How we rate internet service providers
In addition to gathering real customer reviews to demonstrate first-hand customer experience, we have our team of experts provide a staff rating based on their research for every provider as well. We standardize this evaluation through a rigorous methodology process that each of our researchers rely on to ensure we’re being fair, unbiased, and representative of consumer priorities.
Our overall staff rating, which goes up to 5 stars, is displayed at the top of every provider review page. This overall rating is an amalgamation of criteria ratings. The four main criteria we use to rate our internet service providers (ISPs) are value, performance, equipment and installation, and customer experience. We interviewed customers who recently switched ISPs, and these were their top considerations when choosing a provider. These criteria were particularly chosen as they speak to not just the bookends of a customer relationship (signup and cancelation), but to the overall experience of service.
Each criteria starts off with a primary consideration, which qualifies the provider for a base rating. We then adjust that score according to a secondary consideration. You’ll notice that none of our base ratings tiers include 1 star. We believe a 1-star rating indicates absolutely unusable, worst-in-class service—we’re giving all providers the benefit of the doubt by not automatically placing them at this level. But providers who rate low in the primary consideration may lose additional points during the secondary consideration, so 1-star ratings (or lower!) are certainly possible.
Value is defined by more than just price—we compare what you pay against what you get. Even the cheapest service plans may rate low on value if the offering is subpar.
Primary consideration: price for speed
We start our value evaluation by determining a base rating, which is based on the calculation of “price for speed.” Because every provider can offer a lot of plans (with vastly different price-for-speed metrics), we have our experts pull a plan according to the service type.
- Fiber providers: first plan at or above 1 Gbps download speed
- Cable providers: first plan at or above 250 Mbps download speed
- Satellite providers: first plan at or above 25 Mbps download speed
- Fixed wireless providers: 100 Mbps download speed where possible (speeds can vary widely)
From here, we divide the monthly cost by the number of megabits per second (Mbps) to determine the final “price for speed” number. We then plug that number into our predetermined tier system:
|Price for speed||Base star rating|
|More than $1.00/Mbps||2 stars|
Secondary consideration: national benchmark
Once we determine the base rating, we move on to our secondary consideration: monthly prices compared to national recommendations. We use the FCC national benchmark, which is a pricing recommendation based on a national survey of prices for internet plans at different speeds. This helps us see how the pricing stacks up against other providers offering similar speeds. We round percentages to the nearest whole number.
- Less than 30% of the national benchmark: awarded a full star
- 31–45% of the national benchmark: awarded a half star
- 46–65% of the national benchmark: no award or deduction
- 66–100% of the national benchmark: deducted a half star
- More than 100% of the national benchmark: deducted a full star
Final consideration: editorial expertise
Once we’ve calculated the primary consideration and adjusted according to the secondary consideration, we make a final rank adjustment according to the researcher’s expertise. We look at hidden fees, data overage fees, number of plan options, and other nuances to the provider’s offering.
Similarly to value, performance is defined by more than just speed. We compare the advertised speed against the technology type and overall reliability.
Primary consideration: highest offered speed
We determine the base performance rating according to the provider’s highest offered speed.
|Highest offered download speed||Base star rating|
|1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) or more||5 stars|
|100 Mbps–999 Mbps||4 stars|
|50 Mbps–99 Mbps||3 stars|
|49 Mbps or less||2 stars|
Secondary consideration: service type
We then adjust the base rating according to the best-offered service type. This helps speak to the reliability of the service. Even the fastest plans aren’t great if their technology type can’t sustain reliable service. For example, Starlink satellite internet technically qualifies for 4 stars according to the primary metric, but is knocked down due to the lack of reliability on a satellite service plan.
- Fiber providers do not receive an award or penalization—they’ve likely already qualified for 5 stars!
- Cable providers receive a half-star deduction due to their propensity for area-wide outages.
- DSL, fixed wireless, or satellite providers are penalized a full star because of the erratic reliability of these service types.
Final consideration: editorial expertise
Once we’ve calculated the primary consideration and adjusted according to the secondary consideration, the researcher makes a final rank adjustment according to their expertise. They look at outage reports and speed data information from expert sources, including the FCC, OOKLA, and Down Detector.
Equipment and installation
The equipment and installation criteria accounts for some of the fees and functions not previously considered. This is where we look at how much things cost (compared to industry standards) and how well they work.
Primary consideration: equipment
We first look at the monthly cost of standard equipment. We opt to look at standard equipment over add-on equipment or upgrade options because it’s the most universal metric for most consumers. We round costs to the nearest dollar.
|Standard equipment cost (per month)||Base star rating|
|$10 or less||4 stars|
|$21 or more||2 stars|
From here, the research adjusts the equipment rating according to their expertise. They look at usability, quality, added features (such as apps or user interfaces), and ability for customization.
Secondary consideration: installation rating
Next, we look at the cost of professional installation to determine a base installation rating. If no professional installation is available, we automatically set the base rating at 3 stars.
|Professional installation cost||Base star rating|
|$74 or less||4 stars|
|$101 or more||2 stars|
From here, the reviewer adjusts the installation rating according to their expertise. They look at wait times for appointment scheduling, length of installation window, self-installation resources (such as self-help web resources or phone support), and existing customer sentiments regarding installation with the provider.
We now average the equipment rating and the installation rating to determine the overall equipment and installation rating. The researcher does a final evaluation to determine whether the rating feels accurate. They pay particular attention to the attractiveness or obtrusiveness of the equipment, as well as the invasiveness of the installation. An excellent and affordable router that sticks out like a sore thumb is not our favorite—and an installation leaving a gaping hole in your wall is even worse.
Customer experience is a catch-all for everything else. We look at user reviews and simulate our own customer experience to check out things like self-help options on the website, hold times for customer service over the phone, transparency in billing, and more.
Primary consideration: editorial expertise
Because customer experience is such a broad topic, we don’t have specific metrics or calculations for this rating. Instead, we rely on our researchers’ ability to research and evaluate based on their expertise. We give them some guidelines on things to consider:
- Website usability: Does the website have good self-help options? How easy is it to navigate to the information you need?
- Customer service: What are the response times like? Are the provided solutions high quality? How many service channels do they offer?
- Contracts: How stringent are the contract terms? How easy is cancelation?
- Billing: Are billing issues prevalent? How transparent is the provider? How easy is the bill to read? How complicated are the hidden fees?
Once they’ve done extensive research, we rely on our researchers to use their expert opinion to assign the provider a final customer experience rating.
We established this methodology to help with score norming, which is essentially the process of ensuring that a provider’s rating would be relatively comparable across multiple evaluations. The tiers for base ratings and rating adjustments are not random. They were reverse engineered according to data gathered from dozens of providers. They are also not unchanging—we re-evaluate our own scoring methodology annually to make sure it’s keeping up with industry standards. We then apply any changes to our methodology to every single rating.
In addition to our score-norming process, we also make sure multiple experts review every rating. Each of our researchers is incredibly knowledgeable, and we don’t doubt their expertise—but the more eyes, the better! Every piece of content passes through editing, proofing, and fact-checking to ensure there is no personal bias impacting the rating.
Even then, we never consider our content to be set in stone. As we like to say, “The more we know, the better we do.” We keep our fingers on the pulse of provider and industry news to ensure our articles (and our ratings) are relevant and useful.
Switchful may receive compensation from a provider if one of our readers chooses to sign up for a service by clicking through from our website or calling in. However, it’s important to us that compensation doesn’t affect our ratings. For this reason, we don’t inform our writers about which providers pay us or how much. The ratings you see are the real deal.