DSL vs. Cable Internet

Best Cable Provider
Xfinity
Xfinity Internet
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.25
Starting from
$19.99
/mo
Prices
$19.99-$120
Data Cap
1200 Mbps
Download Speeds
75-2000 Mbps
Best DSL Provider
Price
$50/mo.
Data Cap
Unlimited
Download Speed
Up to 100 Mbps
Tyler Abbott
Nov 02, 2023
Icon Time To Read5 min read

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Cable internet is objectively better than DSL internet, so this isn’t exactly a fair fight. You can get download speeds up to 300 Mbps with cable internet, and the best-case scenario with DSL internet maxes out around 100 Mbps. That being said, cable internet typically costs more than DSL, and might not even be available in your neck of the woods.

If you’re trying to decide between DSL and cable internet, allow us to save you some reading time and cut to the chase: you should choose cable internet. But for those of you who want additional context on DSL versus cable internet, we’ve got more details.

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Cable internet vs. DSL: Internet speeds

Provider
Plan
Connection Type
Download speeds
Learn more
CenturyLink InternetSimply Unlimited Internet 140 MbpsDSLUp to 140 Mbps
Windstream InternetKinetic Internet by Windstream Up to 100 MbpsDSLUp to 100 Mbps
Spectrum InternetSpectrum Internet® CableUp to 300 Mbps
Xfinity Internet - WestFastCableUp to 400 Mbps
Cox InternetGo Even FasterCableUp to 500 Mbps

You’ll have a hard time ever surpassing 100 Mbps with a DSL connection, which severely limits what you can do internet-wise in a single household. Think of it like getting a medium pizza and dividing it up for a family of 10 … everyone gets stuck with a tiny piece of pizza if everyone is going to eat. Likewise, a DSL connection can’t sustain a household of streamers, gamers, and TikTok creators (your average American teenager might be doing all three of things at the same time). Honestly, DSL internet speeds only make sense for households with one or two people inside.

Cable internet, which can go up to 500 Mbps, makes a lot more sense for a modern household. You can realistically have folks streaming and gaming at the same time with a smooth connection.

Cable internet vs. DSL: Price

Provider
Plan
Connection Type
Monthly price
Learn more
Windstream InternetKinetic Internet by Windstream Up to 100 MbpsDSL$50/mo.*
CenturyLink InternetSimply Unlimited Internet 140 MbpsDSL$55/mo.
Spectrum InternetSpectrum Internet® Cable$49.99/mo. for 12 mos.
Xfinity Internet - WestFastCable$50/mo.^
Cox InternetGo Even FasterCable$89.99/mo.°
* "With $5 Auto Pay for each month the customer is enrolled in AutoPay throughout the life of the customer. Available to new and existing customers. Price duration for 12 months.
Speed may not be available in your area. Paperless billing or prepay required. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply. Get the fastest internet speed available at your location (max speed is up to 140 Mbps).
For 12 months when bundled. Limited time offer; subject to change; valid to qualified residential customers who have not subscribed to any services within the previous 30 days and who have no outstanding obligation to Charter.
^ For 24 months. No term contract. Taxes not included. Includes $10/mo automatic payments and paperless billing discount. Not available in all areas. Prices may vary by location.
° No annual contract or cancellation fees.

As you can see from the chart above, there isn’t even that big of a difference in price between DSL and cable internet. You’ll end up paying at least $40 a month for DSL or cable internet, but you’ll get much faster download speeds with a cable internet connection. In some cases, like with Cox internet, you might see a higher price tag (and faster download speeds, too), but in general, the price between DSL and cable internet is pretty similar.

To help paint the picture even more, take a look at what some DSL providers are offering versus cable internet providers:

DSL providers
Provider
Connection Type
Monthly price
Download speeds
Learn more
AT&T Internet AirWireless$55/mo.**225 Mbps
CenturyLink InternetDSL/Fiber$50-$75††100-940 Mbps
Frontier InternetDSL$64.99/mo.‡‡0 Mbps
Windstream InternetDSL/Fiber$39.99-$169.99^^100-2000 Mbps
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
** AutoPay and paperless billing required. Monthly State Cost Recovery Charge in TX, OH, NV applies. . Service subj. to Internet Terms of Service at att.com/internet-terms. Offers may be modified, or discontinued, at any time without notice. Other conditions may apply to all offers. Speeds based on wired connection. Actual speeds may vary. For more info, go to www.att.com/speed101.
†† Speed may not be available in your area. Paperless billing or prepay required. Additional taxes, fees, and surcharges apply.
‡‡ w/ Auto Pay & Paperless Bill per month for 24 mos. One-time charge on disconnect applies.
^^ With Auto Pay for 12 months

