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Best internet providers 2021

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Best internet providers 2021
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Not having the best internet provider is possibly one of the worst things in the world. Hell, it’s not even enough to have ‘just a decent’ connection. You really should be using the best internet provider you can afford because, much like electricity and water, ISPs are essential to your home and is one of the things people organize first when they move into a new home.

While you can save money on your internet by picking a cheap provider, this isn't something we'd recommend, given how important a role it plays in modern life. Especially now when everyone is working from home! Picking a bad provider will just raise the chance of finding yourself disconnected when you're shopping online, calling your family on Zoom, or trying to resolve a problem with the credit card company!

So with that in mind, we’ve done our utmost to pick a list of all of the best internet providers we consider value over pure price, and we look at customer satisfaction ratings overall, to see how the majority of customers find each service. We also will update this list, making sure our reviews (and this guide) constantly evolve to make sure we stay on top of prices and trends in the internet service market. 

One of the first things we recommend you do first is look at the quality and speed of the internet offered in your area. This can be done by reading a handful of customer reviews to see what people in your state or county think of your chosen company, or even ask around people closer to you like friends and family to see what they think. Folks in big cities will have a great variety of options, but those in rural areas might find that connection and services that work effectively will be more important. With this all done, make sure you choose the right plan for you, and stick to it. 

For those of you looking to save some money while still getting some decent internet, you can save money by getting monthly caps on your downloads/usage, but if you regularly exceed these (and you probably will if you stream TV and work from home), then you should go for unlimited plans instead.

Most of the best internet providers will set you up with equipment and connection, but if for some reason you want to supplement this, you can take a look at our guide to the best wireless routers to pick what you need. And once you're all set, make sure your online experience is fully optimized by checking out our guide to the best web browsers.

Best internet providers 2021

1. Xfinity: Best internet provider overall

Best Internet Providers: Xfinity

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Xfinity

The overall best internet service provider with excellent coverage and availability

Fast and reliable speeds
Parental controls
Available in 39 states
Pricey installation fee

Comcast is the nation's largest cable provider with coverage in over 39 states and it's the company behind Xfinity. Xfinity provides impressive speed, with packages that offer up to 2000 Mbps. 

Comcast earned a rating of number one out of first place on the Netflix ISP leaderboards, so you'll enjoy a seamless streaming experience. If you're a light internet user or don't require much speed, Xfinity also offers a variety of additional plans with speeds that start at just 15-60 Mbps.

Xfinity not only provides internet, phone, and cable, but they also offer security programs. Their anti-virus protection is included with all internet plans, and they offer additional add-ons for more advanced protection. While this included offer might seem like a plus, the program is designed specifically for Xfinity and hasn't been tested by third-party labs.

Xfinity also offers easy to use parental controls and secure browsing with features like safe browsing modes for kids and the ability to create time restrictions and rules.

All that plus the internet service provider boasts over 19 million hotspots so you can connect your mobile device when you're outside your home.

Deals vary depending on your location but as an example you can pay $60 per month on a 24 month contract to get up to 400 Mbps speeds with free self-installation, Flex 4K streaming TV box and voice remote included, and savings to be made on mobile deals.


2. AT&T: Best internet provider for reliability

Best Internet Providers: AT&T

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

AT&T

With a rock solid service, and good availability, this is a great choice

Decent pricing
Good bundled deals
Fast DSL and fiber options
Only offered in 21 states

AT&T is a huge name yet it is only available in 21 states. Despite that fact it's still the largest residential DSL provider in the US with the greatest coverage in California, Texas, and Florida. 

On top of that DSL offering, AT&T also dishes out fiber internet, which can get you up to 1,000 Mbps, aka 1 Gbps, depending on your location. This kind of speed is perfect for serious gamers or households that have multiple people streaming at once.

Most customers save money with AT&T by bundling their internet with other services like U-Verse and DirectTV. Both cable providers are owned by AT&T and offer attractive discounts when bundled together. This is perfect for people who want one bill and enjoy premium sports and entertainment channels. Cell phone service is also available and qualifies for bundled discounts. You'll also get  access to over 30,000 hotspots nationwide.

Prices vary but an example is $35 per month plus taxes and fees for a 12 month contract that gets you up to 300Mbps on a fiber connection.


