The internet has changed in more ways than one in 2021. For starters, millions of Americans are relying on internet service to work from home or take online classes. The onset of COVID-19 brought about a significant increase in digital services such as Zoom and Google Classroom, with over 6 million users1 for the former. Rather than just a place for people to connect, the internet has turned into an integral tool for everyone to carry out their daily tasks during a pandemic.
As more internet users pop up, many internet service providers are finding ways to keep their customers connected. The question is, how do you find the best internet that satisfies your needs in 2021? Searching for an ISP takes time, but we went ahead and did all the legwork for you. Whether you’re new to internet shopping or plan to switch providers, we created this guide to help narrow down your search.
2021 Internet in Numbers
To put things into perspective, there are approximately 313 million internet users in the U.S.2. The number continually increases each year, with online usage penetration in the U.S. expecting to increase by 87.2 percent of the population in 20253. That being said, the FCC reports that approximately 21.3 million Americans still do not have broadband access4. We have to consider rural areas where broadband connectivity is harder to obtain and internet service providers are sparse. Satellite internet does offer widespread coverage in rural areas, but it’s not always the most affordable option.
Overall, 81 percent of adults say they go online daily and 28 percent go online almost constantly5. While there’s a higher number of internet users on mobile, the general population of internet users is continually growing. One thing is clear: more and more people are online every year, every day, and every hour.
Our Top Internet Provider Picks by Connection Type
Currently, our data shows that there are approximately 2,711 internet providers in the U.S., supplying broadband services in different forms: DSL, cable, fiber, and satellite. Depending on where you live, one, some, or all of these options will be available. ISPs will sometimes offer various internet types, while others mainly stick to one. We picked out our top ISPs for each major connection type below based on coverage availability, speeds, plan offerings, and price range.
Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, connects with your phone line to deliver high-speed internet. Download speeds reach up to 100 Mbps, which is pretty fast by today’s standards. You can still use your home phone while connecting to the internet because DSL uses two separate frequencies. Of the internet service types, DSL is considered the slowest. We chose AT&T Internet, CenturyLink, and Frontier Communications as the top DSL providers.
|DSL Provider||Monthly Pricing*||Download Speeds**||Data Caps||Contract?|
|AT&T Internet||$49.99||100 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 1 TB||Yes|
|CenturyLink||$49||20-40 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 1024 GB||No|
|Frontier Communications||$27.99-$44.99||6-90 Mbps||None||Yes|
**Speeds vary by location
Cable internet transfers data through existing cable TV coaxial lines to set up an internet connection. Download speeds range between 15 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps, which is up to par with fiber-optic internet. Among the top cable internet providers today, we settled on Xfinity, Spectrum, and Cox Communications.
|Cable Provider||Monthly Pricing*||Download Speeds**||Data Caps||Contract?|
|Xfinity||$49.95-$79.99||15-1000 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 1 TB||Select plans|
|Cox Communications||$29.99-$79.99||10-940 Mbp||1280 GB||Yes|
**Speeds vary by location
Fiber internet delivers data via glass-threaded strands at light speeds and is considered the connection type to offer the fastest speeds. Download speeds typically reach up to 1,000 Mbps, but sometimes fall short to 940 Mbps or go even higher to 2,000 Mbps. Those who live on the East Coast are more likely to access fiber internet as there’s more coverage compared to the West Coast. Our top picks for the best fiber internet providers are AT&T Fiber, Verizon Fios, and CenturyLink Fiber.
|Fiber Provider||Pricing*||Download Speeds*||Data Caps||Contract?|
|AT&T Fiber||$49||1000 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 1 TB||Yes|
|Verizon Fios||$39.99-$79.99||200-940 Mbps||None||No|
|CenturyLink Fiber||$49-$65||100-940 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 1 TB||Yes|
**Speeds vary by location
Like we mentioned earlier, satellite internet has 100 percent coverage and is a prime choice for rural dwellers. Download speeds go up to 25 Mbps, so if you’re looking for basic internet speeds, satellite internet is your best bet. For internet connection, a dish is installed on the roof or balcony of your home and data gets transferred to and from a satellite dish. Out of the small group of satellite internet providers, HughesNet and Viasat are our top picks for satellite internet.
|Provider||Pricing*||Download Speeds**||Data Caps||Contract?|
|HughesNet||$59.99-$149.99||25 Mbps||10-50 GB||Yes|
|Viasat||$50-$150||12-25 Mbps||None for select plans, otherwise 12-50 GB||Yes|
**Speeds vary by location
Internet Shopping Fundamentals
Searching for the best internet in 2021 requires thorough research and a basic understanding of what you’re looking for in an internet provider. Below are some key pointers when shopping for your ideal ISP.