Now that you’ve got a look at some popular DSL providers, take a look at what cable providers currently offer:

Cable providers
Provider
Connection Type
Monthly price
Download speeds
Learn more
Buckeye InternetCable$39.99-$89.99°°200-1000 Mbps
Astound Broadband Powered by GrandeCable/Fiber$25-$60***300-1500 Mbps
Cox InternetCable$9.95-$149.99†††100-2000 Mbps
Mediacom InternetCable$34.99-$54.99‡‡‡100-1000 Mbps
Optimum InternetCable/Fiber$30-$55^^^300-940 Mbps
Astound Broadband Powered by RCNCable$20-$60°°°300-1500 Mbps
Spectrum Internet®Cable$19.99-$89.9930-1000 Mbps****
WOW! InternetCable$30-$185††††100-5000 Mbps
Xfinity InternetCable/Fiber$19.99-$120‡‡‡‡75-2000 Mbps
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
°° Offer available to new customers that have not had Video and Internet with Buckeye Broadband within the last 60 days.
*** Includes $10 discount for 12 months w/ ebill & autopay. Experienced speeds may vary. Excludes surcharges and fees. New residential customers only.
††† Prices exclude taxes, surcharges, usage-based charges, certain equipment, and other fees or charges, which are subject to change.
‡‡‡ For the first 12 months.
^^^ Prices w/Auto Pay & Paperless Bill plus taxes. Terms apply. Not available in all areas.
°°° Observed speeds may vary. Exludes surcharges and fees. Equipment extra. New residential customers only.
**** Limited time offer; subject to change; valid to qualified residential customers who have not subscribed to any services within the previous 30 days and who have no outstanding obligation to Charter.
†††† With AutoPay & paperless billing. Equipment, taxes, data allowance, and other fees extra. Other restrictions apply to usage-based plans.
‡‡‡‡ Pricing for some packages are for the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1- or 2-year contract.

To get a deeper comparison of DSL and cable providers, check out our review of Frontier vs. Spectrum Internet.

Cable internet vs. DSL: Bundle deals

If you want to get multiple services under the same umbrella and get a discount while you're at it, cable internet providers offer way more bundling deals than DSL providers.

The best bundle deals come from internet providers like Xfinity and Spectrum, both of which offer cable internet and discounted cell phone plans to go along with it.

Cable internet vs. DSL: Availability

One of the benefits of choosing either cable internet or DSL internet is that they’re available in most areas. DSL is available to over 84% of the population, whereas cable internet is available to over 88% of the population.

To find the best DSL or cable internet service in your area, plug in your ZIP code to our handy-dandy tool below.

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Both DSL telephone lines and coaxial cable lines run throughout the US, but sometimes those networks don’t reach more remote locations. (Rural areas are still a mixed bag, internet-wise.) If you don’t have cable or DSL in your location, check out satellite internet.

Which internet option is better for rural areas?

If you live in a more rural area of the country without much internet access, you might not have a choice between cable and DSL internet—you're at the mercy of whatever ISPs service your neck of the woods. If you have the option for cable internet, we'd strongly recommend cable over DSL internet. If DSL internet is the only internet available, we recommend checking out some satellite internet providers.

Cable internet vs. DSL: Equipment and startup costs

Either internet type will require a modem to work, so you’ll need to either purchase a modem, or rent one from the ISP you land on. Generally speaking, cable modems tend to be slightly more expensive than DSL modems due to the higher speeds and capabilities associated with cable internet.

On average, cable modems costs range from $50 to $150 for a standalone device that you could purchase outright. High-performance or advanced models might fall on the higher end of this range. Additionally, some cable ISPs offer modem rental options, typically at a monthly fee of around $10 to $15, which can add up over time.

For DSL modems, the cost was generally in a similar range as cable modems, with basic models costing around $50 to $100. Like cable modems, some DSL modems can also be rented from ISPs for a monthly fee, usually around $5 to $10.