3. Verizon: Best fiber internet

Best Internet Providers: Verizon

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Verizon Fios

If you just want fiber, and ultrafast speeds, it's worth paying extra for Verizon

Ultra fast download speeds
Excellent for online streaming
Limited availability

Verizon Fios is the internet service for anyone that wants great speeds and top connection performance. Verizon's Fios service is a 100 percent fiber-optic network which means crazy fast, aka nearly up to 1 Gbps, speeds on multiple devices. Fios provides some of the fastest speeds available, scoring the number one spot on Netflix's speed test. This service is a fantastic choice for professionals who work at home, serious gamers and large households that enjoy 4K video streaming on multiple devices.

Verizon's fiber-optic internet packages start with download speeds of 200 Mbps and go up to 940 Mbps depending on the service area. Each package locks in your service price for a minimum of one year and up to three years for some packages. Along with fast internet connections, all fiber optic internet packages come with the option of Verizon's TechSure, which is 24/7 support.  You'll also get access to McAfee internet security programs, LastPass password manager, and LifeLock identity theft protection.

You can also bundle your Verizon internet with a Fios TV plan which lets you try over 425 channels before picking the package that's right for you. You can also save when you bundle your Fios internet with a Verizon cellular plan. There is also Disney Plus included for 12 months on most of the plans which start at $40 for 200 Mbps, go to $60 for 400 Mbps and top out at $80 for 940 Mbps.

Customers on BroadbandNow rate the service at 3.65 out of five with positives for speed and technical support while negatives include reliability in dropped connections and a poor TV service.


4. HughesNet: Best for rural areas

Best Internet Providers: HughesNet

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HughesNet

If you have limited coverage in your area, HughesNet will usually be able to connect you

Simple plans and upfront prices
Nationwide coverage
Expensive
Data limits

HughesNet is the largest satellite provider in the United States, offering nationwide coverage in all 50 states. It's one of the only companies that provide internet connections to rural areas where traditional cable and fiber optic service aren't available.

HughesNet offers simple upfront pricing, with the same packages and services no matter your area. HughesNet offers 25 Mbps with every plan, which is fast enough for streaming and medium internet use. Prices for HughesNet start at $59.99 per month with 10 GB of data per month and goes up to 50 GB of data for $149.99 per month. This is typically more expensive than DSL or fiber because satellite internet requires costly equipment fees. Look out for deals as there is often a $20 off for the first six months.

If you choose HughesNet as your internet provider expect to be locked into a two-year contract. While this keeps your monthly rate from increasing, it also penalizes you if you decide to cancel your service early. Fees for ending a contract can be steep, so if you plan on moving, this might not be the service for you.

HughesNet has a 2.85 out of 5 star rating from customer reviews on BroadbandNow with negatives for poor customer support and slowing during peak times but positives for area coverage and faster speeds than the competition.


5. Spectrum - best internet provider for new customer deals

Spectrum

(Image credit: Spectrum)

Spectrum Internet

Excellent download speeds and reliable service, but not the cheapest

Fast download speeds
Reliable service
Pricey

Spectrum is one of the biggest internet providers in the United States. It uses a hybrid-fiber coax connection type and boasts speeds of up to 1000 Mbps. As you can imagine, the more you want from Spectrum, the more it’s going to cost you. But considering the pros and cons, that isn’t necessarily too bad of a thing unless you’re looking to save some cash.

The unlimited data goes well with the bundles it has for internet and TV which, depending on which bundle you decide to go for, can also knock off $50 from your bills. Not too bad, if you ask us. The upload speed with Spectrum also isn’t anything to turn your nose up at, and can be really beneficial for households that need their streaming fix, stat.

Still there are some downsides. Spectrum offers a great first year with promotions that feels ridiculous to turn down at such a low price, but afterwards prices do receive quite a monumental hike, so that’s something to be aware of. Couple that with pretty slow upload speeds, Spectrum is an internet provider you’ll definitely need to do some research on before taking the plunge. 


