How Allconnect reviews internet service providers
See how we grade broadband providers in four categories: affordability, performance, value and customer satisfaction.
Finding the right internet plan can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Between complicated service agreements, hidden fees and shifting promotions, it can be hard for the average internet shopper to find answers to even the most basic questions. What price will I actually see on my bill each month? Will I get the speed I’m paying for? Can I talk to a real person if I’m having issues?
We wanted to help people find their best internet options by streamlining all of that information so that shoppers can compare providers on a level playing field. While we’re confident in our methodology, we’re also committed to improving our process through reader feedback, new data sources and better testing. Pricing for internet plans is always fluctuating, too, so you may see our scores change from time to time. Here’s how we review internet service providers right now.
How our broadband scoring system works
We evaluated broadband providers in four categories: affordability, performance, value and customer satisfaction. Each category contains multiple sub-factors, all of which are weighted differently to impact the provider’s overall score. We only considered standardized data points in our scoring system. More abstract data like consistency of service and brand reputation is still part of our analysis, but we opted to let our writers address them in the context of each review. Here’s how much weight we assigned to each category:
|Average price over 24 months||10%|
|Price per Mbps (download)||20%|
|Price per Mbps (upload)||5%|
For each sub-factor, we scored every provider on a continuous scale of one to five, relative to the industry as a whole. Because the average download speed in America is currently 180 Mbps, for example, we assigned all plans with download speeds between 100 and 299 Mbps a score between three and four. Using this scale, Xfinity’s 200 Mbps plan received a 3.50 score for download speed, while Spectrum’s 400 Mbps plan got a 4.16.
We utilized as many reliable sources as we could find to decide which factors to consider and how to weigh them. Third-party research like New America’s Cost of Connectivity Report, Ookla’s Global Speed Index and market analysis from Leichtman Research Group all helped us home in on what matters most to the average broadband customer.
Finally, we relied on our more than 20 years of experience as a broadband marketplace. This included conversations with our sales team to identify some of the most common questions and pain points from shoppers, user feedback on our articles and internal data from tens of thousands of speed tests each month.
Over and over, our research told us that price is the most important factor for most people shopping for internet. Affordability is our most heavily weighted category, accounting for 40% of each provider’s overall score. Under that umbrella, we looked at five subcategories.
For each one, we took the prices that were listed directly on provider websites using a sample of several service addresses — the most up-to-date and reliable method we’ve found. Here’s how each section was scored:
|Score||Promotional pricing (per mo.)||Rate increase (per mo.)||Average price over 24 months||Installation fees||Equipment fees (per mo.)|
This is the number that most people see when shopping for internet, and while it’s useful, it doesn’t tell the complete story. To determine our ranges for this category, we used New America’s Cost of Connectivity Report, which found the average price for an internet plan before taxes and fees to be $68.38/mo. From there, we factored in average promotional discounts of around $10 to $20 to give us the ranges for our scores.
Anyone who’s ever paid an internet bill knows the feeling of a surprise price hike once the sign-up promotion ends. With this score, we wanted to capture just how painful or negligible that increase would be. To calculate the ranges for this category, we calculated the average price increases from several major internet providers.
Average price over 24 months
We also wanted to capture the average price you can expect to pay over a two-year period — the typical one-year of promotional pricing and the year paying full-price after that. To get a baseline for this metric, we used the most recent updates to the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which puts the all-in price for internet at $78.63/mo.
Taken together with the promotional pricing and rate increase metrics, we felt this gave us a strong baseline for understanding the true price of internet plans relative to one another.
Installation and equipment fees
Finally, we assigned 5% weight to both installation and equipment fees. For both metrics, we used average fees from every major internet provider to determine our baseline scores.
After price, speed consistently came up in our research as one of the top considerations for people shopping for internet. We gave significantly more weight to download speed here — 18% compared to 4% for upload speed — as it’s far more important to most peoples’ daily internet activities.
|Score||Download speed (Mbps)||Upload speed (Mbps)||Data caps (GB)|
To find the right baselines for download and upload speeds, we utilized Ookla’s Global Speed Index. Right now, it puts average download speeds in the U.S. at 183 Mbps and upload speeds at 66 Mbps.
Data caps were also factored into this category, but with even less weight than upload speeds. Our research showed that the vast majority of broadband plans now have no data cap, and the ones that do have an average of 977GB — far more than the 400GB/mo. that the average household uses.
Providing clear comparisons on price and performance were essential to our scoring process, but we also wanted to show how the two interact. In other words, how much bang for your buck will you get from each provider?
The best way to determine that was to divide the price of each plan by the speed it provides. This gave us a clear dollar value for each Mbps of bandwidth that you’ll receive. For this metric, we used the 24-month average prices we discussed above. The higher the price per Mbps, the worse value you’re getting.
|Score||Price per Mbps of download speed||Price per Mbps of upload speed|
Like our performance metric, we gave considerably more weight here to the value of download speed (20%) than upload speed (5%).
Finally, we wanted to give readers a sense of what real customers think of each provider. For this section, we relied on independent surveys from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Consumer Reports. If a provider has been rated by both sites, we gave 5% weight to each one. In cases where there was only one rating, we assigned that the full 10% weight for customer satisfaction.
|Score||2020 ACSI score||Consumer Reports score|
For both ACSI and Consumer Reports scores, we selected ranges that ensured there was a relatively equal spread of providers across our point system. The ACSI’s scores are more condensed because low scores are much more of a rarity than with Consumer Reports.
Our team is constantly looking for ways to improve the way we evaluate internet service providers. Internet providers change their prices and plans often, and we conduct regular audits of all the information on our site to make sure everything you see is as up-to-date as possible.
In addition to these changes, we’re also looking for ways to provide even more context to our readers. Right now, more subjective factors like customer service, experience with technicians and consistency of speeds aren’t included in our scores, but we hope to capture them in the near future. While these aren’t a part of our scores at the moment, our writers will still share their experiences with these factors in the reviews themselves.
For more information on our process, see our Allconnect editorial policy.
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