Internet speed is king. While some users prefer ADSL to cable, or wireless to wired, there’s a universal truth: Faster is always better. Telecom companies across the nation compete for top spot in this race, all claiming they have faster Internet speeds than anyone else on the market. But who really comes out on top?


A Bit of Background

It’s worth knowing a few basic differences between Internet connections before you start shopping. Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) connections rely on the same copper wiring used in phone lines and connect to the same jack. Typical download speeds for an ADSL connection hover around 7 megabits per second (Mbps). Cable Internet, meanwhile, uses the same coaxial cable as your television. Cable is usually faster than ADSL, between 3 and 10 Mbps on average, but is less secure, since all connections in a neighborhood run through the same lines. The variance in download speeds is also a result of multiple users on the same lines — at peak times, your portion of the Internet pipeline “narrows,” causing downloads to slow.

Fiber-optic cable is the newest advancement in wired Internet. Inside any fiber-optic cable is glass, used to transmit information through pulses of light. Glass does not conduct electricity like copper wire or coaxial cable; as a result, fiber-optic connections are almost immune to problems caused by poor weather. In addition, fiber supports much higher downloads speeds of 100 Mbps or better.

Who’s the Fastest?

According to a recent PCMag article, which collected data on national Internet service providers (ISPs) in 2013, there’s currently a clear winner in the United States when it comes to faster Internet speeds: Verizon. The company’s line of FiOS plans offer download and upload speeds far above its competitors — on average, FiOS users enjoyed downloads at 34.5 Mbps and uploads at just over 20 Mbps. If you really need speed, try Verizon’s FiOS Quantum, which offers a blazing 500 Mbps of download speed. There is a problem with Verizon, however: location. The company only supplies FiOS to a select number of locations in seaboard states, meaning those in the Midwest or northern parts of the country need to find an alternative.

Also worth noting for fast Internet speed in 2013 are Midcontintent (Midco) which services the north-central region of the US. Midco was second only to Verizon with its average download speed of just over 33 Mbps, but came in with a much lower 6.4 Mpbs upload. Nationwide provider Comcast came in third with 27.2 Mbps download speed and 6.8 Mpbs upload. Time Warner, meanwhile, ranked 10th with 19 Mbps download and 2.3 Mbps upload, respectively. Worth a mention is Cox — while the company’s download speed of 22.6 Mbps earned it a middle spot on the list, its uploads at 8.7 Mbps were second only to Verizon.

Every company on the list improved its speed results over 2012, and the influx of fiber-optic cables in many urban areas should prompt a further speed boost in coming years. For now, however, Verizon wins the war of faster Internet speeds (remember: a free online speed test can help you determine if your Internet is running up to speed).