Cable Vs Fiber Vs Dsl - What's the Best Option for Me?

The choice of DSL, cable, or fiber Internet service depends on area availability, how a home is wired, and consumer choice. Fiber is not yet available in many areas and many companies no longer support DSL connectivity, making cable broadband the option of choice for most people in the United States. Cost and Internet needs are two issues that consumers should consider when making a decision.

Choosing broadband Internet for your home or office can be a daunting task. Depending on where you live, you may have multiple options in terms of providers and the technologies they use. On the other hand, you may have but one choice for establishing an Internet connection.

If you do have a choice of provider, you may want to consider how they connect your home or office to the Internet. The three primary technologies are DSL, cable and fiber.


A digital subscriber line, known primarily as "DSL" is the granddaddy of high-speed Internet connections. DSL runs over phone lines to provide broadband connectivity.

As an older technology, it's important to note that DSL is the slowest way of connecting to the Internet. Download speeds are 5-35 Mbps and upload speeds are 1-10 Mbps. While this is sufficient for many residential households, gamers and people who do a lot of streaming may find that these speeds don't meet their needs.

Given the slowness of DSL, you may wonder why people still have DSL connections. The reason is that most homes in the United States are still wired for landline phone service. If the home is wired for phone service and has a working phone jack indoors, DSL service can be established.

Some Internet service providers no longer provide DSL service, but some do, and the rates can be more affordable than faster options such as cable or fiber. The only way to find out if DSL is available to you is to contact your areas providers and ask about availability.


Cable broadband Internet makes use of another type of technology that most homes in the United States already have: Cable television. The same coaxial cables that bring TV service to a home can also bring broadband Internet at much faster speeds than telephone lines.

If you opt for cable internet, you should be able to get download speeds between 10-500 Mbps and upload speeds between 5-50 Mbps. The significant disparity between the lowest possible speeds and the highest usually depends on your provider's capabilities as well as the package that you choose. As you might expect, you will pay more for faster speeds.

Cable Internet has proven so popular that many well-established cable television providers have pivoted their businesses to Internet service. Companies like Xfinity, RCN and others offer packages that don't even include cable television but include a device that can help users stream video contacts and live television to their smart TVs. In fact, some providers even offer free streaming services as part of their packages.


Fiber optic networks provide the fastest Internet service at this time. These cables are made of glass wires and use light to transmit signals. As a result, those who have fiber broadband can get download speeds between 250-1,000 Mbps and upload speeds of 250-1,000 Mbps. If you have many family members who are online at the same time, or involved with gaming, or do a lot of streaming, these speeds can be a significant game-changer. In addition, speech such as these can be beneficial in a business environment.

Unfortunately, fiber Internet is not widely available in the United States, although some major cities offer this option. Both AT&T and Verizon are two companies that are trying to roll out fiber Internet. If you are interested in upgrading your Internet to this level of service, you can contact your service provider and ask if they plan on rolling out fiber anytime soon. They may be able to put you on a mailing list so that you will be the first to know when fiber comes to your community.

Making Your Choice

If you do have a choice between providers and plans, you'll want to consider the following:

Cost: For many people, the choice of which Internet service to use boils down to cost. As a legacy technology, DSL is typically the cheapest. While its low cost is because it offers the slowest speed, it may still make sense for some families, particularly those living on a budget.

However, it's also important to note that most Internet providers offer other services, such as landline and mobile phone plans, cable television, home security and smart home services. In the end, a household may get a better deal by bundling services together: Don't rely too much on the pricing of one service if your household needs other telecommunications products.

Another option for a low-income household is to make use of the lifeline program, a federal program that provides discounts on telephone and Internet service. Service providers in your area may participate in this program, and some even offer their own income-qualified plans that offer you cable Internet service with no contracts and educational programs that can help you and your family get online quickly. Opting to participate in one of these programs could be a much better deal than simply choosing a DSL plan.

Performance: If you work or study from home, or prefer to have the highest speeds possible, you want to choose either cable or fiber connectivity. Many Internet service providers offer different levels of service, so you'll also want to compare plans to see which will give you the service level that you want. Keep in mind that there are other factors that might affect the speeds that you get. For example, some buildings and neighborhoods may have faster speeds than others. In addition, you'll need to take into consideration your devices and how well they perform.

Convenience: Many people find that they prefer to minimize the number of bills that they pay each month. Bundling through one service provider allows consumers to spend less time sorting through bills. If this is important to you, you may opt to get your Internet service from the company that is already providing your cable TV, landline phone or mobile phone service. Most well-known telecommunications companies such as Comcast, Cox and others already provide a full range of services.

However, there is a downside to bundling: If you do opt to bundle your services together, keep in mind that it can be challenging to unbundle them if you decide later on that you would prefer to cancel some services or choose to use other providers for specific services.

Customer service: Another important consideration is the level of service provided by the provider. If you have had a history of bad experiences with a provider, and you have alternatives in your area, you may opt to go with a service that is easier to work with.

Final Thoughts

If you plan to upgrade your current Internet connectivity or are moving to an area where you are unfamiliar with what Internet providers can offer, it pays to do some research. Find out which providers are in your area: Most provider websites have a search tool that allows you to enter your ZIP Code and street address to find out whether it is possible to connect you to that provider's network. You can also ask your HOA or property manager for information on what companies serve your building or neighborhood.

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