DSL internet is cheaper than satellite internet and gives you a lot more data for the money. Satellite internet also has higher latency, which means you’ll be waiting milliseconds longer for pages to load. That will put you at a disadvantage for things like online gaming and Black Friday shopping.
For the average internet user looking to get connected for the lowest price, we recommend choosing DSL. However, satellite internet offers faster speeds in more remote areas than DSL (think cabins, mountain diners, and RVs). And if you want internet faster than 100 Mbps and you’re willing to pay for it, satellite internet can be the right solution—just make sure the speeds you want are actually available in your area.
Pros and cons
- Most available alternative to satellite internet in rural areas
- More data for the money
- Lower equipment fees
- Affordable internet plans
- Low competition among DSL providers
- Download speed usually maxes out at 100 Mbps
- Plans often slower than advertised
- Available to nearly 100% of the US population
- Speeds up to 250 Mbps on residential plans; 500 Mbps on business plans
- Easy-to-use apps to manage your plan and connection
- Very expensive internet plans
- Only Starlink offers unlimited data plans with no throttling
- High latency
- Capacity issues make the fastest plans less available
Is DSL better than satellite internet?
DSL is better than satellite internet if you just want a basic internet connection for as little money as possible. But some DSL plans are really slow—even slower than satellite internet. So if you’re willing to pay a little extra, satellite internet might be better for you. We almost always recommend DSL as the better option for people choosing between the two, but satellite internet is still worth considering depending on which satellite and DSL plans are available in your area.
DSL internet is one of the slowest and oldest internet connection types available. While the satellite internet sector continues to innovate by increasing data capacity and introducing entirely new providers (like Starlink), (1) DSL seems to be fading into obscurity. For example, AT&T used to be one of the biggest DSL providers in the nation, but it has now discontinued its DSL product offering entirely. (2)
That said, although satellite internet has come a long way, it’s still incredibly expensive for what you get (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who can get Starlink). Although satellite internet plans can go up to 250 Mbps, capacity issues with Starlink and Viasat keep those fastest speeds out of reach for most of the population.
With satellite internet, there is a limited amount of bandwidth inherent to the technology type: only so many people can use the available data from the satellite. If the satellite provider wants to offer more data, they have to launch another satellite. So, although satellite internet is available nationwide, availability is much lower than you would expect, thanks to its limited capacity.
What’s the difference between DSL and satellite internet?
DSL internet and satellite internet operate very differently: DSL internet is a terrestrial-based internet service while satellite internet is celestial. DSL relies on existing underground phone lines—but it’s a huge improvement on dial-up, which also relies on phone lines. For starters, DSL won’t tie up your phone line when you’re online. But the basic nature of DSL also means that it’s not very fast, and the signal degrades the farther you get from the hub of your provider’s network.
Satellite internet relies on communication with enormous geostationary satellites (Viasat and HughesNet) or smaller low-Earth orbit satellites (Starlink and Project Kuiper), which is a little more complicated than just using an existing phone line on Earth. With satellite internet, you’ll need a satellite dish on your house that connects to your router, which can be expensive and clunky to install.
DSL speeds top out at 100 Mbps, which isn’t very fast when you consider most fiber internet plans hit 1,000 Mbps or faster. That said, the FCC considers broadband internet speeds to be 25 Mbps, which means they think you can meet your immediate household internet needs (online school, remote work, streaming) with a 25 Mbps connection.
Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, many have pressured the FCC to raise the broadband requirement to something that’s more representative of just how much of our lives are now online. But in the latest broadband deployment report released in January 2021, the FCC stated that it found 25 Mbps to be generally sufficient to meet the increased demands of internet and ultimately decided against changing the broadband threshold. (3)
If you trust the FCC, a slower DSL connection could be just fine. But in our experience, 25 Mbps can get stretched pretty thin when multiple people are on Zoom calls or streaming. The tricky thing is that not all of the US population has access to 100 Mbps DSL speeds, so you might be stuck with slower speeds if you choose DSL.
Satellite internet does technically offer faster speeds (up to 250 Mbps with Starlink), but the chances of those speeds being available in your area are even lower than your chances of having 100 Mbps DSL speeds. Still, there is a chance. If speed is the most important factor for you, first see which internet plans are available in your area before you decide between DSL and satellite internet. (You might even be one of the lucky ones with access to Starlink!)
If you’ve never used a satellite internet connection before, chances are you haven’t thought much about how much data you’re burning as you watch just one more episode before bed. But if you opt for satellite internet, you’ll suddenly become very aware. Viasat and HughesNet both technically offer unlimited data, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. Once you hit your monthly data “allotment” (shhhh, don’t call it a data cap), your internet connection will be throttled to nearly unusable speeds (under 5 Mbps).
You can track your data usage in provider apps, which makes it easy to see if you have the budget to talk with grandma over Zoom for one hour or two. You can also buy more data to get you to the next month if you need to, but it’s not cheap. Starlink is the shining exception to this. Starlink offers truly unlimited satellite internet data, but the catch is that Starlink isn’t quite available nationwide (and there’s a long waitlist).
With DSL internet, data caps are almost a non-issue since many are capped at 1 TB. And some DSL providers have no data caps whatsoever. If you’re consistently online and don't want to worry about budgeting data (or paying a lot to get more of it), go with a DSL plan. It’ll save you a lot of money and heartache.
