We wandered through the internet wasteland and found the biggest digital subscriber line (DSL) internet service providers (ISPs). We used data from the FCC and our years of experience and research to figure which ISP delivers the best value, especially when it comes to speed and price.
DSL internet providers plan comparison
Here are the five largest DSL internet providers in the United States.
|Provider||Max speed||Price||Data limits||Details|
|CenturyLink||40 Mbps||$20–$35/mo.||250 GB||View Plans|
|AT&T DSL||10-100 Mbps||$60/mo.||1 TB||View Plans|
|Frontier DSL||24 Mbps||$20–$55/mo.||None||View Plans|
|Verizon DSL||15 Mbps||$25–35/mo.||None||View Plans|
|Windstream||50 Mbps||$35/mo.||None||View Plans|
It’s weird, but keep in mind pricing isn’t consistent across the nation—you may have lower or higher prices and speeds depending on where you live. You can check the exact price of internet where you live by entering your ZIP below.
Best for most: CenturyLink
The “most speed you’ll get for your money” DSL internet
|CenturyLink plans||Max speed||Price||Data limit||Details|
|High Speed Internet||12 Mbps||$19.95/mo.||250 GB||View Plan|
|Pure Broadband||40 Mbps||$34.95/mo.||250 GB||View Plan|
CenturyLink versus the competition
CenturyLink does speed and price better than other DSL internet providers. For starters, CenturyLink’s High Speed Internet plan starts at $20 per month for 12 Mbps. That’s a good deal, especially when compared to Verizon DSL, which offers 1 Mbps for $25 per month with its High Speed Internet plan. You read that correctly—Verizon DSL charges more ($25/mo. vs. $20/mo.) for 1/12 the speed of CenturyLink DSL.
The only provider that comes close to matching CenturyLink’s value is Windstream, but we’ll talk more about that later.
Where we tested service, CenturyLink offered a second plan (Pure Broadband) with up to 40 Mbps download speed for $35 per month. We checked other services in the same area and found Verizon DSL offered up to 15 Mbps download speed for the exact same price. Between the two internet service providers, it’s pretty much a gimme that we went with CenturyLink. Who wouldn’t?
CenturyLink offers almost triple the download speed for the same price as Verizon DSL, hence it’s the “best bang for your buck” DSL internet. The only immediate downside was that we know there’s a big difference between the advertised speed and the actual speed.
What’s CenturyLink’s actual speed?
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) measured CenturyLink’s actual download speed at 45% in its annual report on consumer fixed broadband performance.1 To translate, that means most of CenturyLink customers get a little less than half of the download speed they pay for.
That may sound really bad, but CenturyLink’s percentage (45%) is actually the second best for a DSL provider. It’s kind of like getting an F in class, but then—surprise!—it turns out CenturyLink is still the second-highest-scoring student (Windstream is number 1 with 52%). It’s definitely not something that we should be pleased with as customers, but when compared to every other DSL provider, it’s not so bad (sigh).
About those CenturyLink contracts
You won’t need to sacrifice your firstborn for DSL internet service, but you’ll have to enter into a one- or two-year contract to get CenturyLink. It’s something to consider if you’re not sure where you’ll be in six months and you’re shopping for DSL internet.
For example, if you end your contract prematurely, you’ll pay an early termination fee (ETF) up to $200. However, if there’s CenturyLink available where you’re moving to and you want to keep it, you can probably dodge the ETF and just pay a milder transfer service fee. A member of the Reviews.org team managed to talk his way out of a transfer fee, so we recommend giving that a try.
There’s a limit to CenturyLink data
If you go through data like it ain’t no thing, be aware of CenturyLink’s 250 GB monthly data limit. To provide some perspective, that amounts to watching about 45 movies in HD. Granted, that’s more than a movie a day, but if you share internet service with people bingeing House of Cards or have multiple internet-connected devices (smartphone, tablet, computer), you could easily consume that 250 GB. If you do go past it, you’ll pay an extra $10 for every additional 50 GB.
