The general assumption is that unless your internet comes from Google Fiber or a local provider, you’re overpaying for a mediocre service. There’s certainly some truth to that, but while the American internet system certainly isn’t perfect, there’s more than just a handful of giant cable companies with expensive capped data plans.
Fierce Telecom put together a list of wireless, wireline, and cable internet providers, and compared them on speed, technology, whether or not they have a usage cap, and what the overage fees are. Obviously, not every provider is available in every region, but it’s still a fascinating look at who the best home internet providers are in 2018.
The best news is for anyone who is receiving a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet connection. Of all the FTTH providers, only AT&T implements a cap, and only for users on its 300Mbps plan. The gigabit-speed plan remains completely unmetered. Users on DSL, the old telephone-line technology, still see a cap, but those services are out of date and due to be replaced soon anyway.
Caps are depressingly more common among cable internet providers, who use the coaxial cable lines first installed for cable TV. Charter and Altice don’t implement usage caps on any of their users, although in the case of Charter, that’s because not implementing usage caps was a condition of its takeover of Time Warner Cable.
For the rest of the usual suspects — Comcast, Cox, Mediacom, and Cable One — usage caps are a reality of life. Comcast and Cox’s caps are the least-awful, with a 1TB cap across the board and $50 more per month for a truly unlimited plan. Mediacom’s caps start at 150GB per month for the slowest internet tier, rising to 6TB for users on the gigabit-speed plan.
The greatest uniformity is seen in the wireless industry, where all four big networks offer similar-looking unlimited plans, since competition for wireless subscribers is currently fierce. All four providers offer “unlimited” plans that don’t have a hard data cap, but do have a deprioritization threshold. After you hit the threshold (around 25GB for most providers) your data will be deprioritized if there’s congestion on the local tower. In reality, this means your data is liable to slow down in busy places like airports or train stations, but it’s a vastly preferable system to the old overusage fees. Of the four nationwide carriers, T-Mobile has the highest deprioritization threshold at 50GB.