While each consumer will need to make a choice based on personal requirements and preferences, we present here a summary of the top internet service providers so that you can begin your search directly.
With greater use of the internet network for many applications, the dependence as well as the expectation is growing. ISPs often seem to come up short in terms of customer expectations on reliability and service.
ISPs are making efforts to keep customers happy while expanding their network.
Xfinity Internet Service is offered by Comcast, one of the largest cable networks in the country. It offers 6 plans for Cable internet and 2 for Fiber, with cable plans being cheaper and starting from $29.99 per month. This plan will deliver 15 MBPS download speed and 2 MBPS upload speed. You will get 600 MBPS download and 20 MBPS upload speed at the top end of this range, for a monthly price of $69.99.
Fiber internet plans will take you to speeds of up to 2 GBPS (2000 MBPS) but will set you back by $299 every month. Fiber network is growing and only available in specified locations. Between Fiber and Cable, Xfinity Internet Services are available in 39 states as well as Washington DC.
There are various ways in which a consumer could get some discounts, such as taking up a service contract, autopay, paperless billing as well as self-installation.
Data is limited to 1TB in all plans. Security software and access to their cross-country network of wi-fi hotspots is included in Xfinity plans.
Xfinity internet counts 58 million homes and businesses as customers. Services are available in Washington DC, apart from 39 states, apart from a thick network of public wi-fi hotspots for on-the-go usage.
Verizon’s Fiber Optic Service, known simply as FIOS, enables it to shine in a crowded marketplace of Internet service providers (ISPs). It also offers DSL (digital subscriber line) internet plans. Plans offered by Verizon range from 200 MBPS to 940 MBPS without any overarching restriction on the amount of data you can use.
It comes through as amongst the best as far as reliability and performance are concerned. With the FIOS network, performance also does not deteriorate with increase in distance. However, it is offered only in limited areas currently, with proliferation being in the North Eastern states, which includes New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
About 15 million homes and businesses use Fios and the benchmark 95% of promised speed is attained by over 90% of the users, which makes it one of the best in that respect. For services like video conferences, webinars and gaming, a reliable high-speed connection makes a difference. Its matching upload speeds are also valuable for many users.
Verizon does not offer public wi-fi hotspots to its internet customers though it offers them for its mobile customers. However, ISPs like Xfinity do let Verizon customers connect to their hotspots for no extra charge.
Verizon’s No Annual Contract Monthly Plans help you keep your spending in check while accessing one of the best networks in America. The longer your prepaid connection continues, the more the savings that accrue to you. You can also get up to $15/month savings after 9 months of service, with loyalty discounts and Auto Pay.
You can use your own device, subject to compatibility, with the Verizon plans. And if you sign up online, there is no activation fee. Though service is available nationwide, roaming charges could apply if used outside the prepaid coverage area with domestic voice roaming billed at $0.20/minute. You don’t get data while roaming. Whatyou get is the 5G network nationwide and unlimited text and talk time. You can even change your prepaid account to a postpaid account or vice versa if you so desire, during the period of your service.
Verizon unlimited plans tend to be more expensive and they do not include mobile hotspot in some.
With its history of being a leader in the telecommunications industry, AT&T, unsurprisingly, is amongst the leaders in the ISP space as well and expanding its fiber footprint into more areas. In the US alone, over 100 million people are estimated to be using one or more products of AT&T, no doubt aided by its acquisition of Time Warner, that added premium media offerings to AT&T’s portfolio. Apart from the geographically huge California and Texas, AT&T internet services are available in 19 other states.
Three fiber optic plans are on offer by AT&T, the fastest speed being 940 MBPS. With its fiber network, AT&T is able to deliver on its promise of reliability, and claims achieving over 99% reliability, even including peak hour usage. A national network of wi-fi hotspots can be accessed by customers of AT&T internet.
