Picking an ISP and then a service plan after that is not always easy. If you're lucky, then you have plenty of options to choose from. If you're unlucky and have poor internet, that might be a reason to move for many people, especially in an age of remote work and constantly being online.
You certainly need an internet connection, which puts a lot of time and regular pressure on the decision. This pressure can make things harder than they should be, and some ISPs will count on that, so you don't make the best decision for you (but a profitable one for them). Don't fall into that trap and take conscious but quick action instead.
Here's all the information you need to help you make a decision when it comes to your internet plan and how to get the most out of it:
How to Choose an ISP
For starters, you will want to check which ISPs operate in your area. After all, you can't order internet service from a company that is not offering services. Some sites and resources help (more on this soon), but for now, get the lay of the land. We will also go more into which factors you should consider and what resources you should listen to in a bit, but once you find out which major ISPs are in your area, research a bit more about them and the plans they offer.
We recommend making a shortlist of the options that even remotely interest you. For example, if you know satellite internet or DSL won't be enough for your needs, rule out all the ISPs that don't qualify. There may also be ISPs that service your general area but not your exact address. Rule those out as well.
On top of researching the significant providers, something that has been popping up more is municipal internet service providers. And while there are some laws and measures that forbid them in certain areas, on the whole, they are well-liked by the community, affordable, and provide outstanding service. They might not have all of the bells and whistles of the larger service providers that operate nationwide, but they'll be exactly what many people are looking for. If you live in the area already, you might see advertising for it or have gotten word about it from neighbors.
A few quick notes on looking at the listings for ISPs:
- Even if an ISP is a national brand, offerings may vary depending on your region. They are also limited by infrastructure and available lines, and building new ones, or upgrading lines can be a huge issue (it's too much to go into here, but it is a fascinating subject).
- You'll want to ensure that the reviews and information are up to date. If it is more than a year old, we recommend you disregard the situation. You also might be looking for basic information from the ISPs themselves. In these cases, the information on their websites should be up to date, and you can confirm local deals and options with a service agent or site that specializes in such things. Though with larger ISPs, plans are often uniform across the country in at least some form (not all plans will be available, but the ones that are will be standardized).
- A few options will pop up everywhere in listings because they are satellite internet providers. Unless you have no other choice, ignore them or rule them out for reasons we'll go into more later.
How to Choose a Service Plan
Ok, so you have your heart set on an ISP, or at least have narrowed it down to what is available and what has a service that is acceptable to you. Most providers that you look at will have multiple plans to choose from. So which one should you go with?
Ultimately, it comes down to your needs, budget, and other factors. We'll go into these more in a bit, but finally, you're choosing a service plan like any other product or service. You look at the pros and cons of your options and pick out the one that fits best. The most important thing we can tell you is that while it's an important decision, don't let it stress you out or feel rushed. Research is necessary, and you will need at least an hour or two to feel confident in your choice, if not longer. This is normal.
In general, you'll be picking out a few things in tandem, and a few factors should take precedence (speed being the first). Within each ISP, charts or tools usually allow you to compare different plans by all the critical metrics directly. Look for these.
Start taking notes as soon as possible, consider what you need and want ahead of time, and then pick out the top service plans available in your area based on that.
On the Subject of Bundles
While this article is primarily about internet plans, we cannot talk about them without talking about service bundles. Most ISPs are also landline phone service providers, and the vast majority are also providers of some form of TV service.
And since these service providers are hoping to keep customers for as many of their services as possible, they are willing to sometimes provide excellent deals for people wanting to stick with them for all services. In truth, very few people mix and match services, so you might want to consider your cable or landline plans (if you want them) as well on top of your internet service plan.
More concerningly, sometimes companies will lock the best plans in a bundle of some sort. If you want a higher internet speed, you might need to buy a cable plan, even if you don't use cable. This practice has been slowing down in recent years, but it is still prevalent in some areas.
And more recently, some service providers have bundled with not only cable and landline phones but also cellular service and mobile data plans. This can make for an excellent deal if you also need a new data plan. However, there are usually many more options, and you shouldn't be locked out of anything by passing on it.
You probably don't want to start looking for a bundle unless you're set on getting one and need several services simultaneously. However, once you have a general idea, keep bundles in mind.
Types of Internet Connections
When choosing an ISP or plan, one of the most critical factors in your final choice should be the type of connection it is. Are you going to be getting fiber internet or a DSL connection? It makes a huge difference. To summarize the different sorts of connections and what people use:
Fiber: The fastest and most reliable choice for nearly anyone that has it available, fiber internet dominates the market and is widely popular among those who can get it. It can be a little expensive depending on the area and can be the hardest to find, especially outside of cities. However, if it is available in your area, the fiber internet plans should go to the top of your list.
Cable: Cable internet has been around for some time now, and in some ways, it has improved. However, there are a few caveats to using it: it is less consistent than fiber internet and has worse upload speeds. Cable plans vary widely, so you should look at what's available in your area and what plans and bundles are available. You could get a great deal.
