Best internet providers for streaming

Whether you use it as a substitute or a complement to traditional cable TV, chances are you have a subscription (or use a shared password) to at least one streaming service. Millions have cut the cord in recent years in favor of cheaper streaming options, while others have added a streaming service or two to their home entertainment options just to watch exclusive shows like Netflix’s Squid Game or Ted Lasso on Apple TV Plus.

There are dozens of streaming services available, each with its own unique mix of live or on-demand content, but the one thing they all have in common is that you’ll need a reliable internet connection to watch. Download speeds of 50Mbps or higher will suffice for streaming in the highest quality with just about any service, but some internet providers are better suited than others when it comes to your streaming experience. The providers listed below are chosen as particularly good options for streaming due to their exceptionally fast speeds, cheap internet pricing or the extra streaming-specific perks.

WarnerMedia

Fiber internet is generally faster and more reliable than any other internet type, making it the ideal internet connection type for streaming. Fiber service can be tough to find and somewhat pricey, but AT&T boasts the highest fiber availability in the US and some of the most budget-friendly plans. 

AT&T Fiber 300 offers download and upload speeds of up to 300 megabits per second — more than enough speed for streaming on multiple devices — starting at $35 per month. That’s the lowest pricing (and fastest starting speeds) you’ll find among major fiber providers, including CenturyLink, Frontier FiberOptic and Verizon Fios. 

AT&T’s gig service, while priced a bit higher than the 300Mbps plan starting at $60 per month, comes with the added streaming bonus of a free HBO Max subscription. That’s not for a limited time or trial period — that’s for as long as you have the plan, an ongoing $15 monthly value.

Read our AT&T Fiber review.

 

AT&T Home Internet

Cox Communications

There’s nothing particularly special about internet service from Cox Communications. Plans and speeds are on par with any other cable ISP, but the provider does stand out with its exclusive streaming device, which plugs into your TV like a Roku.

The Cox Contour Stream Player is available with all Cox internet plans including Internet Starter and above — so basically every Cox plan aside from prepaid service, Cox StraightUp Internet and its low-income service, Connect2Compete — for just $5 extra per month. The streaming device comes preloaded with popular streaming apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, HBO Max and Discovery Plus. The device also supports 4K streaming and a voice remote and custom guide settings to help you quickly find what you want to watch.

Customers who rent a Cox Contour Stream Player will also receive a Peacock Premium subscription, a $5 per month value that offsets the device’s monthly rental fee.

Read our Cox Communications review.

 

Cox Communications

Google Fiber

The Federal Communications Commission recommends speeds of 25Mbps for streaming in 4K. It’s important to note that doesn’t necessarily mean an internet plan with speeds of 25Mbps is good for streaming in 4K. It means that sustained, actual speeds of at least 25Mbps are recommended. There are a lot of things that can limit your actual speeds, such as using Wi-Fi and connecting multiple devices to your network, so you’re going to want a plan with max speeds well above 25Mbps if you want to stream in 4K. 

You’ll find plenty of speed for streaming in 4K on a virtually unlimited number of devices with Google Fiber. The provider offers two high-speed, high-value plans with gig service starting at $70 per month and 2-gig service starting at $100 per month. Starting prices are a bit higher with Google Fiber, but service comes with free Wi-Fi equipment and the comfort of knowing everyone in your household will have plenty of speed for high-quality streaming.

Read our Google Fiber review.

 

Windstream

Internet options are limited in rural areas, so finding a provider with speeds and data suitable for streaming can be a challenge. Satellite internet, a popular internet option in rural areas, often fails to deliver speeds needed for quality streaming, not to mention the low data allowances. DSL internet is another popular choice in rural areas, but speeds can still be an issue, that is unless Kinetic by Windstream is available in your area.

Kinetic offers the fastest DSL speeds of any major provider, up to 200Mbps in select areas. Speeds of 100Mbps or higher — ample speed for streaming — are available to around 65% of households serviceable for Kinetic. Additionally, Kinetic has an expanding fiber network, also dedicated to rural and suburban areas, that can deliver speeds up to 1,000Mbps. 

Another perk to Kinetic internet service is that all plans come with unlimited data. While many providers on this list also offer unlimited data, a plan with no data cap can be tougher to come by in rural areas where satellite and fixed wireless service often have strict monthly limits.

Read our Kinetic by Windstream review.

 

Kinetic Internet

Charter

Spectrum is CNET’s choice for best cable internet provider overall, thanks to its fast speeds, simple pricing and unlimited data — all qualities that also make it ideal for streaming. Spectrum also offers a low-priced, add-on streaming service to all internet customers who don’t sign up for a traditional cable TV plan.

