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What you need to know when changing internet provider

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. Many ISPs also offer limited prices temporarily, which can cause your bill to rise significantly after the promotional period ends. It is worth checking your options regularly to determine if it is time to switch Internet Service Providers (ISPs). We 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 to choose the types of Internet that best meet those needs. While more speed is always fun, the speeds you need depend largely on how you use the internet:

  • Casual browsing and social media: Casual web browsing and social media don't require much speed. Anything up to 25 Mbps should suffice, with the higher part of the range giving you some wiggle room to occasionally stream a movie.
  • HD video streaming: Technically you need about 5 Mbps for HD streaming and 25 Mbps for 4K streaming via Netflix and about double for YouTube. However, in reality, these services tend to buffer at much faster speeds (pre-load video). If you can, go for a connection of at least 50 to 100 Mbps.
  • Online gaming: Gaming only requires speeds of 3 to 6 Mbps depending on the game specifications, but lag can be an issue. For the smoothest gameplay, online gamers should connect at 50 to 100 Mbps or more.
  • Houses with only a few devices: The above recommendations apply to one or two devices connecting at the same time. If you have a small household, follow the suggestions above.
  • Homes with many connected devices: If you have a smart home with the internet, or if your family has a lot of devices, go for a faster connection. For example, the HD streaming speeds described above are per device. If your family watches different movies in different parts of the house, each connection needs a lot of speed. Choose a connection of at least 150 to 200 Mbps.

As you would expect, different types of internet meet different needs:

  • Optical fiber: Fiber optic internet carries data about light signals along fibers bundled in cables. It offers speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) for both download and upload and is a popular choice for those with smart homes and those interested in future-proofing their internet connection. However, it will not be 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, upload speeds are slower than download speeds because providers prioritize the activities we do most online. Cable Internet is available everywhere in the United States, except in very rural areas.
  • DSL: Short for digital subscriber line, DSL Internet uses the extra bandwidth on your traditional home telephone line. It does not take up the entire line, but the quality of the service depends on how far you are from the nearest access point. Download speeds of up to 100 Mbps are available in some areas, although speeds below 10 Mbps are more common, especially in rural areas. DSL can be a very cost effective choice, especially if you already have a landline 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. The speeds are limited (around 25 Mbps with HughesNet and 30 Mbps with Viasat) and the service is relatively pricey.

What to Expect When Switching Internet Service Provider

Switching internet providers is not always easy. You may have to pay a contract lump sum, although 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 the service. Your favorite Internet service provider may not offer a service in your area, or you may lose bundle discounts if you don't also change your TV and phone services.

Switch between internet providers step by step

Fortunately, it is possible to switch ISPs by following a step-by-step approach:

Step 1: Research new providers

The first step is to find out which ISPs in your area are offering services. You can use this zip code search to narrow your search to providers near you. Research available plans to determine which may fit your needs and budget. You may be wondering, "Can I switch ISPs midway through the contract?" If you are concerned about this, find a new provider who will buy out your existing contract.

Step 2: Call your current ISP to inquire about deals

Call your existing ISP before signing up with a new 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 other providers to see if it makes sense to stick with your existing ISP.

Step 3: Overlap your services

If you are wondering how to switch internet provider without losing internet, the solution is to overlap your services. Do not disable your current service until your new service is installed and working properly. You end up paying for both services for a few days, but it's worth avoiding 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 a professional installation. Your sales representative can help you decide which type of installation is right for you.

Step 5: Test your new connection

If you let a professional installer come to your home, they will make sure the connection is working properly. If you are installing your own equipment, take the time to browse a few websites and perhaps stream a TV show to make sure there are no connection issues.

Step 6: Return your old equipment

If your new connection works properly, cancel your previous service and return all equipment from that provider as soon as possible to avoid costs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to switch internet providers?

Only you can decide if you want to switch internet service providers. However, with technology evolving rapidly and new companies constantly entering the market, it only makes sense to revise your options every year or two to see if there is a better choice. You may also consider switching if you need higher speeds or think you are paying for internet speeds you don't need.

Can I switch internet providers halfway through the contract?

You can always switch ISPs midway through the contract, but you may have to cancel contract costs. If you are concerned about this, choose a new provider who is willing to pay off your old contract. If you can't find one that buys out your contract, it might be worth switching if you save money in the long run.

How can I switch internet providers without losing internet?

The best way to switch ISPs without losing the Internet is by overlapping your services for several days. Although you have to pay for those days, it will allow you to start using your new service before breaking your previous service.

Which type of internet should I choose?

The type of internet you choose depends on your budget, geographic location and internet needs. Fiber 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 not expensive, but the signal decreases the further you are from an access point. Satellite is reliable but pricey. Consider all factors when making your decision.