DSL: Using phone lines to provide a connection (though not in the same way as dial-up internet, thank goodness), DSL internet today is practically universally accessible. However, it, unfortunately, is also relatively slow compared to cable and fiber internet and might not be enough for modern needs. Try to think of it as a last resort.
Dial-up: We recommend dial-up internet to no one, given how far we are into the 21st century. Don't use it; get off it as soon as possible, switching even to satellite or your data plan if you must. It's so slow that we're shocked you could get on this page, and we hope you didn't miss any phone calls in the meanwhile.
Satellite: Satellite internet is its own category compared to all the options above. It is available just about anywhere in the United States (and much of the world) and can provide people internet access where they otherwise wouldn't be able to get it. Yet that seems to be its only advantage. It is expensive, limited, and not as fast or reliable as cable or fiber internet.
Mobile Data Plan: It's not an actual choice, but we did want to point out that some people will elect to use their data plan instead of getting internet service for their homes. However, this is not recommended for most households, and instead, we would recommend it as an option for people who don't use the internet much or travel a great deal. On top of that, you would need a great data plan and some extra equipment to make the most of it.
We want to emphasize that this is the most important factor when deciding between plans and providers. The worst fiber option will be better than the best DSL line, with few exceptions. Most other factors are situational, but this one has universal effects which will impact every day of your life.
Important Metrics to Consider
When testing or considering a plan's speed, there are five major numbers or factors to consider. They are:
Download Speed: The one you'll see first and the one you'll find the most important barring a major problem with another factor, your download speed, as you might imagine, dictates how much download bandwidth you have and how fast you can download files, etc. The best plans are likely Gigabit plans, equating to a speed of 1Gbps. There are a few faster options and much slower options depending on the type of connection you have. We recommend that you seek at least a 30 Mbps internet speed to handle the basic tasks a person will use the internet for today.
Upload Speed: While it doesn't need to be as fast as your download speed, and likely won't, professionals and people who upload files regularly will need to consider the upload speed they have as well. With fiber connections, it can reach 1Gbps, but the average person or household will find that 10Mbps is a good starting point. Otherwise, the faster the upload speed, the better.
Latency: Latency (ping rate) is how long your connection takes to get a response after making a request. It is essential for things such as gaming and video chatting. It can be tough to gauge ahead of time; in truth, latency is determined by many factors beyond your control or the control of the ISP. However, if you see many reports that an ISP has latency issues, you might want to listen to them.
Connection Consistency: You might not be thinking about connection consistency too much until you need it, in which case you are thinking about it. A connection suddenly cutting out at the wrong time can ruin your day, and you deserve to have the problem fixed as soon as possible. There will be times that the ISP can do little about it, such as a storm or an unforeseen downing of a telephone pole. However, if all else seems well, an inconsistent connection is a bad look for an ISP. A consistent and reliable connection is key, and often more important than a great download speed.
Price: Naturally, you will want to think about how much the service costs you monthly. People who use the internet a lot, however, will likely find that more expensive plans are worth it in the time and convenience saved every month.
It will be up to you to balance these metrics with all the other features and considerations when deciding on an ISP and plan. Yet put these and your connection type at the top, and you can't go wrong.
Data Allowances, Limits, and Optional Features
There's often more to an internet service plan than just internet service. There are extra features, the nuances of the service and billing platform, and included equipment to consider. Here are some extras to think about:
- Depending on your package, you might also get extra perks and subscriptions. It could be a subscription for a year to a streaming service or even something like Spotify. After all, what better way to test out your new connection? However, we would not advise considering these too much when making your final choice. Such offers are common among many service providers, and the savings are helpful only if you use the service anyway and for a limited time.
- Is there anything in the potential terms of service that would give you pause? All ISPs have access to and monitor traffic to some degree, but some do it more than others, and privacy-minded people might want to educate themselves on what companies might do with their data.
- Depending on your ISP, region, and plan, you might have a cap on the data you can use each month. Usually, it is about 1TB, which is more than enough data for the average household. Still, people conducting many large downloads might want to check if their service has any limitations carefully.
Use Websites and Resources to Help You
At the risk of sounding bold, this site, Internet Advisor, specializes in providing people with all the information they need to decide which ISP to use and plan to pick. Input your area information, and you'll get a list of everything available. Stay on the site and work with it; you'll be several steps ahead of the game! Just don't forget to do your own research if you feel the need.
On top of this site, other sites can help you compare plans and provide you with a lot of information. Remember that you need to ensure they are up to date and realize that local differences might still occur. The sites of the ISPs themselves can be helpful; be sure to read the fine print and potential catches.
Consider Local Opinions, Reviews, and Resources
Even national companies have local branches with other staffs and standards. Infrastructure and maintenance can be different from area to area. For these reasons, keeping a national reputation in mind for ISP is helpful, but it is not enough. A company in Massachusetts might be significant, while the same company might not be so great in Arkansas.
