Comparing the Best Internet Providers

Picking from a list of Internet Providers can be difficult. Knowing who can be trusted, who actually delivers on their promises and who has the best rates can be a time-consuming task. This list will help break down the best Internet Service Providers, how to get the best performance using WiFi survey applications.
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The Internet is everywhere. From its origins as a Defense project that connected a few major universities and tech centers together, now it’s in computers, cell phones, gaming consoles, and crock pots.

Connecting in the USA

Yes — programmable crock pots. They’re a thing.

But connecting in a coffee shop is not the same as connecting from within one’s home. There are all sorts of options to consider such as: what kind of connection is supported in the area? Some only have Cable internet or DSL connections. Others rely on mobile phone like access so even if there isn’t a physical wire ran to the house the residents can still get their Netflix or Youtube viewing binge-watching sessions on.

This list will help narrow down what the best internet service providers are, and what they provide. As always, these offerings will differ depending on where in the United States the location is, so check the local listings to see what’s possible.

Satellite-Based Internet

The pros of the satellite-based Internet is it works nearly anywhere. Satellites are up in space, and they’re not going to run a cable all the way down to the planet to connect people. Instead, they broadcast the data in an encrypted format that can only be decrypted by the specific satellite receiver.

The problem with the satellite-based internet is the same as its benefit: it’s based on a satellite. Which means to send data, it has to travel 12 miles into the air up to the satellite, then back down again. Even at the speed of light, this means there’s going to be a pause between sending a request and getting the download started.

The best satellite Internet providers by speed are:

Xfinity by Comcast Comcast is known across the US, and Xfinity is their satellite-based solution for Internet access. While most of the Internet download speeds are about the same at around 50 MBPS, Xfinity can hit up to 55 MBPS for that little extra bit of speed.
AT&T Internet AT&T has been around since the invention of the telephone, and even after being broken up they have come back together like the T-1000 from the Terminator. Because of this, they offer services nearly anywhere in the country with their satellite services, and you know they have the capacity to handle more customers.
Charter Spectrum Charter Communications has their own Internet services through their Spectrum line. Their Satellite offering matches the speed of AT&T and Xfinity, clocking in around the 50 - 55 MBPS.
Nextlink Nextlink only offers services in two states, and their connection speed tends to be about 9 MBPS. Slower speed and they also tend to cap their data plans so 1 gigabyte of data. This should be more along the “There’s no other service out here, but at least I can connect.”
Rise Broadband Coming in at the slowest speed at 6 MBPS, their speed is slower than Nextlink, but their plans have “unlimited data” where they start throttling speed - but at least they still offer access after the cap.

Fiber-Based Internet

Fiber optics is one of those modern miracles. It’s literally light traveling down a wire. Originally made of long glass strands, fiber optics carries beams of light - and not just one beam, but multiple beams on multiple frequencies, so the amount of data that can be carried is nearly infinite.

The creation of plastic based fiber optic cables brought the price down to the realms of mortal beings, but sadly the rollout in the United States has not been as fast as originally pitched by the telecoms back in the 1990s. Around the same time, Depeche Mode was making their big splash.

For those who can get fiber optic based internet, these Internet providers the most fiber for their services:

