We asked readers to rate their Internet service provider based on price, performance, reliability and support. Here are the results for the only ISP in our series with mainstream availability of fiber-optic networks for high-speed Internet: Verizon.
Last year, we asked Tom's Hardware readers to rate their Internet service providers (ISP). After receiving feedback from more than 3,100 audience members from across the United States, we chose the four most-voted companies for the Tom's Hardware ISP Review Survey.
Participants were asked to rate their ISP's price, performance, reliability and support on a scale of one to five stars, with one being the lowest possible score and five being the highest. We also averaged each category's total score and rounded each result to the nearest one-quarter star. Then, we provided the mathematical average of each score, allowing us to compare the companies later on.
Verizon is the only company in our series offering mainstream availability of fiber-optic Internet services (in addition to DSL options). After reviewing the ratings from 234 customers of Verizon's Internet services, it's time to determine how it stacks up in Tom's Hardware's ISP Review.
In 1984, there was a break-up of the massive Bell Operating Co. that previously monopolized the communications industry. Seven "Baby Bell" companies were created, five of which were eventually reacquired by AT&T. The only two remaining Baby Bells were Bell Atlantic and NYNEX.
In 1995, Bell Atlantic formed a joint partnership with NYNEX, and by 1997, the two companies merged in a $24 billion deal to become the second-largest telephone company in the U.S, serving more than 35 million customers from Maine to Virginia. This company was venturing into the expanding wireless communications segment, and was poised to obtain a healthy market share in the Northeastern regions.
In 2000, Bell Atlantic NYNEX merged with GTE Corp. and changed its name to Verizon Communications Inc. The $52 billion merger took almost two years to complete, with 27 state regulatory commissions, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Communications Commission and various international agencies evaluating and providing clearance for the deal.
Up until that point, the company was mostly focused on wireless communications, launching its 3G network in 2002. It wasn't until 2005 that Verizon launched its FiOS all-fiber broadband Internet and TV service. FiOS is a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) telecommunications service, first introduced in Keller, Texas and Herndon, Virginia in late 2005. Coverage later expanded to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Florida, California, Oregon and Washington; even today, the coverage area continues to grow.
Verizon spent the remainder of the decade acquiring communications companies to expand its customer base. These purchases included companies like MCI in 2006, CyberTrust in 2007 and Rural Cellular in 2008.
In 2010, Verizon deployed its 4G LTE network, starting in 39 major markets and covering more than 110 million people on the first day. This expansion tightened the company's grip on the wireless communications industry.
After Superstorm Sandy, which affected many parts of the Atlantic Coast, Verizon rewired the entire networking grid of Lower Manhattan with 100 percent fiber-optic lines, expanding its FiOS home Internet service to the largest city in the country.
The past two years were impressive for Verizon. The company bought out Vodafone's 45 percent stake in 2014 for an astounding $130 billion. As a wholly owned entity, Verizon was able to take advantage of the changing market dynamics and, in May 2015, announced the acquisition of AOL, one of the early pioneers of the Internet service industry.
As of Q3 2015, Verizon reported 6.9 million home Internet service customers, more than two-thirds of whom are subscribing to FiOS Quantum Internet (fiber-optic) plans. With strong growth projected for its FiOS offerings, Verizon continues to expand its reach and appeal with incredibly fast fiber-optic Internet access.
Verizon's home Internet services are based on two different technologies: DSL and fiber-optics. These services are available in many of the same regions, with the exception being Rhode Island, which does not appear to offer fiber-optic Internet plans.
Fiber-optic connections transport data at extremely high speeds with low latency using light, providing industry-leading download and upload speeds. This is an incredible advantage over cable- and DSL-based Internet services; upload speeds for those older technologies peak at a fraction of advertised download speeds for fiber-optics networks.
Verizon high-speed (DSL) Internet service is available to an estimated 62 million homes, and FiOS fiber-optic services are available to an estimated 41 million people. Here's a table of Verizon's Internet service plans, speeds, prices and primary service regions:
|Speeds (In Mb/s)||Prices (Per Month, Non Promotional)||Primary Service Regions||Technology|
|1, 3, 7, 15,||$15, $30, $30, $30||CA, CT, DE, DC, FL, IN, MA, MD, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, TX, VA||DSL|
|50, 100, 150, 300, 500||$55, $65, $75, $175, $275||CA, CT, DE, DC, FL, IN, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, TX, VA||Fiber-Optic Internet|
Although DSL pricing falls in the middle of the road, Verizon no longer sells individual DSL service packages; they can only be purchased along with a landline phone service. In addition, the company no longer sells fixed-speed DSL plans above 1 Mb/s. The $30-per-month plans (up to 3, 7 and 15 Mb/s) are not guaranteed to be available, and your top speed depends on the strength and condition of the local network. Performance and top speeds naturally vary by region, and it's more or less the luck of the draw for DSL connections from Verizon.