Should I get CenturyLink DSL?
It has some hang-ups (like a long-term contract and data limit), but we couldn’t find a better value for DSL internet outside of CenturyLink (Windstream comes close). CenturyLink also happens to be one of the largest DSL providers—it’s in 36 states and serves more than 26 million households—so there’s a good chance you can get it.2 You can check if it’s available where you live by plugging in your ZIP code.
CenturyLink may be far from perfect, but it’s the best DSL internet overall.
Cheapest DSL provider: AT&T
The “low-cost internet—for someone else” DSL internet
|AT&T DSL plans||Max speed||Price||Data limit||Details|
|Internet Basic 5||5 Mbps||$40/mo.||1 TB||View Plan|
|Internet 10-100||10-100 Mbps||$60/mo.||1 TB||View Plan|
AT&T DSL is perfect… for someone else
With 5 Mbps speed for the Internet basic 5 plan, AT&T DSL internet service isn’t going to knock your socks off, but maybe that’s okay. If higher speeds are available in your area, you may want to upgrade your package to get between 10-100 Mbps.
If you’re trying to get your parents or grandparents internet so they’ll stop calling and email you instead, AT&T’s Internet Basic 5 plan might be perfect (for once, the name of the plan is truly self-descriptive).
If you’re the type of person who likes to spend more time offline than online, you might be the “someone else” AT&T works well for, too. If you need internet only to email, casually surf, pay bills, etc., why pay for more for higher speeds, regardless if they’re available to you?
How slow is AT&T DSL internet?
We’ve briefly mentioned AT&T’s Internet Basic 5 plan, but we need to emphasize just how slow this is. If you’re the only one using the internet and there are no other internet-connected devices running (smartphone, tablet, etc.), you might be able to watch standard (SD) streaming video on, for example, YouTube.
We say “might,” because the FCC measured AT&T’s actual speed at 35%. That means the majority of AT&T DSL users experience speeds at almost one-third of the advertised speed (35% of 5 Mbps is 1.75 Mbps). If you did manage to stream SD video without being buffered to death, you’d be one of the lucky ones.
Of course, this is only an issue when watching live or streaming video, but that still means you’ll want to download that movie the day before you want to watch it. Case and point, if a higher speed plan is available in your area, and you’re set on AT&T, it’s probably worth paying for it.
AT&T’s data limit
AT&T DSL used to place a small cap on data of 150 GB, which made it difficult to do much streaming or downloading, but now you get 1 TB of data per month, which happens to be a great amount of data for a DSL provider.
You probably won’t even hit the 1 TB if you try. It’s much better than the previous option. To illustrate the point further, consider that a single HD movie takes 3 GB of data, and there are 1,024 GB in a single Terabyte, so you can download a lot of movies without worrying about going over your data.
Should I get AT&T DSL?
Depending on the plan, AT&T DSL costs less than other DSL providers, but it also suffers from a lack of higher speed plans in a lot of places. Still, maybe that’s okay—the dollar matters most, and there’s nothing wrong with basic internet if it serves your needs.
Though AT&T DSL isn’t in as many states as CenturyLink (21 vs. 36 states), it serves more than 100 million households.4 That’s five times the customer base of CenturyLink, so yeah, it’s a HUGE internet provider. If you find comfort in big-name providers, it doesn’t get any bigger than AT&T with DSL service. You can quickly find out if AT&T is available by using the ZIP finder tool.
The head-scratcher: Verizon DSL
The “pay for a lot and get just a little” DSL internet
|Verizon DSL plans||Max speed||Price||Data limit||Details|
|High Speed Internet||1 Mbps||$24.99/mo.||None||View Plan|
|High Speed Internet Enhanced||15 Mbps||$34.99/mo.||None||View Plan|
Verizon DSL and Verizon Fios couldn’t be more different
We have plenty of good things to say about Verizon’s FiOS service, but that’s not the case with Verizon’s DSL service. Prices start at $25 per month for 0.5–1 Mbps download speed (the “High Speed” Internet plan).
