Find the Best Internet Service for Your Area
Most areas of the U.S. have at least a few high-speed internet options and more than likely a few dial-up options available. To find the services available in your area consult our list of providers and once you narrow the list down to the internet service providers (ISPs) in your general area, you can find what specific services are available in your exact location. Visit the website of an ISP and input your address or phone number into the search tool to pinpoint exactly internet plans are available in your area.
Once you have determined what services are available to you, you need to decide what type of internet connection will satisfy your needs. If you have a landline telephone and only need the internet for checking email and other simple tasks, a dial-up service will work for you. If you have a landline telephone and use the internet primarily for checking email, reading articles or light research, a DSL service should satisfy your needs. However, if you are a moderate to heavy internet user and use it for gaming, watching movies or streaming music, you will want to look for a good cable or fiber optic service. Keep in mind that dial-up is typically one of the cheapest internet services you can buy.
A note on speed: Reported speed is the maximum speed expected in optimal conditions, but speed varies by area due to differences in physical infrastructure and environmental conditions. Speed related for dial-up, DSL and cable above are generally accepted speed numbers; however, there is some dispute about actual potential speed per technology.
We did extensive research to determine the best home internet providers, who can provide high-speed options to large markets, such as our top picks: Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. You can also learn more about ISPs by reading our informative articles about internet service providers.
Internet Service Providers: What to Look For
Comparing wireless internet service providers is a difficult task. Most urban areas only offer a few high-speed choices, while rural areas often only have DSL, satellite or dial-up options. Choosing between different options can be a headache, especially with the aggressive advertising campaigns and opinionated customer reviews combating one another. To filter out the marketing hype and contentious criticism, we narrowed our focus to answer three simple questions: How fast is the connection? Where is it available? Can I get help if I need it?
This area causes the most confusion. Most home internet services tout fast speeds, or report speeds in multiples of standard dial-up speed or even in potential kilobits per second (Kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps). However, reported speeds do not always match average performance speed; speeds vary greatly depending on the time of day and even your location. The posted speed is only the potential speed, not the actual average performance speed. We rated highest the services that can provide high-speed options such as cable or fiber optic connections coupled with good third-party tested speeds. The companies that offer dial-up rated higher if that company also provides faster DSL services.
When looking at an ISP, check the number of subscribers that company has as an indication of the company's longevity and potential to expand the existing infrastructure. Most urban areas have high-speed options such as cable or fiber optics available. Rural areas usually have a few dial-up, satellite or DSL choices. We tested the same four urban and four rural addresses with each ISP to get an idea of how broad an area it covers. We also made note of approximately how many access numbers are available for dial-up in rural areas; the more access numbers available, the better chance a customer has of securing a dial-up connection quickly and consistently.
This criterion is not as crucial as it was five or 10 years ago. Most people are now comfortable with free webmail options such as Gmail or Yahoo and do not need additional email accounts offered by the internet service provider. However, some ISPs provide extra benefits to using the branded email service such as extra online storage and spam and virus blocking. It is helpful if the provider can supply security software that is always up-to-date, as well as parental controls. A few of the large providers offer low-income internet solutions for families with young students, veterans and the elderly.
Fast, helpful, knowledgeable support is critical. Look for services that provide numerous avenues of contact such as by phone, email and chat. Services that rely on physical components such as cables and modems should also provide responsive, local on-site support. Check to see if the company provides convenient tools such as online support documentation in regards to billing and service, and note if the company provides an easy-to-use online bill pay option.
If you are moving into a new area or looking for a new ISP, a little research can save you hours or even weeks of frustration. See our reviews to get a general idea of what your experiences might be with a specific provider. Use this information as a guideline when you talk to your neighbors and colleagues to find out what kind of success they have had with their ISP in your area.