Best Internet Providers – 2020

Contents

Deciding which is the best internet provider in the United States is a difficult calculation that combines reliability, speed, and value with availability. When you come to choose a service for your home or business, you will discover not all of the services in the country are available where you live and not all of the plans that each of those that operate near you will be available to you.

This review should give you a starting point in your task of subscribing to a new internet service. We compare the biggest internet service providers (ISPs) in the country. Although there are many smaller ISPs, the big players in the market are more likely to deliver reliable internet.

We will tell you which service is the best option in the following categories:

  •         The best internet provider for speed
  •         The best internet provider for reliability
  •         The best internet provider for coverage
  •         The best internet provider by customer satisfaction
  •         The best internet provider for DSL
  •         The best internet provider for fiber
  •         The best internet provider for cable
  •         The best internet provider for fixed wireless
  •         The best internet provider for satellite
  •         The best internet provider overall

In each category, we recommend the winner and two runners up.

The List of the Best ISPs

There are more than 2,600 internet service providers in the United States, but our search for the winners in the above ten categories brought that number down to 12. Here is our list of the 12 best internet service providers in the United States:

  1. Xfinity
  2. AT&T
  3. EarthLink
  4. Verizon Fios
  5. CenturyLink
  6. Charter Spectrum
  7. Optimum
  8. Frontier Fios
  9. Mediacom
  10. Rise Broadband
  11. ViaSat
  12. HughesNet

You can read more about each of these companies in detail in the following sections.


 

1. Xfinity

A cable internet provider with very fast speeds

Xfinity is part of Comcast Cable Communications. Comcast is the largest cable internet in the United States and is one of the largest telecommunications conglomerates in the world. The company offers internet to residences under the Xfinity brand, which marketing its internet services to companies as Comcast Business.

As the main network of Xfinity was designed to deliver cable TV, it uses the industry-standard hybrid fiber-coaxial configuration (HFC). This means that the long-distance links from the internet access point in the Comcast offices to local exchanges is carried over fiber-optic cable. The last stretch of the connection from the local exchange to the customer’s property is carried over coaxial cable.

Xfinity’s home wireless service centers on a proprietary system, called xFi. This not only distributes wi-Fi signal around the home but controls other notable wireless systems, including the Thread and Zigbee home automation standards and the Bluetooth personal area network protocol. The Xfinity home hub forms part of a network of wireless routers that serve the public. Home subscribers to Xfinity internet also get access through this comprehensive wireless network for free when out of the house.

See full Xfinity review here.


 

2. AT&T

Delivers DSL, fiber, and fixed wireless internet

The USA’s AT&T is the largest telecommunications company in the world. Thanks to its ownership of WarnerMedia and DirecTV, it is also the world’s largest entertainment company. The company offers three different types of internet systems: DSL, fiber, and fixed wireless.

With such extensive investments, AT&T is in an excellent position to offer very good deals through bundling. Surprisingly, despite its delivery of television through satellite, AT&T has not entered the satellite internet market. The main network of AT&T is its telephone system. This enables the company to carry data as well as voice at reasonable prices. The industry refers to internet delivered over telephone wires as “digital service line,” or DSL. AT&T calls its wire-carried system IPBB, which stands for “IP backbone.”

As an innovator, AT&T has also invested in a fiber-optic network. However, this is not as extensive as the company’s telephone network. The IPBB service of AT&T is available in 21 states, the company’s fiber internet system is not available in all of those places. Nonetheless, AT&T is the second-largest fiber internet provider in the USA.

The fixed wireless system doesn’t refer to the data plans offered on mobile devices and it is a little different to the W-Fi routers used in homes. This service is offered by AT&T to remote properties that aren’t connected to the telephone network and can’t be connected to it at a marketable price. This network configuration is very similar to the HFC combination used by cable TV operators. In fixed wireless, the last link, which runs from the local exchange to the customer’s door, is provided by a wireless connection.  This is a directed beam and is much stronger than the typical home Wi-fi router. However, AT&T only offers a plan that headlines with a speed of 25 Mbps but promises 10 Mbps in the small print.