Type of Internet User and Household Size
Believe it or not, the type of internet users and your household size affect your internet performance. Generally, the more people you have and the more each person uses the internet, connectivity and speeds may fluctuate. Heavy internet users and large households (4-5+ people) need download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. Light internet users and smaller households (1-2 people) should typically be fine with download speeds of 25 Mbps.
Speaking of speeds, you’re going to want to pay close attention to advertised speeds versus actual speeds from an ISP. The best way to determine your internet speed is to perform a speed test. That’s not to say ISPs are falsely marketing their speeds, but instead of guaranteeing the highest speed, ISPs use wording like “up to [speed amount].” It’s also important to note that speeds vary by location, so you might experience slower or faster speeds than other areas from the same provider.
Like speeds, pricing also depends on your location. Oftentimes, ISPs advertise promotional rates that only last anywhere between a few months to the first year. After that, monthly rates will sometimes increase. Keep in mind that these rates aren’t available everywhere, as ISPs may offer different internet plans based on location. Also, be wary of hidden fees and taxes that may apply.
A reliable internet connection is what everyone hopes for, yet not all internet services are the same. When looking for an ISP, make sure to check the average speeds that customers typically experience and if there are any significant fluctuations during heavy web traffic. Not only do you want to be sure that your internet is reliable but also your ISP’s customer service. Whether your internet is down or you’re experiencing prolonged speeds, communicating with a helpful customer service representative is essential to fixing the issue.
Data Cap Limitations
With every internet plan, there are either data caps or unlimited data. You should consider plans with no data caps if there are heavy streamers or multiple power internet users in your large household. This way, everyone experiences optimal internet performance without any restrictions and you don’t have to worry about paying data overage fees. Some ISPs employ data caps but they tend to be on the generous side, so you’ll have plenty of data even if you frequently use the internet.
If you don’t mind long-term commitments, then finding an ISP that requires a contract for their internet plans should come as no surprise. Agreement lengths range between 1-2 years, and promotional rates tend to last for the first year. As a word of advice, you’ll want to avoid contracts if you think you’re going to end the agreement early. Ending your contract early will result in early termination fees, which are generally pretty steep. If you can’t commit to a contract, there are plenty of ISPs that offer contract-free options.
The Best Internet in 2021
Now that you’re familiar with the fundamentals of internet and internet service providers, here’s where we choose the cream of the crop for different reasons. We offer the good and the bad so you can make an informed decision about your top ISP.
Fastest Internet: Xfinity
The Good: Xfinity offers the best of both worlds: cable and fiber internet. Their download speeds range from 15-2000 Mbps, so you have a wide range of plans with various speeds to choose from. The Gigabit and Gigabit Pro plans offer speeds of 1000 Mbps and 2000 Mbps, respectively. There are no data caps, so you have unrestricted internet usage paired with fast speeds.
The Bad: Xfinity requires contracts of 1-2 years. The early termination fee is $10 per month for the remaining months of your contract. Despite offering internet plans with no data caps, Xfinity employs a 1 TB data cap for some areas.
Best Contract-Free Internet: CenturyLink
The Good: If you want to avoid the hassle of signing the dotted line, CenturyLink offers contract-free options for their internet plans. However, paperless billing and monthly prepayment are required. Because you’re not locked in an agreement, you won’t have to deal with price hikes after a certain period of time with CenturyLink.
