geographic conditions. 

We don’t have call lists or provider-approved customer testimonials to fall back on. This is time-consuming work, involving real people with real opinions. Ultimately, the stories that customers tell and the insights they share hugely shape the conclusions we draw in our reviews.

We dig deeper on Wi-Fi tech and emerging trends

Technical specs and marketing claims often go hand in hand in the internet world, and we stay up to date about all the technical jargon, sales pitches, and emerging technologies. 5G home internet is an exciting service that has emerged in recent years and upended the internet business in some ways, offering an affordable alternative to cable internet. Internet providers have also been racing in recent years to expand their fiber-optic internet networks, all while introducing increasingly fast multi-gigabit speed options.

Still, we’re careful to think critically about new developments in internet: We don’t throw our weight behind a new product or service that doesn’t yet have a proven track record. As Flavor Flav of Public Enemy once said, “Don’t believe the hype!”