Pricing: 2 ¾ Stars
Verizon Internet customers who participated in our survey rated the company's pricing at an above-average 2 3/4 (2.66) stars out of five. Although a less-than three-star rating doesn't seem very high, it is the highest score in our ISP round-up (though not by much), which may be affected by the company's higher scores in other categories. After all, we have seen a trend of low scores attributed to non-pricing factors in our series.
"[The] price is just a little more than I think it should be," said one reader who rated pricing at just two stars, more or less supporting the theory that some customers won't be satisfied, no matter what they're paying.
Once again, I had to input a serviceable address to gain access to Verizon's coveted pricing information. Luckily, I'm in the process of moving, and my destination has every FiOS fiber-optic Internet service available. DSL rates were harder to find, as customers are required to have an existing phone plan in order to receive service. But after much digging, I found the information I was after.
|Verizon Internet Plan||Download Speed||Promotional Rate Term||Minimum Contract Term||Stand-Alone Price||Price to Performance|
|High Speed Internet (DSL)||Up to 1 Mb/s||12 Months||12 Months||$20/month||$20 per Mb/s|
|High Speed Internet Enhanced (DSL)||Up to 3 Mb/s, Up to 7 Mb/s, Up to 15 Mb/s||N/A||N/A||$30/month||$10 per Mb/s, $4.28 per Mb/s, $2 per Mb/s|
|FiOS Quantum Internet 50/50 (Fiber)||Up to 50 Mb/s||12 Months||24 Months||$45/month ($55/month for year 2)||$0.90 per Mb/s ($1.10 per Mb/sfor year 2)|
|FiOS Quantum Internet 100/100 (Fiber)||Up to 100 Mb/s||12 Months||24 Months||$55/month ($65/month for year 2)||$0.55 per Mb/s ($0.65 per Mb/sfor year 2)|
|FiOS Quantum Internet 150/150|
|Up to 150 Mb/s||12 Months||24 Months||$65/month ($75/month for year 2)||$0.43 per Mb/s ($0.50 per Mb/s for year 2)|
|FiOS Quantum Internet 300/300 (Fiber)||Up to 300 Mb/s||12 Months||24 Months||$165/month ($175/month for year 2)||$0.55 per Mb/s ($0.58 per Mb/s for year 2)|
|FiOS Quantum Internet 500/500 (Fiber)||Up to 500 Mb/s||12 Months||24 Months||$265/month ($275/month for year 2)||$0.52 per Mb/s ($0.55 per Mb/s for year 2)|
Verizon's price-to-performance ratio for DSL service is almost offensive. For 1 Mb/s, you pay $20 per Mb/s. In addition, the 1 Mb/s tier is subject to a $40 equipment rental and a $20 one-time installation fee. As if that wasn't bad enough, it has a 500MB (that's right, megabyte) monthly data cap. The company's "enhanced" DSL plans don't suffer the same hefty charges and limitations. This seems to be the single worst Internet service plan in our survey so far.
The "enhanced" Internet plan prices are a little better, with the best DSL service offering as low as $2 per Mb/s. But that's only if you can get up to 15 Mb/s, since the "enhanced" speeds vary by region and network strength. Still, the price-per-Mb/s is lower than AT&T in the 3-18 Mb/s plan range.
Some Verizon DSL subscribers were pleased with pricing. "[It's an] inexpensive DSL service, and luckily, I am one block away from the Verizon switch," said one respondent who rated pricing at four stars. Other readers weren't as satisfied. "There's not enough bandwidth, and it's expensive for what I do get," said one DSL customer who gave Verizon one star in the pricing category.
FiOS Quantum Internet plans (fiber-optic) benefit from a much more reasonable price-to-speed ratio, even when the second-year rates apply. These are not the best statistics in our series, but perhaps because of increased value placed on equally fast upload speeds, our readers rated Verizon's pricing above its competition.
"FiOS matching upload and download speeds makes it much nicer when using cloud storage, syncing and uploading," said one reader who rated Verizon's pricing at three stars. "Cable cannot match the upload speeds, the low latency or the consistency," said another reader, who awarded the company's prices four stars.
However, some FiOS fiber-optic Internet users who were generally content in other categories still seemed to be critical of pricing. "[The] service is above average compared to the alternatives in my area, but pricing is still on the extreme end," said one participant, who rated every category above four stars, except pricing, which received just two stars. "Very reliable and fast," said another, before adding "if only they could work on their pricing."
If you don't want to commit to a contract, you can purchase FiOS Internet services without one at the second-year price rates. But why would anyone do that if they intend on having the service for more than one year? Choosing to forgo the contract costs you $120 more after two years. So unless you're signing a one-year lease and plan on moving, the contract is worth the savings.
