What to Know When Getting Internet for Your Apartment

Learn how the process of getting internet for your apartment differs from setting up internet service in a house.

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Last Updated: Dec 20, 2023
Image of Jordana’s apartment with clear blue skies and palm trees.
Author Jordana Klein’s apartment.
  • You may not be free to choose your ISP in an apartment, since many buildings come prewired for a specific type of service.
  • Your location and the age of the apartment building will determine whether fiber, cable, DSL, satellite, or 5G home internet is best for you.
  • Apartment renters and owners should consider their speeds carefully based on the size of the apartment, usage patterns, and the number of connected devices.

Finding an apartment is hard enough, and shopping around for internet service is often an afterthought when apartment hunting. But should it be? If you work from home like I do, having a substantial and effective internet connection is non-negotiable. If you live in a prewired building with a single, more expensive internet option, that’s something to consider when budgeting for your next move.

Finding both an apartment and internet type that works best for you can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. As someone who has lived in apartments for more than eight years in three different cities, I know firsthand what it’s like to find internet as a tenant. In this guide, you’ll learn what to ask and look for the next time you’re seeking internet options for your apartment.

What Are My Internet Options in an Apartment?

A web of interconnected devices through Wi-Fi are scattered across an apartment building.
Your landlord or property manager’s precontracted ISP may be the best option for your apartment. (Image: Shutterstock)

I wish I could say I’ve had multiple internet options in the apartments I’ve lived in, but I’ve never had the freedom to choose my internet provider. Typically, apartments and property managers have already selected an internet provider that services the building or the area surrounding your apartment building. That isn’t always the case, however.

The easiest route is to choose the internet service provider (ISP) the apartment owner or landlord has contracted, because they’ve already done the bulk of the work for you. That’s what I did recently, and, as a bonus, the phone number they provided connected to an actual human — a novel thing nowadays!

You’ll be able to select which speed you need and then schedule an appointment for a professional technician to set up your modem and router. If there is a fiber or cable internet provider available, you may even be able to bundle TV services. Beware, though, since they may try to lock you in with a first-year promotional rate that increases annually (which has happened to me, unfortunately). Going with the predetermined provider is standard for many apartment owners and renters, but it’s not the only option.

Choosing Your Own Internet Service Provider

Alternatively, you may be able to choose your own ISP rather than the default at your apartment. If your landlord or property-management company allows you to do that, the first thing you need to consider is the location and age of your apartment building. Those factors will determine what options are available to you, as well as what speed and cost make the most sense for your situation.

What Are the Best Internet Providers for Apartments?

The best internet provider for apartments depends on your location. Most urban areas have more options, including familiar companies such as AT&T, Cox, Spectrum, T-Mobile, and Xfinity. If you live in a suburban apartment, you may have fewer choices. Your chosen provider also doesn’t have to be the same as the one for your mobile or TV service.

Before figuring out the best internet provider for your apartment, determine the type of internet and speed you need. That was my approach, and, thankfully, I’ve never had an issue with internet speeds while renting.

The following chart offers some of the most common options, including the providers and maximum download speed for each type of internet you may find at your apartment.

Type Common providers Download speeds (up to)
Fiber AT&T Fiber, Brightspeed, CenturyLink, Earthlink, Google Fiber, Verizon Fios 5 Gbps
Cable Astound Broadband, Cox, Optimum, Spectrum, Xfinity 1.2 Gbps
DSL CenturyLink, Frontier, Earthlink, Kinetic by Windstream 100 Mbps
Satellite HughesNet, Starlink, Viasat 220 Mbps
5G Home Internet AT&T, Starry, T-Mobile, Verizon 300 Mbps

Are These Internet Types Available for All Apartments?

Multiple optical cables sheathed together with rainbow colors.
Apartments tend to be prewired for certain technologies or have restrictions on others, so the right internet type for you will depend on your apartment. (Image: Shutterstock)

If you can choose your internet type, you may have only a few options based on your location or the wiring in your apartment building.

Cable is available in more than 97 percent of urban areas and offers fast download speeds and competitive rates, while fiber has less coverage. Fiber’s pricing is usually lower than cable’s, especially considering the cost per Mbps. On the other hand, 5G home internet doesn’t require you to install or mount equipment, which simplifies the setup process. The main disadvantage is that you can only get whatever speeds happen to be available in your area.

