The best internet service providers (ISPs) for streaming content (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) let you stream to your heart’s content with little interruption.
To find the best ISPs for streaming, we dug through raw data from the FCC Measuring Broadband Report and Netflix ISP Speed Index and compared 13 ISPs’ advertised vs. actual download speeds, percentages of actual to advertised speed, and prime time internet speeds for streaming content. We also checked with streaming content providers to see what internet speeds they recommend. With all that information together with what we learned from our full-service reviews, we found the best ISPs and listed them below.
Before we get into the providers we picked, just remember that plans and availability vary across the country—so it’s best to start your search by seeing what’s actually available to you. Use our ZIP code finder to see all of your internet provider options.
Best internet for streaming Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video
Best overall pick
Verizon Fios earned the #1 spot on our top list of ISPs to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or any other live TV service of your choice. According to the FCC, its actual speed also delivers 92% of its advertised speed, which is great when compared to other ISPs.1 So go ahead and binge watch as many movies and shows as humanly possible.
In the end, how you choose to stream is entirely up to you. See our full review of Verizon Fios internet here.
Best and most available internet for streaming
Verizon Fios and Optimum are easily the first and second choice for internet streaming; however, they have limited availability. The best internet for streaming that’s actually in your area is (drumroll) … Comcast XFINITY.
Yes, we are aware of all the negativity surrounding the service (we’ve covered the lackluster customer support in our review), but the data doesn’t lie: Comcast XFINITY is surprisingly a good ISP for streaming. It earned the #2 spot in actual-to-advertised download speed with 97%, and it’s just outside the top five ISPs according to the Netflix ISP index. Also, it has a no-contract option, so if you ever want to cancel, you won’t get stuck paying an early termination fee.
Best internet for high definition (HD) streaming
Optimum internet service delivers 101% of advertised speed, and it doesn’t require a contract. It also made the #3 spot in our list for average speeds using data from the Netflix ISP Speed Index.
Even though almost every streaming content provider says more than 5 Mbps will get you HD video quality, we’re looking to stream 1080p HD and not 720p HD. Optimum’s basic plan starts at 10 Mbps, so it’s got 1080p HD covered. See our full review of Optimum internet here.
Best internet for streaming 4K
Verizon Fios is the best internet for streaming 4K for two reasons: speed and data.
You need at least 25 Mbps for 4K streaming—we say play it safe and go for a plan that offers 40–50 Mbps. Just watching one hour of 4K video uses close to 7 GB of data. Because Verizon Fios delivers the goods on both fronts, it’s easily the best internet for streaming 4K. See our full review of Verizon Fios here.
Cheapest internet for streaming
Besides being our pick for best internet for streaming HD, Optimum is also the best budget internet provider for streaming.
Its 10 Mbps plan starts at $24.95 a month, which is $5–15 a month less than Comcast XFINITY and $15 a month less than AT&T U-verse internet. Verizon Fios does offer a cheaper “high-speed internet” plan, but it only has speeds up to 1 Mbps.
With Optimum’s plan only being $5 a month more for ten times the speed, we had to pick Optimum. See our review of Optimum internet here.
Best internet for Twitch
Verizon Fios has high download speeds but it has something else that makes it the best internet for Twitch: fast upload speeds.
If you’re interested in Twitch live streaming, or online gaming in general, Verizon’s Fios service is hard to beat. The only plan we could find with upload speeds remotely close was Comcast XFINITY’s X1 Gigabit Pro service (200 Mbps upload speed), which is incredibly expensive (more than $300 a month). To compare, Verizon Fios’s Gigabit Connection offers upload speeds up to 880 Mbps. See our full review of Verizon Fios internet here.
What you should know about streaming
What are advertised vs. actual internet speeds?
Using the FCC’s Measuring Broadband Report, an “ongoing, rigorous, nationwide study of consumer broadband performance,” we found which ISPs are delivering on the speeds they advertise.
The 12,000+ word report is filled to the brim with data, so we picked through to find the most relevant information. In the table below, we have the FCC’s percentage of actual internet speed to advertised internet speed. These percentages represent what 90% of an ISP’s customers experience—for example, 90% of CenturyLink customers only get 60% of the advertised speed (ouch!).
Which ISP's Deliver on the Speeds They Advertise?
|Internet Service Provider||Percentage of actual to advertised speed|
|Verizon Fiber (Fios)||92%|
Netflix data on the best ISP for streaming
In finding the best internet service providers for streaming, we also used data from the Netflix ISP Speed Index for 2017. The website lists the average megabits per second (Mbps) streamed to Netflix customers each month. We took Netflix’s data from the past twelve months and did some to math to find the top-performing ISPs.
So what do these numbers mean, and why should you care? Well, Netflix is saying these are the best ISPs for streaming its content. Period. Considering Netflix streams “more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day,” we trust what they have to say on the matter.
FAQs about streaming
Of course, what Netflix says played a role in our picks for best ISPs for streaming; however, we also wanted to check with other streaming content providers (Hulu, Amazon Video, HBO GO, etc.) to see what they recommend for their services. See what they have to say in the Q&A section below.
What internet speed do I need to watch Netflix?
The following internet speeds come straight from the the horse’s mouth: Netflix’s help center.