See full AT&T review here.


 

3. EarthLink

The largest internet provider in the USA

EarthLink is the largest provider of internet services in the USA with more than 1 million customers. The company serves both residential and business customers, with its main channel being its telephone network, making it a DSL internet provider. The company serves customers in 42 states only missing the sparsely populated desert and northern states. Unlike most of its major rivals in the DSL market, EarthLink does not run its own telephone network.

As well as being the largest DSL internet provider, EarthLink is the third-largest fiber internet supplier in the country.

From 2017 until early 2019, EarthLink was owned by rival Windstream, so most recent statistics about the business are logged under the name of its former parent company. Windstream didn’t do too well in FCC speed tests, revealing that it rarely delivered the speeds promised in its advertising. The company also had a low customer satisfaction rating, according to the ACSI.

See full EarthLink review here.


 

4. Verizon Fios

The largest fiber internet provider in the USA

Verizon is a well-known telephone company with its heartland in the densely populated area of New England. The Verizon Fios division is the largest provider of fiber internet in the USA even though it only operates in 13 states.

Verizon Fios has built a reputation for excellence, coming top in every league for customer satisfaction and consistent performance. The company provides the fastest delivery of Netflix streams and the American Customer Satisfaction Index rates the service as having the most satisfied internet users in the country. The company doesn’t impose data caps and it consistently exceeds its promised speeds.

See full Verizon Fios review here.


 

5. CenturyLink

One of the largest DSL internet providers in the USA

CenturyLink is one of the largest telephone companies in the USA and its network is particularly strong on the West Coast. The extent of the company’s network makes it the third-largest DSL provider in the USA after EarthLink and AT&T. The CenturyLink telephone system extends to 39 states. The company also has a fiber-optic network that has a presence in 17 states.

The performance consistency of CenturyLink doesn’t quite match up to its main rivals. The Federal Communications Commission reports that the internet services provided by the company regularly fail to match the speeds promised in advertising. However, the prices for the service are low and the company guarantees a price for life.

See full CenturyLink review here.


 

6. Charter Spectrum

A large cable TV network that also delivers internet

Charter Cable is the second-largest cable TV provider in the USA. It has an efficient HFC network, which enables it to deliver internet and telephone services to households and businesses as well as TV. The company markets its consumer services under the brand Spectrum. It is currently the third-largest cable internet provider in the United States.

The Spectrum system doesn’t score very highly with its customers. This is mainly because the company is an amalgamation of several cable TV services and the merger is still experiencing teething trouble. However, according to the FCC, the service consistently beats its advertised speeds.

See full Charter Spectrum review here.


 

7. Optimum

Now owned by Altice, enjoys high customer satisfaction ratings

Optimum is a cable TV company that provides internet to homes and businesses over its HFC network. Although the company only operates in four states, it is the fourth-largest cable internet provider in the USA because those states are very densely populated: Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The service used to be a brand of Cablevision but was recently sold to Dutch Telecommunications multinational, Altice. Optimum is going through a rebranding exercise at the moment as it merges with Suddenlink to become Altice USA. The reasons Optimum makes it onto our list of the best ISPs in the United States are that it consistently beats its promised speeds and it has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry.

See full Optimum review here.


 

8. Frontier Fios

A telephone company that offers DSL and fiber internet

Frontier Communications is a telephone company that is well-known for offering internet services in rural areas that other industry players won’t serve. However, it is the company’s fiber internet system that gets it onto our list of the best ISPs in the United States.

The Frontier telephone system carries a DSL internet service as well as voice calls. The company is the fifth-largest DSL internet provider in the USA, reaching 29 states. The fiber-optic network of Frontier extends to just six states and makes it the country’s fourth-largest fiber internet provider. Overall, the company is the USA’s 11th largest internet provider.

