Being the best means something different to every person, so the question here isn’t about which internet service provider reigns supreme so much as which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the best in your area for you.
Some customers need high speeds for HD video streaming and gaming, while others are more budget-minded and less concerned with speed. Maybe you don’t use the internet a lot, but when five people in your house all need to use Wi-Fi across multiple devices, you may want to get a higher speed than originally thought.
If you’re not really sure what you need from your internet, we have an overview toward the end of the article that can clear up some confusion.
Best Internet Service Providers
|Provider||Connection type||Monthly price||Details|
|Comcast Xfinity||Cable||$70–$300||View Plans|
|Time Warner Cable (Spectrum)||Cable||$45–$70||View Plans|
|Cox Communications||Cable||$30–$90||View Plans|
|Charter Spectrum||Cable||$30–$90||View Plans|
|Verizon Fios||Fiber-optic||$82–$217||View Plans|
|CenturyLink||DSL (w/ fiber in some areas)||$20–$80||View Plans|
|AT&T||DSL (w/ fiber in some areas)||$40–$80||View Plans|
|Frontier||DSL (w/ fiber in some areas)||$19–$265||View Plans|
|Viasat (previously Exede)||Satellite||$50–$150||View Plans|
Speeds and prices vary according to location.
* 100 Mbps plan coming soon.
As you can see from the tables, speeds go all the way from 1.5 Mbps up to 2 Gbps, which translates to 2,000 Mbps—quite a range. The standard for data caps is about 1TB, but we prefer unlimited data (duh). Prices start around $20 but can reach up to $300. Some providers have no-contract plans, whereas others require a 2-year commitment. Consider what’s most important to you so that way when you’re comparing brands it’s easier to cut through details.
What we’re driving at is that you have a lot of options, so help yourself narrow it down immediately by finding out which providers are near you, deciding on a monthly budget, and then seeing what plans fit your speed and data needs.
Best Availability Internet Service Provider—Xfinity by Comcast
The biggest, fastest, and best overall internet provider available to most.
Comcast Xfinity is the best overall internet service provider. Why? No other company serves as many people (41+ states), delivers as fast of speeds (up to 2 Gbps), or provides as many package options—from basic internet to full-on bundling options combining internet, TV, phone, and home security. Xfinity’s prices are even pretty reasonable (say what!?).
What we like
Comcast has a lot going for it: the absolute fastest speeds we’ve seen at 2 Gbps, a high actual-to-advertised speed ratio of 105%,1 and rising customer service scores. The company also ranked highest in the Netflix ISP Speed Index.2 While it does have a 1TB data cap for most plans, you can purchase unlimited data for $30 per month if you need it (most people don’t).
Depending on what you’re ordering, Comcast contracts come in 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, or even no-term contracts. We like that because it gives customers more control. You’ll usually save $10 or so a month for opting into a contract with Xfinity, which could end up saving you $120+. If you’re not into long-term commitments, the no-term plans make more sense to avoid potential Early Termination Fees (up to $240+, yeesh!).
Most people like to bundle internet with TV because it’s more convenient for billing, plus you usually save time and money. Comcast Xfinity provides a discount for signing up for both TV and internet. Some plans also include the Xfinity X1 DVR, and Comcast Xfinity’s on-demand library is still the largest we’ve come across.
What we don’t like
At this point, Comcast’s reputation precedes it. With a notoriously bad customer service record behind the Comcast name, the company essentially rebranded its TV and internet services as Xfinity. Comcast dropped $300 million to improve customer satisfaction,3 but it’ll be a long hard-fought battle before it’s seen as a champion of customer service. However, all Internet Service Providers are ranked low, so we don’t expect Amazon or Apple levels of customer service anyway.
Another gripe is that upload speeds can be as little as one/tenth of the download speeds (i.e., 250 Mbps download speeds compared to 25 Mbps upload speeds). This isn’t the biggest deal for most customers, but it does affect things like posting pictures to Facebook or uploading HD videos to Vimeo. So keep your eye on that, content creators.