Best Internet Providers: CenturyLink

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you run a business from home, or have a large family, CenturyLink has some great options

Flexible contracts
Price locked in as long as you keep your service
No cable internet option

If you're looking for an internet service provider for your home-based business, then look no further than CenturyLink. CenturyLink's internet plan is available across all 50 states with the greatest coverage in Arizona, Colorado, and Washington.

CenturyLink offers reliable internet service with bundle options based on your business needs. You can bundle phone, TV and even cloud applications to your internet service. This will not only save you money but also provide your business with all of its technology needs. Popular business phone features include voicemail, call forwarding, auto-attendant, and more.

Packages range from $49 to $65 per month for DSL internet with speeds up to 140 Mbps depending on your service area. There is also no annual contract, no deposit, and no credit check required. You can prepay your monthly bill online with a credit or debit card and cancel anytime.

Customers rate the service 3.14 out of five stars on BroadbandNow with negatives for service with long phone waits and positives for tech support.


7. Frontier: Best cheap internet provider

Best Internet Providers: Frontier

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Frontier

A great value provider, and one that does operate in more rural areas too

Affordable plans
No required contracts
Internet speeds aren't very fast

Frontier provides DSL internet at an affordable price and no-frills contracts. The service is available in 35 states that include rural and suburban markets with California, Florida, and Connecticut leading the current coverage. Frontier also offers Fios coverage from Verizon which is available in most suburban cities.

Plans start as low as $50 a month with max speeds at 100 Mbps. This is perfect for single-user homes and light internet browsing. Plans go up to Fios internet with up to 940 Mbps. You can also bundle Frontier with TV and voice plans to save even more on your monthly bill.

The best part about Frontier is that there's no required contract with their plans. This allows you to cancel at any time without any hefty fees. If you do decide to stay with Frontier, you can opt for a two-year price lock guarantee, which means the monthly cost will remain the same for 24 months.

Customers rate Frontier at 3.29 out of five stars on BroadbandNow with negatives for poor customer support and positives for speed, consistency and even customer support.


8. Cox Internet: Best for customer service

Best Internet Providers: Cox

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cox

Has fast, affordable speeds, and you get great service if you sign up to Cox

Fast, reliable speeds
Affordable prices
Only available in 18 states
Expensive equipment lease fees

An increasingly large number of Americans are turning to Cox. Cox claims to offer the nation's largest WiFi network with over 650,000 hotspots available for customers. On our current ranking, Cox enters near the bottom because it's only available in 15 states with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Oklahoma City amounting to the largest cities with extensive coverage. 

This service offers five different plans with speeds that start at 10Mbps and max out at 1Gbps, so if you're looking for speed, you really need Cox. When it comes to streaming Cox is also rated in the top three providers on the Netflix ISP leaderboard, so you can seamlessly stream your favorite movies, TV shows, music, and more. All Cox Internet plans include 1.25TB per month of data usage, and prices start at just $29.99 a month.

You can bundle your internet with other services, to really make the most of what Cox can do, including cable TV, phone services, and home security packages. Cox also provides ten email accounts with all plans with at least 2GB included in your service. Equipment needed to access the internet, such as modems, are not included with your internet package price and will be an additional fee.

Customers rate Cox at 3.75 out of five stars on BroadbandNow with negatives for some rude reps, and yet positives for customer service. From our experiences, though, we very much recommend checking out Cox.


Best Internet Providers: Suddenlink

(Image credit: Suddenlink)

The best value provider with cheap plans and reliable service

Offers impressive speed
Up front plans
"Price for Life" gurantee
Only available in 19 states and lacks presence in large cities

Suddenlink Communications offers internet service in 19 states with the most coverage located in rural areas of Texas, West Virginia, and Louisiana. Suddenlink promises affordable yet high-speed internet in areas where big providers don't provide coverage. In addition to cable broadband, Suddenlink also offers fiber internet service for select locations.

Suddenlink offers four different packages that start at just $34.99 a month with speeds of 100 Mbps. The top tier package includes 1,000 Mbps with unlimited data for only $69.99 a month. The top three packages include a "Price for Life" guarantee that will lock in your base internet cost for new residential customers. This comes as standard for 1 Gig internet packages. The standard installation fee of $99 is also waived for those plans when you sign up online.

In addition to internet, you can use Suddenlink for television services, landline phone connections with unlimited local and long-distance calling, and home security monitoring. 

