We’ve all had it happen to us at least once in our lives - the relationship starts great: it’s new and exciting, and you’re getting all your needs met. You never need to wait around, you’re never dissatisfied, and you think there’s nothing better.
After a time, however, things slow down, you need more and more, and you start checking out the competition. What can someone else offer you? Can you get more? Is there a better one out there? Maybe it’s time for someone new…
…we’re talking, of course, about your broadband plan.
People look for a new internet plan for all the usual reasons. They’re not getting the speed they’re paying for, or their needs have changed, and they need more. Whether you’ve got more users now, video conferencing a lot, or just moving house, choosing a new broadband plan requires a little planning and research to know all the different aspects of a good provider and plan.
Thankfully, with all the tech available to us nowadays, you can get the best service available in your area, with the highest speeds, at the best prices.
All About Broadband
Broadband has become more than just nice to have; but is essential in most households in America. Particularly in the wake of a global pandemic that has pushed us all back into our homes, everything we do is via the internet. From work to homework to socializing and shopping, we use the internet for everything we need.
With heavier use come higher requirements and a price tag to match. Broadband does not come cheap - unless you know where to look and how to find the best deal available in your area.
Broadband isn’t just about fast internet but about reliable service and consistency. Uninterrupted internet is necessary, and its importance cannot be overstated.
It’s a veritable revolution that will become more widespread as fiber internet makes its way around the country, even to the most remote corners. Right now, access is mainly limited to very populated urban environments. But with our lifestyle changing, so are the providers and the deals they offer their customers.
Just What is Broadband?
It’s not enough to just look around and find the cheapest available broadband. To make a correct decision about what sort of plan fits you best, you first have to learn precisely what broadband is and how it works.
In broad terms (haha, get it?), broadband eliminates the need for dial-up internet by connecting via always-connected methods and allows for a high-speed internet connection.
By broadband internet, we mean wide bandwidth data transmitted via high-speed internet. You see, not just any internet is broadband. According to the FCC, your internet needs to reach at least 25 Mbps upload speed, and 3 Mbps download speed to be considered broadband. However, that definition is under review, with a proposition to redefine broadband internet as reaching 100 Mbps minimum.
There are several types of broadband internet. It all depends on location, what providers are available to you, your needs, preferences, and cost.
- Fiber - Fiber internet is generally the type that will yield the highest speeds and the most reliable connection. It works via pulses of light that travel through strands of fiber, and it reaches speeds of up to a boldly advertised 2000 Mbps in the case of providers like Google Fiber.
- Cable - After fiber, cable is the next best thing. It provides internet via coaxial cables, just like your TV. Capable of reaching speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, cable is the connection type of choice for the majority of users. It extends beyond the areas fiber usually reaches, and many providers offer it.
- Wireless broadband - This type connects your home to the internet via radio signal, not cables. Speeds aren’t as high as cable internet, but they can reach an impressive 300 Mbps.
- Satellite - Satellite internet is transmitted via satellite - which can be geostationary - 22,000 miles away - or LEO (low Earth orbit) - 300 miles away. That impacts speed, with the former reaching 100 Mbps and the latter up to 500 Mbps.
- DSL - DSL makes an internet connection happen through copper phone lines. DSL falls short because, unlike its counterparts like cable and fiber, top speeds only reach about 100 Mbps and, more commonly, 15 Mbps. It may not be quite what you were hoping for.
Why is Access to Broadband Important?
In 2022, there is no existence without the internet or a world where that is possible. Broadband is essential for every aspect of life, at any age, for personal and public use.
Especially with the pandemic confining all of us to our homes for extended periods, we’ve sobered up to just how vital the internet is for every aspect of our existence.
Internet access is unequal in the United States, and with internet access being essential, not having it puts a lot of underprivileged groups - particularly people of color, who are twice as likely not to have internet access - at a disadvantage. That includes children going to school or professionals looking for employment. For a lot of people, broadband access is a matter of survival.
The Difference Between Broadband and WiFi
One of the most common misconceptions is that all internet is the same. It’s all broadband, right? Well, that’s not entirely true. While broadband is often conflated with Wi-Fi, they are significantly different.
There seems to be a lot of confusion over what Wi-Fi is, so let’s clear that up once and for all. Not all internet is Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is what you use at some or in public, what you usually connect your phone to, to avoid using up your data. But by connecting to Wi-Fi, you’re enabling communication between the router and the device itself. You do not need an ISP to be able to connect to Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is a way to get high-speed internet connectivity, but with no cables necessary. It’s a wireless network that uses radio waves to transfer data from a wireless router to a computer, phone, or tablet.
Suppose we’re talking about broadband or wireless broadband. In that case, that’s a type of internet connectivity characterized by its high speed and lack of interruption - versus dial-up internet, for example. It requires a 4G router, which connects to 4G towers and gets the signal from here. Even if you are paying for a Wireless Broadband connection, you still need to connect via Wi-Fi.