Quite against current trends, where contracts are being shorter or vanishing, AT&T generally opens its bag of goodies to customers willing to sign one or two year contracts. However, it is beginning to offer no-contract options as well.
Offered by Charter Communications, Spectrum is a well-known ISP with a variety of offerings over its network, such as internet, phone, mobile and TV. 29 million customers across 44 states is understood to be the current reach of Spectrum. Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Washington D.C. are the ones yet to experience the Spectrum service.
The USP (unique selling proposition) of this ISP is its promise of unlimited internet with no caps on the downloads. Further, it is investing in upgrading the technology with the current target of reaching speeds of 10 GBPS, something even the fiber players are far away from at the moment.
In keeping with the times, Spectrum provides most of its services and benefits even for monthly users. Spectrum offers a free modem and antivirus software, apart from unlimited data that it prides itself on and a nationwide network of wi-fi hotspots, half a million of them. Spectrum might even buy out the termination charges form an existing contract if you are transferring over to them.
Its standard plan that offers download speeds of 100 MBPS and upload of 10 MBPS is available for a monthly cost of $49.99. At the top end of the range, customers get 940 MBPS download and 35 MBPS upload speeds.
With a service based on a hybrid coaxial-fiber network, an impressive 93% of Spectrum customers are able to attain 95% of the advertised speed. It is a kind of middle ground between fiber on the upper end and DSL on the lower. Customers interested in speed may opt for fiber, if available in their area.
Customer service is an area where Spectrum needs to do some work. Also, it does not come cheap. Current rates are valid only for a year after which they can be expected to increase.
High speed internet is one of the offerings of Cox Communications, otherwise known as a communications and entertainment company, and still a family-owned business. With a customer base of over 6 million, including homes as well as businesses, across 19 states, it is the largest private telecommunications company in the US.
It offers internet through cable, which is its area of strength thanks to its deep roots in entertainment, as well as fiber in defined locations, which is a growing network, having covered 30,000 miles so far. Customers also get access to its 650,000 wi-fi hotspots across the country.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) data the Cox network clocked 104.8 MBPS for its 100 MBPS plan, and 147.98 MBPS for its 150 MBPS plan. Netflix also rates the Cox network high for streaming services, through which consumers access its products.
Cox plans max out at 1.25 TB of data. Though more than enough for most users, if you do need more you have options of unlimited plans as well, of course for a higher fee. Cox is working on improving its customer satisfaction scores.
Initially started as a cable and telephone services provider, RCN ventured into the ISP space in 1997. Though it limits its ISP services to the major metropolitan areas, it is still one of the larger ISPs in the country. Its broadband reach covers New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and some of the surrounding areas. Though it offers fiber connections in most of these areas, since the reach of fiber is limited, it is best to check if available at your address.
RCN not being a widely available service could be the reason it is not included in the industry level broadband measurements carried out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
RCN’s introductory price is the lowest amongst companies providing similar services. It also does not require any contract to be signed by customers. Its customer service is US based and 24×7. It does not mention any limits on the amount of data that can be used, so it is assumed to be limitless.
Its wide range of plans on offer can accommodate all types of needs, from the simple email communicator to the movie buff and the addicted gamer.
CenturyLink is a 90-year old company with roots in technology and telecommunications businesses and a global footprint. Today, in the US, it is perhaps best known for its internet services offered as Century Internet. It serves residential customers across its product range while also offering telecommunications services to business customers. It offers internet through fiber as well as DSL.
It keeps its offerings simple, by offering one plan each for its DSL and Fiber networks. While customers can choose based on their usage patterns and needs, in many cases, the decision boils down to whether fiber is available in the location or not as the difference in pricing of the two is not all that large. Century continues to expand its fiber network. To make things even simpler, both can be taken on a monthly basis.
Century appears to have followed a strategy different from some of the other providers who have chosen to concentrate on the densely populated areas. In contrast, the North East states and California are not amongst the 36 states served by Century.
