Figuring out the best internet service provider (ISP) for you depends first on what providers are in your area. That’s because, unfortunately, regional monopolies and natural topography prevent ISPs from being available everywhere. In fact, it’s so bad that the FCC reports that 85% of Americans have just 2 or fewer internet services for their home available to them – the one exception is satellite internet, which is widely available.
So, the quickest way to answer the question “What’s the best internet service provider near me?” is to first check what providers are available near you, then compare those internet providers and move forward.
With that said, we broke things down into categories to rate which ones are best in different areas — and we even took a stab at claiming the “best overall” internet provider. Read on to find out who took top place for each area — and who comes in 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) place for each.
Best overall internet: Xfinity
|Performance Starter Internet||Up to 15Mbps||$29.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Plus Internet||Up to 60Mbps||$34.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Pro Internet||Up to 150Mbps||$44.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Blast! Pro Internet||Up to 250Mbps||$59.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Extreme Pro Internet||Up to 400Mbps||$74.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Gigabit Internet||Up to 1,000Mbps||$89.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Gigabit Pro Internet||Up to 2,000Mbps||$299.99/mo*||View plans|
*Prices per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply.
**Actual speeds vary with location.
Comcast Xfinity wins our choice of the best overall internet service provider. Why? There are a few reasons (which we’ll flesh out below), but one of two stand out powerfully.
- Wide availability. First, Xfinity is widely available across the U.S. – 41 states, to be exact. It’s strongest coverage is in Maryland, Illinois, and Utah, and while Verizon Fios was a close
- Consistent speeds. Xfinity won Ookla’s latest speedtest both for top speed and with the most consistent percentage of consistency — 84.5% of the speed samples taken from different regions met or exceeded a 25Mbps threshold. The next closest was Spectrum, with 83.5%.
When you combine broad coverage, plus consistent speeds across that coverage, and a variety of plans at reasonable prices, that makes an overall winner for our book. Plus, Xfinity offers some cool contract options: 1-year contract, or “no-term” i.e. month-to-month. Most other ISPs that require a contract offer only 2-year options.
That said, Xfinity does have a few downsides to it. Like Viasat, Xfinity’s pricing for the same plans can vary widely depending on where you live. That means a plan could cost you more in your area than the next zip code over – not great.
Plus, Xfinity puts a data cap on you. While it’s 1TB — plenty for most people — power users will find it limiting and have to pay another $50 a month for unlimited data, or $10 per 50GB used beyond that cap.
Best cable internet: Xfinity
Xfinity takes the cake in our cable internet category, too. They took a close second to Verizon Fios in Netflix’s March 2019 ISP speed index — but it remained the #1 fastest of the true cable providers, coming in ahead of Cox and Spectrum. And as already mentioned, Ookla’s speedtest found the same.
We won’t nag on details we’ve already covered, but speed aside, contract options are great. Depending on the plan, you can choose from 1-year, 2-year, or no-term contracts. While you’ll nab some savings from going with a contract, you still get the option to skip it and avoid any termination fees if you need to cancel early.
The fantastic speeds make Xfinity great for gamers, HD or 4K video streamers, and large households.
That said, Comcast’s customer service has been below average, and they make you pay a $15 self-installation fee, which is kind of a bummer.
Other options - Spectrum + Cox
If you want other options, though, try these on for size. Both Spectrum Internet and Cox Internet have solid speeds at affordable rates. They rank a little lower on the speed tests we referenced earlier, but both are still solid providers if they’re available in your area.
*12-month price with 1-year service agreement.
Best fiber internet: Verizon Fios
*With autopay, plus taxes, equipment charges, and other fees.
Verizon’s Fios internet provides some of the best internet service out there, no contest. It’s pure fiber-optic from start to finish, so both upload and download speeds are the same: fast. Prices really aren’t too bad, either: in many cases when stacked against competitors, you’ll get more mbps for each dollar you pay.
This makes Verizon Fios great for gamers and 4K streamers – but you don’t have to be a data super-user to enjoy Fios, either: those fiber-optic connections make for speeds that tend to be more reliable than DSL or cable.
Other options - AT&T + CenturyLink
If Verizon Fios isn’t available in your area, try one of these on for size. AT&T Fiber delivers speeds up to 1,000 Mbps in major cities, so as long as they’re available – you’re golden. And if they aren’t AT&T is the largest DSL provider in the U.S., so they’re worth checking out.
