The Best Cheap Internet Service Providers

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Contributor, Benzinga
June 21, 2019

Over the last 2 decades, internet use among U.S. adults has climbed significantly. According to annual surveys conducted by Pew Research, roughly 52% of the adult population (ages 18 to 65+) used the internet in 2000. By 2018, that percentage surged to 89%. Along with that spike in usage is a natural inclination to look for a cheap internet service provider (ISP).

According to some estimates, there are over 2,600 ISPs across the U.S. They offer internet services through an array of technologies, including digital subscriber lines (DSL), copper, fiber optic and a range of hybrid solutions.

Most of those ISPs aren’t truly national players, and some only provide service to specific local geographies. However, many of them claim to offer budget internet connections to their subscribers. But “cheap” internet service doesn’t have to mean slow speeds and terrible customer service.

Often, the most appropriate service for your needs will depend on several factors. Read on for the best ISPs.

Quick Look: The Best Internet Service Providers

  • Best overall: Xfinity Performance Pro
  • Verizon Fios
  • AT&T Internet
  • Spectrum
  • CenturyLink

What to Look for in a Budget Internet Provider

The best way to save money is to look for opportunities to take advantage of cheap personal and home-utility service offerings. Finding a cheap internet service provider (ISP) with a budget plan that meets your needs is a great money-saving strategy. So, what should you look for in a budget ISP?

Here are 4 criteria that you should consider before signing up for cheap internet service.

Extent of coverage. Not every major ISP offers service across the nation. Some provide greater coverage for their wireless operations, while others serve a broader geographic area for TV offerings. Each ISP has a coverage map on its website.

Check to see if the provider you are inclined to sign up with offers services in your area. More specifically, verify if it offers the required internet service (type of connection, bandwidth and speed).

Bandwidth and speed. People sometimes use these 2 terms — bandwidth and speed — interchangeably, but there are subtle differences. Bandwidth, typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps), is the maximum amount of data that your internet provider can transmit. Speed, also measured in Mbps, is the rate at which that data can be transmitted.

How much bandwidth you need and the speed you need is a function of the number of simultaneous users, type of usage and frequency of use. Use an online bandwidth/speed calculator or other assessment tools to estimate your needs and then compare what prospective ISPs have to offer.     

Type of connection. The type of internet connection offered by your ISP impacts the cost of the service provided. While dial-up connections are extremely slow and pretty much extinct, some providers may offer them for free and that might be the only option available in some rural areas. Other choices include DSL, cable, wireless, satellite and cellular.

Like bandwidth and speed, the ideal type of connection depends on what you want to use it for. Make sure your ISP offers the service type that fits your needs.  

Price. This may be the most important consideration when shopping for cheap internet. However, “cheap” is often relative to the service you receive and other terms and conditions associated with your connection. Some ISPs offer an “all-encompassing” price, which includes installation and equipment, while others may keep those charges separate from the “low fees” they advertise.  

Price differences may also arise as a result of contractual terms. Some ISPs won’t charge you for data overuse, while others apply significant penalties if you exceed your monthly data quota. Sometimes, those incidental costs can be significant and must factor in the price calculations.

Top Picks for the Best Cheap ISPs

We’ve tried to do an apples-to-apples comparison here, but with so many permutations and combinations (between coverage, bandwidth, speed, type of service and price), it’s hard to match each service head to head.

However, a single factor remains constant in our comparisons: All the services mentioned here are 100 Mbps connections, where the price is either for a 12-month contract or guaranteed over a 12-month period (without a contract).

All these service providers also have another trait in common: They are all considered “national” providers and therefore are very strong players, technically and financially, and are likely to be around for a long time to come.  

Here’s our list of best cheap ISPs.

Best Overall: Xfinity Performance Pro

  • $39.99 per month
  • Price for 12 months
  • No term agreement
  • Scores 57 in customer satisfaction on the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Looking for a cheap, no-frills service from a well-respected national provider? Xfinity’s Performance Pro is one option worth considering.

Promising download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, this is a great choice if your household uses up to 8 devices to browse or stream content off the internet simultaneously.

Xfinity comes from media, cable and broadcast giant Comcast who, in 2010, unveiled the Xfinity brand of services, including home internet, TV and streaming packages.

However, Xfinity has been an independent service provider long before that, since 1963. It’ll be a reliable partner backing your service if you decide to choose Xfinity as your ISP.

Although this is an internet-over-cable service, it provides a form of broadband access to users that offer extremely fast speeds. With Xfinity available across 40+ states, you’re assured of widespread sales, installation and post-sales service for your internet connection. That’s what puts it at the top of our list.

Verizon Fios

  • $39.99 per month
  • 12 month price guarantee
  • No annual contract
  • Scores 70 in customer satisfaction on the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Cord-cutters and avid online gamers will love fiber optics-based internet. If you’re looking for internet access through a 100% fiber-optic connection as opposed to a cable internet service, then Verizon's Fios 100/100 Mbps internet service may be a cheap way to get it.

