If you're getting ready to compare internet plans, you may be unsure exactly what to look for. There are multiple options, and not everyone is right for every household. There are several factors to consider - price, obviously, but also speed, type of technology used to deliver your connection, and other services you may want.
Even if you're already online, you may not have the right plan for your household. You could be paying too much for speeds you really don't need, or you could be experiencing lagging and other connection issues due to an internet plan that doesn't have enough power to run all of the devices in your home. I've put together an overview of the aspects you should consider when deciding on a plan so that you can get the right fit for your household.
Internet Only Plans - In This Guide
Different Types of Internet Connections
Home internet plans have come a long way since 1985 when AOL (then known as Quantum Computer Services) launched its first consumer-targeted access. Nowadays there are six primary ways in which America gets on the net.
Fiber to the home (FTTH) is quickly becoming the wave of the future when it comes to high speed internet plans.
1. Cable Internet
The best internet plans are often those offered by your local cable company. This is because the vast majority of people already subscribe to other services such as cable television and home phone, so it just makes sense to use the same company for your cable internet access. The signal is delivered through the same wiring as cable TV service, and the speed is more than ample for most home users.
2. Fiber Optic Internet
Fiber to the home (FTTH) is quickly becoming the wave of the future when it comes to high-speed internet plans. Fiber optic internet requires dedicated infrastructure, which means it's not available everywhere yet. Access is swiftly spreading, though. High-speed internet providers like AT&T Internet and Verizon FiOS Internet already have the service in place in many major cities. Google Fiber is also gradually gaining ground in this sector. This delivery method is highly favorable due to the fact that it's low maintenance. Additionally, fiber internet prices are extremely competitive with cable - and it provides much faster speeds.
3. DSL Internet
This acronym for Digital Subscriber Line refers to internet plans which also use the phone line to deliver a connection, just like dial-up. The difference with DSL is that it gives you much faster speeds, and allows you to use your home phone while you're online. In some cases, your local DSL internet providers may be independent companies whose only business is DSL. Depending upon where you're located you may also have access to cable internet providers which also offer this type of connection.
4. Satellite Internet
It's hard to believe now, but satellite internet has only been available on the consumer market since the early 2000s. This method works, of course, by providing a signal from a geosynchronous satellite in space. Some of the best satellite internet providers may charge as much as - or more than - say, cable internet providers. Plus you often pay for data usage above your monthly allotment, and it's not a good option for those seeking no contract internet plans as there is usually a two-year agreement required. The good thing about this delivery method is that it is one of the best rural internet options.
5. Wireless Internet
There is some confusion regarding this term - most people have wireless internet at home, via a router. However, in this case, I'm referring to mobile hotspots, which allow you get online wherever you go. All of the major cellular providers, plus a few independent companies, offer these devices along with data plans to meet a variety of needs.
6. Dial-up Internet
Although its use is uncommon with so many high-speed internet providers available, AOL alone still boasts more than two million customers (according to CNN Money). This type of service is delivered through the phone lines, making it the most widely available type of connection. Dial-up companies are definitely cheap internet providers, however, the speed is only appropriate for email and light web surfing.
What Internet Speed Do You Need?
Generally speaking, internet prices are largely dependent upon speed. While data usage does play a part to some extent - especially with satellite or wireless 4G access - most internet plans for the home provide enough data for typical household use.
So what speed do you really need? In my experience, broadband internet providers will usually try to upsell you, even if you don't need the fastest internet plan. This is why it's helpful to go into your search with some idea of what you actually need. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) provides guidelines to figure out just how much velocity you need in your connection. I've boiled these down below:
- Under 5Mbps - sufficient for multiple devices performing basic functions like email, surfing the web, and standard definition streaming, or one device doing basic functions plus one device doing high-demand tasks (HD streaming, online gaming, etc.)
- 6 - 15Mbps - suits households with two or more devices performing basic functions, plus one device performing high-speed functions
- 15Mbps and above - optimal for households with multiple devices performing high-demand tasks simultaneously
When calculating the speed you need for your internet plan, be sure to include all enabled devices. These may include laptops, smartphones, gaming consoles, tablets, and Smart TVs.
Related: What Is Broadband?
How Fast Are The Different Connection Types?
Now that I've outlined for you the types of internet connections as well as the bandwidth required for specific types of household use, you'll need to know how fast each type of internet plan is before you decide on the best option for your situation.
DSL technology called G.fast is capable of delivering up to 1Gbps (gigabits per second) of data - both upstream and down.
