The most effective way to find local communications services is to search for Internet providers by ZIP code. You've probably noticed that when you visit a website like Comcast XFINITY Internet and others, the first thing you must do in order to view Internet plans and prices is to enter your location. There are good reasons for this protocol, which I'll detail in this guide.
Once you've learned all about how searching for Internet by ZIP code works, you can use our convenient ZIP code checker tool in order to quickly and easily narrow down all of the options in your area.
Why Search Internet Providers by ZIP Code?
With literally thousands of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in the United States, it would be virtually impossible to figure out which ones service your area without some organization method in place. ZIP codes provide a clear definition of a geographical area, making them the simplest way to designate the locations which both the large and small businesses serve.
This method of assigning service areas also makes sense because of the way the Internet is delivered. Fixed, or terrestrial (land-based) services require a hub, or central office, in order to provide a connection. The broadband connection Internet types of cable, phone line, and fiber optic Internet all require a base of operations in order to run the necessary wiring to your home. Satellite Internet, on the other hand, does not require a home base, as it relies on a communications satellite to transfer data, ultimately allowing you to surf the web. When you search Internet service providers by ZIP code, you're able to see which cable providers (and non-cable) have a hub in your area. It's not a foolproof method (as I will explain later in this guide) however it does deliver highly accurate and useful results for the majority of consumers.
Having the relevant information aggregated into once place saves you time and makes it easy for you to choose the best Internet service for your budget and needs.
Compare Plans, Download Speed and Prices of Available Providers
When you enter your information into our ZIP code checker tool, you will see information pertaining to the providers available in your area. This information includes:
- A list of Internet providers available in your area (keep in mind that the ISP could be a small business)
- Connection speeds offered by each provider
- Starting rates for service along with those for the provider's cable and Internet bundles
- Provider phone numbers in case you want to order over the phone rather than online
Once you have an idea of which companies serve your residence, you can focus your in-depth research on only those providers. Having the relevant information aggregated into once place saves you time and makes it easy for you to choose the best Internet service for your budget and needs.
Key Things to Consider When Comparing
Before you hit that "subscribe now" button on a provider's website, there are some things you should take into consideration.
Using our tool to find Internet providers by ZIP code will show you the maximum Internet speeds you can get from each company, however, you should still do further research into what those speeds mean for your service. Chances are you will have one or more high-speed Internet providers to choose from. According to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), 85% of Americans have access to a broadband Internet access speed of at least 25Mbps, which is the commission's newest standard for broadband qualification.
Most major broadband Internet providers offer several tiers of internet speeds beyond 25Mbps. U-verse high speed Internet is one such service. Even better is that most major broadband services - like Verizon FiOS - feature a fiber-optic network, providing you with optimum download and upload speeds.
Is the speed you see the speed you get?
Keep in mind that advertised speeds are "up to" speeds. This means that your online experience may not always be as fast as advertised. Depending upon the type of connection you choose, you could be competing with others in your neighborhood for bandwidth, particularly during peak Internet traffic times such as weekday evenings (known as Internet Rush Hour). This is most commonly an issue with cable Internet providers, although the average household won't experience enough of a slowdown to cause any noticeable problems. However, if you do experience such slowdown, you can always consider purchasing a higher Internet speed package from your cable provider.
Searching Internet service providers by ZIP code using our tool will also yield the lowest starting prices for service from each provider. You're certainly looking for the best Internet deals when shopping for a provider, just make sure you read through the terms of those deals. Many special offers are introductory rates that are temporary and will expire after one to two years. If you're hesitant to sign up for such a deal, call and talk to a customer service rep and see what other options they can offer you.
Furthermore, if you want to save a bundle on more than just a broadband connection but also cable TV (or landline phone), then you should take the available double play and triple play packages that a broadband Internet provider might offer. The Internet/TV provider usually have enticing offers, but these deals may only last a year or two before you're charged the standard rate. Just make sure that you read the fine print issued by the Internet/TV provider.
Additional Features to Look For
Your final decision after perusing Internet providers by ZIP code may also depend upon other features offered in the package. Providers may supply you with a choice of the following, either for free or for an additional charge:
- Email accounts - the vast majority of Internet providers give you several free accounts.
- Security software and/or virus protection - companies like Time Warner Cable Internet, for example, include these for free with some of their plans.
- Parental controls - this feature allows you to decide what your children have access to online.
- Wi-Fi hotspot access - if you work on the go or want to save on your cellphone data, look for companies with hot spot Internet access, like Verizon Internet. This feature allows you to hop online anywhere the company has a Wi-Fi connection available. To learn more about Wi-Fi hotspot access, you can read our FAQ on Wireless Internet Service.
- Web hosting - if you own a business, you will find that it's very convenient to have your ISP also handle your web hosting. This service typically comes with a monthly fee.
Another significant consideration as you evaluate available Internet providers by ZIP code is the connection type, which I will go over next.
Internet Connection Types
One thing you'll want to carefully assess when you search for Internet providers by ZIP code is the type of connection each provider offers. Knowing how to differentiate between each delivery method will equip you to effectively compare Internet providers. Following are the most common types of connections you will encounter when you search Internet providers by ZIP code.
- Dial-up: Good old-fashioned dial-up Internet is still one of the only rural Internet options in a few very remote areas of the country. Dial-up Internet is the cheapest type of Internet connection but also the slowest, with download speeds of just 56Kbps. Even if you're lacking options and desire incredibly cheap Internet - unless you barely use the Internet - it's best to opt into satellite broadband.
