We live in the internet age. This is a fact. Our lives have been totally transformed in just a few short decades and become overwhelmingly digital. Not having the internet is simply not an option for most people.
Simply because you don't have a choice as to whether or not you need a connection doesn't mean you don't have choices about the type of connection you get and how much you pay for it.
However, what happens quite often is that we get complacent with our current internet deal. Calling internet service providers for customer support has never been particularly fun, and it always seems to be such a hassle to switch companies. Yet given how important internet access is, and how crucial it is to budget our money and get the most for it, we do need to be active internet shoppers otherwise ISPs will take advantage of our complacency and charge us more.
Don't worry though, you don't need to navigate the murky waters of the internet market alone. We've reviewed the many different options and put together this guide to the best internet deals in 2020.
To give you an idea of what the benchmarks are, here are some basic stats about internet service in 2020:
As you can see, competition for internet service in the United States isn't great but there are still some great deals to be had if you know where to look.
Before looking at the specific deals that are out there, it's important to know the features of a good internet deal. Of course, they all offer the "same" thing - the internet - but they do so in very different ways.
Here are all the things we look for in an internet deal:
At the top of the list is connection speed. For those who don't know, connection speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps) and refers to how much data can move through your network at once. In general, the faster the better, as faster internet allows you to download and stream more quickly and avoid lagging while browsing the web.
However, that doesn't mean you need to go out and get the fastest - and most expensive - internet package out there. In general, for people who use the internet pretty regularly, for activities ranging from email and instant messaging to 4K Ultra HD video streaming (Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.), you're going to want to have a connection that gives you around 50 Mbps.
You could probably get away with 25 Mbps, and of course, 100+ Mbps will make everything faster, but when trying to find the balance between need and cost, we tend to recommend 50 Mbps. This ensures everything works without too much lag and the frustration that comes with it.
For those who have no patience at all, you can get gigabit speed, which is a connection speed of roughly 1,000 Mbps. With this internet, you can download an HD movie in just a few minutes.
However, for most users, the cost of these plans does not match their added benefit. We can get perfectly adequate internet for much less. For us, it's all about maximizing value, not necessarily connection speed.
Top Speeds and Actual Speeds
It's important to remember that internet companies will always advertise what they consider to be the maximum speed for that connection. What you get is typically much lower. As a result, if you get a package that advertises just the right speed for you, know that you'll probably be disappointed because you will rarely experience that connection velocity.
Upload and Download Speeds
Another thing to consider is that ISPs typically only advertise download speeds because that's what most people use the internet for - to access information and "download" it onto their computer.
However, if you post a lot of things to the internet, or have a need to send large files, then you will want to look into the upload speed of the connection you're considering. Whether or not it is comparable will depend on the type on internet connection you are using.
There are four main types of internet available today:
Cable is the most widely-available and also one of the fastest connection types. However, bandwidths tend to be smaller as you share it with people in your area, and upload speeds often lag considerably behind download speeds.
Fiber optic is a newer technology that provides for faster internet connections and upload speeds that match download, but it is much less available than a cable connection.
DSL was the first form of broadband internet and it works through direct phone lines connecting you and your ISP. It can be quite good, but only if you happen to live close to the ISP's service center. This applies to very few people, which is why cable ends up being the better deal.
Satellite internet is designed to help people get internet that couldn't otherwise, i.e. those who live in rural areas where there is limited access to home services. It's slower and more expensive than other types of internet, but it's available anywhere. Yet it should really only be an option for those who have no other option.
The type of internet service available to you depends on your exact location. Sometimes a service may be available one block away from you but not on your street.
We tried to focus on companies that provide service to a large area, not only because that makes them more accessible, but because we find that larger internet companies provide better service. They have more resources and better infrastructure, which results in a better product.
However, even the most common providers aren't everywhere, so before you get too excited about one deal over another, be sure to check that it's available in your area. You can do this by visiting the company's website. Usually, the first thing they do is ask your address so they can provide you with offers that are truly available in your area.
Bandwidth refers to how much data your entire network can handle at one time. It comes into play when multiple users are sharing one connection. Not enough bandwidth means everyone's connection will slow down when several people are using it once for intensive activities such as streaming or downloading.
