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How to Find the Cheapest Internet Plan That Meets Your Needs for Browsing, Streaming, and General Household Use.
Getting connected to the Internet is no longer the luxury it once was. Now, it’s essentially a requirement for participation in modern society.
That being said, you may be able to get away with a smaller monthly bill than you think — provided you’re willing to sacrifice a few luxuries.
Here’s a rundown on the best providers for cheap Internet:
Xfinity is ideal for the whole family because they offer some of the best tv packages around in a number of flexible, affordable plans. If you’re looking for a cable provider that supports speeds good enough for streaming, web browsing, and most other common activities on the web, this fits the bill.
Comcast Business is one of the most widely available small business solutions offered in the US, and it provides the same plan flexibility and affordability found in their consumer-centric services. Comcast’s cable offers a price per Mbps that’s a fraction of the cost of fiber providers, which makes it ideal for smaller businesses that don’t want to spend thousands monthly on a custom solution. If you have a small business and are searching for a way to get it connected for a reasonable price, Xfinity’s business lineup offers more flexibility than other providers, letting you choose from a variety of packages to find the one that matches the needs of your operation.
Spectrum doesn’t put data caps on your plan, so you won’t have to worry about using too much while streaming HD content on a regular basis. Plus, they offer affordable, month-to-month plans that don’t require any long-term commitment. With upload and download speeds high enough to cover intensive HD/4K streaming and gaming platforms like Twitch, this is an excellent option for singles or couples looking to get online for a reasonable price.
If you’re looking for a robust connection, Fios should be your first stop. No data caps are to be found here, and the faster speeds afforded by fiber will enable you to get more done, faster.
While Fios isn’t the cheapest provider by any stretch of the imagination, they’re the cheapest widely-available options. Verizon Fios was one of the first providers to offer ultra-high-speed fiber-optic connections to consumers in the US, and if you’re looking for unparalleled speeds, they are still offering some of the best deals in the areas covered by the service.
Centurylink has long been one of the most established options for rural customers, primarily due to their ability to lock-in fair pricing rates, as well as their tendency to have reliable, consistent speeds, even if they aren’t the fastest.
Centurylink has one of the most widespread coverage areas in the country for DSL. The speeds on offer here won’t compete directly with fiber or cable, but if these services aren’t available in your area, Centurylink can provide consistent service for a fair price. The price looks high on the surface, but since they don’t increase the price every year like cable, you pay much less over a multi-year subscription.
HughesNet offers a similar price to Exede, America’s other top satellite provider, but with the added advantage of faster speeds, thanks to their recent Gen 5 hardware upgrade. They also have frequent promotions around their premium plans, making them ideal if no wired options are available where you live.
Today, most of America gets online using a wired connection. Though there are dozens of different providers offering a variety of different speeds and services, they can pretty much all be boiled down to three main connection “types.”
Digital subscriber line internet is run using the old-fashioned phone lines that criss-cross the vast majority of America today. This was the first connection type to truly unseat dial-up back in the day, though it itself was quickly outpaced by cable. In general, this is only optimal for very basic web browsing tasks such as looking at the news or checking email.
Cable is the middle-of-the-road option that often represents the best bang-for-buck for many internet users. It comes from a coax cable, which is another common connection to see in homes and businesses across the country. In general, you can expect usable speeds with this option that work for the vast majority of internet users. WIth a typical cable connection, you should be able to stream Netflix, check email, and do most other things online with ease. As a bonus for some, these are most commonly offered as a bundle with tv and phone services, allowing you to consolidate everything you use into one monthly bill.
Fiber optic cables make up 99 percent of the “backbone” of the internet (read: the part that snakes all along the bottom of various oceans worldwide).
Ironically, it’s one of the rarest available connections at the “last mile,” which is the final segment of the internet that dictates the way you connect–and how fast you do so. Fiber provides some of the best speeds available, making it ideal for techies, gamers, and others looking to spend a lot of intensive time online, but for casual users, it may not be necessary to pay the higher monthly fees usually associated with this luxury.
Fiber is, of course, the best and most expensive option, whereas DSL is the cheapest (but least usable). Cable represents a popular middle ground, and it’s often where you’ll find the most affordable packages that bundle in TV and phone service as well. Ultimately, outside of factoring in what’s actually available in your area, your choice will come down to how much providers are charging, and how much you’re comfortable with paying each month.
