Switching Internet Providers
10’000 Hours / Getty Images
What to Know When Switching Internet Providers
Residential internet service is a competitive business. Internet technology continues to evolve and new players are always entering the market. Therefore, the best deal you could find five years ago may not be right for you today. Also, many internet providers offer limited-time reduced pricing, which can cause your bill to increase significantly after the promotional period ends. It’s worth periodically checking your options to determine whether it’s time to switch internet providers (ISPs). We will help you evaluate what you need in an internet package and explain how to switch internet providers.
Determine your internet needs
The first step in determining your internet needs is choosing which types of internet can best meet those needs. Although more speed is always fun to have, the speeds you need will depend largely on how you use the internet:
- Casual browsing and social media: Casual web browsing and social media don’t require a lot of speed. Anything up to 25 Mbps should be enough, with the higher end of the range giving you some wiggle room to stream a movie now and then.
- HD video streaming: Technically, you need about 5 Mbps for HD streaming and 25 Mbps for 4K streaming through Netflix and about twice that for YouTube. In reality, though, these services tend to buffer (preload video) at much higher speeds. If you can, go for a connection that’s at least 50 to 100 Mbps.
- Online gaming: Gaming only requires speeds of 3 to 6 Mbps, depending on game specifications, but lag can be a problem. For the smoothest gameplay, online gamers should connect at 50 to 100 Mbps or more.
- Homes with just a few devices: The above recommendations apply to one or two devices connecting simultaneously. If you have a small household, follow the suggestions above.
- Homes with many connected devices: If you have an internet-connected smart home, or your family has a lot of devices, go for a faster connection. For example, the HD streaming speeds detailed above are per device. If your family watches different movies in different parts of the house, each connection needs plenty of speed. Choose a connection that’s at least 150 to 200 Mbps.
As you might expect, different types of internet cater to different needs:
- Fiber-optic: Fiber-optic internet carries data on light signals along fibers bundled together in cables. It offers speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) for both downloading and uploading and is a popular choice for those with smart homes and those interested in future-proofing their internet connection. However, it’s not yet available in many markets as of early 2020.
- Cable: Cable internet connects to the same network as cable TV, using space on designated channels. Average cable download speeds are up to 200 Mbps, and many companies now offer speeds of 1,000 Mbps. Unlike fiber, though, upload speeds are slower than download speeds due to providers prioritizing the activities we do most online. Cable internet is widely available across the United States, except in very rural areas.
- DSL: Short for digital subscriber line, DSL internet uses the extra bandwidth on your traditional home phone line. It doesn’t take over the entire line, but service quality varies depending on how far you are from the closest access point. Download speeds of up to 100 Mbps are available in some areas, though speeds under 10 Mbps are more typical, especially in rural areas. DSL can be a very cost-effective choice, especially if you already have a landline home phone.
- Satellite: If you live in a very remote area, satellite internet may be your only option. There are only two satellite internet providers in the United States: HughesNet and Viasat. Speeds are limited (about 25 Mbps with HughesNet and 30 Mbps with Viasat) and the service is relatively pricey.
What to expect when switching internet providers
Switching internet providers is not always straightforward. You may need to pay a contract buyout fee, though some providers will pay off your old contract when you switch to their service. You may find that your current provider suddenly offers you a better deal when you call to cancel service. Your favorite internet provider may not offer service in your area, or you may lose bundling discounts if you don’t also change your TV and phone services.
How to switch internet providers step by step
Fortunately, it’s possible to switch internet providers by taking a step-by-step approach:
Step 1: Research new providers
The first step is to learn which internet providers offer service in your area. You can use this zip code search tool to narrow down your search to providers in your neighborhood. Research available plans to determine which ones might fit your needs and budget. You might wonder, “Can I switch internet providers mid-contract?” If this is a concern for you, look for a new provider that will buy out your existing contract.
Step 2: Call your current internet provider to inquire about deals
Before you sign up with a new provider, call your existing internet provider. Companies prefer not to lose customers, so they may offer you a good deal to stay. If your current service is acceptable, it’s worth comparing the offer to those you found from other providers to see if it makes sense to stick with your existing ISP.
Step 3: Overlap your services
If you’re wondering how to switch internet providers without losing internet, the solution is to overlap your services. Don’t turn off your current service until your new service is installed and working properly. You will end up paying for a few days of both services, but it may be worth it to avoid losing your internet.
Step 4: Choose your installation
Depending on the type of internet service you choose and whether your home has existing lines, you may be able to install your new internet yourself or you may need professional installation. Your sales representative should be able to help you decide which type of installation is right for you.
Step 5: Test your new connection
If you have a professional installer come to your home, they will make sure the connection is working properly. If you install your own equipment, take the time to check out a few websites and maybe stream a TV show to make sure there are no problems with the connection.
Step 6: Return your old equipment
When your new connection is running properly, cancel your former service and return all equipment that belongs to that provider as soon as possible to avoid fees.
Frequently asked questions
Should I switch internet providers?
Only you can decide whether switching internet providers is right for you. However, with technology evolving rapidly and new companies continually entering the market, it only makes sense to review your options every year or two to see if there is a better choice. You’ll also want to consider switching if you need faster speeds or feel you’re paying for internet speeds you don’t need.
Can I switch internet providers mid-contract?
You can always switch internet providers mid-contract, but there may be a contract cancellation fee. If you are concerned about this, choose a new provider that is willing to pay off your old contract. If you can’t find one who will buy out your contract, it may still be worthwhile to switch if you’ll save money in the long term.
How can I switch internet providers without losing internet?
The best way to switch internet providers without losing internet is to overlap your services by a few days. Though you will have to pay for those days, it allows you to get your new service up and running before your previous service is disconnected.
Which type of internet should I choose?
Which type of internet to choose depends on your budget, geographic location and internet needs. Fiber-optic and cable internet are the fastest, and cable is widely available. DSL and satellite may be the only options in more rural areas. DSL is generally inexpensive, but the signal degrades the further you are from an access point. Satellite is reliable but pricey. Consider all factors when making your decision.