Best available internet provider—Comcast Xfinity summary:
- Available in 41+ states
- Speeds up to 2 Gbps (2,000 Mbps)
- 105% actual-to-advertised speed ratio
- Plenty of package choices
- Decent pricing
You can get fast internet for a good deal with Xfinity. Comcast Xfinity’s high internet speeds, discount TV and internet bundles, and varied contract options outweigh its negative reputation—especially when you look at the ISP customer service landscape.
Consistently fast ISP—Verizon Fios
Verizon’s great . . . if it’s available.
Verizon delivers speeds up to 1 Gbps, plus they have no data cap. In fact, Verizon Fios is superior to Comcast in terms of speed symmetry and customer service, but it’s not nearly as available to as many people as Comcast Xfinity. It’s also a bit more expensive, but users may find the service warrants the price.
What we like
Verizon Fios provides some of the fastest speeds out there, with symmetrical upload and download speeds so posting videos and pictures won’t take forever. Fios is typically a bit more expensive than other providers like Xfinity, but it has a consistent actual-to-advertised speed ratio—99% according to the 80/80 measurements Federal Communications Commission (FCC),4 so you’ll get all of the speed you pay for.
What we don’t like
Verizon is available in only 21 states, or less than half of the country (which means Comcast nearly doubles Verizon’s footprint). Verizon is building out its fiber-optic network, but it’ll be a long wait for a lot of people.
Besides that, Verizon Fios is more expensive than your average provider. It’s understandable, considering Fios is a solid service that’s faster than most providers, but still, when you’re in the ballpark of $200 a month for internet service, you better need all that speed.
Consistently fast ISP—Verizon Fios summary:
- Symmetrical download and upload speeds up to 1 Gbps
- 99% actual-to-advertised speed ratios
- Unlimited data
Fios is a great service for anyone who can get it. The fiber service offers up some of the fastest internet out there; you’ll be happy with your download and upload speeds, but your bill might seem a bit expensive.
Best value internet provider—CenturyLink
CenturyLink’s pricing is competitive for the speeds it offers.
While other budget internet providers may have cheaper prices than CenturyLink, you’ll probably only get 1–5 Mbps. CenturyLink internet starts at about $34.95 for up to 40 Mbps. Although this is only first-year pricing, once your advertised rate is about to expire, you can either call to cancel or to renegotiate a new deal. Plus, other than the standard $10 per month for a router, you won’t have any hidden fees—even pesky data overages.
What we like
Besides being affordable, CenturyLink is great for anyone looking to get TV and internet together, since its cheap bundles offer DIRECTV. The cheapest bundle is only $5 more than an internet-only plan, so it’s a good savings for anyone who needs basic internet access and a great TV option for the whole home.
What we don’t like
Unfortunately, CenturyLink’s download speeds vary quite a bit depending on your location. That means a person in Des Moines, Iowa might not get nearly the same speeds as someone who lives in Seattle, Washington.
Best value internet service provider—CenturyLink summary:
- High-speed internet for only $35
- Basic Internet as low as $20
- 1-Gig Internet only $80, although not widely available
- Bundle TV with DIRECTV
CenturyLink is a good deal for anyone who needs basic internet, but it’s an especially good deal if you can get its fiber service (1-Gig Internet) in your area.
Best rural internet—Viasat
Satellite internet is getting better and better.
Well there are two ways to look at this: 1) If you’re living in a rural place, you only have access to satellite internet (most of the time). 2) If you’re rural, you can still use the internet!
At any rate, if you have DSL, cable, or fiber internet nearby, chances are those are better options for you. If not, you’re pretty much looking at two satellite providers: HughesNet and Viasat (formerly Exede).
We’d personally go with Viasat. Last year saw some major updates for this satellite internet provider, and now it offers faster speeds (up to 50 Mbps, with 100 Mbps coming soon) and more data than its only competition, HughesNet.
What we like
After launching a new satellite within the last year, Viasat increased its highest speeds to 50 Mbps, with 100 Mbps coming soon.
Along with faster download speeds, Viasat offers data plans up to 100 GB, double that of the competition. And getting more for your money is always a good thing.
What we don’t like
Viasat’s prices spike after your first three months of service. We don’t like it when companies do this because it makes the low introductory price misleading. Still, Viasat’s price per megabit is still less than HughesNet—and you get faster speeds and higher data limits than HughesNet too.
