A fast, dependable internet connection at home is borderline essential these days, especially given the recent uptick in remote work, which seems to be sticking around even as coronavirus restrictions ease. That means it's more important than ever to understand whatever internet options are available at your address and, ultimately, to pick the best provider for the job.
Finding the right ISP can be easier said than done, though -- particularly if you live in a rural part of the country with limited options for getting online. That's why we've spent months evaluating all of the top internet providers in the US, from household names like Comcast and Verizon to little guys like Rise Broadband and WideOpenWest. Our goal is to sift through the sales pitches, speed claims and fine print to put each provider into context, and to provide you with all of the information you need to pick out the plan that makes the most sense for your home.
To date, we've reviewed more than 20 ISPs, and you can expect us to continue covering the category throughout 2022. For now, here are the top providers we'd recommend first.
Best fiber internet providerSaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
One of the metrics we like to use to compare value between ISPs is the average cost per megabit per second of download speed. A lower cost per Mbps is a good, rough indicator of value -- and with AT&T's fiber internet plans, the average cost per Mbps is just 10 cents, and that includes your equipment rental.
For comparison, you can expect the average fiber internet plan from Verizon to cost you 12 cents per Mbps, while a fiber plan from CenturyLink will cost you 16 cents per Mbps. Meanwhile, most cable internet plans from names like Spectrum and Comcast Xfinity will typically cost you at least 25 cents per Mbps, if not more. One other point that's worth mentioning: In 2022 AT&T began offering multi-gig plans with concurrent upload and download speeds of 2 and 5 gigabits per second.
All of that is to say that AT&T's fiber plans are a terrific value -- especially since none of them come with any contracts or data caps. On top of that, AT&T was top-ranked for customer satisfaction in 2021 from both the American Customer Satisfaction Index and from J.D. Power. The telecom giant's DSL and fixed wireless plans are much less impressive, but if AT&T fiber is available at your address, consider yourself lucky, because there really isn't much reason to consider anything else.
Read our AT&T review.
AT&T Home InternetEditSee at AT&T
Best cable internet providerRy Crist/CNET
You'll find better bang for your buck with fiber providers like AT&T, but if fiber isn't an option, a cable connection is the next best thing. And, among all of the providers offering cable internet service in the country, Spectrum is the one I'd be happiest to see available at my address.
Spectrum isn't the biggest name in cable internet -- that'd be Comcast Xfinity -- but it still offers service to more than 100 million Americans, thanks to Charter's acquisition of Time Warner's internet infrastructure in 2016. And, unlike Comcast (or Cox, its other main cable rival), Spectrum doesn't enforce a data cap, and it won't tie you down to a long-term contract, either.
On top of all that, Spectrum's prices and terms are straightforward, easy to understand and easy to live with -- and the average Spectrum plan comes with a lower cost-per-Mbps than either Comcast or Cox. It isn'tquite the best value in the cable category (keep reading), but when you drill down into the details, Spectrum is stillclearly your top option for cable internet at home.
Read our Spectrum review.
Spectrum InternetEditSee at Spectrum
Best rural internet providerRise Broadband
Pickings can be frustratingly slim when you're shopping for an internet plan in a rural area, because most of the best internet infrastructure in the country is centralized in population-dense cities and the suburban neighborhoods that surround them. If you live outside of a region like that, then your home probably isn't wired for fiber or cable -- instead, you'll have to make do with technologies that are slower, less reliable and more expensive, and you'll likely have fewer options to choose from, too.
You'll need to take the good with the bad with just about any rural ISP, but there's more good than bad with Rise Broadband, our top pick for getting online when faster cable and fiber plans aren't an option. A fixed wireless provider covering much of the middle of the country, Rise Broadband will beam an internet signal directly to an antenna mounted outside your home, providing download speeds of up to 50Mbps. That's twice as fast as what you'll get with a satellite internet plan from HughesNet, and faster than a lot of DSL plans, which often struggle to surpass double-digit download speeds.
Rise's 250GB data cap is also significantly higher than you'll get with most rural internet plans, and plans with unlimited data will only cost you an extra $10 or $20 per month, depending on whether you've signed up for speeds of 25 or 50Mbps.
Read our Rise Broadband review.See at Rise Broadband
Best customer careJim Lane/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
In 2021, AT&T pulled into a tie with Verizon atop the American Customer Satisfaction Index's rankings of internet providers -- but Verizon had already held that spot for years, and it's been one of the strongest finishers with J.D. Power for multiple years running, too.