Spectrum TV Essentials is a streaming add-on with 60-plus live channels starting at around $20 per month. It’s the only low-cost, live TV streaming add-on I’ve seen from a major cable TV provider, and it includes popular channels such as A&E, Discovery Channel, HGTV, Lifetime, Nickelodeon and Travel Channel. Local networks are not included, however, so you may want to invest in a cheap digital antenna to watch your local channels if Spectrum TV Essentials is to be your only live TV service.

Read our Spectrum review.

 

Spectrum Internet

Sarah Tew/CNET

Few things are worse than having your favorite show interrupted by the dreaded buffering ring. A high-speed connection, and one that is consistently reliable, is the best defense against buffering, and that’s just what customers can expect with Verizon Fios. 

Verizon Fios claims to have a 99.99% reliability, which means you can count on getting through the season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale without a significant service interruption ruining your experience. Additionally, Verizon Fios plans come with plenty of speed — 200Mbps, 400Mbps and gig service — to stream in HD or 4K.

For a limited time, all Verizon Fios plans also come with an AMC Plus subscription for 12 months. It’s a $5 per month value and grants unlimited streaming access to shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

Read our Verizon Fios review.

 

Verizon Fios

Comcast Xfinity

Unless you have a newer smart TV with built-in streaming apps, you’ll likely need some sort of streaming device to access services such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus. These devices can easily cost $50 or more, but Xfinity includes a fairly high-tech one at no extra cost with all Xfinity internet plans.

The Xfinity Flex device comes loaded with dozens of popular streaming apps, supports 4K streaming and features an “award-winning” voice remote. Again, the device is free to all Xfinity internet customers. A free subscription to Peacock Premium is also included.

Read our Xfinity internet review.

 

Xfinity Internet

Best internet for streaming FAQs

What speed do I need for streaming?

The FCC recommends speeds of 3 to 25Mbps for streaming depending on the video quality. As far as requirements and recommendations from individual streaming providers, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video recommend at least 25Mbps for 4K streaming, while Hulu suggests 16Mbps or higher for 4K streaming.

Keep in mind that a provider’s recommendations are minimum actual speeds — not a plan’s max advertised speeds. Using Wi-Fi, connecting multiple devices and other uncontrollable factors, such as peak internet usage times, can slow speeds. So even if you have a plan with advertised speeds of 25Mbps, it is unlikely that’s the actual speed your streaming device will get. Consequently, faster speeds, 100Mbps or higher, are going to be best for households that plan on streaming in high quality on multiple devices over a Wi-Fi connection.

Does streaming use a lot of data?

Streaming TV can use anywhere from 3 to 8GB per hour, depending on the picture quality. If your internet plan has unlimited data, there’s really no need to worry about how much data streaming uses. On the other hand, if you have a data cap and are a heavy streamer, you may want to keep an eye on your usage.

Cox and Xfinity both come with data caps of 1.2TB per month. While that is a ton of data — the average household uses somewhere around 400GB in the course of a month — excessive streaming could have you rapidly approaching that limit. For example, let’s say you typically stream in HD quality, sometimes 4K, and use roughly 5GB of data per streaming hour. After 240 hours, you’ve reached the magic 1.2TB limit and are on the verge of overage fees. 

Granted, 240 hours seems like a lot, but when you consider streaming on multiple devices, or perhaps falling asleep with the TV on, those hours, and data, can quickly add up. Additionally, streaming TV isn’t the only thing in your home that consumes data. Anything you do online will contribute to your data usage, though no activity is likely to use up as much data as streaming TV.

Is satellite internet good for streaming?

Satellite internet comes with lower monthly data allowances than any other internet type, which makes it less than ideal for streaming. That’s not to say you can’t stream TV with satellite internet — the 25Mbps that comes with HughesNet or up to 100Mbps you can get from Viasat is enough speed for streaming TV — it’s just that streaming TV will use a significant amount of precious data. 

The priciest plans from HughesNet and Viasat offer up to 100GB and 150GB of data per month, respectively. Both plans will run you well over $100 per month, and neither are likely to support more than a full day’s streaming binge of Game of Thrones along with everything else you use the internet for throughout the course of a month. Once you’ve reached your data limit for the month, both providers may drastically drop your speeds to 1-3Mbps, which aren’t recommended for streaming.

If you want to stream a few shows here and there each month, satellite internet will probably suffice, but if you want to completely cut the cord and rely on streaming for all your entertainment, it’d be best to look for other internet options with higher data allowances.

Read more: Best internet providers with no data caps

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