That kind of speed is faster than dial-up (56 Kbps or 0.056 Mbps), but it might be hard to appreciate that when you’re waiting in front of your computer, trying desperately to download the latest episode of The Bachelor. With that same ludicrously dubbed High Speed Internet plan, it would take over seven hours to download an HD movie(!). You better decide on tomorrow night’s movie and get it downloading today.
Verizon DSL vs. the world
We gave AT&T DSL a hard time for its speeds, but then they’re three times faster (advertised at 3 Mbps) and $10 less a month than Verizon DSL’s basic plan. That means if you’re getting internet for nothing more than reading email and checking the weather, you’d save more money going with AT&T DSL over Verizon DSL.
We’ll mention the other DSL plan from Verizon DSL, the High Speed Internet Enhanced plan, but it’s not much better. You can get anywhere from 1.1–15 Mbps depending on where you live. We were offered 3.1–7 Mbps for almost $40 per month. The plan almost doubles the price of CenturyLink’s basic plan (12 Mbps for $20 per month), and for a teeny fraction of the speed.
We also don’t like being sold a range of speed. It’s like being sold a car that boasts a top speed of somewhere between 40 mph and 80 mph. That’s a big difference, just like the difference between the 3.1–7 Mbps we were being sold. What’s more, Verizon DSL came in with the second-to-lowest actual speed percentage from the FCC’s report with a meager 38% (reminder: AT&T DSL was dead last at 35%).
Does Verizon DSL have a silver lining?
We’ve had almost nothing but positive experiences with Verizon’s Fios service, so we’re bummed that Verizon DSL was such a letdown. Still, Verizon does offer its DSL service without an annual contract, and there’s no data limit. Typically, we love to praise internet services for dealing in no-contract service and skipping data caps, but because Verizon DSL offers little value in terms of speed and price, those positives end up becoming footnotes.
If you’re still interested in Verizon DSL, you might be able to get it. It’s available in 11 states and used in more than 175 million households.5 The easiest way to see if Verizon operates in your neighborhood is with the ZIP code tool.
The DSL ISP with the most options: Frontier
The “most options, but for a price” DSL internet
|Frontier plans||Price||Max Speed||Data cap||Details|
|Simply Broadband Lite||$19.99/mo.||1 Mbps||None||View Plan|
|Simply Broadband Max||$19.99/mo.||6 Mbps||None||View Plan|
|Simply Broadband Ultra||$29.99/mo.||12 Mbps||None||View Plan|
|Simply Broadband Ultimate||$39.99/mo.||24 Mbps||None||View Plan|
Is more better with Frontier DSL?
Frontier DSL has more plans than any other DSL provider we reviewed for this article, and if you’re someone who likes options, maybe you’ll appreciate the variety. However, we couldn’t muster much excitement, but that’s because we checked the fine print.
Frontier DSL may be the worst DSL provider to deal with in terms of contracts. Each of its plans requires a two-year commitment, and while we’re not necessarily opposed to long-term relationships, we really don’t like price increases during the contract. During the second year of Frontier DSL service, the monthly service price rises $15 for every plan. There’s no change in service—you don’t get faster speeds or more data for the price change—you just get a bill increase.
ISPs are notorious for increasing prices after a contract is up (we bring this up quite a bit), but we don’t like to put up with ISPs that increase the price while you’re stuck in a contract.
We did speak with a Frontier representative about this issue, and she informed us that Frontier DSL does offer no-contract service at a higher price, but it’s not listed on its website. Considering Frontier DSL prices are already on the high end, we can’t give kudos for offering no contracts for an additional price increase.
Is Frontier DSL worth it?