ISPs don't always advertise bandwidth because it can be difficult to explain what the numbers mean. However, they will tell you when you sign up how many people can use the connection at once. So, when selecting a plan, make sure to pick something that will cover your bandwidth needs.
Just like you have a set amount of data you can use on your phone in one month, you have restrictions on your home internet as well. This never used to be the case, but over the past few years, almost all ISPs have introduced data caps.
The industry standard is 1 terabyte per month, which is more than 1,000 GB. Trying to use all of this data would consume nearly your entire life for a month, and you still might not make it. As a result, the data cap doesn't usually factor too much into our review.
However, some providers have a much lower cap, and that's important to note. And for some, having unlimited data is an ideological issue. There are providers out there that still offer it, but know that it's most certainly not the norm.
Many internet providers have WiFi hotspots in public locations around the world. If you're a subscriber to one of their home internet plans, you can usually access these connections for free, which can be a huge benefit to someone who spends a good deal of time traveling or on-the-go. We consider this to be a nice bonus that comes included in some internet deals.
To make the internet work, you need the right equipment, such as a modem and a router. In most cases, companies charge a fee for this, which is usually around $10 a month. Some don't, which is great, but there are many more who do.
As a result, when you're looking at an internet plan, it's important to check the equipment fees as they normally aren't included in the basic quote.
If you have children in the home, parental controls can be useful for helping kids stay safe while they use the internet. Most major internet providers offer them, but some of them are easier to use and/or more useful. We'll point out which plans have the best in case this is something of interest to you.
Although many people these days are cutting the cord, cable TV still has a place. Almost all the internet companies we've reviewed also offer cable and phone service, and if you're going to get these anyway, it usually makes sense to bundle them together so that you can save on both.
Something is bound to go wrong with your internet at some point, and when this happens, it's nice to know you're working with a company that is going to put your satisfaction at the top.
Unfortunately, ISPs and other telecommunications companies don't have the best track records when it comes to customer service, but many have come a long way and are doing a lot more to please you.
Another thing to look for when signing up for an internet deal is the commitment the company is requiring from you. Often they want to lock you in for multiple years, hoping you'll become one of the people we described at the beginning who doesn't check their internet bill and doesn't have any motivation to make a change.
These contracts aren't necessarily bad and they usually help you save some money but it's crucial you know all the terms before you sign up so that you don't get caught by surprise a year after purchasing your service, especially since most of these contracts include clauses that raise your price after a period of time.
They also almost always include information about a buy-out you will need to pay before you can cancel your contract. These can be quite expensive, so make sure you're fully on board with the plan you're going to buy before signing on the dotted line.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we've got to look at the price of the plan. As mentioned, our focus is on getting value. You can go out and spend $150 per month on internet, but in most cases, you'd be just as happy with a plan that costs $50 or $60, which is a huge saving.
Know that the average cost of high-speed internet in the United States is around $60. We're going to try and beat that, but also know that's the benchmark.
Now that you know what to look for, here are the best internet deals in 2020. We've broken them down into a few different categories so that you can more easily find the one that meets your needs.
For those of you looking for internet and nothing more, then Spectrum is going to be a great choice for you. Here are some of the things we like about Spectrum's internet deal:
The only issue with Spectrum is that it is not as widely-available across the country as some of the other providers. It also doesn't have any WiFi hotspots, which could be a major negative for those who move around a lot.
In addition, some of the pricing we've mentioned above only applies to the first year of your two-year contract. After that, your costs will go up to about $70 a month. This still isn't bad for the connection speed you're getting, and the first-year savings make it so that you pay an average of $60 per month over two years, which is an average price for an above-average connection.
If you're looking for an internet plan that you can bundle with other services, specifically television, then AT&T has some great options. Here's what's good about this deal:
Basic plans give you 100 Mbps for $40 per month. In some areas, where it's available, you can get 300 Mbps for the same price. Either way, this is a good deal.
AT&T has two cable TV options: U-Verse and DirecTV. You can get a package with either one that includes hundreds of channels for around $100 per month.
