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Buying Guide: How to Choose an Internet Provider

Choosing the right internet service provider is a big decision. This comprehensive guide is your roadmap to making informed choices when it comes to internet providers. From understanding pricing and contracts to technical specifications and connection types, we’ll help you navigate the complexities and find the ideal internet solution tailored to your needs.

Find Providers at Your Address

Identifying the providers available at your specific address is a foundational step in the internet selection process. While it may seem rudimentary, the importance of this step cannot be overstated. Internet service availability is inherently location-dependent. Different areas might be serviced by a variety of ISPs, each with their unique offerings, infrastructure, and pricing structures. Starting your search by pinpointing the providers accessible at your address narrows down your options and streamlines the subsequent steps, saving time and potential confusion.

Rather than visiting each provider’s website and inputting your address—which can be tedious and time-consuming—using our internet provider comparison tool offers an efficient alternative. We do the leg work for you by aggregating data from various ISPs to present you with a comprehensive list of available providers at your specific address. Try it out by entering your address below.

Determine What Internet Speed You Need

One of the most essential steps in selecting the right internet plan is understanding your specific usage needs. Internet speeds are typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps), which represents the amount of data transferred over the internet connection every second. The higher the Mbps, the faster the potential data transfer.

This includes both download speed—the rate at which data is pulled from the internet to your devices, such as streaming a movie or loading a webpage—and upload speed—the rate at which data from your devices is sent to the internet, essential for tasks like video calls and content creation.

The speed you require will heavily depend on your online activities. For instance, higher download speeds are crucial for smooth streaming, online gaming, and large file downloads. Meanwhile, adequate upload speeds are essential for remote work, video conferencing, and content uploads. Consider both download and upload speeds when assessing your internet needs to ensure a seamless online experience.

For the average user, breaking down daily internet activities can provide clarity on the bandwidth required. Let’s delve into specifics:

  • Browsing & Email: General internet browsing and email activities don’t demand high speeds. If this constitutes a significant part of your usage, basic speed packages can suffice.
  • Streaming: The speed required for streaming varies based on the resolution. For instance, streaming music requires much less bandwidth than streaming 4K videos.
  • Gaming: Online gaming, especially on multiple devices, can consume more bandwidth. Additionally, latency or ping rates, which affect the responsiveness of your connection, are critical for gaming.
  • Work from Home & Video Conferencing: With the rise of remote work, video conferencing tools have become pivotal. These can demand higher speeds, especially for high-definition video calls.

Below are some tables to give you a clearer picture:

Streaming Usage:

ActivityRecommended Speed
Music Streaming2 Mbps
Standard Definition (SD) Video3-4 Mbps
High Definition (HD) Video5-8 Mbps
Ultra High Definition (4K) Video25 Mbps

Gaming Usage:

ActivityRecommended Speed
Casual Online Gaming3-6 Mbps
Multiplayer Online Gaming15-25 Mbps
Cloud Gaming Services35-50 Mbps

General Use:

Users & Activity LevelRecommended Speed
1-2 users (light use: browsing, email)15-25 Mbps
2-4 users (moderate use: HD streaming, occasional online gaming)50-75 Mbps
4+ users (heavy use: 4K streaming, regular online gaming, multiple devices)100+ Mbps

It’s important to consider that advertised speeds often represent the maximum or “up to” speeds, which might not be consistently achievable due to various factors. To ensure a suitable internet experience, it’s essential to take into account your household’s collective usage, including the number of devices and people using the internet simultaneously.

  • Network Congestion: During peak usage times, such as evenings when many household members are online, network congestion can slow down your connection. This can significantly affect your speeds. To address this, it’s wise to opt for a plan with a higher speed, ensuring a smoother experience during periods of high traffic.
  • Wired vs. Wireless: Wired connections through Ethernet tend to offer more consistent speeds than wireless (Wi-Fi) connections. Wi-Fi signals can be influenced by interference and the distance from your router. To counter potential Wi-Fi speed drops, consider selecting a plan with a bit more speed than you initially calculated.
  • Location: Your proximity to the internet service provider’s infrastructure can impact your internet speed. Fiber-optic connections tend to maintain consistent speeds over longer distances compared to DSL or cable. If you’re located farther from your provider’s infrastructure, it’s advisable to choose a higher-speed plan to maintain performance.
  • Device Capability: The capabilities of your devices, including your modem, router, and computer, can affect your speed. Older or outdated hardware may not be able to handle higher speeds effectively. Selecting a higher-speed plan ensures that your equipment can maximize the available bandwidth.
  • Throttling: Some ISPs engage in data throttling, intentionally slowing down specific types of internet traffic. This can negatively impact your internet experience, especially for activities like video streaming. Opting for a higher-speed plan can help mitigate the impact of throttling.

