Best Internet for Streaming 2020
Fiber internet is excellent for streaming in 4K and HD—but cable internet is good enough for most binge-watching.
What’s the best internet for streaming?
By now, you know that streaming TV services like Netflix and Sling TV require an internet connection. If not, you’ve probably had a really frustrating time trying to watch Ozark.
Choosing the right internet service for your streaming needs can also be frustrating: What kind should you get? How much speed is necessary? What’s even available in your area? Why is the show called Ozark when the region is most commonly known as the Ozarks? (That one’s just us.)
At CableTV.com, we recommend fiber-optic internet, but cable, DSL, and satellite internet services have their merits. When it comes to speed, we’re firm that at least 25 Mbps (megabytes per second) is best for streaming, even though most services say 5–7 Mbps is adequate. We’ll explain why below.
Availability may be the biggest factor of all—you have to go with what’s available in your neighborhood, and it’s not always going to be the fastest or cheapest internet on the market. We’ve included recommendations here for some of the most widely-available internet providers in the US; there’s bound to be at least one near you.
Recommended speeds for streaming
The usual streaming service recommendation of 5–7 Mbps of download speed isn’t wrong; it just doesn’t consider that more than one device may be connected to the internet at the same time. Think of every gadget in your household that’s streaming something right now—we’d guess there’s more than one.
To avoid buffering and picture pixelation—that blurry, jagged look of a 2005 YouTube video—with multiple devices sharing the internet, 25 Mbps is as low as you want to go. How much more speed you’ll need depends on your consumption habits.
Streaming with different types of internet connections
Now that we’ve gone over download speeds and internet providers, let’s dig into how each type of internet service works and how different internet connections affect your streaming experience.
Fiber internet streaming
Fiber-optic internet transmits as pulses of light over hair-thin glass strands, and it can hit blazing download speeds up to and beyond 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps—gigabyte per second). Having fiber connections available directly to homes and businesses is a relatively new service that covers only about 35% of the US currently.
Fiber internet is also capable of equal upload speeds; with other types of internet service, upload numbers are about 10% of download rates. Uploading your hamster-grooming tutorial to YouTube takes only minutes with fiber, as opposed to hours with cable or DSL.
Cable internet streaming
Cable internet service was introduced in the ’90s, using existing cable TV coaxial lines to deliver faster internet than DSL and dial-up services could over their copper telephone lines. Thanks to modem upgrades in the 2010s, some cable internet services can achieve fiber-like download speeds up to 500 Mbps (but upload speeds are still a fraction of download).
The biggest selling point of cable internet is that it’s available nearly everywhere, covering close to 90% of the country. The downside of cable internet is that it slows when your neighbors on the service are surfing at the same time, creating a data logjam.
DSL internet streaming
Digital subscriber line (DSL) delivers internet service over standard telephone lines, which are even more prevalent than cable connections. Even some of the most remote regions of the US have access to DSL internet, if not dial-up (the original, and slowest, internet—like AOL or CompuServe from the ’90s).
In most cases, DSL internet can reach a download speed of 50 Mbps—and that speed drops depending on the distance between you and the central connection point. DSL signals degrade over longer ranges, meaning some rural areas are lucky to get 5 Mbps of service. Ouch.
Satellite internet streaming
Satellite internet works mostly the same as satellite TV: the signal comes from a satellite in space, and the data is received by a dish attached to the outside of your home or business.
Unlike satellite TV, which can deliver an HD picture indistinguishable from cable, satellite internet is limited in its signal capabilities. It’s also expensive and comes with low data caps. If you’re in an area that doesn’t even get DSL service, satellite’s an acceptable last resort, but that’s the only instance in which we’d recommend satellite internet. Seriously—keep looking.
Final take: fiber internet is best for streaming
As far as we’re concerned, fiber-optic internet is king. It’s fast and consistent, and unlike other delivery methods, it was designed for the internet, not retrofitted. It might be a little more expensive, but for seamless streaming we say it’s worth it—if you can get it.
In fiber-free zones, cable internet is a speedy choice, with DSL running a close third. The services are easy to find, and both work well (to varying degrees) for streaming TV.
In a distant last place, satellite internet isn’t going to deliver satisfying streaming. We’d recommend getting an actual satellite TV service over trying to stream shows and movies with satellite internet—it would probably even end up being cheaper.
Best internet for streaming FAQ
How much internet speed do I need for streaming and gaming?
One or two internet users can get by with 5–7 Mbps of download speed, but CableTV.com recommends at least 25 Mbps to avoid buffering and lag time. For larger households with heavy internet usage, especially gaming, we’d bump that up to 100 Mbps—bandwidth gets eaten quickly.
Is there a better way to get rural internet than satellite?
Where it’s available, fixed wireless internet is a better option than satellite internet because its signal comes from earthbound towers instead of satellites in space. It’s like a stationary, dedicated version of using your mobile phone as an internet hotspot, with an average download speed of 15 Mbps.
Like other rural services, fixed wireless internet is limited by availability—but it does reach more edge-of-the-grid areas than most cable, DSL, and fiber internet providers.
How can I find out which internet providers are in my area?
You could scan through each provider’s websites to find out if it services your neighborhood, or you could save all that time and use our handy tool, instead. Simply enter your ZIP code below and we’ll show you which internet providers are in your area (and leave out the ones that aren’t).