What is Broadband Internet?

Sean Jackson
August 11, 2020

When trying to determine what broadband internet is, and what it is not, there are three layers to look at. First, the FCC defines broadband internet as “high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up…” The second layer to this answer is that broadband internet is made up of four main types: DSL, cable, fiber and satellite. The final layer is the most complicated one, comparing these four types of internet against each other.

Broadband Internet At-A-Glance

Type of Broadband How it WorksAverage PriceAverage Speed Average Availability
DSLPhone line$46.24108 Mbps28 states
CableCable coaxial wire$50.32182 Mbps34 states
FiberFiber-optics wire$83.33960 Mbps17 states
SatelliteSatellite dish$91.2534 MbpsNationwide

DSL Internet

What it is

DSL internet stands for Digital Subscriber Line, and it is a type of internet that uses the phone network system to convey data. Unlike early dial-up types, DSL does not interfere with active phone use despite being on the same line.

How it works 

An active phone line, a DSL modem, an internet-ready device and a router (if using WiFi) are required to establish and use DSL internet. Data comes through the phone line from your provider into the modem, and from there, it can connect directly to a computer for a wired connection, or it can connect to a router to establish a WiFi network.

Average price

Across three of the top providers for DSL internet service, the average monthly cost of DSL internet was $46.24.

Average speed

The average speed across the selected providers for DSL internet service is 108 Mbps.

Average availability

Amongst these providers, DSL internet is available in an average of 28 states.

Top three providers

AT&T was one of the top providers thanks to its affordable prices and varied plans. You can get service for as low as $19.99 depending on where you live. And with a data cap of 1 TB, this is the perfect solution for smaller households. 

Meanwhile, Verizon is one of the top internet providers for customer satisfaction. Its DSL plans give you access to speeds up to 15 Mbps with 99.99% reliability.  

Lastly, CenturyLink gives you the opportunity to sample its DSL with no long-term contracts. They also offer Price for Life plans, so as long as you remain with them, you won’t see an increase in your bill.  

Pros and cons of DSL internet

Pros

  • DSL uses existing phone lines and phone jacks, meaning that new line installation is rarely needed.

Cons

  • Areas without active phone lines are unable to receive DSL internet.

What is Cable Internet?

What it is

Cable internet is a type of internet that uses a coaxial cable line as its medium, the same wire that connects TVs to cable television service.

How it works

Cable internet requires an active coaxial line, a cable modem, a router (if using WiFi) and an internet-ready device. Internet service is conveyed along the coaxial line from the internet service provider and into the cable modem, which can then connect directly to a computer or a router.

Average price

The average price across the top three selected providers is $50.32 per month.

Average speed

The average speed across the selected providers for cable internet service is 182 Mbps.

Average availability

The average availability of cable internet service amongst the selected providers is 34 states.

Top three providers

Spectrum is one of the top providers for several reasons. One, they offer affordable plans starting from $44.99/mo. And they have no long-term contracts, so you can cancel at any time with no penalties. 

Cox offers a wide range of broadband internet plans ranging in speeds from 10 Mbps to 940 Mbps, resulting in them being a great option for virtually any household.  

Xfinity is one of the most widely available providers, as they’re currently available in 39 states. If you have access to them, you can receive affordable broadband internet service at fast, reliable speeds. 

Pros and cons of Cable internet

Pros

  • Cable internet provides fast internet speeds through the same wire system that cable television uses, and as a result, can often be set up without installing new wiring.

Cons

  • Locations without access to cable television lines are unable to install cable internet, which can pose a problem in some more rural areas.

What is Fiber Internet?

What it is

Fiber internet is the newest type of internet. It uses fiber-optic wires to transfer data at much higher speeds than has been achievable with any other kind of internet. Fiber internet sends signals using light instead of electricity.

How it works 

Fiber internet requires a fiber-optic internet line, a fiber-optic modem, a router (if using WiFi) and an internet-ready device. Photons (light) are sent through the fiber-optic internet cable between the modem and the internet service provider, serving as the medium of data transfer. The modem then connects via wire either to a computer or a router.

Average price

The average price of fiber internet across the selected providers is $83.33.

Average speed

The average speed of fiber internet across the selected providers is 960 Mbps.

Average availability

Between the three providers chosen, the average availability of fiber internet within the U.S. is 17 states.

Top three providers

AT&T is one of the providers offering blazing fast download speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps with over 99% reliability. If you work from home handling large files or have a family of online gamers, AT&T’s fiber internet could be a great fit for you.

Cox’s fastest plan includes download speeds of up to 940 Mbps with a fixed price for the first year of service. For larger households with many connected devices, Cox is a smart option to consider. 

Verizon earns high marks for its customer satisfaction and outstanding service offerings. They offer a good selection of plans with speeds ranging from 200 Mbps to one gigabit. And if you choose the fastest plan, you won’t have to pay a router rental, which can save you as much as $15/mo. 

Pros and cons of Fiber internet

Pros

  • Fiber internet is the fastest type of internet available.

Cons

  • Fiber internet is only available in a small number of locations, relative to other types of broadband internet.

What is Satellite Internet?

What it is

Satellite internet uses a satellite and two satellite dishes—one at the customers’ location and one at the internet service providers headquarters—as its medium of data transfer, giving it the most extensive availability of any internet type.

How it works 

Satellite internet requires a satellite dish, a satellite modem, a router (if using WiFi) and an internet-ready device. Information is beamed between the customer satellite dish, the satellite and the providers' satellite dishes. On the customer end, the satellite dish is connected to a satellite modem, which can then be connected either to a computer for wired internet or a router for WiFi.

Average price

The average price across all plans between the only two residential satellite internet providers in the U.S. is $91.25.

Average speed

The average speed of internet plans amongst these providers is 34 Mbps.

Average availability

Both providers offer satellite internet nationwide, but individual locations need an unobstructed view of the sky to send and receive signals via satellite dish.

Top providers

Viasat and HughesNet are the only satellite internet providers available to residential customers within the United States. HughesNet offers download speeds of up to 25 Mbps, making it a great option for smaller households who need faster speeds to stream music or movies. Depending on the plan you select, you’ll have a data cap between 10 to 50 GB. If you exceed your data usage, they’ll throttle your connection speeds. 

Meanwhile, Viasat offers a better selection of plans with download speeds ranging from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps. They also offer higher data caps, with the fastest plans providing up to 150 GB of data. 

Pros and cons of Satellite internet

Pros

  • Satellite internet has by far the most geographic availability.

Cons

  • Satellite internet tends to be much slower than other broadband internet types.

To Sum It Up

Broadband internet is a general term for the types of high-speed internet that have been developed in the decades following the dial-up era. Among these types, there are four that are recognized as the most common: DSL, cable, fiber and satellite. Each of these modern internet types comes with its strengths and weaknesses, with some being better than others based upon location or pre-existing infrastructure.

Broadband Frequently Asked Questions


What is broadband internet connection?

Broadband internet is any high-speed internet connection that is faster than the old style of dial-up internet and is always on. There are four main types of broadband internet: DSL, cable, fiber and satellite.

What is the average speed of broadband internet?

The average speed of broadband internet is 321 Mbps.

What is the average price of broadband internet?

The average price of broadband internet is $67.79/mo.

What is the average availability of broadband internet?

The average availability of broadband internet is 32 states. Satellite is available in all states, while DSL, cable and fiber are more location dependent.

We supplied the data; now, the decision is yours.