Where available, you can also get AT&T Fiber, which offers even faster connection speeds.
AT&T has an extensive network of WiFi hotspots around the country, which you can access for free with your login information.
AT&T does have a 1 TB data limit, but as mentioned, this is pretty standard. Also, as is often the case, these prices come back to Earth after about a year. Expect to pay around $65 per month after the promotion wears off.
Overall, though, these deals are quite good, and since AT&T is available in more than 90 percent of the country, there's a pretty good chance you'll get to take advantage of them.
Xfinity is the most widely-available internet service provider in the country, and if speed is what you want, this is the option for you. Here's what we like about Xfinity internet:
As you can see, if speed is what you desire, Xfinity can get you there. And know that there are several options in between the 175 Mbps option and 1,000 Mbps. This variety makes Xfinity the best provider for extra-high-speed internet.
One of the things we don't like about Xfinity is a 1 TB data cap even on 1 and 2 Gbps plan. In theory, if you need this speed, you also need more data, but again, 1 TB is still a lot, and it's the industry standard.
Another thing we're not crazy about is Xfinity's contracts. All providers have them, but Xfinity's seem to make the biggest jump after the promotional pricing wears off, and buying out tends to be expensive.
And lastly, Xfinity has some notoriously poor customer service, but they have improved. Chat and callback features make it easier to make an appointment and get support, and they have an online system where you can schedule service around your needs.
Fiber optic plans are great because they are faster, but also because they offer comparable upload and download speeds. If this is something you need, then Verizon Fios is the best choice for you. Here is what we like about Fios:
However, as great as Verizon Fios is, its service area is still pretty limited. And while Verizon does have some TV bundles, they are not nearly as attractive as the other companies on this list.
In addition, Verizon does not currently offer WiFi hotspots, which could be a big factor for some.
Overall, though, if you can access Verizon Fios, it's a great option.
For those looking to save a little money, CenturyLink offers a plan called "Price for Life" that is pretty attractive. Essentially, you pay $49 per month for the fastest internet connection available in your area.
The catch to this, though, is that those speeds range from 15 Mbps, which would be a ripoff, to 100 Mbps, which would be a great deal. As a result, be sure to check up on average internet speeds for CenturyLink in your area, as this could be a big factor in your decision.
If you want faster, you can get 1,000 Mbps connections - where available - under the same "Price for Life" deal for $85 per month.
CenturyLink's Price for Life deal is pretty attractive. Basically, it means the price you agree to today is the price you will pay forever. This might mean spending more in the first year since you won't be accessing any promotional pricing, but you will likely save in the long-run, especially if you lock in $85 a month for 1,000 Mbps.
This service, which is still pretty new, will likely get more and more expensive as it becomes more and more in demand from the market.
CenturyLink also has some good TV bundle options, but it does have a 1 TB data limit and no WiFi hotspots. Nonetheless, this is a great option for those looking to save money and avoid surprise charges.
If you live in an area that doesn't have either cable, DSL, or fiber optic internet, then you will need to go with satellite.
As mentioned earlier, this is more expensive and slower than other types of internet, but if it's your only option, then it will work. Among the many satellite internet providers, we've found Viasat to be the best. Here are some of the details:
A 25 Mbps connection speed will cost you $70 per month, and 100 Mbps will cost you $150 per month
For an extra $5 per month, you can get a WiFi modem, which is not standard for satellite internet, which increases its functionality.
Connections are consistent and good quality, especially in rural areas where internet access is normally limited or non-existent.
Our only complaints with Viasat are the same ones we have about satellite internet in general. Data caps could be a problem, as they are much lower; the top plan with 150 Mbps only gives you 100 GB a month.
This still should be enough, especially with a generally slower connection, but it's way less than you get with other providers.
In general, though, if you need satellite to get connected, you'll be satisfied with Viasat.
These six options represent the best of the best in 2020's internet market. As you can see, there is quite a bit of variation between the different plans available to you, but this also means there is something for everyone.
Take a moment to consider your needs, and we encourage you to do a bit more research on your own, but then proceed with confidence and find the internet deal that works best for you.