DSL is one of the most widely-available types of internet - so if you don’t have access to cable or fiber-optic, they might be the only option saving you from endless buffering that can come with satellite or dial up internet.
You might even be surprised to find speeds that rival some cable options, which is good news for you. Most people will only have access to 1 provider in their area, but sometimes you’ll see more than that – and then you have to figure out how to choose between them.
Well fear not – we’ve done the work for you, comparing the top DSL internet service providers (ISPs) to see which ones are best for what priority – and by extension, which one is best for you.
Best Overall - CenturyLink
*Price includes paperless billing and excludes taxes. Rate without is $5-$10 more per month.
CenturyLink’s DSL plans come in at a little higher price-per-Mbps than the other ISPs reviewed here – but it has an advantage going for it that potentially gives users the best value: the Price for Life guarantee.
Depending on the area you live in, your chosen DSL plan may qualify for this guarantee – and all it means is that the rate you get when you sign up is the rate you’ll keep – forever, so long as you stick with CenturyLink. That means you’ll be paying the same rate if you stay with the ISP for 2 years, 4, 6, or 14.5 – as long as you don’t leave them, you’re locked in “for Life.”
In terms of top-speed potential, CenturyLink has the highest of all the ones here, up to 140Mbps - so again, those rates aren’t looking too bad. Plus, by population at least, CenturyLink is 3rd in size of DSL providers. And in coverage by state, CenturyLink is in 39 to AT&T’s 21 - so you’re also likely to see CenturyLink around.
The 2 main downsides, though, are that 1) you need to bundle with a home phone to get a DSL plan; and 2) network performance: they come in below advertised speeds consistently, while AT&T, Verizon DSL, and Windstream exceed or come much closer.
Best Customer Service - AT&T Internet
*First 12 months only.
The second plan gives you a different speed based on the fastest that’s available in your area. So you’ll pay the same regardless of whether you get the top-end 100Mbps speeds, or the bottom 10Mbps speed. So potentially, the price works out well – although not always.
But where AT&T really shines is in customer service. Of the DSL providers, AT&T is #1 by the American Customer Satisfaction Index – and out of all ISPs, they’re #2.
Customer service aside, AT&T will give most people “enough speed” – for most uses. Plus, as the largest DSL provider in the U.S., AT&T stays transparent with language about pricing and fees, so you shouldn’t be surprised by your bills each month.
However, you do have a 1TB data cap on your usage – although that’s bigger than most people use in a month. If you do go over, though, you’ll have to pay $10/50GB past, up to $100 per month. And speedwise – although it might be enough – AT&T’s DSL internet landed in 13th place on Netfllix’s Speed Index – last place for all DSL providers.
Best for Actual Speeds - Verizon DSL
A quick glance at the table above in comparison to the other DSL providers here probably has you confused about our declaration – aren’t those speeds a lot lower than the other ISPs here?
Yes and no. Verizon DSL - not to be confused with Verizon Fios, their Fiber-optic connection - is true DSL: they don’t augment their speeds with a fiber-optic network before reaching your neighborhood - which is what most DSL (and cable, for that matter) providers do.
In previous years, Verizon’s DSL internet would have taken last place amongst all these providers. But not so as of June 2019’s Netflix leaderboard – Verizon took 1st place of all the DSL providers for best performance during prime time Netflix hours.
That said, Netflix doesn’t rate how ISPs perform otherwise – so we’re going to turn to the Federal Communications Commission to support our thesis here.
So while absolute speeds of Verizon DSL may not be great, you will certainly reach the speeds you’re buying – and likely higher. Even upload speeds, which are traditionally much poorer with DSL, are great – so in terms of money-for-actual-speeds, Verizon doesn’t do bad if they’re in your area and you don’t need huge amounts of bandwidth.
But again, absolute speeds are poor; another downside is that you need to pair Verizon’s DSL with a home phone. Plus, coverage is scarce – limited to the eastern coast. And if you have multiple internet users in your home, you probably won’t have enough bandwidth to support everyone – which is a big downer.
Best Budget ISP - Windstream
*First 12 months only.
Windstream offers just a few plans, but they’re well-priced – especially with their current promos. For the megabits-to-dollar ratio, there’s not a better provider in this list – not AT&T or Verizon; and you’re more likely to get close to your advertised speeds with Windstream than with Frontier.
Plus, Windstream takes 3rd place of the DSL providers on Netflix’s Leaderboard (11th overall) and has no contracts or data caps.
But unfortunately, we had some trouble finding out about extra fees and actual speeds otherwise – that’s poor transparency on their part. We like to be able to find out what we’re actually going to be paying and for what actual speeds.