Customers rate this just under four stars out of five on ConsumerAffairs based on 1,349 customer ratings this year. Negatives include poor availability and difficulty cancelling while positives include affordability, ease of use and that price for life option.


10. Wide Open West Internet

Wide Open West

(Image credit: Wide Open West)

Wide Open West Internet

No contracts
A variety of plans to suit you
Steady rates
Limited availability

Wide Open West, also known as WOW, is a fairly small internet provider in comparison to the likes of Xfinity and Spectrum. Already this makes it an internet provider that you might just have to tick off your list, as currently WOW is available in only a small number of states… none of which are in the West.

If you are the lucky homeowner that’s in a state that WOW falls under however, then you’ve got good news coming your way. Not only does WOW not restrict you with pesky, mandatory contracts and a data limit, but if you’re not happy with your service in the 30 days you’ve had Wide Open West then you can request for your money back with no trouble whatsoever. 

What’s more, WOW doesn’t absolutely overload you the moment you’ve moved on from your promotional year of fairly cheap internet. The price hike isn’t all that steep, with just a $20 difference with the most basic of WOW plans. Considering that they offer speeds of up to 100Mbps for such a small price, that’s not something to turn down. 

But what stands out the most with WOW is the variety of plants that the internet provider offers. You’ve got up to 4 different plans, with the absolute meatiest option being $75 for 1,000Mbps download, and 50Mbps upload speed, and the basic plan being $40 for 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speed. No matter who you are, WOW is bound to have a plan that suits you. 


11. RCN Internet

RCN

(Image credit: RCN)

RCN Internet

Good prices, but inconsistent service.

Good deals
No contracts
Unreliable
Confusing pricing

If there’s one internet service provider that folk seem to come to the common consensus of ‘is decent and gets the job done without ridiculous prices’ then it’s RCN. In comparison to services like Xfinity, RCN is able to offer good download speeds without breaking the bank in the process. 

Another thing that makes RCN stand out from the crowd is that there aren’t mandatory contracts, or data caps either. A limited amount of data adds some sense of restraint, but can be a real pain if you find yourself in need of more, especially when that usually means spending more money. The lack of mandatory contracts is also a winner, because it allows customers to not feel so restrained with their choices if they feel like they can get a better deal elsewhere. 

RCN also offers a ton of great bundles not just for the Internet, but for TV too. This isn’t just for cable either, but apps like Netflix, HBO Max and so much more, so you can really get some pretty good entertainment alongside your Wi-Fi.

The main issue with RCN is that it's service quality seems to be hugely unreliable. Some people have a great time, but plenty of others live in regret. Our advice is to look at local reviews to see how coverage is in your area before you sign up. Offers and promotions can differ greatly between certain areas, which means you’ll need to check what RCN can provide for you depending on your location before committing. 


What internet speed do you need?

Bandwidth is the maximum rate at which you can download data from the internet to your computer, and it's measured in bits per second. Determining how much broadband internet speed you is dependent on how you use the internet, the number of people in your home, and the amount of devices being used.

If you're a single home user that uses the internet to browse the web and check your email, then you can get away with 10-15 Mbps. While you could go lower, modern sites and rich media demands higher speeds. If you have several people in your home trying to stream movies or play video games, then you'll need somewhere between 40 and 100 Mbps. Netflix recommends 3Mb for one standard quality stream, 5Mb for a high-definition stream and 25Mb for an Ultra HD 4K quality stream. This is the recommended speed for the service on its own, not for your total internet speed. If you have several devices streaming at once, then you'll have to increase the bandwidth.

You can get up to 900MB/1GB on some plans. While this is potentially exciting, you probably don't need it unless you're working from home with very large files, and you're capable of watching and streaming 8K content. Either that, or you're sharing a connection with a lot of people (more than a standard family size). The time will come when you need 1GB internet, but this isn't it.

Best internet providers

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What types of internet are there?

Fiber internet connection is transmitted using fiber optic cable that's sent through a thin glass wire that's inside a larger protective cable. The fibers transmit data via light signals, which results in an ultra-fast connection. Because the fiber connection is delivered on a dedicated line, it provides more consistent speed than cable internet. It's the best option for serious internet users that enjoy streaming from services like Netflix and Hulu. It's also an excellent option for home businesses.  