CenturyLink, although landing farther down the speed test rankings, fills a gap: the areas where AT&T and Fios aren’t, CenturyLink is. They offer 1,000Mbps plans in more cities than any other ISPs.
*Starting price for the first 12 months, effective 04/13/19. All offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
**Speed dependent on area.
Best low-cost internet: Frontier
*For the first 24 months.
**Plans vary by area.
With Frontier, you get the option to pick the perfect plan for your budget. So you can get some high speeds for good prices, although depending on your area, it may not come out to the money-for-GB internet around. But, when it comes to overall price, they tend to keep modest data speeds for low rates.
That said, the FiOS plans are a bit on the high side when compared to other options like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon Fios – so stay away from those.
Frontier is gives especially good rates when you bundle your internet with your TV and home phone (although not as good as AT&T) and a no-contract option with every plan is always a plus – and they even throw in a 2-year pricelock on those, too. Equipment is pretty cheap, too – free when you sign a contract; and just $5 a month if you don’t.
Other options - AT&T + Xfinity
If Frontier isn’t available in your area, or you just don’t like the look of ‘em, AT&T and Xfinity actually offer some solid prices on their lower-tier offerings.
Best bundle internet: AT&T
|DIRECTV + Internet Basic 5||5Mbps||DIRECTV package price + $30/mo.||View Bundles|
|DIRECTV + Internet 100||100Mbps||DIRECTV package price + $40/mo.||View Bundles|
|DIRECTV + Internet 300||300Mbps||DIRECTV package price + $50/mo.||View Bundles|
|DIRECTV + Internet 1000||1000Mbps||DIRECTV package price + $70/mo.||View Bundles|
*For 12 months, with a 2-year TV agreement + 1-year internet agreement, and autopay and paperless billing. Prices increase months 13-24.
AT&T is our pick for the best TV/internet bundling option. Why? It’s a multi-fold answer. Firstly, AT&T and DIRECTV are basically part-and-parcel the same company: the former owns the latter. But that alone definitely isn’t enough to declare them the winner.
No, DIRECTV is a great TV provider. Yes, you have to sign a 2-year contract, and prices aren’t the cheapest – but you get great value for your money. And AT&T has been providing solid internet access for a while, in both broadband and fiber-optic varieties.
While Xfinity internet offers generous savings when you bundle internet and TV through them, we think DIRECTV is the better TV service. And while some people may prefer DISH Network’s prices over DIRECTV’s, you can’t bundle with AT&T internet.
So: AT&T + DIRECTV = a better match than any others.
You’ll save about $10 bucks a month by bundling ($120 a year).
And speed-wise, you can get up to 1000Mbps in major cities with AT&T Fiber. And if that’s not available, widespread DSL coverage gives you affordable highspeeds across the nation. AT&T also won the J.D. Power Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction award in 2018, so people are pretty happy about them.
The downsides with AT&T come with their contracts. You’ll have to sign at least a 1-year contract for the internet, and a 2-year contract for TV. And by the way, both of those while charge higher rates after the first year. They do give you the internet equipment for free, though, and the self installation option is nice.
Best Satellite Internet: Viasat
Viasat wins our pick for the best satellite internet service provider. A few years ago, we would have said HughesNet, but times change — that’s just not the case anymore. While satellite internet isn’t known for high internet speeds (20,000 miles is a long way for data to travel, making latency a real issue), Viasat actually accomplishes speeds that competitive even to DSL or cable in some areas.
With speeds up to 100Mbps – and even 150 in some spots – Viasat is perfect for internet users who live in the middle of nowhere, beyond the reach of cable, DSL, and fiber connections. So long as you don’t expect to be able to play real-time games like Call of Duty and you’re a more moderate-usage video streamer – you’ll be in good hands.
Plus, while Viasat used to charge great entry rates (for the first 3 months), then skyrocket the price, they now offer a 2-year price lock guarantee — so long as you don’t mind signing a 2-year contract with them.
But, the biggest gripe about Viasat is the elusiveness of their plan options and pricing. Depending on where you’re located, you’ll see both different plans available and at different — sometimes higher — prices.
As you’ll see if you check out our Best Satellite Internet Providers review, I got a very different selection of plans than those noted in the table above when I typed in my zip code — and the one plan that matched (Unlimited Silver 25) was $50 more than advertised. My editor got a different selection, too.
