Internet Service Providers
The top performers in our review of internet service providers are Comcast, the Gold Award Winner; Time Warner Cable, the Silver Award winner; and Verizon, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 services.
What Is an ISP and How Does It Work?
Everyone who accesses the internet does so through an internet service provider (ISP). Some providers also offer additional services such as cable television, cable-linked telephone or cable-linked home security. Not all providers are the same; each one differs by the services it offers, the format it uses to provide those services, the cost, and the download and upload speeds.
Choosing the right ISP for you depends on having a good understanding of what an ISP does and how it works. Learning the types of services and different plans providers have to offer and the charges you incur when you subscribe to them can simplify your choice.
Anyone who accesses the internet from a net-ready device needs a signal to connect. This bridge or conduit to the internet is the ISP. Once you're connected, sending or receiving emails, watching movies, searching for information, or using social media platforms is possible. Besides access to the World Wide Web, other services, such as TV, phone and home security, are also possible once you have an internet connection. However, access is rarely free.
The service that different ISPs offer and how their services reach your home or business differs depending on providers and services available in your area. Gaining access through a commercial internet service provider involves subscription fees, which you typically pay each month. In return for the fees, you get access to the internet, which may be limited or unlimited. Sometimes the service includes cable TV shows and other subscription services, such as phone, home security and smart-appliance maintenance. Some service providers have business accounts geared toward specific business needs, such as AT&T.
A basic subscription fee doesn't usually cover all the services that are available, but you can subscribe to them à la carte. Faster speeds, modem rental and access to premium services are examples of the types of add-ons you can find with many ISPs.
For many service providers, the introductory fees may differ from the fee a subscriber pays when the initial contract ends. One service provider, Cable One locks the initial fee in place for three years, while others may offer an enticing introductory price that's valid for a year or less. In addition, an ISP may bundle certain services together, such as internet access, phone and television, and the final cost may be lower than it would be if you purchased each service separately.
Not all service providers connect to the internet the same way. Some service providers use cable internet while some use fiber optic or DSL, such as that supplied by Centurylink. Others provide satellite or dial-up services, which are less prevalent.
Some service providers are instrumental in providing rural areas with cable service such as Suddenlink. However, without cable or DSL, dial-up and satellite service may be the only choices. The customer's geographic location may be the overriding factor in choosing one service provider over another due to availability.
Other Services Available Through an ISP
Gaining access through an ISP opens the door to additional services. Beyond internet access, you may be able to obtain phone service, television and home security that lets you monitor your home remotely and includes a central monitoring service to notify authorities if an alarm goes off. You can often bundle different services together, providing you with the chance to save money on these services, or at least pay one provider versus several for these different services.
Cable & Entertainment
Since cable and internet can share a connection, it's common to see these services bundled together. When you subscribe to both, some ISPs let you use your laptop or tablet to access prime time shows and sporting events with a separate feature, no matter where you are, by giving you a password-secured login. In addition, some ISPs provide you with a DVR or TiVo box so you can record your favorite shows to watch later. With your cable subscription, you receive access to many channels, including several music channels, and together, the package creates a total home entertainment experience.
Some plans give you the option of using digital phone service for your home or business landline telephone. For a subscription fee, you can talk to friends and family or take business calls on your cable phone without using up minutes on your smartphone or incurring long-distance minutes. In addition, some cable phones link to your smartphone and allow you to exchange contacts. This lets you use your smartphone as a remote handset. Bundling the cable phone into a multi-level subscription may reduce the monthly fee for this service. However, be sure to consider other options, like VoIP services, because they can be less expensive or more flexible than what may be offered by your ISP. Most VoIP services require a broadband internet connection, so they work with most ISPs.
Access to the World & Email
An internet subscription provides access to the internet, allowing you to search the web, participate in video conferences, stream videos and music, shop online, interact via social media and keep up with the news or weather. Internet access also lets you stay in touch with family and friends by sending email messages via your service carrier. This happens almost instantaneously for most internet connections except dial-up internet service, which may be slow and take additional time to upload or download emails.
Home Security & Monitoring
Home security is another service some internet services provide, such as Cox. The home security plans offered by some providers use your existing security system or you can purchase a security system from the carrier. Some available devices include an electrical outlet lighting pack so you can turn your lights on remotely at dusk and then turn them off in the morning, convincing potential intruders that someone is at home. Other devices include cameras and motion sensors that allow you to monitor multiple rooms in your home using a remote computer, tablet or smartphone, so no matter where you are, you have a virtual view of your home.
Thermostats and water detectors are other options that are available that let you set or change temperature settings in your home or notify you if your home is flooding due to a pipe breaking or from a storm. In addition, wireless keypads or smoke detectors and sirens are available from some carriers. The service provider may also offer central monitoring by technicians 24 hours per day for a monthly fee. Technicians alert you if there is an emergency at your home. This alert can be scheduled to be sent to your computer, tablet, smartphone or landline so no matter where you are in the world, you know instantly if something is wrong at home.
What Are the Different Types of Internet Access?