Considering all of the high-demand tasks you do online every day, like HD video streaming and interactive gaming, you definitely want the fastest internet provider available in your area. The connection speed you can get depends on where you live. Those in large urban areas typically have access to the very latest technology, whereas rural dwellers may not be able to order the absolute fastest internet service.
Even if you don't yet have the fastest internet speed possible, broadband access is expanding rapidly, making it wise to keep up with advances in connection technology. As I'll outline in the following guide to fast internet service, exciting things are happening. The future of high-speed internet is definitely here and getting higher with each new development.
What Is Considered Fast Internet?
The online experience has changed drastically since the late 1990s when 56Kbps modem support became commonplace, effectively doubling the speed with which we could view adorable cat JPEGs. These days, the definition of fast internet service has evolved to the point where we expect instant page loading and smooth HD video streaming. So what exactly is considered fast internet in the Snapchat and selfie era?
We'll start with the official FCC (Federal Communications Commission) definition. In January of 2015, the FCC increased its designation of advanced broadband internet speed to 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload. The previous increase took place in 2010, to 4 Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. The move was controversial, to say the least, with high-speed internet providers ending up disgruntled and consumer groups lauding the increase. Regardless of the disagreements, however, the change puts pressure on providers to deploy broadband more quickly and extensively.
What is fast internet, really?
Ultimately the definition of fast internet is subjective and relevant to your household's needs and usage. If you only use your connection for basic tasks like email and short SD videos, 5Mbps will likely feel like racing along the information superhighway. If on the other hand, you have multiple users performing high-demand activities, you'll want the fastest internet connection you can afford.
What Is the Fastest Internet Speed?
The fastest internet service available to American consumers on a large-scale basis is Gigabit Pro from Comcast Internet. This fiber optic internet service delivers speeds up to 2Gbps (2000Mbps). Multiple providers offer fiber internet at the 1 GB speed level.
These, however, are not the fastest internet speeds in existence in the United States. That honor belongs to a select few cities - including humble little Salisbury, NC, Chattanooga, TN, Springfield, VT, and Detroit, MI. These cities boast the fastest internet speeds in America at a blinding 10 GB. That's 10 gigabits per second, or 10,000 megabits per second...in both directions. To give you some perspective, at 10Gbps you can download an entire HD movie in under a second - in other words, nearly instantaneously. That's fast internet.
Why Some Towns Are Getting the Fastest Internet in the World
Given that these 10-gig cities are - to put it politely - less than awe-inspiring, you're probably wondering how in the heck they've managed to pull it off. That's an interesting phenomenon, actually. There's a movement afoot, and it has less to do with residential customers suddenly being in need of insanely high internet speeds and more to do with sending the industry a message that cities aren't going to wait around for deployment. You see, with the exception of Detroit and Minneapolis, these fiber-forward towns are offering such amazing speeds via city-owned ISPs. You could say it's a grassroots, high-tech cold shoulder to the giants that dominate the internet industry.
As for Minneapolis and the Motor City, local private ISPs provide the futuristic connections for residents and businesses there. In the case of the Twin Cities, U.S. Internet is the fastest internet provider. In Detroit, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and his Rock Ventures investment firm are using their new fiber optic internet company - Rocket Fiber - as a tool to revitalize downtown and hopefully attract tech startups.
How Fast Is My Internet?
Of course, one of the first questions you ask yourself when assessing what internet speed you actually need is "How fast is my internet connection?" Particularly if you're experiencing lagging games or glitchy video streams, you may suspect you need faster service. There are many websites that can measure the download and upload rates of your internet connection.
One of the most trusted of these sites is Speedtest.net. The best thing about Speedtest is that the site collects data in order to analyze internet speeds according to provider and connection type. According to Speedtest's analysis of testing results, the average internet speed in the United States is now nearly 55Mbps, the highest it's ever been.
What if My Speed Isn't as Advertised?
If you're paying for the fastest internet in your area, you may wonder why your speeds aren't matching the advertised speeds you saw when you signed up. Even the fastest internet providers can't guarantee a specific level of service, due to a variety of contributing factors. That's why companies list their plans with "up to" speeds. Things that can cause a slower internet speed than advertised include:
- Heavy network traffic (particularly with cable internet, during "rush hour")
- Incompatible hardware such as the modem or your computer's network interface card (NIC)
- An outdated wireless router
- Distance from the ISP's central office, known as line attenuation (a common issue with DSL)
In order to get the most out of your subscription to the fastest internet service, troubleshoot all of these issues before assuming that the problem is on your ISP's end. If your equipment cannot support the fastest internet connection then there's not much point in subscribing to gigabit service. Check to ensure that everything past the point of the provider's wiring has gigabit capacity.