I use fiber internet because it’s the only option available at my apartment. Since my building was built in 2018, it came with the newer fiber-optic technology. It’s my first apartment that didn’t offer cable as an option. My current fiber internet provider doesn’t provide TV service, so I wasn’t thrilled about paying for a Roku immediately just to watch TV. In the past, however, I’ve had to find my local provider’s office building just to return my modem and router for a credit to my account. No matter which path you choose, there are pros and cons.

For an overview of all the types of internet you may encounter at your apartment complex, check out the breakdown below.

  • Fiber: This is the most popular internet connection because of its speed, but it comes at a higher cost because fiber is a newer technology and its infrastructure is less common than cable or DSL. Accessing fiber internet will depend on your building’s wiring setup, and you’re more likely to find it in new construction.
  • Cable: Cable is one of the most common types of internet in apartments. The wiring used to power your internet is the same as what you’d use to access standard TV. Cable download speeds are comparable to fiber, but upload speeds are slower.
  • DSL: DSL uses phone landlines as opposed to fiber or coaxial cables. It’s also a popular option because it’s cost-effective. The downside is that its speeds aren’t nearly as fast as fiber or cable, so it may not be enough for your needs.
  • Satellite: Satellite internet doesn’t require the building to be prewired to use it, but many apartments don’t allow satellite dishes. It’s always important to review your lease or speak to your landlord before moving forward with satellite internet.
  • 5G home internet: Similar to how you’re used to accessing the internet from your smartphone, 5G home internet provides the same type of access. This newer type of internet uses wireless cellular signals from equipment in your apartment.

Once you’ve determined the logistics, shopping for an ISP is easy. It’ll come down to availability, pricing for stand-alone plans and packages, and speeds. I’ve had property managers tell me I could share internet with my neighbor, but we don’t recommend doing that because it’s not a good practice for keeping a secure home Wi-Fi network.

What Internet Speeds Are Best for Apartment Residents?

Speeds depend on household size, the types of users who live in your household, and the number of connected devices. If you live alone in a single-bedroom apartment like me, 100 Mbps will be sufficient for streaming, online gaming, and remote working. For your apartment, you’ll want to determine what you’re using the internet for and the required speeds for those online activities.

Netflix, for example, recommends speeds of at least 25 Mbps, and if you have numerous devices, you’ll need even more speed to accommodate everything. Running a speed test on your internet once you get into the apartment is an excellent way to ensure your connection meets its advertised speeds.

Can My Landlord or Leasing Office Limit My Options?

 A person signing a lease agreement.
Landlords were able to limit your options contractually in the past, but you now have more freedom to choose your ISP in an apartment. (Image: Shutterstock)

Gone are the days when landlords or leasing offices had the power to limit your options because of a law passed in 2008. Before the FCC outlawed revenue shares and long-term contracts between ISPs and apartments, it was legal and even advertised. The law doesn’t mean apartments don’t limit who can install wiring in the building, but they won’t directly profit from your business.

About Apartment Building Internet Monopolies

From door fees to revenue shares to exclusive advertising agreements, your apartment was previously making immense amounts of money on the internet service it offered residents. Apartment owners charged door fees to ISPs for entering the premises, meaning they’d owe them money just to install the cable. Revenue shares meant an ISP offered building owners a percentage of revenue from subscribers in their building. Exclusive advertising is just what it sounds like: allowing or not allowing letters or ads from competing ISPs.

Which Option Is Best for Me?

I went with fiber internet this time because my apartment had direct contact with an employee in the area who made it simple to set up the service, understand my options, and lock in a first-year rate. Unfortunately, that rate increased the year after, but I was able to cut costs by downgrading my TV service.

The best option for your neighbor may not necessarily be the best one for you. Understanding your location, options, budget, and needs is the best way to reach a final decision. If you work from home or have roommates, what you need may differ from someone who works in an office and lives alone. If you don’t sign a contract, you don’t necessarily have to stick with the same provider either. Ultimately, picking the best internet provider for your apartment involves knowing your apartment’s options, considering your budget and internet necessities, and choosing the ISP that matches your lifestyle.