Recommended Internet Speeds for Streaming Netflix
|Video Resolution||Pixels||Recommended Speeds|
|Low definition (LD)||<360p||15 Mbps|
|Standard definition (SD)||480p||3 Mbps|
|High definition (HD)||720p||5 Mbps|
|Full HD||1080p||10 Mbps*|
|Ultra HD (UHD/4K)||>4,000p||25 Mbps|
*Reviews.org’s recommended speed; Netflix does not provide this information.
If you want to know what speed you need to watch Netflix in HD, the answer isn’t very clear. Netflix says you need a minimum of 5 Mbps to watch in HD, but it doesn’t differentiate between basic HD (720p) and full HD (1080p). We know there’s a noticeable difference between the two, but when we asked Netflix for a recommended speed for 1080p, its representatives didn’t have any answers (yes, really).
You can find hardware requirements for Netflix here.
What does SD, HD, Full HD, and UHD (4K) look like?
The terms SD and HD are used loosely: SD can be 360p or 480p, while HD can mean 720p, 960p, or 1080p.
What internet speed do I need to watch YouTube?
YouTube recommends 0.5 Mbps as the minimum speed for its service. If you’re curious to know what it takes for SD and HD video quality, you can see those speeds below.
Recommended Internet Speeds for Streaming YouTube
|Video Resolution||Pixels||Recommended Internet Speeds|
|Standard definition (SD)||360p||0.7–2.5 Mbps|
|High definition (HD)||720p||> 2.5 Mbps|
In our opinion, YouTube is easily the best at adapting its video quality to your internet speed, so if you have slower speeds and only care for YouTube you won’t have to worry too much. You can find hardware requirements for YouTube here.
What internet speed do I need to watch Hulu?
For basic, standard definition (SD or 480p) video, Hulu recommends at least 1.5 Mbps for a “smooth playback experience.” For high-definition (HD or 720p) video, Hulu recommends at least 3 Mbps.
Recommended Internet Speeds for Streaming Hulu
|Video Resolution||Pixels||Recommended Internet Speeds|
|Standard definition (SD)||480p||1.5 Mbps|
|High definition (HD)||720p||3 Mbps|
We’re a bit skeptical of Hulu’s numbers. For example, we have internet speeds that are far and above what Hulu recommends, but we still experience buffering. Hulu is just recommending the bare minimum, and that won’t do if you want to watch Bob’s Burgers without interruption. We say play it safe and go for at least double Hulu’s recommendations: 3 Mbps for SD video and 6 Mbps for HD video.
If you’re curious to know hardware requirements for Hulu, you can find them here.
What internet speed do I need to watch Amazon Video?
The required speed to watch standard definition (SD) is 0.9 Mbps. If you want to watch in high definition (HD), you’ll need 3.5 Mbps.
Recommended Internet Speeds for Streaming Amazon Video
|Video Resolution||Pixels||Recommended Internet Speeds|
|Standard definition (SD)||480p||0.9 Mbps|
|High definition (HD)||720p||3.5 Mbps|
Like with Hulu, we’re skeptical about these numbers for watching Amazon Video because we’ve been stuck with the buffering icon at speeds that easily exceed the minimum. We suggest having at least 1.5 Mbps for SD and 6 Mbps for HD. Trust us—we’ve watched every season of Justified on Amazon Video, and that’s a lot of hours: 78 hours in fact.
Find hardware requirements for Amazon Video here.
What internet speed do I need to watch HBO GO?
HBO doesn’t provide details on SD or HD requirements. The most concrete answer we could find is this: “Most shows on HBO GO are available in HD.” HBO’s website does mention if your connection speed is below 3 Mbps you “might get a lower resolution video,” but that’s it. Honestly, we’re disappointed HBO didn’t provide more information, especially considering the quality of their streaming content (Game of Thrones!)
Find hardware requirements for HBO here.
What internet speed do I need to watch Twitch?
Twitch has an entire page that’s dedicated to this question, and it’s called “Chasing the 1080p Unicorn.” (With a name like that, we had to mention it here.) Twitch is unlike other streaming content providers in that it works to offer lower-resolution content to “make sure viewers can find a display resolution that works for them.” If you want to watch in 1080p (full HD), we suggest you review what Twitch has to say on the matter (in short: check your PC configuration and network connectivity).
What do I need to stream Spotify, Pandora, etc.?
If you’re a music junkie, you’ll only need 0.5 Mbps of internet speed. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify or Pandora—it’s that simple. Like video, there are different levels of quality, and the higher the quality, the more speed you’ll need.Because most audio streaming services recommend 0.3 Mbps for high-quality audio, 0.5 Mbps is more than enough to make sure the beat goes on.
What’s the best rural internet service for streaming?
If you live in a rural area, it’s likely your only option for service is satellite internet. We’ve reviewed the top satellite internet providers, but if you’re interested in streaming the latest series from Netflix to your cabin in the woods, you’re likely out of luck. In general, satellite internet just isn’t cut out for streaming. If you only want to watch YouTube and you’re the patient type, you could probably make do. There are services that will let you download movies or shows overnight to watch later, but we haven’t tested them out.
Let’s hear from you
We want to hear from you and what you think is the best internet provider for streaming. Do you have an internet service that has never let you down during a binge-watching session? Do you have internet service that tortures you with endless buffering? Do you have tips for watching streaming content that you want to share with others?
Whatever it is, let us hear about it in the comments below, and if you have a question, we’ll take those too!
1. FCC, Measuring Broadband America