The best broadband service is defined by those factors that are most important to you. If money is no object, the best plan might be the fastest plan. If money is the primary concern, the best broadband might be the least expensive service. If convenience defines the best, it’s probably simplest to call your cable TV company; or perhaps customer service is your number one concern, making your choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP) the most important factor in choosing the best broadband provider. It's likely that it will be a combination of these factors taken in different degrees that will define the best broadband for you, so let's take them one at a time.
Fastest: If you have a need for speed and your wallet is willing to look the other way, watch out for fiber optic broadband. While only available in select areas, fiber optic cable is replacing copper telephone lines and can pack a whollop when it comes to bandwidth. This cable can deliver television, digital phone and Internet with plenty of room to spare. As of February 2009, one provider offers speeds up to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for about $140 US Dollars (USD) per month. If your wallet just looked back your way, consider bottom tier plans of 10 Mbps for about $45 USD per month.
Cable TV would be the next best broadband choice, if speed is your need. Cable can handle transfer rates up to 30 Mbps, though most cable plans place caps on the bandwidth to accommodate more customers at reduced speeds of 3-20 Mbps. High local load, (many local residents surfing at once), can also slow service if allotted bandwidth runs short.
A top-tier DSL plan can wet your whistle at speeds up to 6 Mbps, but be sure to ask if you live near the local DSL router or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM). The nearer your physical address to the DSLAM, the closer your speed will be to the top boundary of the plan.
In Japan, South Korea and other areas, second generation Very high bitrate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL2) puts fiber optic to shame at speeds up to 100 Mbps over copper lines. Unfortunately you’ll be hard-pressed to find VDSL2 in the United States.
Cheapest: DSL plans have introductory speeds at affordable prices, making this your best broadband choice when budget is the main concern. DSL providers offer plans with speeds up to 768 kilobits per second (kbps) for about $14 USD per month in most areas. Dial-up operates at less than 54 kbps, making even the slowest DSL plan many times faster for your cruising pleasure.
Easiest: If you don’t have time to shop for a provider and just want Internet access while investing the least amount of time, contact your local cable TV provider. They will provide Internet access over your cable lines either directly or by subscribing you to a third party that provides broadband service for them.
Many people consider cable Internet to be the best broadband choice because it’s faster than DSL, though there is some cross-over in speed and plans. Cable can theoretically accommodate up to 30 Mbps, but is usually capped by the provider at speeds between 3-20 Mbps. Cable Internet costs about $45 USD per month or more.
Best Customer Service: It could be that you are new to broadband and you’d like the comfort of knowing you can be walked through the process, if needed, without the headaches of long phone cues and automated menus that get you nowhere slowly. In many cases a local or smaller DSL company will provide superior customer service to large, national conglomerates, telcos or cable companies.
Search for a list of DSL providers in your area, then contact a prospective provider by calling the customer service number listed on the ISPs website. You shouldn’t have to navigate through more than one menu to reach a real person, and the wait should be reasonable given the time of day. Ask the representative about the company’s customer service, then follow up with a little research online to see how they’re rated by current customers.
Websites like DSL Reports have a wealth of information about ISPs and rate providers according to feedback. Note however, that people who are satisfied with a company rarely leave feedback compared to disgruntled customers who tend to be more motivated comparatively. No company can please everyone, but you should get an idea, along with your phone calls, as to which company might be the best broadband provider for you.
Regardless of priorities, if you use USENET Newsgroups, be sure the provider offers a News feed or you’ll be forced to get a third party service. The number of email addresses afforded might also be important if you’ll be sharing the plan with family members. Providing your own modem can also save a small monthly fee, assuming you are comfortable configuring the DSL or cable modem to connect to the service.