CenturyLink offers excellent fiber internet, but it’s available only in limited markets. If you can't get fiber, you may be able to get a DSL connection but you'll pay nearly as much.
HughesNet has the cheapest broadband satellite internet plans, with speeds up to 25 Mbps and data limits up to 100 GB. You'll pay a lot of money for not a lot of speed and not much data, but it's a workable way to connect for folks in rural areas. Where available, consider other connection types or satellite internet providers if you don’t want to be held back.
CenturyLink offers two types of plans, depending on your location. The more common option is DSL, which is relatively slow and offers inconsistent speeds. The other option is fiber, which is extremely fast and reliable.
Generally speaking, the DSL options are not a great value. The price is reasonable, but the speeds mean you’re likely to get more for your money elsewhere (this is true for many DSL providers). The fiber plans are a much better value—they offer much more speed for the money than CenturyLink’s DSL plans and are competitive with other providers’ fiber offerings. In fact, CenturyLink's 940 Mbps plan costs a little more than half of the national benchmark for similar plans (1). We highly recommend CenturyLink fiber if you have it available.
With any HughesNet plan, you get the same 25 Mbps download speed, and you'll pay around double the national benchmark for similar non-satellite internet plans (1). This meets the minimum definition of broadband, but it’s still relatively slow, even for satellite internet. You’ll be able to check email and do basic web browsing, but it’s not ideal for more intensive use. HughesNet simply can’t compete in areas where cable or fiber connections are available.
HughesNet’s plans differ based on how much high-speed data you get and range from 15 GB to 100 GB. Like with Viasat, you won’t get any overage charges for going over your plan’s high-speed data limit with Hughesnet, but your speeds will get throttled to a nearly unusable 1–3 Mbps. There are a couple of unique ways to get extra data with HughesNet. During the off-peak Bonus Zone hours of 2:00 am to 8:00 am, you get 50 GB of extra data. If you run out of high-speed data during a billing cycle, you can also get back up to speed by purchasing Data Tokens, which start at $9 for 3 GB and don’t expire.
The best HughesNet plan is the Fusion 100 GB plan, which improves latency by tapping into wireless networks for some online activities.
You’ll want to steer clear of lower data cap plans, as you’re likely to blow through a 15 to 30 GB high-speed data allowance within days, especially if you do any streaming.
HughesNet plans start out at about $20 less than Viasat plans, but jump up after six months. They're still slightly more affordable when standard pricing kicks in, considering that Viasat has its own price hike after three months. But if you want a satellite internet plan with higher download speeds or more than 100 GB of data, compare your options with Viasat and Starlink.
There’s a performance divide based on the type of service available. The CenturyLink DSL plans can range from 15 to 100 Mbps, which is a wide range. Additionally, 15 Mbps just isn’t great these days. It doesn’t even reach broadband speeds (25 Mbps or more). That said, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting the advertised speed—whatever plan you sign up for, you seem to get what you pay for with CenturyLink.
On the other hand, the fiber plans offer Gigabit speeds (up to 940 Mbps), which is excellent. Additionally, fiber internet offers synchronous download speeds and upload speeds, meaning you can game, video chat, or upload large files just as fast as you binge Netflix. Fiber also tends to be inherently reliable because of the way the technology works—the light signals in fiber optic cables can carry more information over longer distances than coaxial cables. We have no complaints about performance on these plans.
With any satellite internet provider, performance will depend on individual factors, including your location and how well your dish is positioned. There are also factors beyond your control, such as bad weather and occasional outages. Cable or fiber connections tend to be faster and more dependable, while satellite connections have slower speeds and higher latency due to the long distance between your home and the satellite overhead.
According to data from Ookla, HughesNet’s median download speed in Q4 of 2021 was 20.92 Mbps (2). That’s not too far off from its advertised top speed of 25 Mbps. According to this data, its upload speed and latency are just a bit lower than Viasat’s. And, although Starlink seems to outperform both HughesNet and Viasat on each of those points, Starlink seems to have more issues with reliability and isn’t as widely available. Common complaints about HughesNet’s service on Downdetector include slow speeds and some outages, sometimes for days in a row (3).
CenturyLink installation is more or less on par with other providers in terms of installation procedures and costs. If your neighborhood is wired for only DSL with CenturyLink, you can have your internet service set up by a pro for somewhere between $129 and $300 based on the installation requirements. You can alternatively choose to do a self-install for $15.
If you live in an area wired for CenturyLink fiber, your pro installation and equipment rental are free, and you may be able to self-install for free. You could also wrangle unlimited data and an included mesh wireless network if you sign a contract, so be sure to ask. This is about on par with other fiber internet providers.
Find out whether you need a professional to come by or if you can handle setup yourself.
As for equipment, the CenturyLink modem and router are also pretty standard stuff. The company charges around $15 per month for equipment rentals for DSL customers. The gear is nothing to write home about, but it works. You can also buy the modem outright from CenturyLink for up to $200—whether this is a good deal for you depends on how long you plan to have CenturyLink as a provider.
We don’t particularly recommend buying your own router. Both the DSL and fiber services require a modem certified by CenturyLink to function, so you may as well save some money and use the built-in wireless router.
When you sign up for HughesNet, you can decide to either lease or purchase equipment from the company. Usually, the cost for leasing equipment is around $20 per month and purchasing is around $450. Purchasing equipment is a good deal if you think you’ll continue your service beyond the two-year contract term, and it doesn't require a credit check.
Depending on current promotions, you can sometimes get discounts for leasing or purchasing and have the $99 installation fee waived. You may also be able to score a $100 prepaid gift card, even if you're using your ACP benefit.
Ordering online can sometimes save you up to $50, but the address system on the site is clunky. If you enter yours and Hughesnet says it can't find your address, you may need to call in.
HughesNet’s equipment costs and installation process are about the same as Viasat. Starlink, on the other hand, requires you to purchase the equipment up front for a higher cost and install it yourself.
HughesNet will send a technician to professionally install your equipment, which includes a satellite dish, Wi-Fi modem, router, and everything else you need. Installation typically happens within five days of signup, and service windows are about 3 hours long.
The technician will put the dish on your house, or on a pole mount in the ground for $25 extra, and ensure a clear line of sight to the satellite. A hole will be drilled into your home for the cable to connect to the modem inside. Once the system is active and tested, the technician will also connect up to two devices to the network for you.
CenturyLink consistently scores slightly below average in customer satisfaction (2), largely due to complaints about a lack of responsiveness regarding customer service. The service also gets a lot of complaints from new fiber internet customers, but complaints are very common industry-wide.
CenturyLink hires techs and contractors from around the country, so some inconsistency is expected. It redeems itself slightly, though, with an easy-to-use support page.
The company is expanding and we hear that many new cities will have fiber internet hookups from CenturyLink within the next few years. If you can get only DSL, though, you may have a connection as slow as 3 Mbps or one as fast as 100 Mbps, with huge variation in latency depending on how far you are from the nearest access point.
We like that CenturyLink provides DSL to customers who may have no other option, but we don't recommend the DSL offering if you have access to cable or fiber internet from another provider.
Customer experience with HughesNet is comparable to its primary satellite internet competitor, Viasat. For billing and tech support questions, the company gives you several ways to contact customer support: by phone, live chat, or email. HughesNet also has an online forum for customers to ask and answer each other’s questions, as well as FAQs and help articles. You can easily manage your account through the website or mobile app.
HughesNet also offers Voice, a VoIP phone service that uses your satellite internet connection, plus an internet security package. Both are free for the first month, but you'll be charged starting in your second month, so set yourself a reminder to call and cancel the extras if you're not sure you need them.