Internet Connection Types

One of the most important factors to consider is the internet connection type (ie. Fiber, Cable, DSL, etc). Selecting the right type of internet connection is not merely about speed but also about reliability, availability, and cost. Each connection type operates differently, influencing the consistency and quality of your online experience. By examining the pros and cons of various internet connections, you can align your choice with your unique needs and priorities, ensuring a more satisfactory and cost-effective service.


Why Choose It: Fiber-optic internet is the top choice for those who demand the fastest and most reliable internet connection. It’s ideal for households with multiple heavy internet users, gamers, or those who rely on ultra-high-definition streaming.

  • Pros:
    • Blazing-fast symmetrical speeds for both uploading and downloading.
    • Exceptional reliability with minimal signal degradation.
    • Low latency, making it ideal for real-time online activities.
  • Cons:
    • Limited availability, primarily in urban areas.
    • Typically comes at a higher price point.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

Why Choose It: DSL is a practical option for users in both urban and rural areas who require basic internet services without breaking the bank. It’s suitable for individuals or small households with moderate internet needs.

  • Pros:
    • Widely available in various locations.
    • Offers consistent speeds for everyday internet activities.
    • Often more affordable than other high-speed options.
  • Cons:
    • Speeds can vary based on proximity to the provider’s central office.
    • May not support bandwidth-intensive activities like 4K streaming effectively.

Cable Internet

Why Choose It: Cable internet is a solid choice for users in urban and suburban areas who value fast download speeds for streaming and gaming. It’s perfect for households with multiple devices and simultaneous users.

  • Pros:
    • Available in many areas, including suburban and urban regions.
    • Delivers fast download speeds suitable for streaming and gaming.
  • Cons:
    • Upload speeds are generally slower than download speeds.
    • Speeds can decrease during peak usage hours due to network congestion.

Satellite Internet

Why Choose It: Satellite internet is a lifeline for those residing in remote or rural locations with no access to other internet types. It’s a reasonable choice when other options aren’t available.

  • Pros:
    • Available virtually anywhere, making it a solution for remote areas.
    • Quick installation without extensive infrastructure requirements.
  • Cons:
    • Prone to latency and signal delays due to the long distance data must travel.
    • Limited data caps and potential for slower speeds during bad weather.

Fixed Wireless

Why Choose It: Fixed wireless suits users in areas without wired infrastructure who require reliable and competitive speeds for everyday internet use. It’s a practical option when other alternatives aren’t accessible.

  • Pros:
    • A suitable option for areas without wired infrastructure.
    • Generally offers competitive speeds for daily internet activities.
  • Cons:
    • Reliability can be affected by obstructions like trees or buildings.
    • Limited availability in some regions.

Pricing & Terms

Now that we’ve laid the foundation for understanding your internet needs and the various connection types available, it’s time to dive deeper into the nitty-gritty details that can impact your decision. In this section, we’ll explore the intricacies of pricing, contract terms, and other vital considerations to ensure you’re fully equipped to make an informed choice when it comes to your internet service.

Promotional vs. Standard Pricing

Stepping into the realm of service providers, you’re bound to encounter the allure of promotional prices. These are reduced rates designed to draw in new customers, and they’re typically set for a predetermined period—often between 6 to 24 months. Now, while these offers can provide immediate savings, there’s an eventual transition to be mindful of. Once the promotional period expires, services automatically revert to their standard pricing, which can be considerably higher.

It’s a classic bait to get you on board, but it doesn’t have to be a trap. The key is awareness. Before committing, make sure you understand not only the promotional rate but also the standard rate that follows. This dual awareness allows you to budget appropriately for the future, ensuring that when the changeover happens, you’re neither surprised nor unprepared.


Bundles are where service providers combine multiple services into a single package deal. It could be internet and cable TV, or it could be a more expansive package including internet, TV, and phone service. At first glance, these bundles can seem like the ultimate win-win, offering considerable savings compared to purchasing each service separately.

But there’s a catch. The bundled discount means that if you ever think of dropping one service, you might lose the cost benefits of the entire package. This can make switching or adjusting services down the line more cumbersome and potentially more expensive. It’s the “lock-in” effect, where you’re incentivized to keep all services even if you don’t use or need them all.

So, when considering bundles, reflect on your actual needs. Are you genuinely going to use all the services offered in the bundle? Is the cost saving worth the potential lock-in effect? Remember, it’s all about finding the balance that works for you – getting value for your money while ensuring flexibility for the future.

Data Caps & Overages

Data caps, often overlooked in the excitement of a new internet plan, can play a pivotal role in your overall experience. They refer to the limit on the amount of data you can use within a billing cycle. Exceeding this limit might result in additional charges or a slowdown in your internet speed.

