What is DSL and how does it work?

Learn about DSL internet and which internet service providers offer DSL internet in your area.

What is DSL internet?

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line, which is an internet network that uses telephone lines to transmit digital data.

With a DSL internet connection, the internet service provider (ISP) uses telephone lines to carry the signals directly to the home where a DSL modem receives and converts the signals to internet service.

The most common type of residential DSL service is ADSL, or asymmetrical DSL. In this type of DSL internet service, the data transfer rate is greater in one direction, typically downloads. This means DSL internet plans are likely to feature higher download speeds than upload speeds.

Other common types of DSL service include SDSL, which have symmetrical upload and download rates, and VDSL, which has a “very high” data transfer rate.

Who provides DSL internet service in my area?

Top DSL internet providers

  • AT&T – Available in 21 states with main service areas in the South, Midwest and parts of Nevada and California
  • CenturyLink – Available in 35 states with main service areas in the West, Midwest and Southeast
  • Frontier – Available in 29 states with main service areas in the West, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Northeast and Appalachian region
  • Verizon – Available in nine states with main service areas in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
  • Windstream – Available in 18 states with main service areas in the Great Plains region, Midwest and South

See how major DSL internet providers across the nation compare before you start looking at plan details.

Top DSL providers by availability

ProvidersStarting price*Speeds up toData capsNationwide availability
AT&T
AT&T
$30/mo.100 Mbps1 TB/mo.40%
Verizon
Verizon
$25/mo.24 MbpsNone17.8%
CenturyLink
$45/mo.140 Mbps1 TB/mo.16%
Frontier
Frontier Communications
$20/mo.90 MbpsNone11%
Windstream
Windstream Logo
$19.99/mo.200 MbpsNone2.66%
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Pros and cons of DSL internet service

Advantages of DSL internet

  • High availability – DSL is one of the most available types of internet service, covering about 87% of the U.S.
  • Low cost – Since DSL uses existing telephone lines, costs are often lower than cable or fiber-optic internet.
  • Speed consistency – DSL internet is less likely to experience slowed speeds and lag during peak usage times.
  • Easy install – Your DSL modem plugs into a phone jack, making installation quick and easy.

Disadvantages of DSL internet

  • Low speeds – Phone lines do not support the higher bandwidth you’d get from cable or fiber, so DSL internet typically will not offer the fastest available speeds.
  • Speed attrition – The farther away your home is from the ISP or an extender, the slower your speeds are likely to be.
  • Fewer bundle options – DSL internet providers may not offer TV services in your area, meaning you may have to build a TV and internet bundle with two providers.

How does DSL internet compare to other types of internet service?

Many areas with access to a DSL connection also have the option of satellitecable or possibly fiber-optic internet as well. Each internet type varies in availability, pricing and speeds. Here is how each service type ranks.

Availability: lower than satellite, higher than fiber, about the same as cable

While satellite internet is the most widely-available internet type, DSL internet is not far behind, with availability in around 87% of U.S. households. Like satellite internet, DSL is a great option for rural areas. Access to a telephone line is likely all you need to get DSL internet, which makes it a great option in areas where cable internet is not available or desired.

Pricing: lower than most other internet types

Along with availability, plan pricing is another potential benefit of DSL internet. Depending on where you live and which DSL providers are available, standalone internet service could start as low as $20/mo. This is lower than most cable providers, and significantly lower than satellite internet service.

Speeds: lower than most other internet types

In many areas, DSL internet’s fastest speeds are comparable to the lowest speeds you could get with a cable or fiber-optic internet connection. The fastest DSL internet speeds available range from around 100 to 140 Mbps, which are good internet speeds, but availability is highly limited. More common DSL speeds are around 24 Mbps or lower. Plus, the farther you are from your DSL ISP, the slower your speeds are likely to be.

How fast is DSL?

DSL internet speeds vary by provider and location, but speeds typically range between 1 and 24 Mbps. Faster speeds ranging from 50 to 140 Mbps may be available in select areas.

Proximity to the ISP or an extender also plays a role in what DSL speeds are available. Increased distance from the ISP can result in slower available speeds. This is why DSL speeds can vary greatly from ZIP code to ZIP code where other internet types may not see as much speed variance.

Top states for DSL speeds 100 Mbps or higher

StateHigh-speed DSL coverageStateHigh-speed DSL coverage
Colorado39.43%Oregon19.08%
Arizona38.34%Iowa12.86%
Utah36.70%North Dakota11.18%
New Mexico26.85%Wyoming10.92%
Minnesota23.76%South Dakota10.52%
Idaho23.09%Nebraska9.11%
Washington22.81%Arkansas6.84%

Bundle DSL internet and TV together

If you’re interested in more than just DSL internet, you can bundle with TV and home phone service for convenience and to possibly save money and simplify your monthly bill.

Check out two popular bundles from major DSL internet providers that may be available near you.

AT&T Internet Basic 5 and U-Family TV

  • Internet 5 Mbps – $40/mo.* standalone
  • U-Family up to 190 channels – $35/mo.* standalone
  • Bundle price – starting at $65/mo.*

Bundle savings: $10/mo.*

CenturyLink Internet + DIRECTV SELECT™

  • High-speed internet – $45/mo.* standalone
  • DIRECTV SELECT™ Package – $35/mo.* standalone
  • Bundle price – starting at $80/mo.* bundled

Bundled savings: $0/mo.*

Available DSL internet bundles will vary by address. Call today to see which DSL internet providers are available near you or click “Shop providers” below to compare bundles online.

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Customer satisfaction with DSL internet

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) gives ISPs a score out of 100 based on internet reviews from real consumers like you. Here’s how top DSL providers ranked over the past three years.

Top DSL providers by 2019 customer satisfaction ratings

Provider2019 ACSI score2018 ACSI score2017 ACSI scoreAvg past 3 years
AT&T
AT&T
69/10068/10069/10068.7/100
CenturyLink
59585958.7
Windstream
Windstream Logo
57565756.7
Frontier
Frontier Communications
55545655

Keep in mind that most of these DSL providers also offer fiber-optic internet service and ACSI ratings may reflect both service types. Areas where consumers saw the most improvement, year over year, were data transfer speeds, website satisfaction and performance during peak usage hours.

Frequently asked questions about DSL internet

What does DSL stand for?

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line and refers to a high-speed internet connection by way of telephone line commonly called DSL internet. ADSL, or asymmetrical DSL, is the most common DSL type and typically offers faster download speeds than upload speeds.

How does DSL internet work?

DSL internet uses the copper telephone wires you already have inside your home to transmit data and generate your internet connection. A DSL connection does this without interfering with your phone signal.

What if DSL internet is not available in my area?

If a DSL internet provider is not available in your area, your best option for internet service may be a provider with an alternative connection, like cable or satellite. Learn more about the different types of internet connections.

What is my best option for cheap internet in my area?

If you’re looking for cheap internet service in your area, DSL internet may be your best option. Affordability is one of the major benefits of a DSL internet connection thanks to the ease of setup and use of existing infrastructure.

Will DSL tie up the phone line?

No. DSL uses your phone line differently than telephone calls or dial-up service. This enables an “always on” internet connection, while allowing you to send or receive phone calls.

Is DSL the same as dial-up?

No. Though both internet services use a phone line, they are separate technologies. DSL uses different frequencies than dial-up, allowing for faster speeds and constant internet access without tying up the phone line.


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Moving or looking for a new deal? Let Allconnect help you find the right internet plan for your needs. Call now to start comparing providers, prices and speeds in your local area.

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