Best for data - Frontier
|Simply Broadband Core||6Mbps||$20/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Ultra||12Mbps||$25/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Plus||18Mbps||$30/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Elite||25Mbps||$35.mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Power||45Mbps||$40/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Performance||70Mbps||$45/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Extreme||90Mbps||$50/mo.||View plans|
|Simply Broadband Velocity||115Mbps||$60/mo.||View plans|
|Vantage Internet Simply Elite||25Mbps||$30/mo.||View plans|
|Vantage Internet Simply Power||45Mpbs||$35/mo.||View plans|
Frontier Internet offers the greatest variety of plans, ranging from as few as 6Mbps all the way up 115Mbps. Their prices are middle-of-the-road: in some cases a little higher, other cases a little lower, than competitors. While not the fastest top speeds on this list, they’re pretty close - and you get such a variety of options with straightforward pricing, that there’s sure to be something close to you.
And speaking of close to you – Frontier’s the 4th-largest DSL provider, providing coverage in 38 states, so you’ll probably see them around pretty frequently. And in terms of performance? They do alright by the FCC’s numbers, and take 2nd place for DSL providers behind Verizon DSL on Netflix’s Leaderboard.
But Frontier’s best selling point is their data caps – specifically: there are none. All the other ISPs we’ve reviewed today have 1TB limits, but not so with Frontier. You and your 12 buddies can game, stream, browse, and download to your heart’s content, all month long.
How we chose the best DSL providers
Without a plan of attack, how do you decide what service provider is best, and for whom? If you focus solely on availability, it becomes clear to the big picture – but what about the small? A provider available to 20% of people might provide better speed and/or prices than the one that overlaps and is available to 22% of people.
So to make our selections, we relied on several factors combined together and weighed against each other:
We’ll say it: if a provider isn’t in your area, it doesn’t matter how good it is – you can’t make use of it. So this is definitely a big factor, but not the only one.
- Speed + data
All ISPs advertise potential speeds on their websites, but what do people actually get? We went to the FCC’s latest report to find out. Then we hopped over to Netflix’s Speed Index Leaderboard to see how the same ISPs fare during peak streaming hours in particular, since that’s a popular internet use.
- Price – monthly, contracts, and extra fees
Price always matters in some fashion. The cheapest won’t be always be best, but neither will the most expensive. It’s a nuanced thing, too, since while one provider might give a slightly cheaper monthly rate for the speed, it may have a data cap; and the provider you’re comparing it to might be a little more pricey per month, but have no data cap (as with Windstream and Frontier).
- Customer service
Lastly, you always hope to not have to deal with customer support. It’s notoriously poor across the entire industry, and the web is full of scathingly negative online reviews. That’s why we went to the ACSI and J.D. Power awards to find some hard numbers.
After looking at each of these things, if providers were equal in our eyes in many ways, we looked for the unique thing that set one above the other.
- Best Overall: In terms of long-term, overall value, CenturyLink delivers with its Price for Life guarantee. Every other provider hikes up its rates every so often, and CenturyLink doesn’t, while also providing the highest potential speeds on this list.
- Best for Customer Service: AT&T internet had the highest scores of all the DSL providers, making it a clear winner.
- Best for Actual speeds: Verizon was our pick, as AT&T was the only other DSL provider to meet or exceed advertised speeds; and Verizon did so spectacularly.
- Best for the Price: Windstream holds this one firmly in hand, with great speed-to-megabits.
- Best for Data: Frontier has no data caps – so they take the bag here.
What is DSL internet?
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) uses existing telephone wires to transmit internet data over distances. Because it uses an existing, aboveground infrastructure, it can reach further into rural areas than cable or fiber-optic internet.
Plus, while cable users share bandwidth in their neighborhood, DSL subscribers do not have to deal with this – each subscriber gets their own, separate from their neighbors.
Is cable better than DSL?
Yes and no. If you have the option for both, cable could be better when:
- Speeds are much higher (and you need them); and
- The price is fair in relation.
DSL can be better when:
- There are many subscribers to the same cable company in your neighborhood and you’ll get faster actual speeds with DSL;
- The price is better and you don’t need faster top-end cable speeds.
How fast is DSL?
On average, DSL speed typically comes in nearly as fast as cable internet – because cable connections being shared by multiple users nearby slows it down. However, DSL’s max speeds are much lower than cable.
Anyway, advances in technology are allowing DSL to increase their speeds. Very High Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) and VDSL2 allow up to 52Mbps and over 100Mbps download speeds, respectively.
How can I find DSL in my area?
Head over to this tool and put in your address. It’ll bring up all the internet service providers available to you in your region, including DSL providers.
What about bundles?
AT&T will give most people the best bundling deals: you can combine AT&T Internet with U-Verse TV, DIRECTV, or DIRECTV NOW – to the tune of about $10 bucks a month in savings, plus awesome perks like free premium channels.