Speaking of data limits, all of Viasat’s service packages technically come with unlimited data. But it does give you data guidelines, and if you go past those guidelines, the company says it might prioritize other customers above you. That’s pretty much just a nice way to say it’ll throttle your speed.
Get a grip on your data usage
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There’s almost nothing worse than getting a surprise notification that you’ve exceeded your data limits. Avoid this unpleasant surprise by keeping track of your data usage through Viasat’s app, which is free on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.
Best rural internet service provider—Viasat summary:
- 50 Mbps download speed (100 Mbps coming soon)
- Data plans up to 100 GB
With all other satellite providers (dishNet, EarthLink, WildBlue) no longer in service, satellite customers have two choices: Viasat (formerly Exede) or HughesNet. We’d recommend Viasat, since recent improvements have pushed it into the lead past HughesNet.
Runner up internet provider—Optimum
Optimum lives up to its name when it comes to speed.
What we like
With Optimum, most people get more speed than they paid for. Out of every internet provider, Optimum has the best actual speeds compared to advertised speeds with a ratio of 105% as measured by the FCC’s 80/80 rule,5 which basically translates as “most customers getting most of what they paid for even during peak times.” When it comes to speed, Optimum is one of the best internet deals available.
Optimum has decent customer service scores, no-contract internet options, and free access to 1.5 million Wi-Fi hotspots—great for those of us who use phones or tablets often but don’t want to use our mobile data.
What we don’t like
The only problem with Optimum is its small area of coverage; you have to live in New York or the surrounding areas to get internet access through Optimum. Other than that, it stands up as a solid service.
Did you know: Upload speeds may vary
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Not every provider treats upload speeds the same. For example, sometimes Comcast offers upload speeds at 1/10th of the plan’s advertised download speed. Verizon Fios offers symmetrical speeds, so download and upload speeds match. Optimum’s upload speeds are universal at 35 Mbps. Every provider is different.
Runner up internet service provider—Optimum summary:
- Speeds up to 400 Mbps
- 105% actual speeds
- Low latency
We really think highly of Optimum in terms of stats, but it’s just not available to that many of us. If it expanded, it could be quite the force, but perhaps that’s why the company is able to deliver quality service—it’s not spread so thin.
How to choose the best ISP for you
Here’s a checklist for deciding on an internet service provider:
- Which providers are available in your area?
- How much speed do you need?
- How much data do you need?
- Do you want to bundle with TV/phone/security?
- What plans are within your budget?
- What about customer service?
*Note: While customer service scores do matter to us, we’ve learned that the telecom industries (TV, internet, and phone) consistently rank low, so keep that in mind.
First and foremost, you must determine which providers are in your area. If you haven’t already, plug your ZIP code into our provider finder. From there, your selection is automatically narrowed down. It’s likely there will be fewer than five providers in your area.
Although HughesNet and Exede are available (nearly) everywhere, we recommend satellite only if there is not a DSL, cable, or fiber option.
With the exception of satellite internet, most companies charge according to your download speeds.
What speeds do I need?
- The recommended minimum download speeds from the FCC:
- Casual web browsing: 1 Mbps
- Streaming video: 4 Mbps
- Video conferencing: 4 Mbps
- Online gaming: 5 Mbps
These speeds are for individual users. The more people you have using the internet simultaneously, the higher your minimum speeds will need to be.
For example, we’d say about 25 Mbps is good for a household that streams video, and 50 is even better if you have more users. Once you start reaching speeds over 100 Mbps, you’re getting into fast cable territory.
The fastest internet is fiber-optic, and although these plans may start in lower ranges, we’ve come to see 100 Mbps up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gig) internet as being a standard range for fiber.
Data caps suck, but they’re not going away anytime soon. We prefer unlimited internet, so if a company does offer that option, it ranks higher in our eyes. That being said, we see 1TB data caps as the current standard for a “good data cap” (if there is such a thing) because most people won’t hit it. Anything less than that seems absurd with speeds and data needs on the rise.
Most providers have the option to bundle internet and TV services together. In some cases you may also add phone service or home security and automation. Providers typically offer discounts to these package deals, but not always.
Don’t pick a plan that you can barely afford each month, because we guarantee it will always be more than the advertised price. Internet Service Providers, along with the rest of the telecom industry, are notorious for tacking on hidden fees and additional charges.
