How to Find the Fastest ISP in Your Area
You can find the fastest ISP near you by using both local and crowd-sourced data. The data will give you a good idea of which ISP offers both the highest speeds and best overall experience for streaming video and more.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can choose between different Internet service providers in your area. Don’t just trust the advertised speeds—look at the data to find the fastest internet near you.
Start By Finding High-Speed Internet Services Near You
The very first step in identifying the fastest Internet service provider (ISP) in your area is to drill down to your specific location before continuing. Most people don’t care about the absolute fastest ISP in their city. They care if they can use that ISP at their home or business. It doesn’t matter if ATT or Verizon advertises fiber internet in your zip code, for example, if that fiber access stops a few blocks from your home.
That’s a situation I had to deal with for years before fiber finally reached the block I live on. Verizon offered fiber a few blocks to the west, and ATT offered fiber a few blocks to the east, but it took years for the whole neighborhood to get fiber.
With that in mind, we recommend you save time by starting with the FCC’s detailed National Broadband Map. The map provides a detailed down-to-the-address survey of which broadband providers are available in which area. It’s updated multiple times a year, so while it’s possible, it isn’t current for you if fiber just rolled out for your neighborhood, overall, you can expect the results to be up-to-date.
You can also use BroadbandNow’s map. It’s based on the FCC data and supplemented with additional information from other public resources and ISP-supplied data.
Use the National Broadband Map or BroadbandNow’s map to drill down to your address. Make note of which providers service your location. You’ll sometimes find that an ISP is listed twice because a particular location has access to two different kinds of service, such as ATT DSL and ATT fiber—although this is increasingly uncommon as providers phase out older technology.
Also, note the speed listed on the map for those providers. This is not a guaranteed speed, but is the advertised speed for the highest tier of service the ISP offers to that address.
Remember These Tips When Comparing ISP Speeds
When comparing both the advertised speeds and crowd-sourced speed reports for a given ISP, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind. This will help you not only have realistic expectations when looking at speed data, but it will also help you consider variables within your control to improve your experience.
You May Not Get the Advertised Speed
If you read the fine print of your service agreement with your local ISP, the speed you’re paying for is presented as an upper threshold, the classic “speeds up to 300 Mbps!” type of advertising.
While Very few ISPs would leave you to suffer with 10 Mbps downloads when you’re paying for a 500 Mbps package, variability in connection speed is to be expected, and you’ll probably never get exactly the advertised speed you’re paying for. I, for example, am writing this on a “gigabit” fiber connection that consistently speed-tests at around 940 Mbps—which is to be expected as a certain portion of your bandwidth is lost to overhead.
You Don’t Necessarily Need Gigabit
When talking about broadband, gigabit internet is the gold standard for broadband. In a perfect world, every person would have access to it. But, practically speaking, not everyone needs gigabit internet.
You probably don’t need as much download speed as you think. Streaming a 4K video only requires about 15 Mbps of dedicated download bandwidth. So realistically, even with only a 100 Mbps connection, multiple people in your household could watch 4K content with enough bandwidth left over to handle other internet-based traffic like gaming and background activity (like smart home connectivity).
More bandwidth is always better for downloading huge files quickly, like a new 60+ GB game, but for day-to-day activities, it doesn’t make as much of an impact as you’d think.
Don’t Overlook Upload Speeds
It’s easy to get caught up in looking at which ISP in your area has the highest download speeds, but don’t overlook upload speeds. While people overestimate how much download speed they need, they usually underestimate how much upload speed they need for a smooth and pleasant experience.
Years ago, upload speed didn’t matter much because very few residential users were uploading much of anything. But with the advent of cheap smart home gear and the number people who routinely use video calling for work and school, the average home has much higher upload needs than it did in the past.
If your local cable company offers a 500/20 plan and your local fiber company offers a 300/300 plan, you will likely be much, much happier in the long run with the synchronous 300/300 plan. For all the times the extra 200 Mbps on the download side might benefit you, you’ll likely find that the extra 280 Mbps on the upload side makes video calling, using cloud-based security cameras, and other activities so much better.
Crowdsourced Data Is Useful, But Asking Your Neighbors Is Better
In the next section, we’ll look at ways you can reference crowd-sourced real-world speed data to get an idea of what ISPs are actually delivering in your area.
No doubt about it. It’s useful data to look at. But macro data for your city is less useful than micro data from your neighborhood. If you’re friendly with your neighbors and can get speed test data from them you’ll have about as good of data as you could hope for. It would be even better if you could plug your laptop right into their router (or have them run the test with a hardwired connection) because using your phone or a Wi-Fi-connected computer gives very poor speed test results.
If somebody two doors down gets a consistent 480 Mbps down with a cable internet plan advertised as 500 Mbps, that’s likely what you’ll get too.