In studies by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), its DSL customers received less speed over the network than promised. While not unusual on DSL, it is still a red mark against Century which is also struggling to catch-up with competitors on customer service.
Frontier Internet is an initiative of the 85-year old Frontier Communications, a Fortune 500 company. Services are offered to businesses and residences. It also offers TV and phone services. It became a substantial internet business in 2016 when it acquired Verizon’s landline and broadband businesses in the states of California, Texas and Florida.
Perhaps a legacy of Verizon’s FIOS network, Frontier’s fiber plans are considered to be its strong point. Though there are a variety of plans on offer, Frontier does not tread what may be called middle ground. Plans seem to cater to either entry level requirements or customers with heavy usage. Like other providers, since fiber networks are not extensive, availability of a plan in an area should be checked.
Frontier also offers various options in pricing. You could get a promotional price for a fixed period with a rise at the end of the period. You could get a 2-year price guarantee. There could also be contract and no contract pricing variations.
Plans come with symmetrical (similar) download and upload speeds. Also, plans don’t have caps on data.
Frontier appears to be falling short of commitment to customers regarding speeds, as measured by surveys of FCC (Federal Communications Commission). While the network provided only 72% of advertised speed to surveyed customers, actual speeds reached only 33% levels, low by any level. Customer satisfaction also received the lowest scores.
A wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar, that is based in Colorado, HughesNet, originally founded as Digital Communication Corp., headquartered in Maryland, provides high-speed internet services through satellite. In other words, where wired networks of providers cannot reach, HughesNet steps in to ensure customers are connected to the rest of the world through internet. It famously says, “as long as you have a clear view of the Southern sky, you have access to satellite internet.”
HughesNet has more than a million subscribers in the Americas and earns over a billion dollars a year in revenue. It is a global corporation with customers in over a hundred countries and offices in eleven.
It has a satellite-based distribution system and network and provides broadband and mobile services through it. Satellite communication being different from the Cable/ DSL and Fiber based networks people in cities are used to, HughesNet makes efforts to educate its customers about it, with detailed guidance on its website. It also acknowledges the challenges this technology has, like packet (or data) loss and latency, largely on account of the huge distances a signal has to travel. It can be as fast as the wired networks, but the latency, because of which the transaction takes longer to initiate, make it seem slower to the naked eye.
It has made efforts to offer options that allow customers to overcome some inherent limitations. For instance, it offers additional data for downloads between 2AM and 8AM, an optimal time to download and upload large files.
Mediacom Internet, or Mediacom Cable, is offered by Mediacom Communications Corporation, in business since 1995 and now serving almost a million customers in the US, despite its footprint being in the smaller markets.
It offers high-speed data, phone, home security solutions, automation and video through its network. A billion-dollar reinvestment plan has recently been completed. The emphasis is on expanding the footprint, especially its fiber network though current internet delivery is through coaxial cable.
The 22 states where services are available are Michigan, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Arizona, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Mediacom does well in FCC (Federal Communications Commission) studies with median download speeds being better than 90% of speeds advertised more than 80% of the time for more than 80% respondents.
With service support on phone over weekends and nights as well, it also does well on customer satisfaction.
“I recently bought a UPS battery pack that can provide back-up in case of an outage. The only device it powers is the internet router.”
These words of an unnamed consumer in the Mid-West perhaps sum up the importance the internet has come to occupy in our lives. One minute it is not available and we start gasping for breath, figuratively of course. It has become almost as important as oxygen.
The internet, that vast network of interconnected computing devices, used by governments, corporations, individuals, educational institutions and others, that makes it possible for them to communicate with each other. That lets you send an email to a colleague in Madagascar and allows you to order books online.
In most American households, internet access is now taken for granted. Usually in conjunction with a wireless access system that enables a connection from anywhere within a certain range of the router. More and more services are using the high-speed network that provides internet connectivity. VOIP telephony, which uses the internet connectivity, has been growing, while traditional copper-wire telephony has been receding. VOIP has now overtaken traditional copper-wire telephony and is poised to continue to grow.
