Need expert advice on which internet providers are the best in your area? We’ll help you compare prices, download speeds, and data caps for the top internet providers in your area. Let's take a look.

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The 5 Best Internet Providers | How Much Speed Do You Need? | How Much Data Do You Need? | How to Save Money on Internet

What are the best internet providers?

In general, if you’re able to grab internet service from one of these five providers below, you’re likely good to go. Why? Because we’ve analyzed and compared dozens of internet service providers (ISPs), and these five come out on top time after time:

The 5 best internet providers in the US

  1. Xfinity: Best prices and speeds available nationwide
  2. Verizon Fios: Best fiber internet speeds and prices
  3. CenturyLink: Best DSL internet with unlimited data and contract-free plans
  4. Suddenlink: Best cable internet available in rural areas
  5. Viasat: Best satellite internet speeds

The US is home to thousands of different ISPs. That can make searching for the best internet provider near you incredibly frustrating—even if you have only one ISP to choose from.

But, you shouldn’t discount any local providers that cover only your county or town.

Our top five internet picks include providers with large areas of availability. Still, local internet providers, like Google Fiber and ALLO, are worth a long look if they’re available near you. Plus, several local internet providers ranked in the top 10 of our fastest ISPs list. Rock on.

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How much speed do you need?

How much download speed you need depends on three major factors: how many people use your internet at a time, what they do online, and how many devices are connected to your internet.

The basic rule for internet speed is: the more people and the more devices that connect to your internet, the more speed you need.

How many people use your internet?

The more people in your home who use your internet, the more download speed you’ll need. In general, we recommend the following speeds for different household sizes:

  • 1–2 people: 50–100 Mbps
  • 2–4 people: 100–500 Mbps
  • 4+ people: 500 Mbps or faster
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Not sure how much speed you have right now?
Take our quick and easy speed test to find out.

If you’re seeing too much of the buffering icon or experiencing other internet problems, that’s a good indicator that you may need more speed than what you’re getting right now.

What activities do you do online?

Depending on what you and others do online, you might be able to get away with less speed.

Here are some guidelines—but remember, these are baseline speed recommendations. You’ll need more than, say, 25 Mbps, to stream in 4K because other devices and people will be online at the same time.

How much speed you need for online activities
ActivityMbps required
Streaming video in low-definition (480p)1.5 Mbps
Streaming video in SD (720p)3 Mbps
Streaming video in HD (1080p)5 Mbps
Streaming video in Ultra HD (4K)25 Mbps
Streaming music2 Mbps
Online gaming2–10 Mbps
Video calls (Skype, Zoom, etc.)0.5–1.5 Mbps
Downloading large files (PDFs, high-res photos, etc.)5–50 Mbps
Emailing, web browsing, and social media0.5–5 Mbps

How many devices use your internet?

Don’t overlook any connected devices in your home. The last thing you want is to get a low-speed internet plan, and then find out your home security system has trouble connecting.

The more connected devices you have, the more download speed you’ll need. We recommend adding the following Mbps per device to your total internet speed needs:

  • Connected devices without cameras: Minimum 5 Mbps recommended per device
  • Connected devices with cameras: Minimum 10 Mbps recommended per device
  • Home security systems (no cameras): Minimum 40 Mbps recommended
  • Home security systems (with cameras): Minimum 100 Mbps recommended

Because a security system is critical to your home’s safety, we included separate speed recommendations to make sure your alarms, sensors, and cameras stay connected when it matters most.

When it comes to brainstorming how many connected devices are in your home, it’s easy to overlook a few. Here are some common connected devices you should factor into your download speed needs if you have them in your home:

  • Smart TVs
  • Cell phones and tablets
  • Gaming consoles (Xbox, PlayStation)
  • Smart home hubs (Google Home, Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo)
  • Smart appliances (refrigerators, dishwashers, laundry machines)
  • Smart accessories (light bulbs, door locks, thermostats)

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How much data do you need?

Data caps are another element you shouldn’t overlook in your internet search. Of course, most of us won’t use more than the one terabyte (TB) of data the majority of large ISPs provide.

But some internet companies still stick you with even lower data caps or you might need more based on your needs, so it’s best to double-check.

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How much data is a terabyte (TB)?
One TB of data is equal to 1,000 gigabytes (GB) of data. You could also say that 1 TB of data is equal to 1,000,000 megabytes (MB). Now that’s a lot of zeroes!

1 TB = 1 thousand GB = 1 million MB

What online activities use the most data?

How much data you use depends on what you do online. For example, streaming video in SD uses a lot more data per hour than sending an email.

Here’s how much data some common online activities use:

How much data online activities use
ActivityMB usedGB used
One email with attachments0.4 MB0.0004 GB
Playing an online game34 MB/hr.0.034 GB/hr.
Streaming music55 MB/hr.0.055 GB/hr.
Social media94 MB/hr.0.094 GB/hr.
Browsing the web184 MB/hr.0.184 GB/hr.
Streaming SD video700 MB/hr.0.7 GB/hr.
Streaming HD video2,500 MB/hr.2.5 GB/hr.
Streaming 4K video8,000 MB/hr.8.0 GB/hr.
Video conferencing540–2,400 MB/hr.0.54–2.4 GB/hr.

Which ISPs have data caps?

We mentioned that a lot of the bigger ISPs still have data caps, while some have embraced the dream of unlimited data.

Here’s what you can expect from some of the large internet providers in terms of data caps:

Data caps for ISPs in the US
ProviderData capDetails
AT&T1 TBView Plans
CenturyLink1 TBView Plans
Cox1 TBView Plans
Xfinity1 TBView Plans
FrontierUnlimitedView Plans
SpectrumUnlimitedView Plans
Viasat12–150 GBView Plans
HughesNet10–50 GBView Plans

How to save money on internet

Internet can be extremely costly, especially if you need faster download speeds. But there are a few ways you can save some money on your internet bill:

  • Choose only as much internet speed as you need—don’t pay for unnecessary speed.
  • Use your own router and modem instead of the ISP’s equipment.
  • Bundle your internet with TV, home security, or mobile services.
  • Shop around and compare prices from other ISPs in your area.
  • Negotiate your monthly charges or fees (like installation).
  • Use Wi-Fi instead of cell phone data and cancel that unlimited data plan.
  • Look for discounts and special promotions.
  • Learn more about government subsidies and low-cost internet plans.

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