What is DSL and how does it work?

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

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What is DSL internet?

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line, which is a 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.

Pros and cons of DSL internet service

Advantages of DSL internet

  • High availability – DSL is one of the most available types of internet, covering about 84% 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 is less likely to experience slowed speeds and lag during peak usage times.
  • Easy install – Your 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 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 satellite, cable or possibly fiber-optic internet as well. Each internet type varies in availability, pricing and speeds. Here are how each service type ranks.

Availability

Satellite – 99% nationwide
Cable – 89% nationwide
DSL – 85% nationwide
Fiber – 29% nationwide

Pricing

DSL – starting at $19.99 – $45/mo.*
Cable – starting at $29.99 – $44.99/mo.*
Fiber – starting at $29.99 – $45/mo.*
Satellite – starting at $49.99 – $59.99/mo.*

Speeds

Cable – 10 to 2,000 Mbps
Fiber – 50 to 1,000 Mbps
DSL – 1 to 140 Mbps
Satellite – 12 to 100 Mbps

*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. Speeds may vary. As of 05/28/19.

As you can see, DSL internet offers similar availability and pricing to cable internet services, but falls behind when it comes to max available speeds. However, if you do not need fast speeds for your home, DSL is a great choice both for high availability and low pricing.

How fast is a DSL connection?

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%

Source: FCC

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 9 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.

Compare top DSL provider pricing, speed and availability

ProvidersStarting price*Speeds up toData capsNationwide availability
AT&T logo
AT&T
$30/mo.100 Mbps1 TB/mo.39.22%
Verizon
Verizon
$25/mo.24 MbpsNone17.55%
CenturyLink Logo
CenturyLink
$45/mo.140 Mbps1 TB/mo.15.79%
Frontier
Frontier
$20/mo.90 MbpsNone10.72%
Windstream Logo
Windstream
$19.99/mo.200 MbpsNone2.66%

*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. Speeds may vary. As of 05/28/19.

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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.

  • 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.*

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

Bundled savings: $0/mo.*

*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. Speeds may vary. As of 05/28/19.

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 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 3 years.

Provider2019 ACSI score2018 ACSI score2017 ACSI scoreAvg past 3 years
AT&T logo
AT&T
69/10068/10069/10068.7/100
CenturyLink LogoCenturyLink59585958.7
Frontier Communications
Frontier
55545655
Windstream Logo
Windstream
57565756.7

Source: ACSI

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

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line and refers to a high-speed internet connection by way of telephone line commonly called DSL internet.

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.

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.

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.

No, the copper phone lines in your home are capable of handling enough bandwidth to allow you to use your high-speed internet and your phone connection at the same time.

Call to speak with our experts and to locate DSL internet providers in your area. We’ll help you compare providers and plans so you select the DSL internet service that’s right for you.

Last updated on 06/20/19.

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