Speeds provided are as follows:
1. Cable - speeds from cable internet providers vary widely, from under 1Mbps to 100Mbps. On average, however, most home internet plans delivered via cable range between 5Mbps and 75Mbps. Keep in mind, however, as CNET points out, your true internet speed can be throttled by your router. You will only benefit from the maximum speed your cable company provides if your router is capable of it.
2. Fiber Optic - this form of internet connection is the fastest available to date. Fiber optic internet can deliver speeds of up to 1000Mbps. Again, though, your connection speed may be affected by other factors.
3. DSL - with DSL, commonly available high-speed internet plans range from under 1Mbps up to 15Mbps or more. Keep an eye on this retro mover and shaker, however, as new breakthroughs promise big things. According to tech news site ZDNet, DSL technology called G.fast is capable of delivering up to 1Gbps (gigabits per second) of data - both upstream and down.
4. Satellite - internet plans on this type of connection range between 5Mbps to 15Mbps, depending on whether you choose a basic or premium package. One company, Exede, delivers speeds up to 25Mbps.
5. Wireless - the majority of hot spot internet plans function on a combination of the 3G and 4G networks. Download speeds on 4G LTE service range between 5Mbps and 50 Mbps, depending on the time of day and traffic load.
6. Dial-up - standard dial-up delivers data at about 56Kbps (kilobits per second).
Internet Only Prices
The cost of your internet plan could range from literally nothing to hundreds of dollars per month. The delivery method you choose, along with the speed and permitted data usage will dictate how much you pay each month to be online.
1. Cable Prices
Prices for cable internet plans range between $30 per month for basic service with speeds up to 6Mbps, to as much as $70 per month for speeds up to 75Mbps. The important thing to remember about cable internet providers is that the prices they post on their website are often limited-time deals which only last for six to 12 months. After that the price typically goes up, so be sure you know what the full terms are.
2. Fiber Optic Prices
Despite the fact that competition among fiber optic providers hasn't gotten to the fierce point yet, this option is pretty affordable. There are three main players so far - AT&T Internet, Google Fiber, and Verizon Internet. CenturyLink Internet has live fiber optic internet plans available in a handful of cities so far as well. Prices among these companies range from $50 to $100 per month for anywhere from 40Mbps to 1000Mbps speeds.
3. DSL Prices
The cost of DSL averages between $30 and $40 per month, depending on your speed and provider. You should keep in mind, however, that because DSL requires a home phone line, this cost must be factored in as well.
4. Satellite Prices
Things work a little differently with satellite access. You'll pay a monthly fee of between $30 and $150, along with potential overage fees if you use up all of your data before the month is up. There are also monthly equipment rental fees - usually around $10 - and installation runs between $0 and $99.
Unfortunately, unlimited internet plans, are not the norm with satellite. There are a couple of providers that divvy up data allocation so that you get unlimited access to low-demand functions like reading Facebook, email, and normal web pages. With those internet plans your data allowance is only docked for high-demand tasks such as uploading or downloading videos or large files.
5. Wireless Prices
Hotspot devices run from around $50 to over $100. Data plans range from $25 to $100 per month for data packages of 2GB to 20GB. Some wireless internet plans, such as that from Karma Go, allow you to purchase a GB at a time for about $15. AT&T has a pay-as-you-go plan as well. NetZero stands alone in its monthly access charge of $2.95.
6. Dial-up Prices
Companies like NetZero and Juno offer free internet plans on dial-up, although these come with a limit of 10 hours of online time per month. If you want unlimited access, you'll pay up to about $25 per month.
Bundling Internet with Other Services
If you already have - or want - cable television service, then the best internet plans are usually cable and internet bundles. By purchasing these services together you can save about $10 to $20 per month (sometimes more) off of the retail price of each service alone. The best cable providers offer a comprehensive suite of bundled options, with varying choices from basic TV and the internet to multiple premium channels and ultra-fast online access.
One thing to take into consideration as you compare internet plans is that cable companies will usually let you build your own bundle. If you don't see a deal that fits your needs on the website, you can call customer service to find out how much they would charge you for exactly what you want.
As you read through all the options I've presented here, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. The fact is, however, that your location will be the most significant factor in which internet plans you have to choose from. Cable companies still retain a monopoly in most service areas - meaning you won't often find more than one option to choose from as far as cable internet providers go. If you live in a rural locale, you may only have DSL and dial-up options.
Another thing to consider if you're looking for basic service is that many internet providers tend to list only the deals they're currently marketing hard on their website. Don't hesitate to call your provider and ask what else they offer in your area. And don't forget to use our convenient zip code checker tool to find the best deals in your area.