Internet service providers (also known as ISPs or broadband providers) are companies that provide internet and related services to consumers. More than 2,800 ISPs currently operate in the United States, according to BroadbandNow, a website that maintains an updated database of internet service providers. These companies range from a handful of large, nationwide ISPs to thousands of smaller, local providers (or subsidiaries of large providers).
There are broadly five types of broadband internet infrastructure, each with their various pros and cons. The type of broadband available to you depends where you live and which internet service providers operate in your area.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), around two in five Americans now have access to high-speed fiber broadband. Other areas are limited to cable (which can also reach superfast speeds) or DSL, or in some rural areas to satellite and occasionally fixed wireless. If you’re interested, this page on the FCC website explains the inner workings of each type of broadband technology.
Here’s a breakdown of the speeds, reliability, affordability, and availability (one or more providers – last updated by the FCC in June 2019) of the various types of broadband infrastructure:
One of the ways ISPs try to lure in new customers is by talking up their download speeds. While a fast internet connection is better than a slow one, faster costs more – and you may end up paying for more than you need. If you have a ‘smart household’ with lots of interconnected devices, then it might make sense to pay the maximum price for a superfast 1-gig (940-1000 Mbps) connection. But if your needs aren’t so complicated, then you can make do with a different plan.
Here’s a rough guide to recommended download speeds.
When comparing internet service providers, don’t forget to look into their upload speeds! This is something many ISPs fail to mention, but it is vitally important in this new world of remote work. For a video conference or screen sharing app such as Zoom, 700 kbps is enough for 1-on-1 video calling in standard definition, while 1 Mbps is needed for group video calling in HD and 3.5-4 Mbps for video calling in 1080p HD. For video platforms like YouTube and Switch, you all you need to upload video is a basic connection. However, if you’re doing live streaming or you regularly upload videos and don’t want to be waiting hours, then you should aim for an internet package with at least 10-25 Mbps upload speeds.
The cost of an ISP depends on a number of factors including speed, added features, and perhaps most importantly the number of providers in your area. People living in big population centers with multiple providers may have access to cheaper internet than people in smaller towns where fewer ISPs bother to invest in infrastructure.
From a survey of top ISPs, you can expect to pay in the range of $25-35/month plus taxes for up to 25 Mbps download speeds, $30-40 for 100 Mbps, and $50-80 for 940 Mbps (packaged as a 1 gig plan). Many providers charge for equipment, so remember to factor this into your calculations when comparing different ISPs.
Speed is important, but it isn’t everything. Here are some of the other things to look for when comparing internet plans.
According to the FCC, 99.9% of Americans now have access to two or more internet service providers and 70.9% have access to two or more providers when excluding satellite companies (which are available to virtually everyone). Where there is competition, there is choice. Before you decide which ISP to sign up with, don’t forget to properly compare the options and find the one that most suits you.