Frontier bought its fiber-optic network from Verizon when that provider decided to focus on its key New England market. Frontier Fios is available in Washington state, Oregon, California, Texas, Florida, and Indiana. Frontier Fios does not impose data caps. However, its customers do not rate the company highly, which could be because the service has a lot of unexpected hidden charges.

See full Frontier Fios review here.


 

9. Mediacom

A cable internet provider that consistently outperforms its delivery targets

Mediacom is a cable TV service that also delivers cable internet. The company is the fifth-largest cable internet provider, but in some places, it is number one. For example, Mediacom is the largest internet provider in the state of Iowa. The service extends to a total of 22 states and it particularly successful in the north and north-west of the country.

Mediacom customers have a lot to be pleased about. The company consistently provides internet connections at faster than advertised speeds, according to the FCC. However, the ACSI reports that Mediacom has one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry. This might be because the company imposes data caps, which are never popular. However, the Mediacom data caps are extremely high and at levels that no regular customer could ever actually consume. For example, the data cap on the Internet 500 plan is 4 Terabytes (TB) and the cap on the Gigabit service is 6 TB per month. When internet service providers impose data caps, they are usually set at 1 TB per month. On the other hand, the data cap set on the 60 Mbps plan is 400 GB, which is probably too low and could be the main source of dissatisfaction among the user community.

See full Mediacom review here.


 

10. Rise Broadband

The leading fixed wireless internet provider

Rise Broadband specializes in fixed wireless internet. This is a very unusual market niche and the company’s only serious rival in this field is AT&T Wireless. Despite the superior size of AT&T, Rise Broadband is the largest provider of fixed wireless internet services in the USA. It has a service area that includes 19 states.

The fixed wireless service takes a connection from the local exchange to the customer’s home through the air. This makes the system easy to fit new buildings, remote homes and historical properties that can have wires attached to them or their surrounding grounds disturbed.

Not every property would be automatically suitable for fixed wireless service. Wireless signals travel through the air. However, it needs a direct line of sight between the exchange’s antenna and the transceiver box on the customer’s building. Trees or tall buildings block the signal if they stand in the path and this makes it impossible for some homes to get the fixed wireless service.

Fixed wireless can be considered to be the next-to-last resort because it doesn’t offer as good a service as wired systems. However, it is the best option where wires are not possible. Properties that can’t even get a fixed wireless internet service have only one option left: satellite internet.

See full Rise Broadband review here.


 

11. ViaSat

The leading satellite internet provider

When a tree or a statue stands between a home and a local antenna, the only other option is to beam the internet signal 22,300 miles up into space. Satellite systems breach the final frontier in internet delivery.

ViaSat is able to offer satellite internet in 50 states. It is not the largest provider, but it currently offers the fastest speeds. The company offers both unmetered and metered services. Not all parts of the country are able to get the unmetered service. The metered options can prove very expensive, and so it would be unwise to use satellite systems for constant video streaming and other data-heavy applications.

The top speed available from ViaSat is 100 Mbps for download. All of the ViaSat plans offer a maximum of 4 Mbps upload speed. The Unlimited 100 Mbps service is rare and most customers are on the metered tariffs which all offer a download speed of 35 Mbps. Delivery speed is vital with satellite systems because one each bit of data hits the dish on the orbiting satellite, it then ricochets back down to earth so it can be received by the service provider’s dish. Naturally, any response has 4,600 miles to cover on a reverse path.

Despite the great height of the satellite up above the earth’s atmosphere in geostationary orbit, obstacles can still block the path of communications. So, there are still a few places in the country that can’t get the internet – even by satellite.  

See full ViaSat review here.


 

12. HughesNet

A satellite internet provider that usually exceeds its promised speeds

HughesNet has a slightly larger satellite internet service area than ViaSat because it covers some of the USA’s overseas territories as well.  The HughesNet system is less pricey than ViaSat’s services. However, this company can’t match the speeds of the satellite internet industry leader.