What do people like about Verizon? For starters, while the company's DSL service isn't anything special, the majority of customers across the company's eight-state coverage map in the northeast have access to Verizon Fios fiber service capable of gigabit speeds, as well as uploads that are just as fast as the downloads. Verizon plans don't come with contracts or data caps, either, and your price won't automatically go up after a year the way it will with most other providers.
What's more, Verizon has already made headlines in 2022 by expanding the availability of its 5G Home Internet service to approximately 900 cities. That's a promising development for consumers, given the glaring need for better internet options across the country.
Read our Verizon review.
Verizon FiosEditSee at Verizon
Best home internet valueWOW
WideOpenWest -- or WOW -- is a relatively small provider that offers services in just nine states, but it earns the exclamation point it likes to stick at the end of its branding by offering cable internet plans at some of the best prices you'll find anywhere in the US. That includes an entry-level 100Mbps plan that starts at $20 per month ($40 per month after the first year), as well as a high-speed gigabit plan that starts at $65 per month. Even after the price of that plan jumps to $75 per month in year 2, that's still a cost per Mbps of just 8 cents, which is unheard of in the cable category.
In addition to all of that, WOW doesn't enforce contracts or data caps with any of its plans, and it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee when you sign up, letting you cancel without penalty if it isn't the right fit. All told, it's about as strong as ISP sales pitches get -- I just wish the footprint was a bit bigger.
Read our WOW review.
WOW! InternetEditSee at Allconnect CNET Home
Bring your home up to speed with the latest on automation, security, utilities, networking and more.
Worth a look if fiber is availableRobert Alexander/Getty Images
CenturyLink offers DSL internet plans across 37 states, but roughly half of the coverage map also has access to CenturyLink's fiber plans, branded as Quantum Fiber. That "Quantum" bit is meaningless, but the plans themselves are a great deal -- $50 per month for matching upload and download speeds of 200Mbps (about 25 cents per Mbps), or $65 per month for a gigabit plan with matching speeds of 940Mbps (about 7 cents per Mbps, which is an even better value than you'll get with AT&T). There are no data caps or contracts with those plans, and those prices don't arbitrarily go up after a year, either.
Meanwhile, CenturyLink's DSL speeds are much slower, and can vary greatly from address to address, but with a flat rate of $50 per month, the pricing is pretty fair by DSL standards. Better still, the DSL plans come with a Price for Life guarantee, which locks that rate in for as long as you stay a customer. If nothing faster is available at your address, a plan like that might be worth considering -- but if CenturyLink offers fiber service in your area, signing up is a lot closer to a no-brainer.
Read our CenturyLink review.
CenturyLinkEditSee at Centurylink
A fast, reliable pick if you don't mind the data capJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
Comcast is the biggest name in cable, and the company offers its Xfinity internet service to well over 100 million people in the US -- more than a third of the country. Subscribers will find a great variety of plans and packages to choose from, including plans with download speeds of up to 1,200Mbps that are available across the majority of the sprawling coverage map (or, if they're lucky, plans with multi-gig speeds of up to 3Gbps that are available at a small percentage of addresses). In addition, Comcast Xfinity consistently earns above-average customer satisfaction scores from organizations like J.D. Power and the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
That said, biggest doesn't mean best. Cable internet plans from Spectrum, WOW and Optimum all come at a slightly better value than most Comcast plans, and none of those three enforce a data cap. Comcast does, capping your monthly data usage at 1.2TB, with penalties levied if you exceed it in a given month. If you can live with that, then there's a lot to like about Xfinity home internet -- but it's more of an honorable mention than an outright best pick.
Read our Comcast Xfinity review.
Xfinity InternetEditSee at Xfinity
A great value for high-speed internet, if it's availableGoogle
It's been over a decade since Google first announced that it would bring fiber internet service to select regions across the country -- and it's been a bumpy ride ever since. After initially rolling out across 11 metro areas, Google struggled to build out the service beyond that and paused its efforts outright in 2016, leaving disappointment across dozens of cities where the company had teased prospects for future fiber expansions.
Google hasn't given up, though -- the company is currently working to expand fiber access in select cities, and recently rolled out plans that support speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second for $100 per month, available in Atlanta, Austin, Huntsville, Nashville, Orange County, Provo and Raleigh/Durham. If you live in any of those cities, and Google Fiber is available at your address, give it a look, because that's one of the best deals you'll find for such a blazing fast connection.