The Lowest Cost Broadband Providers Near You
What you need to know about broadband plans is that you won’t find the same pricing everywhere. Depending on the provider and the plan, prices will differ from one state to another. The more scarce the provider’s presence is, the more expensive they are. However, here is an overview of the lowest-cost broadband plans and providers near you.
List of the Lowest-Cost Broadband Providers
Looking for the lowest-cost broadband providers? Here are the best deals currently available:
Xfinity - Best Overall
- Starting from: $40/month
- Speed: 200 Mbps
- Connection type: Cable
Xfinity is really a good option overall. It gives you a lot of bang for your buck, and the connection is widespread enough that you’re likely to be able to get it no matter where you are. It’s one of the best around in terms of value for money.
Verizon - Best for Fiber
- Starting from: $49.99/month
- Speed: 200 Mbps
- Connection type: Fiber
Verizon is your absolute best option when it comes to fiber internet. The speeds are decent for a very good price, so when looking for fast and furious internet connections, this is your one-stop shop.
AT&T - Best for DSL
- Starting from: $55/month
- Speed: Up to 100 Mbps
- Connection type: DSL
Depending on your location, AT&T may be available via DSL, or even fiber, if you’re lucky. When it comes to areas that are served mainly by DSL connections, AT&T is your best bet, with speeds going up to 100 Mbps.
Spectrum - Best for Speed
- Starting from: $49.99/month
- Speed: Up to 300 Mbps
- Connection type: Cable
If speed is your non-negotiable, you will be happy to see the internet packages offered by Spectrum. Good ol’ reliable cable internet with speeds up to 300 Mbps for as little as $49.99 a month is not something you encounter every day or from every provider.
Xtream - Best for Rural
- Starting from: $39.99/month
- Speed: 200 Mbps
- Connection type: Cable
Rural customers are often the most overlooked, with limited options and providers shying away from laying down their own infrastructure in remote areas. Xtream is present in rural locations with cable internet, 200 Mbps, for under $40 a month.
Centurylink - Best for Price Consistency
- Starting from: $30/month
- Speed: 100 - 940 Mbps
- Connection type: Fiber
Internet for $30 a month is nothing to scoff at, especially when speeds start at 100 Mbps and go up to 940 Mbps. Centurylink is known for price consistency, so you don’t need to worry about them doubling your prices without warning. What you sign up for is pretty much what you get.
Choosing Your Broadband Package
The thing about the internet in 2022 is that we all need it. It’s essential for work, school, socializing, and hobbies - the more time we spend online, the more bandwidth we need. But that can get very expensive, very fast. Especially if you’re adding users or devices and need to significantly up your plan. Or what if you’re moving to an area where the internet is more expensive? You’re looking at paying way more for the same service you were getting until now.
It’s possible to continue to be price-efficient while getting the internet you need - you just need to shop around for a better deal and a more generous provider.
Factors to Keep in Mind as You Search for Your Broadband Package
As you search for the ideal broadband package, you'll notice that there are a lot of choices out there. Not every option is great for everyone, and it all depends on your lifestyle and your particular needs. What are your priorities?
What Makes a Good Broadband Provider?
The most basic requirement for a provider to be a good option is for them to serve your area. There is a surprising amount of providers who only operate in very limited areas.
That is because they often have to create the infrastructure to provide service - for example, lay cables. If there aren’t enough potential customers because the population density is low, then it’s not worth it for them. That’s why there are many providers in urban environments and not in rural ones.
Most people focus on speed when choosing a provider and a plan. You want to make sure the provider can offer you the speed that you need. But it’s not enough to just look at one of the numbers they advertise.
You want to look at the Maximum Advertised Speed (MAS), download speed, upload speed, and ISS (Integrated Speed Score). The latter is a proprietary formula taking into account both download speed and upload speed. Remember that you rarely get the maximum advertised speed they offer, so opt for more than you think you need.
There’s nothing worse than a provider offering only a couple of options; you’re stuck with a plan that may not work for you. What you want is an internet provider with several plans to choose from that cover different needs. Maybe you need more than 100 Mbps, but not quite 500 Mbps - there should be at least another option in between those, so make sure to look around and don’t settle for a provider who offers no variety.
There’s no use paying for high speeds if your provider is unreliable. You’ll find yourself in a situation where you technically have 1 GB of internet, but if you can never count on using it reliably, it’s like not having it at all.
To avoid this cruel fate, consider all your options and read reviews. Past and current customers will be able to paint an accurate picture of what it’s like to get service from a particular provider and whether or not you can rely on them.
Customer service is more crucial for internet providers than any other service. You don’t want to be waiting for a month to get connected. Equally, if you choose poorly, you could be stuck with bad service that no one cares about.
This is another area where reviews are going to be a lifesaver. Customer ratings will guide you and let you know whether reaching out is a hair-pulling experience or a pleasant one with good results.
