Whether you're moving to a new town, or finally taking the plunge and getting online for the first time, the first question on your mind will probably be "How do I find internet providers in my area?"
It's a big decision - you don't want to go to all the trouble of having wiring and equipment installed, and possibly signing a binding contract, only to find out that there were faster, better, or cheaper internet options available to you.
In this guide, I will help you navigate the details of the answer to the question "What is the best internet service provider in my area?"
What Internet Services Are Available in Your Area?
When it comes to the question "What are the internet options in my area code?" the answer will depend largely upon your geographical location. You're probably thinking, well obviously, that's what "internet providers in my area" means. What I'm referring to, however, is whether you live in a rural town, a large metropolitan region, or suburbia. Each of these locations offers a different selection of delivery methods for your online activities. First, I'll take a look at the current technologies available to consumers.
With fiber you get a symmetrical connection - meaning upload speeds are the same as download - and stable wireless high-speed Internet connections.
- Dial-up: The oldest type of internet access is still hanging around. As reported by CNET, the Pew Research Center found that 3% of Americans still go online via their phone line and a 56Kbps connection. 3% may not sound like much, but it amounts to nine million people. The most common reasons cited are living in a location with no internet access to high-speed internet providers, and financial concerns, as dial-up Internet is very inexpensive (about $10/month).
- DSL: This type of broadband Internet connection, Digital Subscriber Line, also utilizes the phone line. DSL Internet, however, is much faster than dial-up, with a potential download speed up to 15Mbps. This high-speed Internet access option is available in many rural areas, although not all areas. CenturyLink DSL is one such package that provides the customer with a DSL connection. CenturyLink DSL offers speeds of up to 40Mbps.
- Satellite: Satellite broadband Internet service is available virtually anywhere you live, no matter how rural, due to the fact that it operates via a satellite dish in geosynchronous space (meaning it's stationary). It can be expensive, however, especially if you use a lot of data. On the plus side, the satellite Internet provider service brings broadband Internet access to rural locations, with one satellite Internet service company providing speeds up to 25Mbps.
- Cable: The most common type of connection is cable, which is a type of high-speed Internet access. The coaxial cable grants you high speeds, up to 100Mbps, and a stable connection for high-demand online tasks. Because the cable internet provider relies on coaxial cable usage, this type of connection is vulnerable to slowdowns due to heavy network traffic, and some users find it a bit on the pricey side. Still, this option tops all others as the connection of choice, likely in large part because no new wiring is required if you already have cable television.
- Fiber: This high-speed internet connection is the newest technology available to consumers, offering speeds of 1000Mbps (also known as gigabit internet) or higher. With fiber-optic cable, you get a symmetrical connection - meaning upload speeds are the same as download speeds, even as wireless internet. It can be pricey, although some providers are already quite competitive with fiber-optic prices. You'll definitely receive wireless high-speed Internet with fiber-optic cable.
Related: Overall, just who are the best internet providers? We have the answer for you here.
Location, Location, Location
Now that you know all of the different types of service available, let's take a look at what you will typically encounter as far as technologies available in your particular locale.
1. The Best Internet Service in Urban Areas
If you happen to live in a large city or its surrounding towns, you will likely have access to the widest variety of high-speed internet service providers. This is because deployment of the latest connectivity technologies typically starts in the country's major population centers. If you live in one of these areas, like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Boston and Baltimore, you'll be able to take your pick of the following high-speed internet connection types - fiber internet, cable, satellite broadband, or DSL.
2. The Best Internet Service in Suburban Areas
If you live in an area near a large city, you may have fiber Internet access - the fastest consumer connection type available to date - although this is less likely than if you live in an urban coverage area. Most likely your choices will be cable internet, DSL, or satellite. With cable Internet providers now offering cable speeds of up to 100Mpbs, suburbanites are likely to find that the answer to "Is there high speed internet in my area?" is a resounding yes.
Keep an eye on suburban high speed internet options because even though you might not have fiber yet, Comcast XFINITY is testing out some incredible technology in five major cities. Business Insider reports that the cable giant's newest offering could beat fiber optic internet speed, with one significant difference - it uses existing cable wiring. There's no word yet on actual speeds, all we know is that it will be gigabit internet.
3. The Best Internet Service in Rural Areas
If you prefer the quiet life out in the country, you will have more limited choices in regards to coverage area, so don't expect the best wireless Internet service. Rural Internet options are typically constrained to dial-up Internet and satellite dish, with DSL Internet available in some areas.
While there is high-speed access available to some customers, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) reports that just 61% of those in rural locations have access to 25Mbps service via any type of connection, as opposed to 94% of urbanites. The FCC uses this speed threshold as an indicator because in 2015 the Council redefined "broadband" as requiring 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed. Thus, if you live rurally and you're asking yourself "What is the fastest Internet in my area?" the answer is not likely to be fiber or cable.
A satellite Internet service package is likely to be your best bet if you're looking for a reliable rural Internet connection. You can find a top-tier high-speed satellite Internet provider, that will offer a high-speed satellite Internet connection at a competitive rate. However, there are always rural Internet service providers available, such as Time Warner Cable or Comcast Xfinity.