All of the HughesNet internet plans offer the same download speed, which is 25 Mbps. There are four plans in total and the difference between them is the data cap applied to each. The lowest plan allows a total data usage of 10 GB per month. That’s very low, but if you only need the internet to pick up your email and read the news online, that should be enough.  

The top plan has a data cap of 50 GB per month and costs $149.99 per month. The company offers discounts to those prepared to prepay for the service for a whole year.

Although this service sees ridiculously restricted, the FCC revealed an interesting secret about the HughesNet system – it greatly over-delivers on its advertised speed. FCC tests showed that the actual speeds on a HughesNet connection were almost double the 25 Mbps that the contract promises.

See full HughesNet review here.


 

Best Internet Service Providers by Category

Now we tell you which provider is the best in each of our categories. Where possible, we also give two runners up.

The Best Internet Provider for Speed

Speed is important to customers who use a lot of interactive applications. Video streaming, video conferencing, and online gaming particularly need a lot of speed. If several people sharing a connection are all engaged in these activities simultaneously, the connection can really slow down without enough capacity. Keep in mind that your internal router is also a limiting factor, so if you switch up to a very fast connection, make sure to upgrade your home router as well, otherwise you will never actually be able to use that extra speed.

The three best internet service providers for speed are:

  1. Xfinity – cable internet with a top speed of 2 Gbps.
  2. Rise Broadband – fast fixed wireless with a top speed of 50 Mbps.
  3. ViaSat – satellite internet with a top speed of 100 Mbps.

Most of the other services on our list offer faster plans than the Rise Broadband top speed. All of the Cable and DSL providers on the list have a top speed of 1 Gbps. Xfinity is the only provider that offers a speed of 2 Gbps. However, Rise Broadband and ViaSat are ranked as the runners up in the speed category because they are the fastest in their connection types.

The Best Internet Provider for Reliability

In this category, we took the word of the regulator for the telecommunications industry in the USA – the Federal Communications Commission. There is nothing more annoying than feeling that you are not getting the speeds you were offered in the contract. We use the ability to match or exceed advertised speed as a measure of reliability.

In its annual study, Report on Consumer Fixed Broadband Performance in the United States, published in December 2018, the FCC measured the speeds experienced by randomly chosen customers at peak times of each of the major ISPs in the USA. The tests showed that some of the country’s ISPs didn’t deliver on their promised speeds. Many did get roughly on the right speed target, but some actually exceeded their advertised speeds.

The best performers in this test were:

  1. HughesNet – delivers almost double the advertised speed.
  2. Mediacom – the second-best performer in the test.
  3. Xfinity – came in third in the FCC test.

The FCC test showed that the actual download speed on a Mediacom connection was about 25 percent higher than promised and the upload speed was 20 percent higher. Xfinity’s actual speed was around 15 percent higher than the advertised speed for download and the upload speed was about 20 percent higher. In the case of HughesNet, the download speed was about 85 percent higher than advertised and the actual upload speed was very close to double the advertised rate.

The FCC tests were performed at times that usually experience heavy network load and therefore, could be expected to show slower speeds than normal. Most ISPs put a get-out clause in their contracts that states they cannot be expected to achieve the advertised speed all of the time. So, if these three services do so well during peak hours, when they have given themselves the right to underperform, they must be regarded as very reliable services.

The Best Internet Provider for Coverage

Coverage is a tricky concept to quantify with US internet providers. Some measure coverage as the total percentage of the US population that comes within reach of an ISP’s network. Others measure coverage as the number of states in which the ISP has a presence. A problem with the state count measurement is that many ISPs touch just a small amount of territory in each of many states. So, the last measure of coverage goes on square mileage.