Perhaps the most well-known alternative to a wired connection is satellite internet, which is both expensive and slow, at least relative to the wired options listed above. There are very few situations where it makes more sense to choose this option over a wired DSL connection, usually boiling down to areas where no wiring whatsoever has been run.
That said, one of the main limitations of this technology is how far out these satellites are positioned from the planet; this creates a noticeable latency, or “lag” in your experience. Several companies are working on technologies that would allow newer satellites to be placed in low-Earth orbit, which would drastically cut down on this delay while also increasing the speeds available in the process. SpaceX is one such company hoping to implement this soon.
If you have an existing data plan with your cellular provider, it’ll often include an option to pay a small extra monthly fee to be able to tether this connection to other devices in your home. These usually include some sort of data limit, however, so they aren’t exactly ideal to be used for the whole family, or for things such as streaming or gaming.
That said, if you’re looking to get away with the bare minimum, you’d be surprised how much you could do with a simple laptop and a tethered iPhone or Android device. Just make sure you understand the limitations put forth by your wireless provider before going all-in on this method.
Bonding is essentially the process of combining multiple different internet connections into one, faster signal. You can combine just about any type of connection, such as a local DSL line and your LTE hotspot, or a cable connection and a fiber line. Granted, this can become a bit pricey pretty quickly, unless you have access to more than one of these already. You’ll also need to ensure that you have the proper hardware or software to do this, which can add additional expenses as well. We’ve written a comprehensive guide to channel bonding in a separate article.
A dedicated hotspot is like a standalone tethered LTE connection. These products usually entail some sort of initial fee for the device itself, then costing a certain amount per month in addition. This fee can vary greatly from provider to provider, and usually is directly related to how much data you receive, and how fast of a signal you’ll be getting.
If you’re confused about how much “speed” you and your family actually needs to function properly online, that’s okay. Use this chart to decide what’s most important to you, and see our guide to how much Internet speed you need for more information:
Minimal = hotspots and tethering. Just the essentials.
Basic = DSL. More reliable, but not much in the way of a speed boost.
Bundle = cable or fiber bundle for family or shared household use. This provides you the most flexibility and functionality.
In many situations, yes, they can. Larger companies have more room to work enticing deals, and these often take the form of discounted first-year rates. If you are only going to be in an area for a year or so, this can often be the best deal for wired internet. Of course, you’ll have to carefully consider any contracts before signing on. Speaking of which…
A contract can, and often does mean that you’ll be getting a lower rate than those who simply pay month-to-month, but this isn’t without its own potential drawbacks. If you get burned part way through by a bad experience with customer service, for instance, you won’t be able to switch out to a competitor, unless you find one who will buy you out, such as Spectrum. Best case scenario, though, you’ll just be signing a similar agreement for another one-to-two years.
If you tend to live a more nomadic lifestyle, there are several mobile connection options that may suit your needs. These can include both hotspot-based products like Verizon’s Jetpack, as well as mobile satellites meant for the road. Of course, these solutions come with some quirks, reliability issues, and additional fees, but if you’re trying to stay connected while on the road, they’ll likely be your best options.
The following major ISPs have subsidized plans available, provided you meet the qualifications listed below. Keep in mind that these programs are contingent on participation in other low-income government programs in most cases. For example, participants with school-aged children that participate in the National School Lunch Program can often get discounted service from providers like Xfinity. Google Fiber also offers discounted fiber plans, but only for residents at specific addresses in specific neighborhoods. These plans do not require extra legwork to apply for, as the plans are low-cost for the entire neighborhood in these cases.
Here are a few additional programs that can be helpful for low-income families trying to get home Internet access.
Many of the providers covered in this guide will provide discounts or continually lowered rates if you give them a call and simply request them after the first six months to a year of installation. Xfinity and Cox are two examples of companies that have been known to do this, and at the least, they may be able to shave some features off to improve your monthly rate by some degree.
Keep in mind, however, that certain ISPs, such as Google Fiber and Spectrum, won’t do this, and their pricing will remain locked-in for everyone. Even those who have given users breaks in the past aren’t guaranteed to play ball, but it never hurts to try, especially if you’re contemplating jumping ship for a competitor.
In the vast majority of situations, it’s going to be worth spending an extra ten dollars or so a month to get a decent speed and service quality from a bundled cable or fiber provider than to simply settle for a DSL or wireless option. This is especially true when you take into account the wide variety of companies offering low-income connectivity listed above.
Using the information above, assess what you and your family honestly need in terms of your internet service (and more importantly, what you don’t). From there, you’ll be in the best position to find a provider that works for you in the long run.