How Fast Should My Internet Be?
The answer to this question will depend on what you do what your connection, and how many users and devices there are in your household. As I mentioned earlier, the FCC has set 25Mbps as the gold standard for minimum broadband access across the country. But how much speed do you really need?
Although it's tempting to shell out for the fastest internet service you can possibly find, the wisest thing to do is assess your needs, add a little padding to the speed to account for technological advances, and then shop for the best internet deals.
In the everyday world of web surfing and media streaming the reality is that not everyone needs 25Mbps internet speed. In fact, the FCC's own Household Broadband Guide details the speeds necessary for specific sets of circumstances, only two of which require a connection faster than 15Mbps.
Here is a summary of the guidelines for how fast internet should be according to your usage:
- 1 - 2Mbps: This speed is suitable for households with 1 - 4 devices performing low-demand tasks like email and web surfing, with only one of those devices performing a high-demand app such as video streaming or gaming at any given time.
- 6 - 15Mbps: You'll need something around this speed range for three or more devices performing basic functions, plus one or two of those devices simultaneously accessing high-demand applications.
- 15Mbps and up: It's best to have at least 15Mbps if you've got more than a couple devices running high-demand tasks at the same time.
Although it's tempting to shell out for the fastest internet service you can possibly find, the wisest thing to do is assess your needs, add a little padding to the speed to account for technological advances, and then shop the best internet deals for the most reasonable rate. The best satellite internet providers also offer competitive speeds at reasonable prices without many of the pitfalls of cable internet.
Who Has the Fastest Internet?
10-gig connections aside (this speed is really only practical for businesses, schools, and government institutions), several of the best internet providers offer the fastest internet available to the general public. The only downside is that gigabit internet is, for the most part, only available in larger metropolitan areas and the surrounding cities. The most heavily concentrated areas served by the fastest internet providers are located throughout the eastern states, up through the eastern seaboard and south to Florida, across Texas and up throughout California.
The only downside is that gigabit internet is, for the most part, only available in larger metropolitan areas and the surrounding cities.
Internet providers with gigabit internet plans include:
- AT&T U-Verse: AT&T Internet fiber network is gradually expanding, and is slated to cover 67 metropolitan areas in all, along with the surrounding suburbs. The service costs $90 per month and comes with 1000Mbps speed.
- Comcast XFINITY: Comcast Internet is a bit different from most gigabit internet providers because, as I mentioned earlier, their Gigabit Pro plan offers 2Gbps download and upload speeds rather than 1Gbps. That extra fast internet boost will cost you, though - to the tune of $300/month and a whopping $1000 installation fee.
- CenturyLink: CenturyLink Internet has long been known for their DSL and now they've added fiber optic internet in 11 cities to date, spanning the country from Seattle to Orlando. Pricing for 1-gig service starts at around $80 per month.
- Google Fiber: The internet giant now offers 1-gig internet service in nine metro areas across the nation with more to come. The cost is reasonable at $70/month, and they'll waive the $100 installation fee if you commit for a year.
These are the main providers with the fastest internet speeds. They are able to deliver this kind of speed to their customers by utilizing FTTH (fiber to the home) technology. This means that the connection is completely made up of fiber optic cables, from the ISP hub right up to the point it enters your home. After that, the use of coaxial cable is typically employed for the final connections because it can maintain speed over lengths up to 50 meters.
It's worth noting that Comcast is also rolling out a new gigabit internet plan which is delivered via existing cable infrastructure. The service features 1-gig download and 35Mbps upload speeds and is rumored to cost about $140/month or $70 with a three-year commitment. This innovative new technology is only available in four cities thus far - Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Nashville. Comcast plans to offer this option throughout its entire 39-state service area. It is the fastest internet available to date using cable wiring as the delivery method.
Fastest Internet Service: Recap
As bandwidth requirements continue to rise with the development of more and more advanced programming, truly fast internet access is expanding right in lockstep. This is good news not only because it allows you to keep up with the high demands of your online consumption, but also because it encourages further competition among the fastest internet providers.
To make your search for the fastest internet speed in your area even easier, we've got a convenient zip code checker tool so that you can see exactly which companies provide service to your location as well as what speeds they offer. Get started today on the road to a more satisfying online experience.