Once again, availability seemed to contribute heavily to negative pricing scores, with many surveyed readers pointing out that Verizon is the only high-speed Internet provider in their region; many respondents expressed a general disappointment with the lack of options.
"[There is] only 1-3 Mbps DSL available in my area," said one reader. "But it's relatively inexpensive." This participant rated pricing at just two stars, even after seemingly positive feedback. "Verizon DSL is terrible, and [it's] all that's offered to me," said another reader, who gave pricing one star.
If the prices for Verizon's 300 and 500 Mb/s service plans seem ridiculous to you, it's because they are. At $165 per month for 300 Mb/s, few find this level of performance to be affordable. Never mind the 500 Mbps tier, which costs $265 per month. Even though the price-to-performance ratio is relative to other slower plans, this service tier seems aimed at elite consumers with plenty of disposable income. Regardless of whether people can actually afford it, these are some of the top Internet connection speeds available from any company in our series.
Despite Verizon's middle-of-the-road price-to-performance ratio, our readers rated the ISP's pricing at a series-high 2¾ out of five stars. This shouldn't be the case if you look at the raw numbers from our other ISP reviews (particularly Time Warner Cable), but fiber-optic Internet connections appear to have a value advantage by providing higher upload speeds than cable or DSL.
Performance: 4 Stars
Perhaps the faster upload speeds also contributed to a higher performance score, with Verizon earning a series-high 4 (3.94) stars out of five. This is another win for Verizon's Internet services, with many readers praising the company's impressive download and upload speeds.
"The service is fast and very reliable," said a reader who gave Verizon's performance a five-star rating. "The speeds are constantly stable, and the upload speeds aren't a joke. They're equal to the download [speeds]," said another satisfied reader.
Even some readers who rated pricing below three stars found the cost acceptable, given what they got in performance. "Fast [and] reliable speeds at a price I can live with," said one such participant. "[There's] dedicated speed for my line, and no data cap."
In our survey, ISPs with data caps on their home Internet service plans generally score lower on performance. So, it's possible that Verizon's lack of a limit improved its outcome in this metric.
Most survey participants who criticized performance seemed to be Verizon DSL customers, with many complaining of slower-than-advertised speeds, generally unimpressive performance and frequent outages.
"It slows down all the time, sometimes for hours, sometimes for a day," said one such dissatisfied reader. "It has gone out [several times], and on speed tests, I am getting much less than what is being paid for."
However, since Verizon came in at four stars in our review, it's safe to say the majority of our readers are satisfied with the company's performance. This is also the most important factor when choosing an ISP, according to our surveyed Verizon readers, adding more gravity to the four-star rating. With Verizon offering some of the highest bandwidth available and equal upload speeds, the company is our undeniable performance leader.
Reliability: 4 ¼ Stars
Verizon also seems to be the reliability leader of our ISP review series, with a rating of 4 1/4 (4.16) stars out of five. This is the best rating of any ISP in any category in our review. However, despite the high score, there was an apparent split between surveyed DSL subscribers and fiber-optic customers.
Verizon DSL customers judged the company's reliability much lower, usually at or below two stars, citing some of the same complaints mentioned in the performance category. "Verizon DSL is slow and marginally reliable," said a reader who gave reliability a one-star rating. "But it's basically the only 'high-speed' Internet connection available."
It may be fortunate for Verizon that its final grade in each category doesn't seem to be affected by the minority of DSL customers giving feedback, because the few who voted in our survey seemed severely dissatisfied with almost every aspect of the service.
Measuring Broadband America, a 2014 Federal Communications Commission study on the reliability of the country's major Internet service providers, resonates with our survey findings. This study supports one of the primary complaints of Verizon DSL customers in our survey: that speeds are less-than-advertised.
|Advertised Speeds |
(Available Verizon Data Rates From 2013)
|Actual Sustained |
Advertised Speed Percentage
|Up to 1 Mb/s (DSL)||0.89 Mb/s||89%|
|Up to 3 Mb/s (DSL)||2.41 Mb/s||80%|
|Up to 15 Mb/s (Fiber)||20.67 Mb/s||138%|
|Up to 25 Mb/s (Fiber)||29.09 Mb/s||116%|
|Up to 35 Mb/s (Fiber)||40.96 Mb/s||117%|
|Up to 50 Mb/s (Fiber)||55.93 Mb/s||112%|
|Up to 75 Mb/s (Fiber)||80.28 Mb/s||107%|
Similar to our survey, this study shows that a majority of fiber-optic Internet customers enjoy higher-than-advertised performance. With as much as 138 percent more bandwidth than expected, FiOS Internet customers have reason to be satisfied with Verizon's reliability.