The Bad: Download speeds fluctuate frequently, so that might be frustrating when you’re streaming your favorite show on Netflix and it buffers. Not all of CenturyLink’s internet plans have unlimited data, but their data cap of 1024 GB is pretty generous. If you still prefer no data caps, then your only option is their Fiber Gigabit plan.
Cheapest Internet: AT&T Internet
The Good: For affordable internet plans, AT&T Internet offers a promotional rate of $49.99 per month across all their plans. You have the option to choose between DSL or fiber, and for select plans, there are no data caps. AT&T’s DSL internet has widespread coverage, so it’s more accessible than their limited fiber internet.
The Bad: There are a lot of fees when it comes to AT&T Internet. The professional installation fee costs $99 in addition to the equipment rental fee which is $10 per month. A contract is required and early termination fees cost up to $120.
Best Rural Internet: Viasat
The Good: If you live in an area where broadband service is limited, Viasat is the go-to solution. Download speeds go up to 25 Mbps, so that’s enough for HD streaming on Netflix and web browsing.
The Bad: Viasat’s plans with no data caps and higher download speeds are pricier. The contract requirement is two years with monthly early termination fees of $15 for the remaining months on your contract. If you cancel early on, these fees will get expensive.
Best Unlimited Data Internet: Spectrum
The Good: For limitless internet usage, all of Spectrum’s internet plans don’t have any data caps. As a cable internet provider, Spectrum offers download speeds from 100-940 Mbps. As the cherry on top, they also don’t require contracts.
The Bad: Download speeds may be slower, so you’re definitely not getting the advertised speeds. As for customer service, Spectrum doesn’t have the best track record and customers have complained that they’ve been playing phone tag with several representatives.
Recap of the Best Internet in 2021
There are thousands of ISPs to choose from, and while not every internet service is perfect, you’re on your way to finding one that meets your needs. If you’re looking for more than just internet service, you can bundle your internet with TV and/or phone services from the same provider.
Let’s review the fundamentals of internet shopping:
- Type of internet user and household size affect internet performance
- Pricing varies by location and tends to be promotional rates
- Reliability is essential for smooth internet connection
- Speeds also vary by location and may be slower than the advertised speeds
- Data caps can limit your internet usage but there plans with unlimited data
- Contract requirements range between 1-2 years with pricy early termination fees
With these points in mind, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the ISP that works for you. The internet is always changing and our reliance on it has become more prominent in 2021. The “Best Internet” isn’t always set in stone, but hopefully with our guidance, you’ll choose an ISP that lives up to the title!
What is the best internet plan in 2021?
The best internet plan depends on your unique needs and interests. For overall value, Xfinity offers fast speeds at affordable prices. For affordability, CenturyLink maintains low prices for their plans while cutting out long-term contracts. For unlimited data, Spectrum does not employ data caps with their plans nor any data overage fees.
What is considered a good internet speed in 2021?
A good internet speed in 2021 is at least 25 Mbps. These download speeds allow for online gaming, streaming in HD, downloading music, and web browsing. You might be able to stream in 4K with 25 Mbps, but keep in mind that speeds vary across all internet providers and may not have the same reliability.
What is the cheapest internet in 2021?
The cheapest internet in 2021 is EarthLink, with plans starting as low as $14.95 per month. For affordable internet plans with speeds of at least 100 Mbps, AT&T Internet and Spectrum offer plans as low as $49.99 per month.
Which internet is the fastest in 2021?
Currently, the fastest internet in 2021 is Xfinity. With fiber-optic speeds, Xfinity’s Gigabit Pro plan reaches 2000 Mbps. Most fiber internet plans reach anywhere between 940-1000 Mbps, but Xfinity boosts their download speeds twice as much for $299.95 per month.
- https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/07/technology/coronavirus-internet-use.html ↩
- https://www.statista.com/topics/2237/internet-usage-in-the-united-states/ ↩
- https://www.statista.com/statistics/590800/internet-usage-reach-usa/#:~:text=United%20States%20online%20usage%20penetration%202015%2D2025&text=In%202020%2C%2085.8%20percent%20of,of%20the%20population%20in%202025. ↩
- https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/2019-broadband-deployment-report ↩
- https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/25/americans-going-online-almost-constantly/ ↩