What type of internet service is best for you? 


Many Americans have little choice when it comes to their internet service due to a lack of competition. But that is changing, and it begs the question which option is best for you if you do have a choice.

Fiber-Optic Internet

Fiber-optic internet is similar to cable Internet in that it uses cables to transmit data. Those cables are generally buried under ground. But fiber optic differs in that its cables contain either plastic or glass filaments. Rather than transmit electricity, they bounce pulses of light along those particles.

Fiber-optic internet service providers currently offer the best upload and download speeds in the United States. The biggest issue is that installing fiber-optic cable is expensive and time-consuming. That means that rollout has been slow and that many communities do not yet have access to it. It can also mean that fiber-optic is more expensive than cable, but that is not always the case.

Cable Internet

Cable is by far the most prevalent form of internet in the U.S. It involves sending electricity over copper-based cables. The advantage here is that the infrastructure was already in place due to the popularity of cable television. That made it far less expensive and time-consuming to reach many Americans quickly.

While cable internet service providers generally do not reach the speeds of fiber, many communities have access to plans that are well beyond the bare minimum that the FCC has established for broadband. Cable is generally an excellent option if you have access to it, but there are a couple of potential problems. One is that performance can be slower and less consistent in areas where the population is greater. The second is that cable ISPs are notorious for overcharging when there is a lack of competition in their areas.

DSL Internet

DSL is an acronym for digital subscriber line. It is similar to cable except that it uses the telephone landline infrastructure as opposed to the cable television infrastructure. DSL was prevalent in the U.S. at one point and still remains a strong option for rural Americans. But download speeds are rarely higher than 100 Mbps and are often less, which has made DSL less popular as cable became more available.

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet was at one point an option of last resort for rural Americans. Over time, satellite ISPs were able to get speeds up to broadband level, which made it more attractive. But times are changing. Starlink from SpaceX will soon be available nationwide. It provides speeds comparable to cable Internet but is accessible to rural America, and Starlink believes that it can challenge fiber eventually.

Fixed Wireless and Mobile Wireless Internet

Mobile wireless internet is often referred to as a hotspot, and the biggest issue with this kind of service has been data caps. Fixed wireless uses cellular as well but involves the use of a dedicated receiver. It has been another option for rural Americans. While these are generally suboptimal to the options discussed earlier, that may change in the years ahead as true 5G becomes more widely available.

Making Your Choice

Fiber-optic Internet is currently the best internet service available. But whether it is the best for you will depend on a number of factors. Start by determining how much download speed and upload speed you require. Look at the various plans available to you that meet those needs and come up with a budget. If you live alone, paying for a 100 Mbps or more may be throwing money away. If you have a household of four or more, then 100 Mbps may be the bare minimum that you will want to consider.

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