How to Find and Choose an Internet Service Provider

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Last Updated: Oct 20, 2021 | Published: Dec 12, 2019

Finding internet service in your area and getting it installed can be a frustrating experience.

That’s why we compiled this guide to shopping for internet service. Follow the steps below if you need internet installed at your home, but are confused about where to start.

  • Step 1: Check availability at your address. The simplest way to find out your options is to enter your zip code in our ISP search tool. The results will show you providers available nearby as well as their plans and prices. [Households looking for free or low-income internet service should consult our Low and Fixed Income Internet Options guide.]
  • Step 2: Determine how much Internet speed you need. Most households have multiple users and devices sharing the same WiFi — not to mention smart TVs streaming Netflix or Spotify on the same connection. Our guide on what is a good internet speed will give you an idea as to how much speed you need. Or you can get a custom speed recommendation using our bandwidth calculator.
  • Step 3: Decide if you want to bundle. Most Internet providers offer bundles including TV and home phone (and sometimes home security systems too). These packages are often more valuable for large households and families. However, some people save money by getting an internet-only plan and a streaming service. See our guide to cable TV vs streaming for help deciding which is better in your situation.
  • Step 4: Compare providers. The connection internet providers use vary by provider and by region. A fiber, cable, and DSL internet provider can all offer the same service, yet have a huge difference in speed and performance. Be sure you know what connection a provider has and to read comparisons of the providers around you. [Rural Americans are normally limited to satellite internet, but may have access to mobile broadband and fixed wireless providers.]
  • Step 5: Order and install. Once you’ve decided on what provider and plan you want, the last step is to call and order service. Some providers will let you order online, but in most cases they will require a follow-up call to confirm service. For help avoiding fees and getting your WiFi working as quickly as possible, see our guide to Internet installation. You may also be able to negotiate a better deal depending on the provider.

How to Troubleshoot your Internet Service

Follow the step-by-step process in our broadband shopping guides to get high speed Internet and avoid fees.

Once installed, it’s likely you’ll have to do some DIY troubleshooting a few times while setting up or throughout your service. To avoid waiting in line for customer service or technical support, we’ve written numerous guides on common issues like how to extend your WiFi range or optimize your home network.

Even if you are willing to wait for a service representation to fix the issue on their end, following the steps in our guides should shave time off how long you’ll sit on the phone with a rep.

The best way to avoid a problem is prevention, which is why we also include guides on cybersecurity like WiFi security basics and how to secure your home network. However, if you find you’re constantly having to troubleshoot your network or have experienced data security issues, it may be time to cancel service and switch providers.