If neither rural Internet service type is tempting, then you can always opt for using the Internet straight from your mobile device by using the data-consuming mobile broadband. While mobile broadband allows you to access wireless Internet service through a portable modem, mobile phone, and more, it is the costliest option.
Which Internet Providers Are in Your Area?
Another common question people ask when they're shopping for the best internet deals is "Who are the internet providers near me?" Even if you know what kind of connection you're looking for, you still need to know which companies you have to choose from. One easy way to find this out is to use our ZIP code checker - simply enter your ZIP code to find internet plans and prices in your area.
Related: Looking for the best internet deals? We have some tips to share with you.
Which Providers Offer Internet in Your Area?
Following is an overview of the general areas nationwide serviced by each major provider:
- AT&T: AT&T Internet offers their U-verse high-speed Internet service throughout the Midwest from Wisconsin and Michigan down through Texas and Florida, plus Nevada and California. The company is also rolling out fiber optic internet across their service area. AT&T fiber is currently available in 29 markets, with 38 more cities in the works. While the AT&T fiber is tempting, you certainly cannot go wrong with the U-verse high speed Internet packages.
- Comcast Internet (XFINITY): Comcast XFINITY is the largest of all of the high-speed internet providers in the U.S., and services every state except Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Comcast's fiber optic internet service, Gigabit Pro, is up and running in 18 million homes across their service area so far.
- Verizon FiOS: Verizon Internet is available in 12 cities throughout Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Rhode Island. The company's DSL service is much more widely available throughout the U.S.
- Time Warner Cable: This cable provider falls only behind Comcast in size. The company services 29 states, from California to Maine. While Time Warner Cable Internet does not offer fiber to consumers at this time, they do have fiber solutions for business in select markets.
- Cox: Cox Internet is available in 18 states - Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia. The cable company is rolling out their Gigablast fiber optic internet, however, this is only available in very limited areas as of yet.
What to Look For in an ISP
The blunt reality is that in the United States, many people are limited to just one or two choices of provider for high-speed internet service. According to the Center for Public Integrity, 55% of Americans have just one option for broadband service - that is, speeds that meet the FCC's broadband definition of 25Mbps or more.
Don't despair if there's only one viable result when you type "internet providers near me" into Google. That doesn't mean you are stuck with just one option for your service. Providers offer various plans, and quite frequently offer deep discounts during online promotions. The only thing to be aware of is that these lower prices typically last 12-24 months, then you'll pay the retail rate.
55% of Americans have just one option for broadband service - that is, speeds that meet the FCC's broadband definition of 25Mbps or more.
Regardless of how many local Internet providers are available in your area, there are certain things you want to watch for before committing to a plan:
- Speed - unless you are an infrequent user or only use the internet for email and light web surfing, you'll want a minimum of 3Mbps service, preferably 5 - 10Mbps. If you've got multiple devices running apps like Netflix, YouTube, and other high-demand tasks like online gaming, go for the fastest Internet speed you can afford, with a minimum of 6 - 15Mbps. Wireless Internet stability should also be taken into account.
- Equipment - the most economical choice is to buy your own modem rather than renting from the provider (which runs about $10/month). Most large internet providers provide their customers with a list of approved equipment so that you can purchase it on your own. Not only that but if you want the most out of your Internet speed, you will need a sufficient wireless router. You should consider either the N wireless router or AC wireless router.
- Added costs - data caps are the big culprit here. As you're mulling over the question of "What's the cheapest internet service in my area?" you'll definitely want to take data caps into account. If you're a heavy gamer or do a lot of uploading/downloading of large files like HD video, you may burn through your data allotment like wildfire and end up paying extra for more. You should also look into unlimited internet plans as these are the best option for data-heavy users.
- Contracts - this is more of a concern with satellite, however, some of the higher tier, more expensive cable and fiber optic internet plans also require a contract. Be sure you're happy with the terms and aware of the early cancellation fee before committing.
These are just a few of the considerations to keep in mind as you shop for internet service. Of course, you should always read the fine print, and make sure you are clear on all of the features and terms of the agreement.
Related: Looking for a more local internet provider? We have a guide with all the details right here.
Which Internet Providers in Your Area Offer Bundling
Another question you may have when you move into a new place is "What are the options for cable TV in my area?" The good news is that the best internet service provider is often the best cable provider as well. If you choose to get both of these services from the same company, you certainly won't be alone. Comcast Internet, the nation's largest cable TV, and internet company report that 69% of its customers subscribe to more than one service. This is in largely due to the cable and internet bundles that providers frequently offer as promotions.
With bundling, you aren't just limited to cable and the internet. You can bundle internet and phone service, phone and cable, or all three services in one package. Bundling can save you anywhere from $10 to $60 per month, depending upon current promotions. Just be sure you know exactly what you want and stick to it.
A cable company will sometimes try to talk you into services you don't want under the guise of extra "savings". And if you don't see what you want on their website, call up and ask them to create a custom bundle for you - this is fairly standard in the industry and most providers are happy to do so.
Finding home internet service in your area is easy with our fast and convenient zip code tool. We help you answer the burning question on your mind - "What is the best internet in my area?" Once you use the tool to find the providers and deals available to you locally, you can carry out your own research on each option to decide which plan fits you best.
After you've found the Internet provider best suited for you, maximize your savings with our top seven tips to saving money on your cable and Internet bill.