Your Wi-Fi Router Plays a Role
Finally, don’t overlook the role your router and network hardware plays in your internet connection’s speed and your satisfaction using it.
You could have an amazing multi-gig fiber connection, but if you’re feeding that connection into a ten-year-old Wi-Fi router with the computational power of a potato, it’s completely wasted.
Outside of a significant jump in connection quality, like stepping up from an aging DSL connection to a fiber line, you’re better off upgrading your router before you worry about upgrading your internet.
Because hands down, the best thing you can do is throw out your ancient router and upgrade to a modern router with improved processing power, Wi-Fi coverage, and years’ worth of improvements and optimizations.
And while you’re taking a look at your hardware, do what you can to get Wi-Fi devices off the Wi-Fi network and hooked directly up to the router. Maybe you don’t need faster internet, you just need the TV you do all your streaming on connected directly to your router because Ethernet is so much faster and more stable.
Look Up Real-World Speed Results With These Tools
While we think you’ll have the best results checking with people in your immediate neighborhood to see what their experience with a particular ISP is, it can also be useful to look at broad metrics.
The following resources include data collected from thousands upon thousands of users and help give a top-down view of an ISP’s speed and connection quality in a given region.
Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index
If you’ve ever wanted to test your Internet connection’s speed, you probably used Ookla’s popular Speedtest.net. Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index takes all the data from Speedtest.net and organizes it to showcase speed results for entire countries and individual cities.
To drill down to your particular city, it’s best to visit the subsection Speedtest Performance Index, select your country, and then browse for your city. Speedtest data is included for mobile and “fixed” providers (fixed, in this context, refers to internet delivered to a residence or business via cable, fiber, or other permanent connection).
The ISPs are ranked based on their subscribers’ recent Speedtest.net download speed results. It’s worth noting, however, that you’re not seeing the absolute highest speed that a particular ISP can deliver but an average of all of the subscribers for that ISP in a given region.
For example, if a local company offers three fiber packages at 300 Mbps, 500, Mbps, and 1000 Mbps, if the bulk of the customers in a given area only buy the 500 Mbps package, the average speed test will reflect that.
Netflix ISP Speed Index
Studies have found that Netflix often accounts for more than 30% of Internet download traffic in North America. Netflix is a big player in terms of Internet bandwidth, and they want connections to be as fast as possible so they can provide high-quality streaming video. That’s why Netflix publishes an ISP Speed Index, where they rank Internet service providers based on their average Netflix streaming speed.
Netflix ranks providers by their speed, highlighting the fastest ISP. These rankings can help you get some idea of what ISP offers the fastest speeds — for watching Netflix, at least.
But take these results with a big grain of salt. They’re country-wide, so they won’t show smaller ISPs in your area that may be faster than the big national ones. They also only take Netflix results into account—the speeds shown here are slower than the speeds shown on Speedtest.net because Netflix isn’t completely saturating each connection. This really only tells you how fast Netflix streams on these connections.
What’s particularly curious about Netflix’s Speed Index, in our opinion, is that despite the fact Netflix runs a Speedtest.net competitor, Fast.com, it doesn’t appear that any of the Fast.com data is incorporated into the Speed Index—nor does Fast.com offer anything like Ookla’s
YouTube Video Quality Report
YouTube and Netflix combined often make up over 50% of peak Internet activity in North America, according to various studies. So it makes sense that Google publishes its own ISP report in the form of the YouTube Video Quality Report. Their reports don’t display a speed, but they do allow you to compare providers in your area and see what quality of YouTube streams their connections can handle. The key detail to look at is performance during peak demand windows, typically 4-9 PM.
Ideally, 90% or higher of the people using the ISP you’re looking at can pull down HD-quality video streams during peak usage periods. That indicates the ISP’s infrastructure can handle entire neighborhoods of people watching streaming content after work.
As with the Netflix report card, this data is only about video streams from one specific site, so you should take it with a big grain of salt. But it does help you get an idea of whether an ISP is capable of dealing with the demands of a modern household.
And, if you’re like most people, you probably watch YouTube—so wouldn’t you prefer a connection that can stream YouTube at higher quality? This site helps you ensure you choose an ISP that can support fast enough to stream YouTube at a higher quality, not so slow you’ll only be able to stream low-quality videos.
Remember that the speeds reported on these sites are averages of the speeds customers experience in the real world. An ISP that has many customers paying for the slowest possible connection may appear to have low speeds, but it may offer more expensive connections with faster speeds than the average shown above. When it comes to the average country-wide rankings shown on the Netflix ISP Speed Index, a big ISP that operates across the entire country may be faster or slower in your area. Still, imperfect data is better than no data at all.