Read our Google Fiber review.See at Google
Best if you're stuck with satelliteAl Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Satellite internet is typically slow, laggy and temperamental in inclement weather, so I'd explore any and all other options if you've got them. But that's the thing -- too many of usdon't have other options, and satellite internet from established names like Viasat and HughesNet is available just about everywhere.
If it comes down to those two, I'd start with Viasat. Why? Neither one offers strong value for what you're getting, but Hughesnet caps the max download speed of all plans at 25Mbps, which is the barest definition of broadband. With Viasat, satellite speeds of up to 100Mbps are available in some regions, and speeds are set to improve in 2022 with the launch of Viasat's newest satellite hardware. Viasat also offers data caps that are slightly higher than what you'll get with HughesNet.
All of that said, there are aspects of Viasat's service that would probably be more at home on a worst list than a best list like this. For starters, your monthly bill will shoot up after just 3 months -- and with some plans, the increase is a whopping $50. You'll also need to agree to a two-year contract, with potentially steep penalties if you decide to cancel early. Like I said, make sure to shop around for other, better options in your area -- but if there aren't any (and if you can stomach the sky-high prices), Viasat is a workable choice for getting online in remote parts of the country.
Read our Viasat review.
ViasatEditSee at Allconnect
Off to a strong startZiply Fiber
Ziply is a relative newcomer to the fiber scene after acquiring fiber-optic infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest from Frontier. The service launched last year amidst the pandemic, offering relatively affordable fiber plans to customers across parts of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Plans are limited for now, with a notable lack of middle-ground options in between the 100 and1,000Mbps speed tiers, but Ziply offers strong value and reasonable terms, and it doesn't enforce data caps, contracts or credit checks for any of its plans. It also recently began offering multi-gig speeds of 2 and 5 gigabits per second, albeit limited to just 170,000 households across the footprint at launch in 2022.
Ziply is also currently including whole-home Wi-Fi with up to three extenders in its $10 modem rental fee, which is a nice deal for anyone interested in trying out the benefits of a mesh network. We'll keep an eye on the company as it grows, but we like what we're seeing so far.
Read our Ziply Fiber review.See at Ziply Fiber
Other providers we've reviewed
The broadband beat keeps our team busy, but we'll continue evaluating internet providers and updating this post as new options emerge. For now, here's a rundown of every other provider we've covered with a link back to our full review and a quick summary of our thoughts.
Astound Broadband: The recently rebranded service from cable mainstay RCN doesn't enforce contracts or data caps, but the painfully steep increases in your monthly rate after year one make it tough to recommend outright. Customers in some regions will see their monthly bill go up by more $100 after the first 12 months.
Cox: Cox offers gigabit cable download speeds across its entire coverage map, and while it also enforces a data cap, its policies around that cap are friendlier to consumers than you might expect. Still, the prices skew higher than other cable providers like Xfinity and Spectrum, and we're not crazy about the fact Cox gateways double as public-facing hotspots that strangers can connect through unless you opt out.
Earthlink: One of the oldest names on this list, Earthlink leverages the DSL and fiberoptic infrastructure of other providers in order to offer internet plans nationwide. Prices are higher than average, though, but give the company credit for transparent terms, and for eschewing data caps and throttling altogether.
Frontier: One of the nation's largest providers, Frontier offers home internet service via both fiber and DSL. With no excessive fees or data caps, it's a decent pick for rural internet, particularly if fiber is available at your address. That said, the company's non-transparency with pricing and speeds have earned it a spotty track record with customer satisfaction, so keep an eye on your bill after year one.
HughesNet: Like its main satellite internet rival Viasat, HughesNet is available just about anywhere, and speeds are more consistent across its coverage map, too. Still, with high equipment costs and downloads that don't get any faster than 25Mbps, it's more of a last resort option than anything else.
Mediacom: Mediacom's cable internet service offers gigabit download speeds across the near-entirety of its coverage map, but most plans will see price increases after both the first and second year of service, which is a tough pill to swallow. On top of that, the data caps are particularly tight, and there's no limit to the number of overage charges you can rack up each month.
