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.
Starlink uses new low-orbit technology to deliver satellite internet to customers around the globe. The company got its start offering faster speeds and much lower latency than other satellite providers, but now offers download speeds comparable to those offered by other satellite providers. Starlink still offers decently low latency for satellite, but it can’t compete against fiber or cable internet providers.
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.
Starlink offers a variety of internet plans in four main categories: Standard, Priority, Mobile, and Mobile Priority. Its Standard plan is decent for home internet if you don’t have any fiber or cable internet options, but it will cost $90–$120. The Mobile plan is intended for RVs and travelers. These standard plans aren’t subject to official data caps, which is a nice change! If you go with the mobile option, you can pause it month to month but your traffic will be deprioritized relative to home and priority users.
Starlink’s most expensive plans are now named Priority plans, and there’s one for fixed locations and one for use on the go. Both have data caps, and both require a spendy high-performance receiver. Both plans cost at least $250 per month, with increased rates if you need more high-speed data. That’s some of the most expensive prices we’ve seen for internet anywhere, so these plans are pretty hard to recommend for most households.
Satellite internet provider Viasat has plans that are priced similarly to Starlink's standard options, but with data caps and much higher latency. That means that, while you can get a Viasat plan of 100 Mbps in some places, your connection will still feel very slow because it takes so long for data to get to and from the high-orbit satellites. HughesNet, the other big satellite provider in the US, has pricing similar to Starlink's but strict data caps and download speeds that reach only 25 Mbps.
Even with its benefits compared to other satellite providers, Starlink earned a pretty low score on value because the service is much slower and more expensive than home internet from cable or fiber internet providers. It doesn’t compete very well against DSL or fixed wireless internet either, but it’s a decent option of last resort if you are a digital nomad or live in a rural area.
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.
Starlink once offered download speeds that were much, much faster than what satellite competitors could offer, but the company changed its plans and pricing in May of 2023. Today, the service sells home internet with download speeds of 25–100 Mbps, upload speeds of 5–10 Mbps, and latency in the range of 25–50 ms. Those speeds look fast enough for gaming and video conferencing on paper, but third-party research from Ookla found that Starlink users are getting average download speeds of about 66 Mbps, upload speeds of nearly 8 Mbps, and latency of a 62 ms in the first quarter of 2023. That kind of service might be good enough for online shopping or even streaming one show in high definition, but you wouldn’t be able to make video calls, play some online games, or livestream your gameplay. (1)
That same study showed Starlink performed better on all speed metrics than competitors Viasat or HughesNet, but was worse than cable and fiber providers across the board. Unfortunately, Starlink speeds are slowing as the company adds new subscribers because of network congestion. The change in plan offerings is the best evidence of that, but it's not hopeless. The company has launched nearly 4,000 satellites and is planning new launches with updated V2 equipment it says will improve reliability and handle much more bandwidth. (2)
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.
Unlike other satellite internet providers, Starlink does not require (or even offer) professional installation. Instead, you will be sent a Starlink Kit that contains all the hardware you need to install a Starlink dish yourself. Although the kit comes with a satellite dish and a base, you may want to purchase a mount to place the dish above ground level for a clearer view of the sky.
If you need internet while traveling, you'll need one of Starlink’s mobile plans. If you don’t need to use the receiver while you’re traveling faster than 10 miles per hour, you can stick with the basic $600 model. If you need internet while your RV or boat is moving, though, you’ll need one of the Mobile Priority plans and the required high-performance receiver.
To install Starlink, download the app on your phone and follow the instructions to find an unobstructed view and complete the setup. The do-it-yourself installation is designed to be straightforward, but it can take several hours. If technical issues arise, you can turn to Starlink customer support or an unofficial online community for help.
Unlike HughesNet and Viasat, Starlink doesn’t offer a leasing option for its equipment in the US, or require an activation fee. Instead, customers have to buy the basic Starlink Kit for a high upfront cost of $599. That averages to about $25 per month if you spread the cost over two years, which is more than you would pay for Viasat or HughesNet equipment. If you need the high-performance Starlink kit because of either extreme weather or your Priority service plan, setup starts at $2,500 before taxes.
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.
Starlink’s customer support seems to be struggling to keep up with the needs of its growing customer base. Along with sometimes inconsistent speeds and connectivity issues, this is leading to mixed experiences with the service.
Elon Musk, CEO of Starlink, recently said delays were most common in highly populated areas, but rural areas are the best place for the service, anyway. (3) There have also been reports of long delays in receiving Starlink equipment due to the effects of the global chip shortage on production. (4) Some customers who pre-ordered Starlink kits have had to wait more than a year to receive them and received few updates from the company (5), but you can look up your address using this Starlink map to find out what to expect.
Other internet providers tend to offer more customer support options and be more reachable than Starlink. Starlink’s website offers a customer support FAQ section, but there is no public contact phone number or email address. To contact the company directly for assistance, you have to log in and send customer support a message. On the plus side, it is possible to find help elsewhere. Starlink has an enthusiastic community of users who post helpful videos on YouTube and answer questions on Reddit.