For most Americans, the evolution of entertainment means you need a faster, better internet connection than you had five years ago. If you’re wondering if your connection is up to the challenge of modern-day streaming, review a few key features to see where you rank on high speed, low price, and no data caps.
The most important features for cordcutters
Cordcutters most often cite price as the reason to drop cable TV. It’s true, we cut the cord to save $70/month, but that wasn’t the only reason. We found that we watched so little programming on traditional TV that it no longer made sense to pay for over-the-top streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime in addition to traditional TV.
We’re not alone in changing entertainment habits. According to recent research, 69% of US households now access subscription content from Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime as compared to 52% in 2015. Many of them, like us, have more than one service.
Broadband is available to about 80% of US households
Supporting your new streaming habit can require a different type of internet connection. Generally, these are all lumped together in a category called “broadband.” Options for broadband service are few and far between for most Americans, 85% have to choose between two providers or have only one choice. Although the list of ISPs in your area is likely short, review the features of speed and data to make sure you’ve made the best choice.
Look for an ISP with 25 Mbps or faster
Internet providers measure speed in megabits per second (Mbps), which gives you an idea of how quickly data is uploaded and downloaded. It’s the technology that reaches your address that determines your potential speed.
Fiber-optic connections are the fastest current technology, with speeds up to 2,000 Mbps, but access is pretty limited. Cable speeds can reach 100 Mbps and are available to most households in the US, but are likely to be more expensive than other providers.
DSL delivers up to 25 Mbps and is widely available to about 90% of US households. Satellite is accessible virtually anywhere with a clear line of sight, free of obstructions like hills and trees. Satellite service can reach the 25 Mbps minimum standard for the FCC to categorize as “broadband.”
About 80% of US homes have access to these types of broadband internet service, and the median household has speed around 39 Mbps.
Consider multiple users when calculating your requirements
If you’re a serious gamer or stream almost all of your entertainment, look for service faster than 50 Mbps, which is only adequate for streaming video on one device. Once you add more people or devices, speeds below that threshold won’t be reliable.
Think about every device in your home that’s connected, like computers, tablets, smart watches, phones, and smart home devices. Each device chips away at the bandwidth, leaving you less when it comes time to stream.
Streaming video accounts for more than 70% of internet traffic, and cutting the cord means you likely have multiple devices running simultaneously. So, if you want enough bandwidth to game in one room while another family member streams HD or 4K – you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Beware of data caps and throttling
Some home internet plans limit the amount of data you can use each month by charging more when you exceed the specified amount of gigabytes (GB). Other internet plans allow you to use a certain amount at high speed but throttle any traffic after that to a lower speed. For example, imagine your plan is up to 100 Mbps for the first 50 GB and slows to 50 Mbps for any data that exceeds the cap.
A similar experience hampered firefighters using Verizon last year as they battled one of the largest wildfires in US history. Although the fire department had an unlimited plan, after exceeding a certain data cap, the speed dropped from 50 Mbps to about 30 kbps, rendering their devices unresponsive in the emergency.
Streaming video uses the most data of any application
Streaming standard definition video uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and HD video is close to 3 GB per hour. So if you binge-watch a series on Netflix and catch up on current episodes of TV shows on network websites each week, you’ll need 100 GB plan to cover your video data needs each month. Add in another 50 GB to cover web browsing, emails, and social media. The risk of being throttled is unpleasant, but avoid exceeding the plan and paying overcharges, as they add up much more quickly than upgrading to the next tier.
Pricing is complicated
As you investigate and compare plans, review the pricing structure carefully. Many ISPs add taxes, installation fees, and other unexpected charges to your monthly bill that affect the bottom line. Carefully consider promotional pricing that expires and don’t let an automatic renewal restrict your ability to cancel. Add up all of the fees, charges, and taxes before deciding what the true cost of service is with a particular provider and use that to compare against competitors.
You need a fast, reliable internet connection to keep up as entertainment options continue to evolve from traditional TV to streaming. In homes with broadband connections, about 75% of viewers stream video with a service like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime TV.
There’s a shortage of choices for most Americans, with only one or two available service providers in the majority of locations. Depending on your viewing habits, the best choice might not be the one that appears cheapest at first glance. The factors of speed and data caps will influence what you pay in the end. Consider your usage habits combined with fees, charges, and taxes before making a final decision.
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, “I was the remote for our TV growing up.”
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