ISP Rates and Speeds
The companies discussed here have the largest number of subscribers among Americans. However, there are dozens of ISPs that serve various regions of the United States. We recommend that in addition to considering those listed below, you research additional ISPs in your area. You may find a better deal with a smaller company.
It’s also important to note that rates and speeds may vary depending on your location. Rural areas or places with natural interference (like mountains) can affect the quality of your connection, particularly when using wireless technology. You may also find better deals in more densely populated areas. No matter where you are, the speeds listed are not guarantees. You can reach speeds up to these amounts, but speeds will vary down to the minute.
Comcast Xfinity offers cable internet at a variety of speeds. They generally allow you to pay a lower rate for about a year before graduating you to the regular rate. Note that the average rate per 1Mbps of speed decreases dramatically the larger your package. You can get even better deals on internet if you purchase an internet plan in conjunction with cable TV and phone lines.
Verizon FiOS is the largest fiber optic internet service available to consumers. As with Comcast, rates vary depending on the speed you are looking for and whether you are purchasing internet as part of a larger package. You’ll notice that the average rate per 1Mbps follows the same downward trend except for in the largest package.
Time Warner Cable’s Spectrum cable internet package actually comes from Charter Communications. Charter acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016. TTo make matters even more complicated, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, another big player in the internet service arena, have an upcoming merger. The merger promises to make the Time Warner, Charter Communications, and AT&T marriage the largest internet provider in the country. Therefore, take the following rates with a grain of salt. After all, there are likely to be some big changes soon.
CenturyLink provides DSL and Fiber internet, meaning that your packages are less varied and will tend toward the lower and higher ends of the spectrum.
Finally, we have Cox Communications, another cable internet provider. Cox advertises their speeds in a more nuanced way, distinguishing between download and upload speeds. When considering these rates, you should also note that Cox provides cloud storage to internet customers. If the rates seem inflated, that is at least in part due to these storage plans. Regardless, it’s fair to say that Cox has some of the most expensive internet plans.
It’s all well and good to know the numbers, but you’re probably not about to purchase a several hundred-dollar plan for the fastest internet. What do these numbers mean and how can you tell how fast you really need your connection to be?
How Speed is Measured and What It Means for You
First, let’s start with the basics. Internet speed is typically measured in bits: kilobits (Kb), megabits (Mb) and, in rare cases, gigabits (Gb). This is not to be confused with bytes: kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), and gigabytes (GB). Bits are smaller than bytes, about an eighth the size to be exact. When talking to ISP representatives, be aware that even professionals commonly confuse these terms. However, know that when we are talking about the transfer of data (internet speed), we are talking in bits. On the other hand, when we are talking about the size of a data file (like a song or movie), we are talking in bytes.
Appreciate the contrast between download and upload speeds as well. Most ISPs give you an approximate average to simplify matters. However, there is going to be a difference between download and upload speeds. Download speeds are typically much faster with a couple of rare exceptions. This is good news because most internet users spend more time downloading everything from files to webpages than they do uploading information.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what a megabit means to you. Let’s say you want to load a webpage that is 1Megabyte (MB) in size. Your internet speed is 10Megabits (Mb) per second. If 1MB = 8Mb, how long will it take you to load the page? It will take about 8/10 or 2/5 of a second. That’s pretty fast.
What about downloading large files? Let’s say you want to download a game that is 20GB and your internet speed is 10Mbps. If 1 GB is 8,000Mb, then you need to transfer 160,000Mb worth of data. At a rate of 10Mbps, that would take you 16,000 seconds, 267 minutes, or around 4 and a half hours.
How fast you need your internet to be really depends on your needs. If you don’t anticipate having to download or upload very large files, you could be fine with a DSL connection or smaller cable internet plan. Consider your needs while choosing the right ISP. You can also consult the FCC Household Broadband Guide.