Specific Lifestyle Requirements to Consider When Searching for a Broadband Provider
Video Conferencing for Work
So many of us have settled into work-from-home lifestyles, and while that comes with many advantages, it also means you heavily rely on your internet connection.
All-day video conferences are hard on your internet connection, and you need a reliable provider. The worst thing that can happen to you is for the signal to go away when you need it most, get lag, or constantly freeze. If this is your primary concern, prioritize reliability in your pursuit of a new internet provider. Similarly, frequently zooming with family and friends will also necessitate extra bandwidth.
Certain activities are more internet-intensive than others, and online gaming is one of them. Because you’re actively online and there’s so much to render, you’re using up a lot of resources the whole time you’re playing. Especially if you want to do something else at the same time, like streaming Netflix, or you’ve got multiple users in your household, you need more bandwidth than usual.
Streaming services have become part of our everyday life, but it’s an internet-intensive habit that requires a plan with serious bandwidth. If you don’t particularly care about quality, you can get away with 5 Mbps, but for HD and even 4K viewing, you’ll want at least 25 Mbps, and more than that, if you plan on using multiple devices at the same time.
Every time you add a device on the same internet connection, you’re effectively splitting the speed. So while 30 Mbps may be enough for one device and one user, if you’ve got three devices or users on that same connection, you will be reduced to 10 Mbps each. That can cause a lot of lag or otherwise slow your speed.
Of all the things you can do to take up a load of bandwidth, the most intense one is downloading large files. A good download speed is around 100 Mbps, which should enable you to stream Netflix or play games online simultaneously and use multiple devices.
Finding a Broadband Package in Your Area
Long story short, everybody wants the best value for money and enjoy higher speeds for lower prices. Here’s how you can find that in your area, with minimal effort but a high reward.
It can seem like an impossible challenge because despite many providers available, each offering many different plans, they don’t all serve the same areas, and the prices differ depending on the state. It’s a Sisyphean task to identify what provider has what plan in your zip code.
But here’s where an online directory comes in - all you need to do is find your favorite one and make sure they have the option to search by zip code. Just put your zip code in, and you will get all the available providers, each with its own offers and pricing. It takes all those hours of research out of the process and makes it a 10-second job to narrow things down.
You might also consider an online comparison service. It’s a very similar tool in that all the work is already done for you - an existing database with all the relevant information - and it also allows you to compare different internet providers according to the aspect that interests you most. In this case, you can search by price and compare various providers to find the cheapest one that still meets all your needs and requirements. That’s right, it’s practically magic.
The Bottom Line: Choosing Your Low-Cost Broadband Plan
There’s more to choosing a perfect low-cost broadband plan than just looking for the lowest price. You must consider every aspect of the experience - where do you live? What are your internet habits? How many users do you have in your household? Why are you looking for a cheaper service? What are other aspects of the service essential to you?
All these different things will impact your choice, so consider them carefully. The perfect broadband plan is a compromise between everything you need: price, speed, and customer service.
Which broadband speed do I need?
No universal broadband speed is perfect for everyone; it all depends on your particular requirements and lifestyle. Think about what you use the internet for, how often you use it, how many people use it in your household, etc.
What is needed for a broadband connection?
Connecting to the internet is easy, but you need a few basic elements. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is non-negotiable unless you’re planning on using Wi-Fi. Then, you need a router that connects to the ISP. The provider will often include this, and it helps more devices use your broadband connection simultaneously, vs. connecting directly to the modem via ethernet cable.
The internet speed needs to be at least 25 Mbps to be considered broadband, so keep that in mind. Not all internet is broadband, even if you have all the necessary elements.
Which type of broadband connection is the best?
No one can say what type of broadband connection is objectively superior because it depends on what’s available to you and what you can gain access to. If you live in an urban environment, fiber is your best bet because it enables high speeds and it’s very reliable. Cable is equally advantageous.
However, this type of connection can be pricey. If you live in a rural or otherwise remote area, your options may be limited, in which case your ideal broadband connection type may be satellite or DSL. If the speed covers your needs and is within your price range, then that’s the best broadband connection type.
What is the right broadband speed for streaming TV?
When it comes to streaming, it largely depends on the quality you’re looking to achieve. If that is not your priority, you can enjoy streaming with just 5 Mbps, but if you’re after a higher quality streaming experience, such as HD or 4K, then you need to look at paying for 25 Mbps and up. If you plan on using the internet for other purposes simultaneously, or if you want to stream on multiple devices, then the higher bandwidth is non-negotiable. 100 Mbps should cover all your streaming needs while allowing other internet-intensive activities.
Do I need a telephone line to install broadband?
Contrary to dial-up internet or DSL, there is no need for a telephone line for broadband internet via cable, fiber, or satellite, for example. There are numerous ways to connect to the internet, yielding faster speeds and service that is just as reliable. Internet via phone lines is significantly outdated, with just under 1 million users still relying on dial-up internet in the United States.
For speeds high enough to be considered broadband, cable and fiber are the typical choices, both of which rely on cable but not phone lines.