"I actually get [about] 10 percent faster speeds than advertised," said one surveyed reader. "My connection is reliable, and it always seems to be there."
"I've never had a problem with Verizon FiOS -- ever," said another fiber-optic Internet subscriber. "The service is quite reliable, and regardless of the time of day, I always manage to get my subscribed bandwidth," said another.
Reliability was the second-most important factor in deciding on an ISP, according to our surveyed Verizon Internet customers, and it seems that the company scored big with a rating of 4 1/4 stars out of five.
Service & Support: 3 ¼ Stars
Throughout our round-up, readers were particularly critical when scoring support. But Verizon managed to crack the three-star barrier, with a rating of 3 1/4 (3.20) stars out of five. This is once again the highest score in our survey, besting the closest runner-up by almost half a star. Satisfied readers happy with support mostly mentioned the pleasant customer service and speedy remediation they experienced.
"Overall, I've had great customer-support experiences with Verizon, and my average speed is actually higher than what I pay for," said a reader who rated support at the maximum five stars. "Any time I contact them, they are very helpful," said another reader, who awarded the company four out of five stars.
However, some readers also scored Verizon's support at or below three stars, with many citing long call lines, representatives lacking the necessary knowledge and disjointed remediation efforts as their primary issues.
"Customer service is often frustrating and unhelpful," said one such participant. "Only when you escalate [your] ticket, do your chances of running into someone that knows what they're talking about increase."
That Yoda-sounding reader is right; frustrating it is to have the help you rely on drop the ball in your time of need. However, these unsatisfied customers appear to be the minority because Verizon has the high score in our survey for customer service and support. Unlike the other ISPs in our review, Verizon's customers rated support as the least-important factor in deciding on a provider. Perhaps that lower priority gave the company an edge in our survey results, since this category did not bear the same weight in overall satisfaction as it did with other ISPs.
Not coincidentally, the majority of readers who rated Verizon's support at or below three stars were are also DSL customers.
Overall: 3 ½ Stars
Given the company's noticeably higher scores in every category, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Verizon's overall score of 3 1/2 (3.47) out of five stars also tops the charts in our survey. The two most important factors, according to our Verizon survey participants, performance and reliability, were also the two highest-scoring categories for the company, each earning higher than four stars. These scores were more favorable than those of competing ISPs, and their weighted importance pushed the overall score above the three-star threshold and into the lead.
Interestingly, the company with the highest-rated price score in our survey doesn't actually offer the best price-to-speed ratio. The lead in that category is not obvious compared to other categories and companies. Verizon nudges itself into the lead there because it is one of the only ISPs offering fiber-optic Internet services, with upload speeds as fast as its download bandwidth. This was not lost on our readers, who went hard on every company for pricing, but at least saw the value that fiber-optic technology provides. They therefore judged Verizon's pricing slightly more favorably than they did other ISPs.
"The network is 100 percent fiber," summed up one generally satisfied reader, who rated Verizon at or above three stars in every category. "It really makes the difference."
Our surveyed Verizon readers voted customer support the least-important factor in their decision, but the category still scored an impressive 3¼ stars. It was more important to readers subscribing to other ISPs, and resulted in overall lower ratings for those companies. Perhaps Verizon scored higher because support wasn't as much of a determining factor for these surveyed readers, or maybe the company is just that good with customer service. Either way, an overall score of 3¼ stars out of five gives Verizon the edge in our survey.
At this point, to say Verizon is the winner would be an understatement. Although the price-to-performance ratio isn't the best (on paper), and even though the majority of surveyed DSL subscribers rated each category lower than two stars, Verizon still takes the gold across the board.
Delivering on its customers' primary pain points looks like Verizon's formula for success, with the most important categories rating the highest for the company, and in our review.
|Price (3)||Performance (1)||Reliability (2)||Support (4)||Overall|
|★★ ¾ (2.66)||★★★★ (3.94)|| ★★★★ ¼ (4.16)||★★★ ¼ (3.20)||★★★ ½ (3.47)|
The table above details the full results of our survey, with each category labeled by the least and most important factors when deciding on an ISP, with (1) being the most important and (4) being the least. Each category is tallied with its rounded one- to five-star rating and its mathematical average, for comparison later (although there isn't much comparison to be had at this point).
The race to the top comes to a screeching finish, with Verizon taking top honors in Tom's Hardware's ISP Review Survey. Before we end our series for the year, we'll take a closer look at the reviewed service providers and compare each directly. Though the winner may be obvious, each company has its merits, and we we'll revisit them in a final analysis.
A special thanks goes out to our readers for participating, following along and providing lots of interesting feedback, which made it possible to take on the monumental task of rating an Internet service provider. We hope this review series was informative, represented your viewpoint in an honorable manner and created some compelling content for your enjoyment.
Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.