Did you know that the average cost of starting an internet plan in the United States is $84.37? This includes the plan itself and any equipment rental fees. Internet service providers (ISPs) are riddled with a variety of costs you may not be expecting, such as the aforementioned equipment rental fees and other startup costs.

Our Advisor Team has researched and ranked some of the best internet providers on the market to determine which providers are the most affordable. In this guide, we’ll review each company’s monthly costs, broadband options, internet speeds and more to help you determine which internet provider is best for you and your home.

 


 

Our Top Picks for Cheap Internet Service Providers

  • Xfinity
  • AT&T
  • Cox
  • Verizon 
  • TDS Telecom
  • Optimum
  • Mediacom
  • ViaSat

 


 

Xfinity: Best Overall

  • Monthly cost: $40–$80 (starting cost for 12 months)
  • Broadband options: DSL, cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 200 Mbps–1,200 Mbps (download); 5 Mbps–40 Mbps (upload)

Xfinity is our top pick for an internet provider due to its affordable pricing, six plans and bundling options. Customers can avoid installation fees if they opt for a self-installation, which only includes shipping and handling fees. Professional installation with Xfinity costs $89.99. The company may also charge you for its Wireless Gateway via rental fees, state and local taxes and a Universal Connectivity charge.

Xfinity offers six different cable-connection plans starting with a 50 Mbps plan, which can handle most internet activity for a single person. The company also provides two fiber plans starting at $79.99 for 1,200 Mbps and 2,000 Mbps at $299.95. You may run into data cap fees with Xfinity, but this is unlikely given its data cap is set at 1.2 terabytes (TB). Smaller households will most likely not get near this cap, but a family of six may surpass it.

 


 

AT&T: Best TV Bundle

  • Monthly cost: $35–$60 (starting cost for 12 months) 
  • Broadband options: DSL, fixed wireless, cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 300 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (equal download and upload)

AT&T is a great option for those looking to bundle the internet with TV and streaming services. The company features an internet activation fee of $49 and has two installation options: a self-install assistance option that costs $99 and a technician installation option for $149. You will not be charged for AT&T’s equipment unless you fail to return it at the end of your service. This fee would cost $150. The company will also add state and local taxes to your monthly bill.

AT&T is also ideal if you’re planning on using your internet service for platforms like Netflix and HBO Max or streaming live TV. The AT&T Internet + Choice bundle combines comprehensive internet services and TV services at a competitive price point of $130 per month. The bundle includes reliable internet speeds, over 45,000 on-demand titles and regional sports networks, live TV, 20 hours of DVR cloud storage and a full year of HBO Max.

 


 

Cox: Best Value

  • Monthly cost: $20–$100 (starting cost for 12 months)
  • Broadband options: DSL, cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 20 Mbps–940 Mbps (download); 3 Mbps–940 Mbps (upload)

Cox is one of the best choices for affordable internet services. It offers five internet plans and a high data cap of 1.2 TB. Cox also offers a one-year contract at a reduced price or month-to-month pricing free of any contract. Some fees to watch out for with Cox are the rental fees for its Panoramic Wi-Fi Modem and state and local taxes. The company may also charge for professional installation, which varies by plan and region, but you can avoid this fee by opting for a self-installation.

Cox adds further value to its services by supplying 24/7 remote, in-house tech support. Customers can also bundle their internet service with phone, TV, streaming and home security services.* The company’s basic plan, Cox Internet Essential 50, provides 50 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds for $40 per month for 12 months. This includes a one-year term agreement. Without a contract, the 50 Mbps plan costs $70 per month.

*Cox’s bundles require a one-year contract.

 


 

Verizon Fios: Best Phone Bundles

  • Monthly cost: $40–$90 (starting cost for first 12 months)
  • Broadband options: DSL, cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 200 Mbps–940 Mbps (download); 200 Mbps–840 Mbps (upload)

Similar to AT&T, Verizon offers a few ways to save money through bundling. We find the company’s phone bundles to be more impressive than its TV bundles, because it provides unlimited data options for your phone and can also offer unlimited data options for new tablets and laptops. Verizon charges $99 for professional installation, but you can waive this fee if you order your Verizon Fios equipment online and choose the self-install option.

Verizon also charges $15 per month for its Fios Router, or you can pay for the router up front for $200. The monthly rental fee for the Fios Router is waived with the Fios Gigabit Connection plan. Similar to Xfinity, you may also see a Federal Universal Service Charge on your bill in addition to state and local taxes.