Because you're getting a dedicated line and faster speeds, fiber is normally more expensive than cable internet. It's also not as widely available as cable, especially for rural areas. 

DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is delivered to your home through the same wires used by landline telephones. You will need special equipment, usually provided by your ISP, in order to use both the internet and telephone at the same time so one or the other isn’t bumped off.

You can still get impressive download speeds, up to 120 Mbps in some areas, and using a wireless router can connect multiple devices to the internet without each one having to be physically attached. DSL is also cheaper than cable and fiber internet and is often bundles with home phone service.

Cable internet connects you online using the same cable used to bring television service to your TV. Because of this, cable television companies, like Xfinity, are the only ISPs that are capable of providing this type of internet service. Other companies partner with cable television companies while also providing your telephone service in what is often referred to as a bundled package. You may pay for cable internet as part of your overall communication bill, but the connection itself is still provided by the cable company.

Cable networking is easily accessible and available in most locations. While cable isn't as fast as fiber, it still delivers reliable internet with speeds that satisfy most home internet needs. Cable is also more affordable than fiber, especially when you choose a bundle plan.

Then there is Satellite internet. This type of internet uses three satellites dishes in much the same way satellite television is sent and received. The internet service provider sends its signal to a satellite orbiting the earth. The signal bounces off the satellite and back to earth to the receiving dish attached to your house. The signal travels via a short cable to your modem so you have an internet connection.

The process is very fast and pretty reliable. Satellite internet is typically used in rural areas where DSL, cable or fiber optics aren’t options, and HughesNet is one of the biggest providers. Costs are comparable to other internet services, but equipment fees are typically more expensive.

Best internet providers

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Your internet service consumer rights

It's useful to know where you stand as a consumer when you sign up for a new internet contract with any of the providers in our list. Here, we outline a few of your rights, and what to do if you feel your complaint is justified.

Slow speeds are a common source of complaint. When you sign up to an internet provider you're given an approximate range of speeds that you can reasonably expect (eg. between 80Mbps-100Mbps), and you can usually expect your speeds to be within this range. It's not uncommon for speeds to vary up to 15% on either side of these estimated speeds, and there's nothing you can legally do about this if you're impacted. If you're getting consistently slower speeds than the estimates in your contract - we're talking 30-70% here, then we suggest filing a complaint first with your provider and then, if unresolved, with the FCC. There's no guarantee that you're going to get a satisfactory resolution here, as almost all companies refuse to guarantee certain speeds, but you're more likely that the FCC will uphold your complaint if the speeds are much lower over a consistent period of time.

Early termination charges are something that apply if you choose to leave your current ISP and sign up to another. Fees vary in this area, but almost all internet providers charge them. This is something to look for in your service contract when you sign up, and you should also be 100% clear on the term you're signing up for. Most contracts run between 12 months to three years, and if you leave before your contract is up, you're probably going to be liable for a charge. This is legal, and ISPs are within their rights to levy this charge in most instances. Exceptions usually occur when the service provider itself chooses to terminate your contract for a reason beyond your control. No fees should apply here.

Internet blackouts are another issue that you'll have to deal with at some point. ISPs cannot be held to account over infrequent and short losses of service, as these are usually written into the contracts you sign. However, as with the above issues, if you're having repeated blackouts for long periods of time, it's likely that this constitutes a breach of service by your ISP. If you want to check the status of the internet in your area the best place to look is Twitter, as most ISPs have accounts that broadcast service updates. You don't need to sign up to Twitter to access it from your smartphone.

Knowing how to make complaints is important, because you need to be talking to the right people. From our experiences your first point of contact should always be your internet provider, and you will often find that reasonable complaints will be dealt with very well. You're likely to either get credit on your account, or you'll have your prices cut, if you have a genuine complaint. If you can't get your complaint resolved, and you still feel like you have a genuine case, you can lodge a comment with the FCC or the FTC. We suggest the FCC as your primary call here. If the issue is very serious, and you're worried that the internet provider has been dishonest in its dealings with you over your specific complaint, you should look to your local government official too.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.