The best ISPs for coverage are:

  1. EarthLink – a presence in 42 states.
  2. AT&T – DSL in 21 states plus fixed wireless that reaches remote properties.
  3. Verizon Fios – the largest fiber-optic network in the USA.

Whereas most of the major ISPs are run by the company that owns the network that supports it, EarthLink offers its services over networks run by others, enabling it to expand rapidly. A state count of 21 for AT&T doesn’t sound very high. However, the company is the second-largest DSL provider in the USA after EarthLink and the second-largest fiber internet provider after Verizon Fios. The coverage area in each state where AT&T is active is very dense. The addition of fixed wireless gives AT&T a very comprehensive coverage rating.

As satellite internet providers, ViaSat and HughesNet have coverage in every state in the USA. However, they were both excluded from the coverage assessment in order to give the other providers a fair chance. Verizon Fios only has a presence in 13 states. However, it has the largest fiber-optic network in the USA and the states where it is active are very densely populated.

The Best Internet Provider by Customer Satisfaction

The American Customer Satisfaction index takes an annual survey of customer opinion for all of the major internet service providers in the United States. These are published in the ACSI Telecommunications Report. We took the best performing ISPs as reported by the ACSI to rank the winners of the Best Internet providers by Customer Satisfaction category.

These are:

  1. Verizon Fios – consistently has the highest customer satisfaction rating.
  2. AT&T – regularly achieves high scores from its customers.
  3. Optimum – rankings fell slightly in 2019, but it is still in third place.

The ACSI quantifies the gathered customer opinion into a percentage mark. Verizon Fios came top in both 2018 and 2019 with 70 percent. AT&T rose from 68 percent in 2018 to 69 percent in 2019, getting a chance of stealing the Verizon Fios lead if it continues to improve over the next year. Although Optimum’s rankings fell from 64 percent in 2018 to 63 percent in 2019, it is still number three in the customer satisfaction league and could get to number one over the next few years.

The Best Internet Provider for DSL

Internet systems began with dial-up services over telephone lines. The telephone system is still the most widely used internet delivery system. Technological advancements enabled dial-up to be replaced by “digital service line” (DSL) which is the always-available Broadband service that we know today. DSL is still the most prevalent form of internet in use today. The largest DSL providers are also the largest internet providers overall.

The top-three DSL internet providers in the USA are:

  1. EarthLink – the largest internet provider overall with 1 million customers.
  2. AT&T – the second-largest DSL provider in the USA with an excellent customer satisfaction rating.
  3. CenturyLink – the third-largest DSL internet provider in the USA.

All three of these companies have diversified and offer fiber internet as well. AT&T also operates a fixed wireless business. EarthLink is the third-largest fiber internet provider in the USA, behind Verizon Fios and AT&T.

The Best Internet Provider for Fiber

The top two fiber internet providers are easy to spot. Verizon Fios and AT&T are the two largest fiber internet networks in the United States and they are also the two highest-ranking ISPs in terms of customer satisfaction. FCC tests also show that both of these systems beat their promised speeds when put to the test.

  1. Verizon Fios – the largest and most highly appreciated fiber internet network.
  2. AT&T – the number two both in terms of size and customer satisfaction.
  3. Frontier Fios – third-place fiber internet provider.

The choice for the third place in this list of the best internet providers for fiber was difficult to make. EarthLink is the third-largest fiber internet system in the United States. However, in recent years, while owned by Windstream, the service has been performing badly. It has one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings, at 57 percent and the FCC reports that it doesn’t deliver its promised speeds. So, Frontier Fios, which has the fourth-largest fiber internet system in the USA, takes the number three slot. Frontier Fios has an even worse customer satisfaction rating than EarthLink, with 55 percent. However, it matched its promised download speed and exceeded its advertised upload speed in FCC tests.  

The Best Internet Provider for Cable

Xfinity is the largest cable internet provider in the United States and the only major ISP that offers a top speed of 2 Gbps. So, the decision to name the company as the best internet provider for cable wasn’t very difficult. The company consistently beats its advertised speeds and it has the fourth-highest customer satisfaction rating among the major ISP, according to the ACSI.