The “more is not always better” rule definitely applies to Frontier DSL. We just couldn’t find much value in what Frontier DSL is selling. Its actual download speed is 38% (second lowest), and contracts sneak in not-so-nice price increases. Still, if you’re curious to find out more for yourself, you can see if Frontier DSL is available where you live—just use the ZIP finder tool.
The Underdog DSL ISP: Windstream
The “it might be the best if I could actually get it” DSL internet
|Windstream plans||Max speed||Price||Data limit||Details|
|High Speed Internet||50 Mbps||$34.99||None||View Plan|
Is Windstream the underdog of DSL?
Windstream isn’t as well known as the other DSL providers we’ve mentioned, but it has plenty to offer. You can get download speeds as high as 50 Mbps for a more-than-reasonable $35 per month. That’s more than five times the download speed Verizon DSL offered us for the same price (Windstream’s Premium Speed Internet plan vs. Verizon DSL’s High Speed Internet plan).
Windstream’s High Speed Internet and CenturyLink’s Pure Broadband are easily the top two internet plans out of any DSL provider, and they’re similar in terms of speed and price (CenturyLink’s 40 Mbps for $35 per month vs. Windstream’s 50 Mbps for $35 per month). Windstream also happens to have the best actual download speed (52%) for DSL, according to the FCC.6
There’s always a downside
It seems there’s always a catch whenever you find something good, and the same goes for Windstream. It’s a 12-month contract service, so there’s an early termination fee if you end the contract prematurely ($20 per month for every month left in the contract). Yep, it’s those early cancellations fees (ETFs) coming back to haunt us, but if you’re not planning on heading anywhere, maybe a contract is okay.
Can I get Windstream?
Windstream DSL service can be hard to find. It’s near the top of our list for best DSL providers, and it might have been the best if it were only more widely available. Though it’s in 22 states, it serves only about 20 million households, which is one-fifth the coverage of AT&T.7 If you’re wondering if Windstream is available where you are, you can use the ZIP finder tool we’ve included.
How we picked the best DSL internet
We started with dozens of DSL providers and narrowed it down to the five biggest, in terms of coverage. We then used FCC research to see how each of the ISPs performed in comparison to others. Download speed and price mattered the most in our criteria because users told us those are the most important factors in determining the value of an ISP. We also considered contract terms, data limits, availability, and other criteria in determining the best DSL ISPs.
We’ll update this article as we receive new data regarding DSL providers. Be sure and check back in the future for updates.
FAQs about DSL internet
Q: How fast is a DSL connection?
It depends. We’ve seen speeds as low as 0.5 Mbps and as high as 40 Mbps, but different DSL providers offer different speeds. The FCC notes that DSL has the potential to deliver speeds comparable to cable, and even fiber, but that the current infrastructure for DSL technology is underdeveloped.8
Q: Is DSL or cable internet better?
We think cable internet is better than DSL because, in general, it has faster download and upload speeds, and latency is lower compared to DSL internet.
Q: What does DSL internet require?
You need a phone jack (DSL uses the telephone wireline) and a DSL modem. Compared to something like satellite internet, DSL internet doesn’t require much at all.
Q: How do you check DSL internet speed?
There are plenty of tools available to check your internet speed. We recommend an online speed checking tool that uses Google’s M-Lab.
Where do we go from here?
If you want to know more about DSL internet, leave a question below. If you use DSL internet, what has your experience been? Who do you think is the best DSL provider? What speeds do you get with DSL? How much do you pay for DSL?
Any and all questions regarding DSL internet are welcome.
1. Federal Communications Commission, “Measuring Broadband in America Report”
2. High Speed Internet, “CenturyLink Overview”
3. High Speed Internet, “CenturyLink Overview”
4. High Speed Internet, “AT&T Overview”
5. High Speed Internet, “Verizon Overview”
6. Federal Communications Commission, “Measuring Broadband in America Report”
7. High Speed Internet, “Windstream Overview”
8. Federal Communications Commission, “Measuring Broadband in America Report”