Have a current internet service contract that you aren’t satisfied with?

The great thing about Verizon’s offer is that it also includes a $500 incentive for breaking your contract with your existing ISP. This makes switching to Fios an even more cost-effective choice.

This offer is ideal for anyone interested in standalone high-speed internet access, without a phone or TV service. Supported by one of the largest fiber optic service providers in the U.S. and used by over 6 million subscribers, the Fios 100 Mbps service is available in 21 states across the Northeast.  

AT&T Internet

  • $40 per month
  • 12-month agreement
  • Data overage charges apply
  • Scores 69 in customer satisfaction on the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Households looking for a budget-friendly internet plan should check out AT&T’s internet (formerly known as AT&T U-verse) offerings.

With download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, you’ll find this service ideal for most online activity, including gaming and streaming. Pricing also includes WiFi Gateway, which offers you WiFi access throughout your home.

Plan to add a mobile data plan to your service? The Gateway delivers access to over 30,000 WiFi hotspots across the country — for free!

AT&T is one of the most recognized names in the U.S. telecom industry. In fact, it has a worldwide presence and has been in the broadband space since the late 1920s and has the backing of one of the nation’s industry leaders in the internet and telecom space.

Coverage presently extends to 21 states across the country, with physical infrastructure growing each year. AT&T broadband internet isn’t like traditional DSL but is delivered using a combination of technologies, such as very-high-bitrate digital subscriber line (VDSL), internet protocol digital subscriber line (IPDSL) and fixed wireless internet (FWI). The type of service provided depends on where you live.

A big plus in having AT&T as your ISP is its investment in innovation. The company is one of the few Telcos that already has functional 5G (the next generation telecommunication protocol) solution in 19 U.S. cities.

Spectrum Internet

  • $44.99 per month
  • 12 month price guarantee
  • No annual contract
  • No data caps
  • Scores 59 in customer satisfaction on the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Are you an internet user who travels or works in multiple regions across the U.S.? Then you need an ISP with a broad geographic footprint. And if you need connectivity for up to 10 devices to your internet network with wider free Wi-Fi hotspot access, then Spectrum’s 100 Mbps internet service might appeal to you.

Although it’s a cable-based internet service, for the price you pay, the 100 Mbps speed is good enough for you to watch HD TV online, play video games and chat with friends and family.  

Using Spectrum means you’re in exclusive company with over 28 million other customers. Founded back in 1948, the company now delivers services across 41 states. The 2016 joining of forces of Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks created an even more powerful cable/internet/media giant supporting the Spectrum brand. An army of 98,000 employees is also there to support you, so you can see why Spectrum Internet makes the cut.

  • $55 per month
  • Lifetime price guarantee
  • No annual contract
  • Scores 59 in customer satisfaction on the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Want stability and predictability in your internet service bills over the next several years? Then CenturyLink’s 100-140 Mbps connection might be worth considering. Its lifetime price guarantee means your internet budget will always remain static as long as you’re in good standing with the company. There are no contracts or expiration dates, either.

This company has an impressive pedigree. CenturyLink is a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange and has an international presence in over 60 countries. The company traces its history back to the 1930s and through a series of mergers and acquisitions over the years and claims to be the second-largest U.S. communications provider to global enterprise customers.

Its fiber gigabit connection is available to subscribers in 26 states and is ideal for simultaneous streaming of HD video content, online gaming applications and supporting 10+ devices connected to the internet. Century’s offer also includes free equipment and installation.

Other Considerations

Need to meet other specific usage needs, such as video streaming? You might wish to do some additional research in your usage niche and look closely at industry rankings before selecting the ISP for you.

For instance, Verizon Fios is Netflix’s top pick for internet speed, while our best overall pick from Comcast ranks fourth.  

Use a budget app and plug in the numbers to assess what the impact of the service will have on your finances. Often, cost might be a major factor in the decision of choosing one ISP over another. There are some steps that you could take to minimize or reduce the overall costs of your internet service.

For example, most ISPs will rent equipment (modems and routers) to subscribers. If you plan on a long-term relationship with your ISP, ask about the outright purchase of the equipment instead of a monthly rental arrangement. That move could save you a few hundred dollars over the life of your association with the ISP.  

Another option to reduce cost is by selecting bundles. Internet services are often cheaper when combined with other services such as TV and phone from the same supplier. Still, other ISPs, like AT&T, may offer cheap internet access to qualifying households.

If you’re a SNAP participant, enrolled in supplemental security income (SSI) programs or depend on public housing, check out your eligibility for government-assisted cheap internet options in your area.

Want to learn more about affordable products and services? Check out Benzinga's guides to the best cheap car insurance, the best cheap cameras and the best cheap cable TV alternatives.