6. Customer service
The customer service rankings for Internet Service Providers is low across the board. Most people’s problems stem from billing issues, early termination fees, and unwanted services. Our advice: read your user agreements, contract terms, and any other fine print. If you’re calling in, write down the details of your order, or request a printed or emailed form. Always keep a record when dealing with your ISP.
How to choose the best ISP for you summary:
While it may seem like there’s a lot to consider when choosing the best internet service provider for you, it starts with a simple step: find out what internet is available to you. From there you only have two to five options, which should be easy to narrow down based on speed, data, bundle options, and pricing. Customer service isn’t going to improve by leaps and bounds anytime soon, so just be mindful of what you’re buying and you’ll be fine.
Once again, the best service for you isn’t the best service for everyone. After narrowing down your choices to what’s available to you, it should be fairly easy to pick out which speeds and data suit your needs—and perhaps more importantly, your budget.
Best Internet Service Providers summary:
- Best overall internet service provider—Comcast
- Runner up—Verizon Fios
- Best rural internet service provider—Viasat (formerly Exede)
- Fastest internet service provider—Optimum
- Best budget internet service provider—CenturyLink
If you still have questions, scope out the FAQ section below, or leave us a comment asking what you’d like to know!
Which internet service provider offers the fastest speed?
Comcast Xfinity offers internet up to 2,000 Mbps in some areas, which is more than any of us “need,” but damn, that would make the internet instantaneous—barring equipment, site, and network restrictions that is.
Which providers offer unlimited internet data?
Verizon offers unlimited internet data for free. Comcast charges $30; so does AT&T, but you also have to opt in for tailored advertisements (eek).
Which providers offer deals for TV and internet?
Some companies like Comcast Xfinity will discount your price by $10 a month for bundling. CenturyLink is a great deal because you can get TV service from DIRECTV while adding internet service for only $5-10 more on average. If you’re interested in bundles, it’s best to weigh which is more important for you: TV or internet, from there you can see what fits in your budget.
What sort of additional charges can you expect?
Additional charges will come from leasing or buying a modem (or other equipment like routers, gateways, Wi-Fi extenders, etc.), company-originated service fees, and taxes. Be wary of data overages, too.
Which internet provider has the best customer service?
We’re treading lightly here because just about every person seems to have a different experience with their ISP, but if we had to give an evaluation using years’ worth of data from ACSI, JD Power, FCC and other institutions dedicated to rating companies, we’d say Optimum and Verizon Fios are the most likely to treat you right.
What’s the best fiber, cable, DSL, satellite internet provider?
Obviously, we all want the latest and greatest technology (if we can afford it). But fiber and cable build-outs take time, whereas DSL can run through your phone line, and satellite connections can reach just about anywhere. We’ve come up with a general list of providers according to technology types, but your best bet is to find what providers are in your area first.
Best of internet technology types:
- Fiber: Verizon Fios, Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-Verse, CenturyLink Prism, Fios from Frontier, Google Fiber
- Cable: Comcast Xfinity, Optimum, Cox Communications, Mediacom, RCN, Suddenlink, Charter Spectrum, Time Warner Cable (Charter), Brighthouse (Charter)
- DSL: AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Verizon, Windstream
- Satellite: Viasat (formerly Exede), HughesNet
What’s the fastest internet provider?
Fortunately for customers, fiber networks are growing and median download speeds are increasing. That being said, we try to emphasize that if you can get a higher-tier technology, do so; slower technologies are for those of us who have no other option.
Summary of fastest internet by technology:
- Fastest fiber internet: Comcast—2 Gbps (1,000 Mbps)
- Fastest cable internet: Optimum—400 Mbps
- Fastest DSL internet: Windstream—50 Mbps
- Fastest satellite internet: Viasat (formerly Exede) —50 Mbps (100 Mbps coming soon)
As you can see, the fastest speeds vary widely by each delivery method.
1. Federal Communication Commission, “Measuring Fixed Broadband Report – 2016”
2. Netflix, “Internet Service Providers Speed Index”
3. FierceCable, “Comcast to Hire 550 Workers for Customer Service Hub”
4. Federal Communication Commission, “Measuring Fixed Broadband Report – 2016”