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What is an internet service provider?

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).

What are the different types of internet service 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:

Max download
25 – 2000 Mbps
Very high
10 – 1000 Mbps
1-500 Mbps
1-100 Mbps
Fixed wireless
1-50 Mbps

What download speed do I need?

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.