It's worth noting that purchasing your own modem can potentially save you money in the long run compared to renting from your ISP, as the rental fees can accumulate over time. Additionally, newer modems often offer better performance and compatibility with the latest technologies, so it might be worth investing a bit more upfront for a modem that can serve you well into the future.

Cable internet vs. DSL: Technology

Okay, let’s get technical.

How does cable work?

Cable internet uses a coaxial cable connection to provide high-speed internet access. These coaxial cables consist of a copper core surrounded by insulating material and shielding to prevent signal interference. Internet data is transmitted over these cables in the form of electrical signals. One significant advantage of cable internet is its relatively high speed and capacity, allowing for faster downloads, streaming, and online gaming. However, since cable connections are shared among multiple users in a neighborhood, network congestion during peak usage times can lead to reduced speeds for individual users.

How does DSL internet work?

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) internet, on the other hand, uses existing copper telephone lines to provide internet connectivity. DSL internet uses a different frequency than your telephone line, allowing both services to operate simultaneously over the same line. While DSL offers a dedicated connection and is generally more stable than cable, its speed is often lower compared to modern cable internet offerings. The actual speed you'll get with DSL depends entirely on the distance between the user's location and the provider's central office.

What internet technology is better?

You’ll typically get higher speeds with cable internet, making it better suited for bandwidth-intensive activities like HD streaming, online gaming, and large file downloads. However, cable connections are shared, which can lead to reduced speeds during peak hours. DSL, although generally slower than cable, offers a more consistent connection since it is not shared with neighboring users. It can make sense for light to moderate internet users in a small household who prioritize reliability and affordability over blazing-fast speeds, assuming there’s no better option. All things being equal, you're more likely to get a better experience with cable internet over DSL internet.

In case you're curious, the best overall choice is fiber internet. Fiber internet can reach much higher speeds than cable or DSL internet providers.

What's the difference between dial-up, DSL, cable, and fiber internet?

To make a long story short, the difference between each type of internet connection depends on, well, how everything is connected.

A DSL connection uses phone lines to provide an internet connection, cable internet uses cable TV lines to provide internet, and fiber internet uses fiber lines. The type of internet you can get all depends on the infrastructure of your home and neighborhood. 

Recap: Cable internet vs. DSL internet

In almost every way, cable internet is better than DSL internet. The only real drawback with cable compared to DSL is the fact that your data speeds could slow down if tons of nearby users are accessing the internet at the same time. Besides that, cable internet provides much faster download speeds at a very similar price.

  • Internet speeds: Cable internet can get you speeds up to 500 Mbps, whereas DSL can’t really go beyond 100 Mbps. Everyone will have a better experience streaming and gaming on a cable internet connection over a DSL connection.
  • Price: There isn’t a drastic difference in price between DSL and cable internet, although you’ll generally pay a few dollars more every month for cable. When you factor in the significantly increased data speeds, cable internet is still the better value even if it's slightly more expensive.
  • Availability: Both cable and DSL internet are widely available in the country, but you’re slightly more likely to find cable over DSL.
  • Equipment costs: You’ll need a modem with either cable or DSL internet. You can either purchase a modem for $50–$150, or rent a modem from your ISP for $5–$15 a month.
    Technology: Cable internet technology is newer and allows for higher data speeds than a telephone-line-based DSL connection.
  • Technology: Cable internet technology is newer and allows for higher data speeds than a telephone-line-based DSL connection.

Cable internet vs. DSL: FAQs

Spectrum Internet is a cable internet service provider. They offer high-speed internet access through coaxial cable connections. This allows customers to enjoy fast download and upload speeds for various online activities, such as streaming, gaming, and browsing. Keep in mind that the availability of specific services and technologies can vary depending on your location.

DSL stands for "Digital Subscriber Line." It is a type of technology that provides high-speed internet access using existing telephone lines while allowing both data and voice communication to occur simultaneously over the same line.

Tyler Abbott
Written by
Tyler Abbott
Tyler has been obsessed with watching sports as efficiently as possible since the creation of the DVR. He is always on the lookout for the best tech in TV and wireless so he can watch all the sports and still have enough time to hang out with his baby. He has written about streaming, wireless, and TV for over three years. He hopes the Lakers will eventually get better.

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