Internet Rates and Speeds: Choosing the Plan That’s Best for You
Gone are the days when just about everyone subscribed to America Online’s dial-up service. The modern consumer can choose from numerous plans with dozens of internet service providers (ISP). Choosing the right provider is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. A glance at the rates and speeds offered by the nation’s top providers will help you understand which services most fit your needs and provide the best value.
Types of Internet Connections
Before we delve into specifics, let’s take a moment to review the different types of ISP connections available to you, how they work, and which ones you should focus on. As you read about the following types of ISPs, you’ll come across some specific data regarding internet speed. To better put this data into context, reference our section on understanding internet speeds.
Dial-Up – It may be ancient, but dial-up is alive and well in many parts of the country. However, dial-up is also excruciatingly slow when compared to more advanced types of internet connection. At roughly 28 to 56 kilobits per second (Kbps), it’s less than 100th as fast as nearly all cable or fiber optic internet plans. Dial-up is distinct from many of the technologies on this list in that it is not a broadband technology. In other words, it is not always on.
Satellite – Although it is significantly faster than dial-up, satellite internet plans are still on the slow end of the spectrum, with speeds ranging from 512 Kbps to 2 megabits (Mbps). Satellite internet uses a modem to connect to satellites in the Earth’s orbit, something which takes time. This technology is typically only utilized in areas where faster forms of broadband internet are not available.
Wireless – This term is a little tricky. When used to reference routers in the home that provide wireless broadband connections, wireless works in conjunction with other forms of internet technology, like cable modems and fiber optics. However, wireless can also refer to technology that provides internet via radio waves which connect back to a central location. This type of wireless technology is most often used with smartphones. Wireless speeds vary dramatically depending on the type of connection. However, in the home, it tends to be faster to have a wired connection than a wireless one.
DSL – This stands for Digital Subscriber Line and uses telephone lines in the home to connect. However, unlike dial-up, DSL does not prevent people from using the telephones while the connection is up. DSL is one of the slower forms of broadband internet with speeds ranging from 128 Kbps to 8 Mbps.
Cable – Cable internet uses a cable modem to connect to the internet over TV lines. This is one of the faster and more common types of broadband internet. If you subscribe to Comcast, you are likely using a cable modem right now. Typically, cable internet ranges from 512Kbps to 20Mbps. However, speeds may be higher, depending on your provider.
Fiber Optics – This is the latest in internet technology. It is sometimes referred to as Fiber to the Home, Fiber to the Curb, Fiber to the Desk, etc. Which of these terms applies depends on how close to your machine the fiber optic cables run. The closer the cables, the faster the internet. Fiber optic cables are so effective at transporting data that most ISPs use them for long distance transfer and simply switch to other methods for final delivery to the home. Fiber optic internet is limited to select parts of the country, but is expected to grow soon.
Your best bet is probably cable internet with or without a wireless router. It may not be as fast on average as fiber optic internet, but it is much faster than most internet technologies. What’s more, it is available to a wider number of Americans than is fiber optics, making it more affordable to boot. However, if fiber optic technology is available to you, give it some real consideration. How expensive it is depends heavily on your area and the package that you buy.
Next, we’ll be taking a closer look at the most popular internet providers, what technologies they use, their rates, and their speeds.
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.
Comcast Xfinity Internet Packages (at time of writing)
$29.99 for 10Mbps for 12 months (typically $39.99). This is roughly $3 per 1Mbps for the first year and $4 after.
$39.99 for 25Mbps for 12 months (typically $49.99). This is roughly $1.6 per 1Mbps for the first year and $2 after.
$49.99 for 75Mbps for 12 months (typically $59.99). This is roughly 70c per 1Mbps for the first year and 80c after.
$59.99 for 150Mbps for 12 months (typically $69.99). This is roughly 40c per 1Mbps for the first year and 50c after.
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.
Verizon FiOS Internet Packages (at time of writing)
$54.99 for 50Mbps. This is roughly $1 per 1Mbps.
$64.99 for 100Mbps. This is roughly 65c per 1Mbps.
$74.99 for 150Mbps. This is roughly 50c per 1Mbps.
$99.99 for 300Mbps. This is roughly 34c per 1Mbps.
$274.99 for 500Mbps. This is roughly 55c per 1Mbps.
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.
Time Warner Cable Spectrum Internet Packages (at time of writing)
$44.99 a month for 12 months for 60Mbps. This is roughly 75c per 1Mbps.
$29.99 a month for 12 months for 60Mbps when bundled. This is roughly 5c per 1Mbps.
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.
CenturyLink Internet Packages (at time of writing)
$29.95 a month for 40Mbps (DSL). This is roughly 75c per 1Mbps.
$19.95 a month for 12 Mbps (DSL). This is roughly $1.7 per 1Mbps.
Unquoted price for up to 1Gigabit per second (1000Mbps).
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.
Cox Communications Internet Packages (at time of writing)
$39.99 a month for 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload.
$39.99 a month for 12 months (typically $62.99) for 15Mbps download and 2Mbps upload.
$59.99 a month for 12 months (typically $77.99) for 50Mbps download and 5Mbps upload.
$69.99 a month for 12 months (typically $87.99) for 150Mbps download and 10Mbps upload.
$89.99 a month for 12 months (typically 99.99) for 300Mbps download and 30Mbps upload.
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.
What’s the Consensus?
The consensus is that there, well, isn’t a consensus. Internet technology and speeds are complicated. Internet rates are affected by a wide variety of factors, including everything from accessibility to competition. The right choice for you will depend heavily on your resources and internet habits. However, when trying to find the best fit, it helps to be armed with the facts so that you understand what it is you are paying for and why.