Other options - HughesNet
HughesNet is the only other option for U.S. residents for satellite internet. They’re not a bad one, either — Viasat fails (plan + price transparency), HughesNet excels, clearly showing the same pricing options for all plans, no matter your area. Plus, HughesNet’s starting data speeds are double Viasat’s lowest option, and the former’s prices tend to be cheaper.
Oof, that’s a lot, right? To summarize our top picks for each category:
- Best overall: Xfinity for its wide availability and the most consistent speeds across their coverage.
- Best cable provider: Xfinity for great speeds and flexible contract options.
- Best fiber internet: Verizon Fios for the widest availability and fastest speeds of current fiber providers.
- Best low-cost provider: Frontier’s DSL plans for solid speed at affordable prices.
- Best bundling option: AT&T for their pairing of great speeds and coverage for internet, plus DIRECTV. Frontier (paired with DISH Network) is a close second, but the internet can’t keep up with AT&T.
- Best satellite provider: Viasat for high speeds and data thresholds.
How to pick the best ISP for you
After reading all that, hopefully you’ve got some clarity on which providers are more likely to be best for you. But even so, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which ISP is the right one. So to help you out, we added this guide to the end of our post.
Find the answers to these questions, and you’ll steadily narrow down your options to the best (available) provider for you.
What types of internet services are available in your area?
First, you need to find out what types of internet are available in your area. These include:
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
DSL is typically the cheapest form of broadband internet available and is delivered to you by existing phone lines; most ISPs provide this type and it’s usually fairly available — AT&T, which has the most widespread DSL network, covers about 38% of the nation.
Cable internet goes to your home by the wires of your cable service. Speeds are advertised to be higher than DSL; but with cable, you share with the neighborhood, so that’s not always the case.
Satellite is beamed to your home from a satellite. Because of the huge distance between satellite, ground control center, and your house, speeds tend to be slow — but satellite internet is available just about everywhere. So if you’re in a very rural area, it may be your only option for service.
Fiber-optic is only available in select areas — usually larger cities — and, like cable, uses wires to deliver service to you. The type of cable differs, however, allowing for faster speeds.
What can you get at your home?
Next, with an idea of what to expect, you need to ask yourself, “What can I get at my home?” Start by visiting ispprovidersinmyarea.com. Pop your zip code in and you’ll get a ranked list of the providers available, with a link to double check availability directly with the internet provider.
Just be aware that just because the services are listed in your zip code doesn’t mean they cover the entire zip — but it serves as a good starting point to start comparing providers.
And as a side note, consider local companies and cooperatives. As a general rule, the more local the ISP, the more available and reliable they’re likely to be.
What to look for when you start shopping
When you’re comparing ISPs, there are a few things you should take into account:
- Speed. Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of video uploading, focus on download speeds. Take note of what type of internet type the speeds will be delivered over; for example, cable speeds will differ widely with the time of day versus DSL or fiber internet.
- Data caps. Are they hard or soft? Is there a cap on how much you can download? Some services apply these, which isn’t good. If you’re a big video- or music-streamer, you may reach this cap. If you just use the internet for surfing and email, you probably won’t.
- Extra costs. Do you need to pay for installation? What about equipment leasing? Check in on these hidden costs before signing.
- Promo deals. Read the fine print. Some providers run a deal for the first few months, or first year, then dramatically raise the rates. In other cases, there may be deals that aren’t explicitly advertised. Ask.
- Bundling. You can often get better rates for bundling. Do they have any deals?
How to make the choice
Finally, you’ve got all the information in front of you. If you have more than one or two left, it’s time to ask a few more questions to make the choice.
Am I considering cable versus DSL? With cable, you essentially share your internet with anyone else in your neighborhood who also has that provider. That can lead to frustratingly lower speeds than advertised. If you have the option, go for DSL or fiber.
What’s the price per Mbps? If everything else is look equal, and you’re hemming and hawing over price — ask this question. Take into account every cost you’ve dug up: monthly price, equipment rentals, extra fees — everything.
Write down the provider’s speed (Mbps) and the total cost, then divide the cost by the speed. If everything else hasn’t decided it for you already, go with the cheaper plan based off this math. If you’ve done your homework thus far, you should be left with just one provider — the best ISP for you.