When examining potential service providers and their plans, keep the following in mind:

  • Actual Limits: Some plans might promote themselves as having “high” data limits but, in reality, might not be sufficient for power users. Conversely, others may advertise “unlimited” plans but may have clauses that involve throttling (slowing) your speed after a certain usage threshold.
  • Your Data Needs: Understand your typical monthly data consumption. If you frequently stream 4K videos, play online games, or have a house full of connected devices, your data usage will be higher than someone who only uses the internet for browsing and emails.
  • Overage Fees: These are charges applied when you go beyond the set data cap. Some providers might have steep overage fees, making what seemed like a cost-effective plan suddenly quite expensive if you aren’t cautious.
  • Network Management: Even if a plan doesn’t have a strict cap, providers might have a fair usage policy in place. Once you reach a certain threshold, they might deprioritize your data, leading to slower speeds, especially during peak times.
  • Alternate Solutions: Some providers might offer add-on packages to boost your data limit for a month or offer “data-free” times, usually in the late night or early morning, where usage doesn’t count towards your cap.

Being hit with an unexpected fee or experiencing painfully slow internet speeds mid-month is frustrating. By paying close attention to the data caps and potential overages, you can sidestep these potential pitfalls and ensure a smooth online experience throughout the month.

Equipment Costs

Now, let’s delve into the world of equipment costs. After all, having the best plan is of little use if you don’t have the necessary gear to make it work.

  • Rental vs. Purchase: Many service providers offer the option to rent the necessary equipment, such as modems and routers, for a monthly fee. While this might seem like a low-cost, hassle-free approach, over time, these rental fees can add up, sometimes surpassing the original purchase price of the equipment. On the flip side, purchasing your own equipment means you’re responsible for its upkeep and potential replacements.
  • Compatibility: If you’re considering buying your own equipment, ensure it’s compatible with your service provider. Not all modems and routers work with all ISPs. While the initial research can seem daunting, it can save you headaches down the road.
  • Future-Proofing: Technology is ever-evolving. The state-of-the-art router of today might become outdated in just a few years. When purchasing equipment, consider how easily it can be updated or if it supports the latest tech standards. This way, you’re not frequently shelling out money for new gear.
  • Additional Devices: Beyond the primary modem and router, consider if you’ll need supplementary devices like Wi-Fi extenders, especially if you have a large home or multiple floors. These extras can affect the overall cost.
  • Warranties and Support: Devices can malfunction. Check if the equipment comes with a warranty. If renting, understand the provider’s policy on replacements. No one wants to be stuck with a faulty modem and no internet while navigating a maze of customer service.

The key with equipment costs is to strike a balance. While it’s tempting to go for the most advanced, high-priced gear, consider your actual needs. And if you opt for rentals, keep an eye on those accumulating monthly fees. They might just make a case for an outright purchase in the long run.

Installation Fees

  • Standard vs. Professional Installation: Providers typically offer both standard and professional installation options. The former is a basic setup, often at a minimal cost, while the latter involves technicians ensuring an optimal setup and generally comes at a higher price.
  • Self-Installation Kits: Recognizing the convenience some users seek, many providers offer self-installation kits. These kits are more cost-effective than professional setups and come with comprehensive instructions for those who are tech-savvy.
  • Existing Infrastructure: If your residence previously had a compatible connection, you might qualify for reduced or even waived installation fees. Check with your provider if prior infrastructure can net you a discount.
  • Promotional Waivers: Some providers waive installation fees as part of promotional deals. It’s beneficial to be on the lookout for such offers when shopping around.
  • Hidden Costs: Ensure you’re clear about what the installation fee encompasses. There can be additional costs for extra wiring or unforeseen complexities during the process. Always request a detailed cost breakdown.

Contracts, Commitments, and Penalties

  • Contract Duration: Service contracts can range from month-to-month agreements to multi-year commitments. While longer contracts might offer attractive rates upfront, they also tie you down to a particular service for an extended period.
  • Early Termination Fees: If you decide to switch providers or cancel your service before the contract’s end date, you might face early termination fees (ETFs). These penalties can be steep, especially if you’re only a few months into a long-term contract.
  • Automatic Renewals: Some contracts automatically roll over to a new term once they expire, potentially locking you in for another cycle. Always check the renewal terms and set reminders to re-evaluate your service needs as the contract end date approaches.
  • Cooling-Off Period: In certain regions or with specific providers, there might be a grace period post-signing during which you can cancel the contract without incurring penalties. It’s worth inquiring about this when discussing contract terms.
  • Service-Level Agreements (SLAs): SLAs outline the expected performance and reliability standards of your internet service. If the provider fails to meet these standards, you might be eligible for credits or compensations. Familiarize yourself with these stipulations and the process to claim any owed credits.

At the end of the day…

Selecting the right internet provider isn’t just about speed and connectivity; it’s about understanding the complete package from costs to contracts. By being aware of both the technical aspects and the financial implications, you can choose a service that meets your needs without any unpleasant surprises. Remember to revisit your requirements periodically, as both technology and service offerings evolve. In the ever-changing landscape of internet services, being an informed consumer is your best tool for ensuring you get the best value for your money. Safe browsing!

About the Authors

Bandwidth Place Team