What’s the best high-speed internet overall?
When it comes to speed test results and national averages, Cox is the fastest internet provider with median download speeds averaging 260Mbps in recent Ookla speed tests. Regional provider Ziply Fiber offers the fastest internet plan of any major ISP, however, with advertised symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 50,000Mbps, or 50Gbps.
Keep in mind that a high-speed internet provider’s fastest plan is usually also the highest priced. Such plans can easily cost $150 or more per month and, quite honestly, deliver way more speed than the average home needs. Most high-speed providers also offer plans that, while slower than the ultrafast multigigabit plans, are more practical and affordable while still delivering plenty of speed.
You’ll find a good mix of speed and value in my picks for the best high-speed internet providers below. The featured providers were selected for their multistate availability, plan selection, unlimited data, overall value and incredibly fast speeds.
Best high-speed internet service providers
Cable, some fiber
25 – 2,000 Mbps
$40 – $100 per month
1,000 – 2,000 Mbps
$70 – $100 per month
100 – 10,000 Mbps
$40 – $300 per month
300 – 5,000 Mbps
$55 – $250 per month
500 – 5,000 Mbps
$50 – $155 per month
85 – 1,000 Mbps
$50 – $70 per month
300 – 2,000 Mbps
$50 – $120 per month
What is a fast internet connection?
Back in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission identified high-speed internet, or broadband, as speeds above 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. I wouldn’t consider that threshold fast by any means, and the FCC has since proposed raising those speeds to 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up.
Ultimately, what’s “fast” is relative to each household and its internet demands. The more people and devices you have connected to the internet and the heavier the use (lots of online gaming, streaming TV in HD, working from home, etc.), the more speed you’ll want to have. For some, download speeds of 25Mbps may be plenty fast, but many will prefer speeds of at least 100Mbps.
How much internet speed do I need?
Interestingly, most of what we use the internet for doesn’t require a lot of speed. Even streaming in 4K, arguably the most demanding internet task in most households, only calls for speeds of 35 to 50Mbps. For other activities, including online gaming, browsing social media and taking a video call, 10Mbps or below will often suffice.
So a plan with speeds of 50Mbps should cover it all, right? Not quite. When you connect multiple devices, especially over Wi-Fi, those devices will compete with each other for available bandwidth.
If you plan on streaming on at least one TV while five or so other devices are also connected to your network, I’d recommend starting with speeds of at least 100Mbps. Now, if you anticipate streaming on multiple TVs at once and adding eight to 10 devices (with smart speakers, phones, tablets, cameras, smart watches and so on, the tally can add up quickly), speeds of at least 200Mbps will suit you better.
Keep in mind that a provider’s advertised speed will not necessarily reflect the actual speeds you get in your home. Lots of things, like using Wi-Fi and distance from the router, number of devices, interference from other networks, and even the time of day can lower the speeds going to any particular device. To counter the speed loss, I’d recommend an internet plan with advertised speeds double the actual speeds you want in your home.
For more help identifying your speed need, check out our guide to finding the right internet speed.
Tips for choosing a high-speed internet service
Shopping for high-speed internet isn’t gigabit or bust. Many providers offer a few high-speed plans to choose from. Here are a few tips to help you get the best bang for your buck.
Know your speed need. Or at least have an idea of what speed will meet your household demands. If you know 100Mbps probably won’t be fast enough, go ahead and pass on anything below that, regardless of how tempting the low pricing is. Similarly, if you’re confident 200Mbps will satisfy your needs, you can rule out the pricey gigabit and above plans.
Consider providers with no contracts or promotional rates. A provider shouldn’t penalize you for wanting to change your speeds, but if you’re under a contract, switching plans could be a hassle. Even if you’re not in a contract, changing plans could disqualify you from getting lower promotional rates.
The best way to avoid these potential hurdles is to select an ISP with no contracts or promo rates. That way, if you want to switch speeds at any time, you won’t be penalized for it.
Start low, then upgrade if needed. Unless there’s the threat of being locked into a contract, I’d recommend starting with the lowest speed tier that you think will meet your needs. Try it out for a couple of months, then if you notice your shows are buffering, online games are lagging or your social media feed is slow to load, you’ll know it’s time to upgrade to a faster speed.
Don’t neglect your Wi-Fi equipment. A 500Mbps connection can feel a lot slower if your router isn’t up to the task of sending a strong signal throughout your home. When you’ve got a high-speed connection but aren’t getting the speeds or consistency you expect, it may be worth upgrading to a mesh router system or adding Wi-Fi extenders.
If you rent equipment from your provider, ask for an upgrade. They may give you a better device for no extra charge.
How we evaluate high-speed internet providers
Contrary to many of the other products and services tested at CNET, there’s no reliable, repeatable way to test internet providers in a controlled environment. So instead, we perform frequent, in-depth evaluations of each provider to develop our reviews and recommendations.
We evaluate each ISP based on three categories: Speed, Value and Customer Care.
Speed includes not only the provider’s fastest download speeds, but also the variety of speed tiers, upload speeds, reliability and other factors.
Value focuses on price, of course, but also takes into account anything else that can affect upfront and ongoing costs such as equipment fees, installation costs, data caps, price increases and any signup bonus offers.
Customer Care covers pretty much everything else, from contract requirements to expansion efforts, customer satisfaction scores, BBB ratings and even consideration for what people have to say about the ISP on Reddit.
Equipped with an understanding of everything a customer would need to know about an ISP to make an informed decision, we’re able to identify the providers and plans that stand out in a particular category, such as “best high-speed internet.”
Occasionally, no single provider or plan strikes us as “best overall” because each provider is unique in what they have to offer. Such is the case with this page. The argument could be made for each featured high-speed ISP to be the “best overall” for a variety of reasons. So, instead of singling out a definitive best overall, I focus on what each provider does best, then leave it to you to decide which makes the most sense for your needs.
For more information about our review process, check out our guide to how CNET reviews internet providers.
Best high-speed internet provider honorable mentions
These providers, along with regional providers that are too many to list here, also offer high-speed internet plans including gigabit service in select areas. In addition to the best high-speed internet providers listed above, these are certainly worth a look if available in your area.
- Kinetic by Windstream: Kinetic is one of the fastest rural internet options with gig speeds available in many areas potentially underserved by cable or other fiber providers. Kinetic Gig, with download and upload speeds up to 940Mbps, is available in select areas starting at $67 per month plus $10 for equipment.
- Mediacom: Mediacom’s 1 Gig plan features download speeds up to 1,000Mbps and upload speeds up to 50Mbps with a monthly data cap of 6,000GB starting at $80 per month. Watch out for the price increase, though. After 12 months, the monthly price jumps from $80 to $140.
- Spectrum: Prior to Cox claiming the top spot for the fastest Ookla speed test average in the third quarter of 2023, Spectrum held the title. Spectrum still came in second at around 246Mbps.
- Xfinity: Xfinity offers a variety of high speed plans ranging from 200Mbps to 1 and 1.2Gbps in most service areas. In locations where Xfinity offers fiber service, faster speeds are available, up to 10,000Mbps.
Fastest internet service provider recap
You likely noticed a trend in our list of the best high-speed providers. Fiber-optic providers will often be your best bet for fast home internet, even though Cox — traditionally a cable provider — boasts the fastest average download speeds. Other cable internet providers such as Xfinity, Spectrum and Mediacom offer decent gigabit plans, but watch out for comparatively low upload speeds.
When shopping for any internet service, be sure to compare the average internet speed, pricing and features of all providers in your area to make sure you’re getting the best high-speed plan for your home.