Try to look up local reviews when searching for a plan. Additionally, listen to the people around you regarding internet service. If you're moving to a new location, move your efforts to where you are going. However, Note that the people who will write reviews or comment on internet services online are skewed, and perfectly content users are not so motivated to write about how great a provider is. Take some things with a grain of salt, and look for specific problems or feedback instead of "this company is terrible, the end." However, if you see clear negative trends, you might want to steer clear of that service provided. Conversely, positive trends are a good sign.
Negotiating the Best Deal Possible
You don't want to pay more than you have to, and you don't want to pay an excessive amount for average service. That brings us to the topic of trying to negotiate a better deal or price, which other articles and videos might tell you to do.
In truth, in most cases, you won't be able to negotiate very much right off the bat. Customer service agents don't want much of an argument, and they'll drop you. Remember that they are people, too; the respectful talk will get you farther than yelling. You can undoubtedly get clarification from agents and ask questions, though. That's what they're there for (partially) and that.
If you are switching from a different service or talking to your current provider to change plans or fix things, that is another matter. You might be able to get a great deal or bundle, and you might be able to get a lower price if your current ISP messed things up. It might still be worth it to change, but you will want to
Overall, don't expect too much from negotiating directly; it won't be worth it for most people.
That all being said, depending on your financial situation, you might be able to get government assistance, at least in the United States. It can be a benefit of $30 a month, which can make a huge difference.
Hidden Fees, Price Increases, and More
The less ideal parts of an internet service plan are hidden fees, price increases, equipment rental fees, and other ways the ISP will try to make money off you outside of the list price. You will need to be careful about this because it can add up. However, it would help if you were looking to keep all of this in mind in your final price metric and decision. The fees, etc., will likely be the same within an ISP when comparing plans, but from ISP to ISP, they can vary quite a bit.
A good service review will tell you most of what to expect, as well as a rundown of the company. Some companies are a bit more honest about their practices than others but always ensure to get outside confirmation.
Internet and TV service companies have not historically had the best reputation for making sure you have an excellent customer service experience. Most people might feel like they're met with the support that stonewalls them or drives them towards spending more money instead of solving the problem. In the worst cases, the support is outright rude.
The good news is that the situation, in general, has improved across the industry (if not with every provider) and that you should be able to get a better experience than you might last remember. Unfortunately, that is still compared to past results in the cable and ISP sector. You will ideally be able to find an ISP with a good or improved reputation for customer service, on top of providing good packages to their customers. When deciding on the best internet service plan for you, keep customer service in mind. A little less annoyance can be worth a lot to some people.
Signs It's Time to Make a Change
What if you're reading this and are on the fence about switching ISPs? You might be content enough with your service, but that also might be because you have been with your current service for a while and aren't sure if there is anything better. If any number of the following are valid, consider making a change:
- The price keeps increasing to the point where it is no longer worth it to you. You might be able to get a call to negotiate the price back down a bit, especially if you are considering switching anyway, but you need to have a backup plan there and be willing to pull the trigger.
- The service has been lapsing or regularly getting interrupted. Most people need quality, uninterrupted service to do their best work. Whatever the reason, if you are getting constant disconnections, you might disconnect from your ISP and reconnect with another.
- There is a strong chance you started with a contract when you signed up with your previous provider. If that contract period is running out, it's an excellent time to consider whether you are due for a change.
- There is a new provider in your area or a much better offer. A new provider will often have an excellent deal to attract new customers, and if you aren't perfectly happy with your current service, it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of the new offer.
- You feel a strong need to. You should not decide on a purely emotional level, but if you are truly angry or dissatisfied with your ISP and continue to have problems, a fresh start can relieve you from a lot of stress.
There may be other reasons you feel the need to make a change, of course. You know your situation and your options best.
Additional Tips and Notes for Getting Set Up
Unfortunately, once you press the order button or confirm service on the phone, there are still a few steps to move forward with. We can't go over everything, but here are some things to keep in mind after you make the jump and get things started:
- You will need to deal with installation in some form or another. You might need to have a technician come out and install your service and equipment, so you should plan for a day or period when you or a partner will be home. Unfortunately, there can be delays and reschedules during this step, which can be a major hassle. Some systems allow you more control, and those ISPs are better for doing so.
- You will also naturally want to test out your new connection once you can. You want to ensure that the equipment and connection work as intended and that no adjustments will be necessary. Reports and promises are great, but only by testing things out yourself will you be able to truly rest easy.
- There may be accounts and networks to set up, both for convenience and to stay as secure as possible. You don't want anyone stealing your bandwidth, and similarly, you want to be able to access all the perks that are part of your package.
- You may want to consider where you place devices in your home or invest in a WiFi range extender. Getting a few longer ethernet cables might be helpful if you want the fastest connection possible on some devices.
There may be other factors depending on your home's connection type and layout. Contemplate your plan's particulars, and you won't encounter any problems.
As you can tell, a lot goes into deciding on the best internet service plan for you. It might seem complicated on the surface, but with a bit of time and the right help, you can narrow down your options quickly and learn what is best for you and your family. You deserve excellent internet service, and you should ensure you're getting the best every once in a while. Now is the time to upgrade or move in with the best possible connection, so get to it and get things set up as soon as possible!