Most households have one DSL or fiber provider, one cable provider, and multiple satellite options. If you've used our tool to find your internet providers by zip code, you may have seen any of the following types of service:
- Cell service
- Fixed wireless
Some of these providers are good for internet service, some are good for TV, and some are good for both. Fiber is generally your best bet if you can get it, and satellite TV will leave most customers satisfied in the long run. Note that the following assumes you can get cable and DSL. If you cannot, read more recommendations below based on the data. (See sources below)
Generally customers are most satisfied with fiber optic internet service. Speeds are fast and tend to remain fast at peak times. Most fiber optic internet providers also provide digital TV service, which is similar to the cable service most people are familiar with. Unfortunately, most people in the US cannot get fiber internet service. While Google Fiber is the best-known fiber internet provider, Verizon, Frontier, and AT&T are the largest fiber providers in the US. See more fiber providers here.
If fiber is not in your area, you'll need to choose between cable and DSL. We generally recommend DSL if price is your primary concern. While speeds are generally lower, they're also more reliable during peak usage. You may have to get TV through a satellite provider. See more DSL providers here. Cable is generally a better option if internet speed is your main concern OR if you want to bundle TV and internet through the same provider. Note that while introductory prices (i.e. for the first 6-12 months) for cable and DSL will often look similar, cable internet and TV prices tend to jump after the introductory period.
If you can't get fiber, DSL, or cable, try to find a fixed wireless internet provider. It's unlikely that you'll find TV service through a fixed wireless provider, but these providers offer internet that is faster and more reliable than satellite internet service. See more providers or read more about fixed wireless Internet here.
If you can't get any of the above service types, your best bet is probably cellular service. Cell providers work through the same technology your phone uses. You can either use your phone as a hotspot (generally only good for temporary use) or purchase a cellular modem or modem/router combo that connects to your providers' 4G/LTE network. The major downsides to cellular internet are data caps, throttling (even on unlimited plans), and potentially spotty coverage. If you get no cell coverage at your home, you'll probably have to use satellite internet instead.
As a last resort almost everyone can get satellite internet service. Satellite works for browsing and simple web/email usage, but the lag makes it frustrating to use. Online gaming is out of the question with satellite internet, and streaming probably won't work. You may, however, be able to use something like Netflix download feature to slowly download and then play video. Satellite internet is generally a last resort, though satellite TV has much to offer.
Thanks to satellite TV providers like DISH and DirecTV, the TV market is much more competitive. Surprisingly to some, customers continually rate their satellite TV service above cable and even fiber service. The main reason for the higher rating is that satellite TV providers do not have the huge jumps in price that wired internet providers tend to impose after the promotional period.
For example, Comcast's “Digital Preferred” promotion with a 1-year contract will cost most people about $54.99 per month. DISH has a similar America's Top 120+ package (with 190+ channels…) that starts at $54.99. The difference is that DISH customers can expect to pay the same rate for years. The comcast package jumps as high as $95.49 after the first year for the same package, and will usually go even higher. (Prices as of Feb 2017, and vary by region.)
One downside to satellite TV is that there is a more significant investment in installing the satellite dish. As a result, satellite companies often have higher standards for credit and long-term contracts (usually 2-3 years). If you do not meet credit standards you may have to pay a significant up-front cost – maybe $300 – just to start service.
Fiber TV providers are generally rated competitively with satellite providers. Again, there aren't many in the US who can get fiber TV service, but it's a good option if you're planning to get fiber internet as well. Bundled savings often compensate for some of the increased price after the promotional period, but you'll want to watch your bill closely.
Cable is the most common type of TV service in the country. Some people use the term “cable” to refer to any type of paid TV service, but in this context we're talking about providers like Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner (see more cable providers here) that deliver service through a coaxial cable. Unfortunately large cable companies are often known for increasing prices without warning and terrible customer service. There are exceptions to the rule. RCN, for example, has made a concerted effort to increase their customer service and customer satisfaction, making them one of the few cable companies to recommend.
Which Providers CAN I Get?
The easiest way to find out is to enter your zip code to see which internet providers are available in your zip code. decisiondata.org shows you speeds by area, service availability, and how to get service.
Sources and Notes
All of these recommendations are broad-brush generalizations, but it's the same advice you'll find from most industry experts. Our recommendations, however, are based on data gathered through the following customer surveys and studies:
http://www.consumerreports.org/products/tv-service/ratings-overview/ (Pay access only)