Verizon FIOS What to say about Verizon. On the one side, they have the most fiber of any network. On the other side - they are embroiled in all sorts of legal issues such as their contract with New York City that exposed how they weren’t living up to their end of it. But for those who can actually get it, and make Verizon keep their word, it’s fast.
Crown Castle Fiber Crown Castle has been in business for 25 years, mostly operating on the East Coast with connections in California and the Midwest as well. Even better, they offer private connections, so people aren’t sharing bandwidth, but have their own guaranteed rate.
AT&T Fiber Of course. AT&T. Again. Did Alexander Graham Bell know what he was starting when he created the telephone to win the heart of a girl? No really - that’s why he did it - to impress her family. Clearly several billion dollars later it worked. And AT&T still offers fiber connections for customers.
Frontier Communications The awful secret is Frontier is really a spin-off of Verizon, but they’re not really Verizon anymore for legal reasons and marketing. So the services are the same, even though officially they don’t have the same fiber coverage as Verizon itself. I know - it’s confusing.
Monmouth Telephone & Telegraph People make jokes about New Jersey all the time, but honestly they have some cool companies like Monmouth. Their services are more for business communications, but if people need strong, fast communications for their company, this is a great option.
Level 3 Communications For the curious, Level 3 does not refer to the levels in a video game. It refers to the OSI model on network communications, but the point here is they have a lot of fiber. Around 1.5% of their business is fiber based, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s still miles of cables. Like Monmouth, they serve mostly business customers.
CenturyLink CenturyLink doesn’t have as much fiber as other companies. But they are currently (as of this article) running an amazing deal — a set rate for life. That consistency can really help when planning out a budget.

Cable-Based Internet

Cable-based Internet started out in last place when they debuted and was a bit of a joke. Now, around 80% of all Internet from homes is done via cable connections. Some of these are paired with a fiber optic backend, others with a variety of connections.

Since they’re so ubiquitous, odds are that’s where a search will start. There are far too many to list all of them here, but we’ll try to cover the most common ones. Some of them are seen in the list above, but we’ll list them out again to make sure everything is covered.

Xfinity Comcast Familiar company, right. Along with their satellite services, Xfinity is also the renamed/rebranded Comcast. It’s a hard sell to recommend them, as they’re nearly ubiquitous with treating companies badly. Sometimes though, it’s the only option.
Charter Spectrum Spectrum is the new name Charter is using, and their services range across the entire United States. They tend to combine services together, so if one is looking for just Internet, realize they’re going to push their other services on it.
AT&T Yes. You’ve seen them before, and you’ll see them again. They provide cable Internet across the US, but they also tend to be more expensive than other options.
Cox Cox has been around since the early days of providing cable TV services. Like Charter, they’re looking to push their combined services with their Internet services. These days they are making a push on their own streaming services, offering competition or complementary services like Netflix.
Optimum The best part of Optimum is how clear they make their service prices. There aren’t a bunch of pages to scroll through or find. It’s all right there on the first page so people can decide what they want.
Suddenlink Suddenlink offers most of its services in the South-Western US, such as Texas and Arizona. One option they provide is a contract buyout, so if there’s another Internet Provider that’s not working out, shifting to Suddenlink won’t break the bank.
Verizon FiOS We’ve talked about them before. So nothing more can be said.
Mediacom MediaCom services 22 states, and seems to go for those communities that aren’t being serviced by the bigger companies. If the other options aren’t cutting is in a smaller down, give them a try.

Once Connected

No matter what company is being used, that doesn’t guarantee that everything will work once the connection is made to the location. If the house has a steel frame, or if the router is connected on the far side of the house compared to where the devices are, that can slow down the Internet connections even if the router has a high-speed connection to the Internet.

Once the router is connected, the next thing to do would be to use a WiFi Analysis application like NetSpot. What we need to do is test the router and see how the WiFi signal works through the building. Since NetSpot is a free download and offers several services for free, it’s a good place to start from.

NetSpot — app for wireless site survey and network analysis
NetSpot — app for wireless site survey and network analysis

What a tool like NetSpot does is allow a person to detect what WiFi signals are present, the frequencies used, and where the signal is strong, weak, or has a lot of noise. For example, if there’s another WiFi signal being used by a neighbor, NetSpot can detect that and see if it’s interfering with the signal we’re trying to use.

Or where to place the router in the best location. By moving the router and testing the signal across the residence, we can determine if we need to add signal boosters or a mesh network so the signal can connect further.

Connecting a building to the Internet, whether it be by satellite, cable, or fiber is just the first step. Keeping the devices connected the entire building means understanding how the signal from the central connection works across the entire location, and where routers and WiFi amplifiers can provide the best speed and access for every device, across every location possible.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

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