DSL vs. Cable Internet

Our experts explain the key differences between DSL internet and cable internet.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) internet and cable internet are two of the many internet technology types you’ll run into while looking for a new internet provider. While DSL internet can reach speeds up to 100 Mbps, cable internet blows that out of the water with speeds up to 1,000 Mbps.

The DSL and cable speeds you see today are faster than ever, thanks to the fiber internet backbones that carry your data over long distances. Many of these fiber networks still depend on pre-existing DSL and cable lines to complete the last leg of your data’s journey: bringing internet right to your house.

DSL internet

DSL technology uses standard phone lines, but doesn’t interrupt your phone calls because it sends data at a higher frequency than traditional phone uses. Because DSL makes use of existing phone lines, it’s common throughout the US.

However, DSL tech falls further and further behind other technology types. Old phone lines and extended distance from fiber backbones can affect your internet speed and reliability. Despite this, rural DSL plans often cost as much as their urban DSL counterparts—which can be ten times faster.

DSL internet providers

Cable internet

Cable internet, on the other hand, works over cable TV lines. These coaxial copper cables can support faster speeds than DSL internet, but cable internet plans still tend to cost about the same as DSL internet plans, so you can get more bang for your buck with cable internet.

Also, if you like to save some cash on internet equipment, you can buy a third-party cable modem/router combo instead of renting one from your internet provider. This isn’t a viable option with most DSL plans because DSL networks don’t use the same standardized tech that cable networks do.

(If you’re really interested in DSL modems, we cover the half-dozen DSL network types and modem options in our CenturyLink modem article.)

Final take

Cable internet tends to offer faster internet speeds at the same price as DSL plans, so cable will probably be the better option if you’re choosing between two providers. Of course, fiber internet is the fastest internet technology, but it’s available only in select areas across the US.

To see which internet types are available in your neighborhood, enter your zip code below. We’ll pull up a list of the major internet providers near you.

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Fiber internet providers

DSL vs. cable internet FAQ

Is cable more reliable than DSL?

While cable networks tend to be more reliable than DSL, DSL networks can be reliable if they’re well-kept and close to a fiber backbone. To see if your internet provider ranks among our most reliable, check out our Internet Provider Customer Satisfaction Survey.

Why is DSL more expensive than cable?

DSL is often overpriced compared to cable because it’s the only internet option available in the area, not because it offers better or faster internet. Internet providers price their services as they please, and it’s easier for them to get away with charging more if there aren’t competing providers.

If you’d like to check for other internet providers in your area, enter your zip code below. We’ll help you find all the major providers near you.

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Is cable or DSL better for streaming?

Both cable and DSL can provide a smooth streaming connection if you have fast enough internet speeds. We recommend that you have at least 25 Mbps of bandwidth dedicated to your high-definition video streaming.

Which is better: DSL or cable internet?

Cable internet is better than DSL because it provides much faster speeds, often up to 1,000 Mbps.

Is cable internet the same as DSL?

While DSL service relies on existing phone lines, cable internet runs on coaxial copper cables. The difference in technology gives cable internet faster speeds.

Is DSL or cable internet better for gaming?

Cable internet is probably your best bet for video games. We recommend an internet service with at least 100 Mbps speeds for gaming, and while DSL can sometimes reach those speeds, it’s at the very high end of its capabilities. Cable internet speeds are much more capable, often going up to 1,000 Mbps.


Our experts have years of experience researching the ins and outs of DSL and cable internet, and we used all of it to bring you this guide. For more on our research processes, head over to How We Rank.

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