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.
Ziply offers great pricing for medium-to-large households and absurdly fast internet for power users. This provider has a few quirks, like hidden contracts and no self-setup, but if those don’t bother you, Ziply is a solid internet service provider in the Northwestern US.
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.
Overall, Ziply offers fast fiber internet at great prices. Its slowest plans (50 Mbps and 200 Mbps) are the best value, priced at 25% and 33% of the national benchmark, respectively. (1) Its 1 gig plan is relatively more expensive, but it still comes in under 45% of the national benchmark for similar plans. After introductory pricing ends, your monthly bill will increase by about $20 per month, but you’ll still pay less than average. Plus, you’ll get unlimited data.
If you want the absolute fastest internet possible, Ziply also offers 2- and 5-gig plans, but these come with much higher price tags. A 2-gig plan is nearly double the cost of a 1-gig plan (no bulk discount here), and a 5-gig plan is nearly 4 times the cost! (2) And there’s no introductory pricing for these blazing-fast plans. You’ll also need to spring for your own router (the Ziply one doesn’t support these speeds). 1 gig should be more than enough speed to cover the vast majority of households, so we don’t recommend springing for these plans unless you’re sure you need them.
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.
Ziply has a fiber optic network, which is the most reliable kind of infrastructure out there. Fiber also allows for faster speeds than any other kind of internet, including upload speeds that are just as fast as download speeds (AKA symmetrical speed). Unfortunately, Ziply’s 1-gig plan isn’t symmetrical, serving up only 35 Mbps for upload, and that’s a shame. Still, most families will find a symmetrical 200 Mbps connection plenty fast, while high-powered users can opt for a 2- or 5-gig symmetrical plan (though it’ll cost you big).
Other than that, Ziply performs pretty well. It typically uses only 40% of its infrastructure capacity (3), which means you’re less likely to see slowdowns during peak hours. However, Ziply has legacy DSL infrastructure in some rural areas and tends to perform slower than other DSL providers.
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.
Ziply’s equipment costs can add up. Its router/modem combo is a reasonable $10 per month, but its Whole Home Wi-Fi costs $20 per month. Sometimes, Ziply runs promotions that include Wi-Fi, so keep an eye out for those. Ziply’s Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi 6 technology, which is the best technology available. You can stream up to 12 devices at once (Wi-Fi 5 allows only up to 5). However, Ziply’s router isn’t compatible with its 2- and 5- gig plans. If you want one of these plans, you must BYO router, and not all routers are compatible, so be careful here.
Professional installation is free, which is great because Ziply doesn’t have a self-install option. Technicians will run cables from the street to your home, wire up your house, and set up your Whole Home Wi-Fi. The downside is technicians likely won’t get all this done in a single visit, so it might take a few weeks to get you up and running.
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.
We love that Ziply provides professional installation for free, but we’re bummed that it doesn’t even offer a self-setup option. Ziply has some great self-help content on its website for troubleshooting or changing out your router later—you just can’t use it to get started. Forcing you to use professional installation also means it takes longer to get started, and that’s tough if you’ve just moved to the area. If you’re not moving, it still means you’ll have to juggle your old service with Ziply installation times to avoid a gap in internet service.
We’re also not a fan of Ziply’s hidden contracts. It advertises no-contract plans, but if you read the fine print, you’ll pay early termination charges if you try to leave before your promotional plan ends. All that said, Ziply’s customer service is decent, and most negative reviews call out the same kinds of issues other providers get: billing disputes. (4)