Satellite internet is the clear winner when it comes to availability—you can’t beat nationwide. But the catch, like we mentioned earlier, is that the fastest speeds are not available nationwide. Still, availability is far and away satellite internet’s greatest strength. If it can’t win your love with cheap prices and affordable equipment, it will win your love by being literally the only option for making Netflix at your cabin a reality. Satellite internet is your best option when it’s your only option.
DSL internet is also nearly ubiquitous, with over 88% of the US population having access to at least one DSL provider and 75% of people in rural areas having access to at least one DSL provider. But the odd thing is that only about 3% of the population has access to 2 or more DSL providers. (4)
Competition between DSL providers is famously nonexistent, which means your DSL provider will have little motivation to improve service or prices. With satellite internet, you’ll always have at least two options (Viasat or HughesNet) and even three in some areas (if you live in a Starlink area).
Best DSL internet providers
Picking the best DSL internet provider feels a little pointless because it’s highly unlikely you’ll have a choice between DSL providers anyway. But if the choice is between one of the better DSL providers and satellite internet, it could influence your decision.
Kinetic by Windstream is our top pick for DSL internet becuase it offers great pricing in rural areas, and doesn't have data caps or contracts. Customer service scores are a little below average for ISPs, but this provider is widely available and a big improvement on satellite internet.
CenturyLink is by far the most well-known and established DSL internet provider. It offers one DSL plan: Simply Unlimited Internet with speeds “up to 100 Mbps.” There’s a lot of wiggle room in that “up to,” but it’s still an affordable internet plan with lots of data.
Frontier is certainly not much to write home about. They’ve gone bankrupt but are somehow still clipping along, offering DSL internet with unlimited data and a two-year price guarantee. You also get a free router, which is nice.
Best satellite internet providers
The HughesNet Gen5 service plans are designed to deliver download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps, but individual customers may experience different speeds at different times of the day. Speeds and uninterrupted use are not guaranteed and may vary based on a variety of factors including: the configuration of your computer, the number of concurrent users, network or Internet congestion, the capabilities and content of the websites you are accessing, network management practices as deemed necessary, and other factors. When you connect to the HughesNet service using Wi-Fi, your experience will vary based on your proximity to the Wi-Fi source and the strength of the signal.
Viasat is our top pick among satellite internet providers. It offers internet speeds up to 150 Mbps in some areas, and its network is highly established and reliable. The problem with Viasat is you don’t get truly unlimited data, and it’s expensive. The sticker price might seem nice, but keep in mind that it’s a three-month price promotion. Once the promotional period ends, the price goes up significantly and you’ll be stuck paying it for the remainder of the two-year contract.
HughesNet is the most affordable satellite internet choice, and it recently raised its data caps by more than 50% while raising the prices only slightly. HughesNet offers just one speed: 25 Mbps, which is the FCC’s definition of broadband. This is good and bad. It’s good because you always know what speeds are available with HughesNet, but it’s bad because 25 Mbps is really not that fast. Just like Viasat, HughesNet also requires you to sign a two-year contract and have a technician come to your home to drill a hole in your roof and mount a giant satellite dish. Moral of the story? Don’t get HughesNet (or Viasat for that matter) unless you’re in it for the long haul.
Starlink, the brainchild of eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, is an intriguing satellite internet provider because it offers the fastest speeds (up to 250 Mbps), unlimited data, and self-installation. Its weaknesses are that the Starlink network is still in construction, which means you’ll experience occasional network glitches. It also means that Starlink isn’t available nationwide—yet.
Frequently asked questions
Is DSL or satellite internet better?
DSL internet is usually the better choice unless you have faster satellite internet speeds available in your area. DSL is more affordable than satellite internet and offers more data for the money. But satellite internet could be a more reliable and faster option (albeit more expensive), depending on which DSL plans and providers are in your area.
Is Viasat faster than DSL?
Some Viasat plans are faster or just as fast as DSL. Viasat plans go up to 150 Mbps in some areas but not everywhere. DSL plans don’t go past 100 Mbps, and only 22% of the population has access to DSL speeds of 100 Mbps.
Is DSL slower than satellite internet?
DSL does have slower max speeds than satellite internet. DSL internet tops out at 100 Mbps while some satellite internet plans go up to 250 Mbps. But satellite internet speed availability is scattered, so there’s a chance the DSL internet plans available in your area might be faster than the available satellite internet plans.
What is the fastest satellite internet service?
Starlink is the fastest satellite internet service, with residential plans reaching 250 Mbps speeds and Starlink Business plans going up to 500 Mbps. Viasat is the second-fastest satellite internet service, with top speeds reaching 150 Mbps.
Is satellite or wired internet better?
Wired internet is a better option than satellite internet for most people. Satellite internet is prohibitively expensive and requires a two-year contract (unless you go with Starlink). Wired internet providers also typically offer exponentially higher data caps and connections with lower latency.
Cara Haynes has been writing and editing about internet service and TV for six years. Previous to contributing to Helpful, she worked on HighSpeedInternet.com and SatelliteInternet.com. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your lifespan.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.
Endnotes and sources
- “HughesNet Satellite Internet Plans Cost More Now, But Come with 50% More Data,” CNET. Accessed 25 January 2023.
- “AT&T kills DSL, leaves tens of millions of homes without fiber Internet,” ArsTechnica. Accessed 25 January 2023.
- “Fourteenth Broadband Deployment Report,” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 25 January 2023.
- “Compare Broadband Availability in Different Areas,” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 26 July 2022.