Verizon Fios is great for a family that wants to integrate unlimited phone data with unlimited internet data. Without data caps, your household can stream and game without having to worry about any data fees. The company also provides other phone perks with its bundles. For example, the 400 Mbps plan includes $30 in discounts for an Unlimited Wireless phone plan plus a Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 Lite. This costs $65 per month plus taxes and equipment fees.

 


 

TDS Telecom

  • Monthly cost: $30–$90 (starting cost for first 12 months)
  • Broadband options: DSL, cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 50 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (equal download and upload)

TDS Telecom offers its services in 24 states, and it acts as an affordable alternative to some of the larger ISPs. TDS Telecom provides a cheaper 50 Mbps plan than other companies on this list, but it has a lower data cap of 250 gigabytes (GB) of bandwidth consumed (uploaded or downloaded) per month. This makes TDS Telecom a good choice for anyone who primarily uses the internet for social media, browsing and moderate video streaming. You may be charged additional fees if you exceed 250 GBs per month.

The company also charges an equipment rental fee for all of its plans. This price varies according to each plan, so you may want to purchase your own router and modem from the company to save money. TDS offers a 30-day trial period for all of its services and bundles, so you can try the company risk free.

 


 

Optimum

  • Monthly cost: $35–$55 (starting cost for first 12 months)
  • Broadband options: Cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 300 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (equal download and upload)

If you live in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, you may have heard of Optimum as an affordable, regional internet service provider. This company offers cheap fiber-optic internet and two installation options: a standard installation for a maximum of two outlets for $99 and a premium installation for a maximum of three outlets for $149. Premium installation may cost an additional $25 per outlet after three outlets.

Other hidden fees to keep in mind with Optimum include its monthly $10 equipment rental fee and its $3.50-per-month network enhancement fee. Optimum doesn’t have any data caps, but it does have a policy on excessive internet use.

 


 

Mediacom

  • Monthly cost: $20–$80 (starting cost for first 12 months)
  • Broadband options: Cable and fiber-optic
  • Speeds: 60 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (download); 5 Mbps–50 Mbps (upload)

Mediacom is another reputable and affordable ISP found in 22 states across the country. The company charges $99 for installation and a monthly $12 equipment rental fee unless you purchase your own Mediacom-compatible modem. Each of Mediacom’s three plans comes with a different data cap. For example, its Access Internet 60 plan (60 Mbps) has a data cap of 200 GB, but its Internet 1 GIG plan (1,000 Mbps) features a 6,000 GB data cap. Customers are billed $100 for every 50 GB they go over their data cap.

Mediacom requires a one-year term agreement for its service. Its Internet 100 plan is a great option for smaller households looking to stream, game and engage in remote work. This plan provides strong Wi-Fi, supports up to six devices and costs only $50 for 100 Mbps download speeds.

 


 

ViaSat: Best for Rural Areas

  • Monthly cost: $40–$150 (two-year price-lock guarantee)
  • Broadband options: Satellite
  • Speeds: 12 Mbps–100 Mbps (download); 3 Mbps (upload)

For those in rural areas, satellite internet is a popular option when cable and fiber internet aren’t available. ViaSat is a satellite internet service provider that offers affordable monthly pricing plans starting at $40, which is cheaper than other popular satellite internet providers like HughesNet. The company requires a two-year contract, but you’re guaranteed the same price for your internet plan for two years.

ViaSat may charge $99 for installation, which will appear on your first monthly bill, but check with a ViaSat representative to learn how you can receive free installation. Some hidden fees include an equipment rental fee of $13 per month or a one-time payment of $300 for equipment. Though ViaSat features lower minimum satellite speeds than other companies, it provides reputable customer service for those in rural areas. The company also has an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau (BBB)* and provides 24/7 customer support through its phone line, online chat and online customer portal.

*BBB information is accurate as of September 2021.

 


 

Hidden Fees To Watch Out For with Internet Service Providers

Internet service providers may include some hidden fees in the fine print of their term agreements and service agreements. It may be confusing to determine what to watch out for with each provider. Rather than pulling your hair out over what you may or may not be missing, we’ve listed some of the major hidden fees found in most ISP contracts:

  • Installation/Activation Fees: Many internet service providers charge an installation fee for professional installation. On average, this tends to cost $99. Customers can avoid an installation fee by opting for a self-installation option if this is provided.
  • Annual Price Hikes: Based on a focus group we conducted, we learned that a lot of dissatisfaction came from participants’ monthly cost increases after having a year of service. For example, three participants that had Spectrum mentioned that their services increased by $15 per month every year. Most ISPs include language surrounding price hikes in your contract, so be sure to inquire about this before signing up.
  • Equipment Rental Fees: Many providers lease their equipment to customers and add on a monthly equipment rental fee or allow you to pay for the equipment rental upfront in one large payment. In some cases, you can purchase your own equipment as long as it’s compatible with the provider.
  • Data Caps: Providers may or may not place data caps on their services. If a provider has a data cap on its services, customers may have to pay an additional fee if they exceed the amount of internet usage they’re allotted.
  • Early Termination Fees: If you’re locked into a contract with an ISP but you have to cancel, the provider may impose an early termination fee based on how long you have remaining in the contract.
  • Connectivity Fees: You may have noticed some providers on this list have a “Federal Universal Service Charge” or a “Universal Connectivity Fee.” This is typically a small fee around $3, which goes toward the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to provide reliable internet services to more rural or low-income areas.
  • State and Local Taxes: Like any other service or product, state and local taxes will be applied to your bill. These taxes vary from ZIP code to ZIP code.

 


 

Internet Connection Types Explained

Internet service providers may feature a lot of jargon and technical language in their contracts. To help you get through some of the fine print, we’ve listed out the different types of internet connections available and what they mean:

  • Digital Subscriber Line (DSL): This is when the internet is delivered to a home through an already existing telephone line. DSL tends to be the cheapest form of broadband internet available.
  • Cable Internet: This refers to when the internet is delivered to a home via cable service. This option often provides faster speeds than DSL, but it’s shared with others in your area. This means that it can be slower during busier times of the day.
  • Satellite Internet: This refers to when the internet is delivered to your home via a satellite. This option tends to be the slowest, but it’s one of the only options available for homeowners located in rural areas.
  • Fiber-Optic Internet (FiOS): Fiber-optic internet is becoming the most popular option for internet service and functions similar to DSL but with much higher speeds. This connection type easily handles tasks that most people perform on the internet, such as uploading photos, video gaming or browsing on social media.

 


 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who provides the cheapest internet services?

    Cox and Mediacom offer the lowest starting costs at $20 per month. Weigh other important factors such as internet speeds, data caps and bundling options before deciding if the lower cost is worth it.

  • What's the difference between Wi-Fi and internet?

    The internet is the data that you receive over a connection like Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is wireless network technology that sends the internet to non-wired computers and devices.

  • Who offers the best internet services?

    Based on our research of the best internet providers, we found that Xfinity is the ‘Best Overall’ internet service provider. Spectrum is a close second and is the ‘Best for High-Data Use.’

  • What are internet assistance programs?

    One way for low-income households to receive internet services is through an internet assistance program. For example, AT&T’s Access Program features no deposit, free installation and internet service for $10 per month for 25 Mbps speeds (the cost may be less based on the maximum speed available at your address). Talk to a customer service representative to discuss the types of internet assistance programs available.

  • How can I use the internet without cable or a phone line?

    If your home doesn’t have a cable or phone line, you either need to pay to have one installed or you can opt for fixed-wireless, mobile wireless internet (4G LTE) or satellite internet.

 


 

Methodology for Rating Internet Service Providers

Our Advisor team has created a detailed methodology that we use when we rank and research internet service providers. We have analyzed ISPs on their cost, speeds, connection types, additional perks, service availability and more.

Here’s a breakdown of the factors we consider when rating companies. Our top picks score well across all these factors.

Factor

Weight

Criteria

Starting Price Cost

15

We considered the monthly starting price, most often set for 12 months, each provider offers. The lower the price, the higher the score.

Broadband Options

12

We reviewed whether the provider is able to offer DSL, satellite, cable and/or fiber-optic connections for the internet. The more connection types a provider is able to supply, the higher the score they receive.

Additional Benefits

10

Though primarily focused on bundles with TV, streaming and phone services, we also weighed extra perks, such as deals or free equipment.

Download Speeds

10

Based on advertised download speeds, we ranked companies on their ability to supply ample downloads ranging from 100 Mbps to 500+ Mbps. If the company provides speeds lower than these, they receive a significantly lower score.

Customer Service

10

We considered whether the company offers customer support 24/7 or only during business hours, as well as if it offers a separate customer tech support line. We also look at customer satisfaction scores across sites like TrustPilot and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Technological Accessibility

15

We considered the availability of the company through an online customer portal, a mobile app or an online chat. The more options the provider offers, the higher the score.

Service Areas

10

We weighed each provider based on how many states it is available in. If the provider offers its services in more states, then it receives a higher score. A provider may also receive a higher score if it is in less states, but it provides excellent services for those in rural areas.

Reputation

13

We considered the overall reputation a provider has received over time based on BBB scores and the number of years the provider has been in business.