Nomad Internet: Launched in 2017, Nomad leases 4G LTE airwaves from larger carriers to provide connectivity for rural areas and for people on the go, including business travelers and RV enthusiasts. The lack of contracts or cancellation fees is an appealing part of the sales pitch in spite of some high upfront costs, but your speeds will vary greatly, as those larger carriers will always reserve the right to serve their own customers first.
Optimum: Available in New York and select surrounding regions, Optimum offers fast speeds, low introductory pricing and no data caps or contracts whatsoever. It's an option worth considering, but be aware that most plans feature upload speeds that are lower than they should be, and that the company's customer satisfaction scores have been trending in the wrong direction in recent years.
Sparklight: With a hybrid network that mixes fiber and cable infrastructure, Sparklight offers customers in select parts of 21 states reasonably fast speeds on transparent terms, and the company deserves credit for extending faster connections to parts of the country where DSL and satellite might be the only other options. Tight data caps are a disappointment, though, especially on the lower-priced plans, where your monthly rate will also go up after just three months.
Starry Internet: Similar to 5G providers, Starry uses millimeter wave technology for its fixed wireless home internet service. There's a lot to like about the company's commitment to consumer-friendly terms, with no contracts, data caps or arbitrary price hikes, and speeds of up to 1Gbps are available in select parts of the still-growing coverage map. We'll continue monitoring the company's progress throughout 2022.
Suddenlink: A sister brand to Optimum under parent company Altice, Suddenlink offers appealing promo rates, it doesn't enforce data caps, and it's actively working to expand its footprint, with 80% of customers already eligible for gigabit service. All of that is good, but the steep price increase after year one and a recent decline in customer satisfaction ratings are both points of concern.
Starlink: Billionaire Elon Musk's effort to disrupt the satellite internet category, Starlink is an offshoot of SpaceX, and it's actively leveraging SpaceX launch capabilities to deploy an ever-growing constellation of satellites in low-earth orbit. Lower satellites means a faster connection with less latency, and that's what Starlink offers, but the service still isn't available to as many addresses and regions as Hughesnet or Viasat, and the cost of buying in is steep, even by satellite standards.
T-Mobile: The mobile carrier began rolling out home internet service via 5G and LTE in early 2021 -- now, in 2022, it's available to more than 30 million households in 40 states. With a flat monthly rate of $50, download speeds varying from 35-115Mbps, and no contracts, data caps or preset price increases, it's one of the more intriguing options in home internet right now, especially as 5G connectivity continues to improve.
Windstream: Kinetic, Windstream's home internet service, offers relatively fast speeds in rural parts of the country, and prices are typically pretty reasonable, too. It's worth a look across many parts of its coverage map, but be aware that pricing will vary from region to region, making it difficult to recommend outright.
Best internet provider FAQs
What's the cheapest way to get internet?
That depends. We know, not helpful, but stay with us.
One of the cheapest ways to get internet service right now is through the government's Affordable Connectivity Program. It's a long-term subsidy set up to help qualifying households receive $30 per month ($75 for those on Tribal lands) towards internet service. There are also other permanent programs available for low-income families, as well as for seniors and students.
Lastly, you can try negotiating with your current internet provider to secure a lower rate on your broadband service. Or you can keep your eyes open for broadband deals or other internet promotions offered each month.
Who's the fastest internet service provider right now?
The good news is it's now common to find gigabit plans offered by almost all major ISPs. But, as we often say, the fastest internet service for you will depend on your location and specific address. Of the major providers, Xfinity often extends the fastest plans available for residential homes, with 1,200Mbps as its gigabit offering (versus the typical 940Mbps most providers offer) and it also boasts a 3,000Mbps "Gigabit Pro" plan, but that's not as widely available and requires a site survey to ensure serviceability.
Just this January, Ziply Fiber announced that it's rolling out 2- and 5-gig plans to approximately 170,000 homes in the Northwest. Not to be outdone, a week later AT&T unveiled its new multi-gig tiers, which are now available in over 70 cities across the country. Suffice to say that this speed race between providers is only just beginning.
What internet speed do I need?
The Federal Communications Commission defines "broadband speed" as a minimum of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speed. But that definition is out of date. As mentioned above, most providers now offer a gigabit plan, but most households won't need that much speed. According to a 2021 report from OpenVault (PDF), the average American household is using 231Mbps download speeds (though nearly 70% of households get less than 200Mbps) and 17Mbps upload. Does that mean you'll need that much? Not necessarily. The internet speed you need will be dependent on how many people are using the internet in your home and for what activities you need it.