Before we get to providers, we will try and create a basic understanding of the internet.
Those who recollect connecting to the internet for the first time in the nineties, might recall that it was through a dial-up method they had established the connection. We may not have realized it at the time, but it was a slow connection, our screen slowly filling up with colors and information as data packets came through that line. Today, a dial-up, though technically still available as a connection option, is not even considered when we discuss the types of internet connections.
The four main types of internet services provided by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are:
At this point this is perhaps the most widespread network as it rides on the same coaxial cable network laid out for reaching television to your house many years back. While even TV consumption is migrating to the internet, with consumers preferring the personalization offered by streaming services, cable TV is still widespread. It provides a cost-effective option for delivering the internet through the same cable to your house. Providers offer bundles that include TV as well as internet, making it attractive for consumers. Perhaps on account of being a legacy network, it is a cost-effective proposition and can provide competitive download speeds.
DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line and rides on the telephone network that delivers wired telephony to your house. As it uses frequencies not used by the telephone, you can use both the internet and telephone simultaneously. The ‘asymmetrical DSL’ technology is the preferred technology for DSL internet connections as they allow greater bandwidth for downloads as compared to uploads, preferred by almost all household users.
DSL is widely available as it uses an existing network and comes at reasonable costs. As opposed to cable, where neighbors might be sharing the last-mile cable, leading to a degradation of service as more users get connected, DSL provides a dedicated circuit for each user. However, DSL is not able to offer the speeds required by modern applications and some of the other types of internet services.
While laying down cable networks is a viable option for service providers in densely populated areas, as the cost can be spread over a large number of users, in areas with a lower population density, it could become prohibitively expensive.
For serving these areas, delivering internet through satellite remains the most viable option. This is done by routing the information through geostationary (stationery with respect to the Earth) satellites with controllers on the ground.
To a user, there is no difference whether internet is being delivered through satellite or cable, since satellite is able to deliver competitive bandwidth and speed. The only difference is in what is called latency, because of the distance the data has to travel, that delays the initiation of the transportation by a fraction. This is not noticeable in a majority of day-to-day functions, but you might feel the difference in some applications like gaming.
A fiber connection uses fiber, or fiber-optic, cables, to deliver internet, as opposed to the copper wire used by Cable and DSL. Fiber is a newer technology which use light signals to send data to and from your computer and is faster and more reliable. It can carry data over much longer distances with no or reltively lower distortion.
Cable offers great download speeds but lags on upload. As does asymmetrical DSL. Fiber offers matching download and upload speeds. It has low latency and low packet loss. For network heavy applications like gaming and videoconferencing, fiber is likely to provide a better experience.
Like all good things, fiber internet plans will be more expensive. The fiber network is relatively new. Providers are still in the process of expanding and laying out the network.
“I want the best quality at the cheapest price” is how consumers might state their method of buying a product. Implicit with that statement is the relevance for that consumer’s need. An online gamer’s need is very different from the need of a person who mainly needs to send and receive email messages.
Cost is a reasonably transparent parameter, though one must take care to ensure that one accounts for elements of hidden cost as well, like installation charges or additional charges for any devices that are required.
Quality not as transparent, since there are at least two different parameters
This is based on your planned usage. Gaming, videoconferencing and movies are generally the applications that need the best download and upload speeds. Also, the number of people that will be consuming the bandwidth of that connection. The distribution between download and upload is also relevant. Households are consumers and need good download speeds and not necessarily as much of upload speeds.
In a world with greater reliance on the internet, reliability is becoming critical. In gaming for example, low reliability could lead to you being on the losing side because you could not act in time. ISPs usually pubklis the service levels they offer and the uptimes.
Reliability also includes the element of customer service offered by the ISP. Are they reachable when you need them? How long do they take to respond? Now with so many of us working from home, our home connections need the same level of reliability as our work connections.