Here are the top three internet providers for cable.

  1. Xfinity – the largest cable internet provider with consistently high speeds.
  2. Optimum – A highly-rated network that is about to get bigger.
  3. Charter Spectrum – A leading cable internet system.

The runners up in this category were a little harder to decide. Optimum has the third-highest customer satisfaction rating among ISPs in the ACSI report. In its newly-minted form as Altice USA, the company has become the fourth-largest cable internet provider in the USA. This makes Optimum smaller than Charter Spectrum, which we have put in third place. Charter Spectrum is the third-largest cable internet system in the USA. However, it has a low customer satisfaction rating at 59 percent. Both Spectrum and Optimum exceed their advertised speeds, but it is the higher ACSI rating that puts Optimum ahead of Spectrum.

The Best Internet Provider for Fixed Wireless

Fixed Wireless is a very specialized internet delivery system and there is only one specialist company out there that provides it: Rise Broadband. The company does not offer any other type of internet connection. This makes Rise Broadband the number one fixed wireless internet provider. However, it is not the only company offering the service.

Here is our list of the two best fixed wireless internet providers:

  1. Rise Broadband – only major ISP that focuses on fixed wireless internet.
  2. AT&T – The largest telecommunications company in the world.

Although Rise Broadband only provides fixed wireless, that doesn’t make it the only fixed wireless provider. AT&T is the second-largest DSL internet provider and has the second-largest fiber internet network in the United States. It is also a provider of fixed wireless internet. Those customers interested in a fixed wireless service should check out both of these providers.

The Best Internet Provider for Satellite

There are only two serious contenders in the satellite internet market, although there are some smaller suppliers available. ViaSat and HughesNet are the only companies that offer satellite internet all over the country.

  1. ViaSat
  2. HughesNet

The question of which order to put these two contenders in is difficult. The ViaSat system takes the prize because it offers better speeds than HughesNet. Give the great distances that a message has to travel in a satellite internet connection, the ViaSat ability to move data at 100 Mbps is truly remarkable. One downside is that ViaSat doesn’t always achieve its promised speeds. FCC observations spotted that, while it exceeds its upload speed target, ViaSat only delivers 90 percent of its promised speed. HughesNet exceeds its advertised speed. However, even at its high actual speed, it is still slower than the service of ViaSat.

The Best Internet Provider Overall

The overall top three internet providers are not difficult to spot. However, the order that the rank in is a difficult decision. AT&T, Xfinity, and Verizon Fios are all excellent services.

AT&T doesn’t come top in any of our specialist categories. However, it qualifies for the top three in more categories than any other internet provider. The company is the second-largest DSL system and the second-largest fiber internet provider. It also competes in the fixed wireless internet market. AT&T has the second-highest customer satisfaction rating among US ISPs and it also exceeds its speed promises. All of those factors make AT&T the best internet provider overall.

  1. AT&T – the world’s largest telecommunications company.
  2. Xfinity – the delivered of the highest speed internet in the USA.
  3. Verizon Fios – the largest fiber internet network in America.

Both Xfinity and Verizon Fios exceed their speed promises and both are the leaders in their respective fields—cable internet for Xfinity and fiber internet for Verizon Fios. However, Xfinity’s network is much larger and has many more customers than Verizon Fios. Xfinity is able to provide a top speed that is double the speed offered by the top plan of Verizon Fios. This is why Xfinity comes in ahead of Verizon Fios, even though the number three in our rankings has the highest customer satisfaction rating among all US ISPs.

Finding an Internet Provider

There are many internet providers. Narrowing down the search for a service gets easier by specifying a priority, such as speed or reliability, or a connection type, such as DSL or fiber internet.

Location will become the deciding factor and then plan availability. By focusing on service features and location, you will arrive at the best internet provider for you.