- DSL: Like the dial-up connection, DSL Internet also connects you to the world wide web via your phone line, except you can get speeds up to 15Mbps. DSL Internet is available in many of the same rural areas as dial-up, along with urban areas as well. Many high speed Internet providers, such as Time Warner Cable, offer DSL Internet.
- Satellite: Satellite Internet service is available virtually everywhere thanks to the power of the satellite dish. Satellite broadband is one of the faster rural broadband Internet connection options, with speeds of up to 25Mbps, but it isn't usually the most affordable type if you're in an urban or suburban area. While one known satellite Internet provider is HughesNet satellite Internet, other satellite Internet providers, such as DIRECTV and Dish Network, successfully overshadow HughesNet satellite Internet.
- Cable: Cable Internet is the most common high-speed Internet delivery method in the U.S. Cable is convenient because it uses existing cable TV wiring. It can deliver speeds up to 100Mbps, although new innovations are being used in test markets to deliver gigaspeeds through regular copper coaxial cable. AT&T U-verse high speed Internet and XFINITY Internet are a couple of high-speed internet services that rely on cable, though they both have their own fiber-optic network.
- Fiber: If you're looking for high speed Internet providers by ZIP code with the ultimate goal of finding the fastest Internet provider in your area, one which offers fiber optic service may be the solution. Fiber is mainly available in large metropolitan areas, with about one-fourth of Americans having access to this option. Fiber offers both a download speeds and upload speeds from 100Mbps to a gigabit or more. Another advantage of fiber is that it usually comes with an unlimited Internet plan, meaning you won't have to worry about data caps or overage charges. Verizon FiOS is one high-speed Internet service provider that brings users a fiber-optic broadband connection.
- Wireless: The primary types of wireless Internet service providers available to consumers offer portable Wi-Fi hubs which allow you to hop online no matter where you are. There is a new breed of wireless Internet service designed for home use, however, you won't likely see it quite yet when searching Internet providers by ZIP code because it is in its infancy.
- Mobile Broadband: Mobile broadband (i.e. 3G and 4G data) is not a cheap Internet option, but it's good for those who are constantly on the road (or in the air). Mobile broadband service can be purchased from a wireless cell phone provider such as Verizon, AT&T, H2O Wireless, and more. You can surf the web by using your mobile broadband connection directly through your phone or through a wireless hotspot device such as a mobile hotspot.
If you live in a fairly populated area, you will likely see at least one broadband internet provider among your options when you search Internet providers by ZIP code, with at least one cable option alongside two or more choices for a satellite dish, DSL, or other types of broadband connections. However, if you happen to live in an extremely rural area, you may be limited to a dial-up connection or satellite Internet service.
Limitations of Internet Provider Search Engines
As I mentioned earlier, you will occasionally experience a situation where you search for Internet providers by ZIP code and get an inaccuracy or a limited number of results. Let's look at these two situations separately.
Internet Provider Search Results
Say you get a provider in your list of cable and Internet providers by ZIP code, and you call the phone number to order service but are informed that they do not, in fact, offer service at your address.
This happens from time to time because even though ZIP codes are the most detailed method available to assign service areas, occasionally a building in one end of a ZIP code may fall within the provider's territory while a building at the other end of the code does not. This situation will cause the ZIP code checker tool to include that provider in its results for that ZIP code, even though it doesn't offer service to the entire area.
That goes for Internet plans, too
Not all speeds are available everywhere, so read the fine print carefully.
Just as geographically close areas may have completely different providers available to them, the same goes for Internet packages and pricing. Not all speeds are available everywhere, so read the fine print carefully. Not only that but if you live right on the "seam" of say, a cable, and a fiber-optic area, you may get fiber results by searching Internet providers by ZIP code even though the network doesn't serve your address. That's why it's important to not only search Internet providers by ZIP code but also to follow up and consult with the company to see what the exact offerings are for your residence.
Lack of Competition Can Lead to Limited Results
The lack of competition in the cable and Internet industry has been a hot topic of debate for many years now. It will likely take much more years before the issue is settled to everyone's satisfaction. The good news, according to a New York Times op-ed piece by Ars Technica reporter Jon Brodkin, is that the FCC is making attempts to encourage competition.
In the meantime, you may notice that when you search Internet providers by ZIP code, there typically won't be multiple providers of the same type of connection. In other words, if you live in an urban area, you may, if you're lucky, get a choice of a couple of cable companies, DSL, and maybe fiber. If you live rurally, your options will probably be one satellite Internet provider, plus DSL and dial-up.
I live near a large metro area and have been outrageously lucky to have access to three different broadband cable options plus multiple fiber providers, but unfortunately, that's not the norm for most areas of the country.
Ultimately, the availability of broadband internet access - or high speed internet access - will depend on your location.
Why the lack of choice?
The lack of competition stems from the fact that a very small list of conglomerates owns most of the Internet infrastructure nationwide. This means that they control the wiring, and they all typically steer clear of each other in any given market in order to avoid being forced into a competitive pricing model. It's possible that you could have AT&T Internet and your neighbor a couple streets over could have Time Warner Cable Internet. This is because the companies divide up the geographical territories and stick to their own neighborhoods.
Other factors that contribute to limited results when you search Internet service providers by ZIP code include a lack of incentive for companies to invest in infrastructure in low-income areas, as well as the prohibitive cost of setting up a network, which prevents the start-up of smaller, local ISPs.
Internet Providers by ZIP Code Recap
Your job isn't over just because you're done searching Internet providers by ZIP code using our ZIP code checker tool. Next, you need to research the details of each plan, decide whether you're going to bundle other services like cable and phone into your package, and then try to negotiate the best rate you can get. Don't forget to read up on the best Internet providers so you can be totally prepared when the time comes to make a decision.