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Best internet providers 2021

Best internet providers 2021: Find the right service in your area
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Signing up to the best internet provider is a necessity in 2021. Broadband and fibre connections are seen as an essential service for most homes, so you need an internet provider that suits your particular needs and budget. While we'd all like the fastest connection possible, and unlimited downloads, that kind of stuff can get very expensive. Plus, if you're in a rural area of America, there will be a limited number of providers on offer to you, and your speeds will likely be lower than those in larger urban areas.

So, what should you look for in the best internet providers? Price and package is what most people consider, and you'll often find the best deals when you switch from one provider to another. However, if you're happy with your current internet package, you can often shave a few dollars off your monthly bill by calling them, and asking about renegotiating your terms, if your contract period is up.

You should also consider the maximum speeds offered by a provider, in your area, and look at the company's track record of customer service and the reliability of the connection they offer. These are all things that will impact you during your new contract period. If you're looking to sort other household services right now, you should consider our guide to the best cell phone providers, and our look at the best satellite internet providers for those in extremely rural areas.

1. Xfinity: Best internet provider overall

Xfinity: Best internet provider overall

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The overall best internet service provider with excellent coverage and availability

Reasons to Buy

Fast and reliable speeds
Parental controls
Available in 39 states

Reasons to Avoid

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 1000 Mbps. 

Comcast earned a rating of 4 out of 12 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 300 Mbps speeds with free self-installation, Flex 4K streaming TV box and voice remote included, and savings to be made on mobile deals. Jump to $90 and you get DVR TV too with over 205 channels and those 300 Mbps speeds guarantees for up to 11 devices at the same time.

2. AT&T: Best internet provider for home

AT&T: Best internet provider for home

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The best internet provider for residential service

Reasons to Buy

Equipment includes at no cost
Fantastic bundled deals
Fast DSL and fiber optic internet available

Reasons to Avoid

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. Cellphone service is also available and qualifies for bundled discounts.

AT&T doesn't charge annoying equipment or activation fees, and your internet service comes with access to McAfee at no additional cost.  You'll also get 11 email accounts, spam filters and access to over 30,000 hotspots nationwide.

According to customer review site BroadbandNow the average rating out of five stars is 3.39 with positives praising service, set up and pricing. Negatives include speed issues during peak hours and reliability.

Prices vary but an example is $55 per month for a 12 month contract that gets you up to 1TB of data per month at the connection speed available in your area.

3. Verizon: Best fiber internet

Verizon: Best fiber internet

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Verizon Fios

The best fiber internet provider with ultra-fast speeds

Reasons to Buy

Ultra fast download speeds
Excellent for online streaming

Reasons to Avoid

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

HughesNet: Best for rural areas

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The best satellite internet provider available in rural areas

Reasons to Buy

Simple plans and upfront prices
Nationwide coverage

Reasons to Avoid

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 $129.99 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 $10 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 cable internet

Spectrum - best internet service provider

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The best cable internet provider with contract-free packages

Reasons to Buy

Impressive speeds
Contract-free packages available
Affordable bundled deals

Reasons to Avoid

You can’t get pricing for your service without providing your full address

Spectrum, formally known as Time Warner, offers internet service across 46 states with the most extensive coverage in California, Texas, and New York. Cable internet from Spectrum is the second largest residential cable provider in the US with fast starting speeds at terrific prices.

To see specific pricing and plans, you must enter your full address on Spectrum's website. We entered our own address, and found that most plans started with an impressive 100 Mbps, which is enough speed to stream movies, browse the internet and handle online gaming with multiple devices. Pricing started at $50 for a 12 month contract with up to 200 Mbps.

The best way to save money with Spectrum is to bundle your internet with cable or phone services. Some of these bundles don't require a contract, which means no hefty cancellation fees. It also means your package price isn't guaranteed for a specific length of time. Spectrum also offers contract buyout promotions, so if you're looking to get out of your current plan, Spectrum will make it worth your while. Add TV to the above internet deal, with over 125 channels, and it'll be $90.

Customers gave Spectrum a 3.38 out of 5 star rating on BroadbandNow with negatives for poor reliability on speed and positives for service and support.

CenturyLink: Best for business

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The best internet service for your home-based business

Reasons to Buy

Flexible contracts
Price locked in as long as you keep your service

Reasons to Avoid

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 $65 to $90 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 3.17 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

Frontier: Best cheap internet provider

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The best cheap internet service provider with simple and affordable plans

Reasons to Buy

Affordable plans
No required contracts

Reasons to Avoid

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 $28 a month with max speeds at 6 Mbps. This is perfect for single-user homes and light internet browsing. Plans go from basic broadband from 12 Mbps up to Fios internet 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 3.07 out of five stars on BroadbandNow with negatives for poor customer support and positives for speed, consistency and even customer support.

8. Cox: Best for streaming

Cox: Best for streaming

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The best internet service provider for streaming services

Reasons to Buy

Fast, reliable speeds
Affordable prices

Reasons to Avoid

Only available in 18 states
Expensive equipment lease fees

Cox claims to offer the nation's largest WiFi network with over 650,000 hotspots available for customers. Cox Communications is available in 15 states with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Oklahoma City amounting to the largest cities with extensive coverage. 

Cox offers five different plans with speeds that start at 10 Mbps and max out at 940 Mbps so you can find an internet connection that fits your needs. 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 1TB per month of data usage, and prices start at just $29.99 a month.

You can bundle your internet with other services offered by Cox, 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 rude reps and yet positives for customer service.

Suddenlink: Best value

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The best value provider with cheap plans and reliable service

Reasons to Buy

Offers impressive speed
Up front plans
"Price for Life" gurantee

Reasons to Avoid

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 $19.99 a month with minimum speeds of 20 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 one star out of five on ConsumerAffairs, but that's only based on 458 reviews in the last year. Negatives include poor availability and difficulty cancelling while positives include affordability, ease of use and that price for life option.

What kind of broadband speed do I 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 1-5 Mbps. 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.

What is fiber internet?

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. 

What Is DSL internet?

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.

What Is cable internet?

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.

What 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.