For most American households, being connected to the internet is as crucial as having electricity and running water. The challenge when comparing the best internet service providers (ISPs) in your area is to find one that meets your household’s needs.
If you want a ‘smart household’ with lots of interconnected devices, then you’ll need fiber internet with 1 gigabit (actually 940 Mbps) download capacity. If your requirements include massive downloads and streaming/gaming in 4K on multiple devices, then it makes sense to pay for high speeds of at least 100-400 Mbps. But if all you need is a reliable connection, then you may want to select a more affordable plan with speeds of 20-60 Mbps.
The other important thing to recognize is that internet services vary from area to area. According to the Federal Communications Commission, around one-third of Americans now have access to high-speed fiber broadband. But most rural areas and many urban and suburban areas are still limited to DSL, cable, or satellite. Therefore a useful starting point would be to search for ‘internet providers in my area’ or use this FCC search tool for a partial list of options where you live.
To help you begin your search, we compiled this list of the 10 top internet providers in America. We assessed the internet-only plans from all the best ISPs and selected the best ones for speed, affordability, and so on. We hope this assists you in making an informed decision!
No ISP can claim to be fastest everywhere, but AT&T is probably the fastest in the most locations. AT&T Fiber is now available in most urban and suburban areas in the Midwest, South, and California, with rollouts planned for the rest of the country in the near-future. The ‘Superfast’ 1-gigabit plan is faster than anyone else at the equivalent price.
For $49.99 / month, AT&T Fiber offers maximum 940 Mbps download speeds with unlimited internet data usage and no annual contracts. Best of all, the plan includes HBO Max free of charge – making it the perfect bundle for high-speed internet and binging HBO shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and Curb Your Enthusiasm in 4K.
Like the biggest railroad operators one century ago, the best internet providers are each conquering different parts of the country today. Verizon Fios is number one for high-speed internet in the North-East, having rolled out its fiber network to major metro areas including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and DC.
Verizon offers three plans that vary in terms of speeds and add-ons, all of them with no contracts. The $39.99 plan gets you 200 Mbps download speeds and Disney+ as free add-on for the first 12 months. The $79.99 plan gets you 940 Mbps download speeds, plus Disney+ and Hulu for 12 months and free router rental.
If you’re asking yourself, ‘What’s the cheapest way to get internet?’, then this is it. Xfinity, a subsidiary of Comcast, offers the most extensive fiber availability of all the ISPs, but at greater cost. But at the other end, it offers the cheapest basic internet service plan of any provider.
Xfinity has a range of plans starting at a market-beating $24.99 for 25 Mbps through to a 1-gig plan for $84.99 with 1-year contract (or $100/m with no contract). The 25 Mbps doesn’t include any other perks, but if all you need is an internet connection good enough for working and streaming from 1-2 devices – then it does the job.
If you’re looking for the best ISP for speed and affordability, then it’s hard to go past RCN. That’s because this provider offers 100 Mbps download speeds for less than most of its competitors. The downside is that RCN only serves the New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, and Chicago metro areas.
RCN offers three plans, the best of which is the 100 Mbps package. This plan costs just $29.99 / month with no contract required, plus enhanced whole home Wi-Fi and enhanced whole home audio thrown in for just $9.95 / month and $5.99 / month respectively. RCN also offers 500 Mbps for $44.99 / month and 940 Mbps (in Boston only) for $54.99 / month.
CenturyLink is another major internet service provider slowly rolling out a fiber gigabit network. However, it makes this list because of its 100 Mbps plan – which costs $49 / month, with no price rises for as long as you keep your plan. This makes it one of the best internet plans if you like thinking long-term.
Frankly, this is a great selling tactic. Most ISPs lure you in with a great price for the first year but gradually raise prices as the years go by. CenturyLink charges the same $49/month flat rate for eternity – as long as you agree to paperless billing (simple!) and don’t change the terms of your plan.
Anyone who’s ever had to contact their ISP has learnt not to expect great customer service. Check out the top ISPs on Trustpilot and you’ll see that most of them average around 1-2 stars. Yep, it’s that bad. In an industry where terrible customer support is sadly the norm, Starry stands out with an incredible 4.6/5 Trustpilot rating (from hundreds of reviews).
Starry is only available in six states, with the greatest coverage in Massachusetts, New York, and California. It offers a simple 200 Mbps plan for $50 / month but that’s not the biggest selling point. The main reasons to choose Starry are the next-day or same-day installation, the fact it consistently provides the speeds you pay for, and of course the reliable tech support.
Based on our research, Optimum appears to do more than any other ISP to help its customers build a genuine smart home. All its plans come with advanced mesh technology, creating one network that blankets your home with coverage. Optimum’s tech tracks where your devices are, ensuring you always have the best signal. Best of all the coverage is scalable, ensuring you get a signal no matter how big your home is.
Optimum is all about high-speed internet with three plans ranging from 300 Mbps from $39.99 to 940 Mbps for $75/month (for life when you agree to autopay and paperless bill). Each plan comes with a range of security add-ons, including service protection for $7.99 / month, device protection for $9.99 / month, and McAfee anti-virus software for $2.99 / month.
On the face of it, Windstream isn’t that different from other high-speed internet providers. The fact that it offers enhanced internet security isn’t particularly unique. However, we think Windstream is the best ISP overall for security. That’s because it offers a comprehensive package including browsing protection, parental controls, anti-virus and anti-malware software, ID theft protection, and 24/7 specialist tech support.
Kinetic offers three plans ranging from 200 Mbps for $60 / month to 940 Mbps for $75 / month. The security package comes as an add-on with plans starting at $9.99 / month.
It may not be the fastest or the biggest ISP, but Spectrum offers a lot of perks. For starters, if you’re stuck in a contract, Spectrum will buy you out for up to $500 (provided you obtain a final bill from your previous ISP with the early termination fee clearly displayed). It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and never locks customers into contracts.
Spectrum offers three internet-only plans, from 100 Mbps for $49.99 / month to 940 Mbps for $109.99 / month. It offers best value when used to bundle TV streaming (up to 125+ channels and thousands of titles on-demand) and phone (with unlimited calling to the US, Canada, and Mexico).
Satellite internet is generally slower than the alternatives, but in remote rural areas it can sometimes be the only option. Viasat is consistently the fastest satellite internet provider. It has max download speeds of 12-100 Mbps – enough to do most things you would want to use the internet for.
At a minimum $70 / month, Viasat doesn’t come cheap, but that’s to be expected for satellite internet. The catch here is that you’ll be competing with other Viasat customers for internet access. After you exceed the data usage threshold for your service plan, Viasat may prioritize your data behind other customers, resulting in slower speeds. The more you pay, the higher your data threshold.