The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Internet Service

Marie Flanagan By Marie Flanagan March 2, 2021

Summary: From internet speed to connection type to internet service provider, there are many factors to consider when choosing a new home internet plan. Our complete guide walks you through how to decide what the best high-speed internet service is for you.

Between choosing an internet service provider (ISP), the type of internet, and the speed, you’ve got a lot of choices to make. On top of that, some ISPs try to sell you outsized internet packages or unnecessary bundles that just don’t fit what you need. It doesn’t have to be that complicated, so let’s look at how to choose the best internet plan for you. 

How Do Most People Use the Internet? 

First things first. How do you use the internet? Are you a casual surfer, mostly using it to check email and scroll social media? Or do you like to stream movies and play video games? The way you use the internet helps determine what speed you need — but so does the number of devices that are connected. 

Generally speaking, the more people or devices you have in your household, the more speed you’ll need. Higher speeds will help prevent a bottleneck when multiple people are logged on. But any devices you have connected can take up speed, too. Doorbell cameras, smart speakers, and smart thermostats also require data and speed — and take up space on your plan. 

So, it’s important to consider what you’re using your high-speed internet connection for, how many devices you have connected at a time, and how many people are using the internet simultaneously (or, if you’re a multitasker, how many devices you’re using at once). Does your current plan speed cover it, or are you noticing bottlenecks and connectivity issues? 

Does your current plan speed cover it, or are you noticing bottlenecks and connectivity issues? 

If you’re noticing consistent problems connecting, you can check what speed you should be getting by looking at your bill and compare that to the speed you’re actually getting by taking an internet speed test

Find Internet Providers in Your Area

Where you live will impact what internet service providers and internet speeds are available to you. Most urban and suburban areas will have higher speeds available and may have more choices when it comes to internet service providers. 

You can Google internet providers near me — or you can check here.

Once you’ve found nearby internet providers, you can start to compare plans, speeds, and pricing. Let’s break down some speed suggestions depending on your habits and popular service types.  

What Internet Speed Do You Need? 

Now that you’ve listed out what you use the internet for, it should be easier to decide on the speed you need. 

If you’ve got one or two devices, and are occasionally streaming or gaming but mostly casually surfing the web, 25 Mbps might be enough. 

If your household has five different devices going (including smart home technology), and you enjoy streaming entertainment, playing games online, and sharing photos, you may need 100 Mbps or more. Remember, the more devices you have, the more speed you’ll need.

If you’re working remotely, want to be able to rapidly stream, attend online classes, play multiplayer games, or videoconference (or you have up to 12 devices), you may need up to 500 Mbps. That will help multiple people in the house to be simultaneously participating in activities that require large amounts of data.

Clipboard with checklist how to choose the best internet for me title

 

The top tier of internet speed is 1,000 Mbps — or 1 Gig. At this speed, there’s practically no limit on the number of devices that can be connected, and many data-consuming activities can be taking place at once. 

What Type of Internet Connection Do You Need? 

The type of internet you have —  fiber, cable, or satellite — influences the speed you can achieve. While we’ve detailed the most common options here, it’s important to note that where you live also impacts the type of connection you can get. Curious about what high-speed internet is available near you? 

Fiber Internet

Fiber is currently the best high-speed internet service with speeds of 1,000 Mbps. It uses a dedicated line, so you won’t experience things like interference or slower speeds when your neighbors are also online. Fiber also has symmetrical upload and download speeds, meaning you can upload and download data quickly. Upload speeds are crucial when on video calls, sending large email attachments, or playing multiplayer online video games. If you’ve ever had coworkers tell you that you’ve frozen  — all while you can still see and hear them — you can probably thank slow upload speeds.

Fiber’s dedicated line also gives you the strongest available signal and most reliable service. But, because it requires new infrastructure, it’s not yet available everywhere. 

If you’ve ever had coworkers tell you that you’ve frozen  — all while you can still see and hear them — you can probably thank slow upload speeds.

Cable Internet 

While cable is more widely available, because it’s delivered through the same physical copper line as TV service, there can be speed problems with cable internet. Because internet and TV are delivered through the same line, it makes bundling easy. That said, bundling isn’t always necessary — and many people wind up with more than they need to get a short-term, discounted price. 

If you’re a cable internet user and you’re experiencing more frequent fluctuations in your internet speed, you’re not alone. Peak-usage windows (after 7:30 p.m.) are a thing of the past, and cable internet is beginning to look like a construction-filled highway — it’ll get you there, but it will take (much) longer than it should. 

Unlike fiber internet, cable’s speeds are asymmetrical, where upload speeds are often slower than download speeds. Most people download higher amounts of data than they upload, but as videoconferencing and online gaming become more and more common, upload speeds become more important. What does that mean for you? Fiber is the future

Satellite Internet 

Satellite is often a high-speed internet option for more rural areas that don’t have access to cable or fiber internet. It functions like satellite TV does, with a dish positioned on or near your home that sends and receives signals from your ISP via a satellite orbiting the Earth. You can typically get speeds up to 100 Mbps with satellite internet. 

While satellite may be a good option for rural areas who want higher speeds than dial-up or DSL internet provides, there can be disruptions and lag times. Because this service requires installation of the dish (and often a contract), the equipment costs are typically higher than either fiber or cable. 

Interested in learning about other types of internet? We’ve got you covered

What Do I Look For in an Internet Service Provider? 

Similar to the type of internet connection you can have, your ISP will also depend on where you’re located. Regardless, there are two important questions you should always ask. 

Do you have to bundle like my cable provider?

Like we mentioned earlier, a lot of ISPs promote unnecessary bundling (especially with cable internet), which gives you services you don’t need in return for a short-lived discount. If you just want to pay for what you actually need, we can help

Do you have a no data caps, no throttling guarantee? 

While the details are a bit more complex, internet data caps are essentially a restriction on how much data can be sent over your home internet. It’s not how much time you’re spending, but how much information you’re sending (such as streaming videos, sharing pictures, and using your smart home devices). If you go over your limit, you can be hit with a huge fee or be throttled down to lower speeds until the next billing cycle. Maybe you’ve never had a problem with your data cap, but you’re reaching your limit now that you’re working from home or gaming and streaming more. The bottom line is, you want to choose an ISP with no internet data caps

Now that you’ve gone through the steps of researching your own internet usage and what’s available near you, you’re ready to take the next step and find your best internet service. And, if you’ve decided you want high-speed, reliable internet with no home internet data caps and no unnecessary bundling, EarthLink is the right connection for you

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.

See all posts from Marie Flanagan.

Filed Under: Internet

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