Best No-Contract Internet Service Providers for 2022 – CNET
It wasn’t long ago when it felt like you had to sign away your firstborn child — or at least the next two years of your life — to get internet service in your area. While you might get lured by a slimmed-down, introductory price, you knew that lurking behind any first-year cheer was a heady bill increase and unrelenting extra charges if you dared change your mind or (gasp!) had to move.
But that’s changing. As we become more dependent on internet connectivity, it has led to heightened competition among internet service providers. That’s one reason why we see some ISPs drop their contract requirements. You may even find some internet promotions offering to buy you out of your contract to get you to switch.
That’s good news for anyone looking to explore their home internet options. If you’re in the market for a new internet provider and prefer one that won’t ask you to sign on the dotted line, keep reading for the full rundown. One note of caution before we get started, though: Just because you don’t have to sign a term agreement doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best price or internet promotion. Some providers will put a premium on their pay-as-you-go plans while their contract rate will be much cheaper. To help keep your costs in perspective, we’ll consider the cost per megabit per second for each listed provider. It’s an excellent place to start comparing apples to apples.
At an initial glance, Google Fiber plans might seem expensive — there are only two options, one at $70 a month and the other at $100 a month. However, those two plans offer gigabit (1,000Mbps) and 2-gigabit speeds, so the actual cost per Mbps is 7 and 5 cents, respectively, which is excellent. You’re getting a fast connection for the price. On top of that, your equipment is included in that no-contract price, which is a great deal.
The biggest challenge is availability, as Google Fiber can be found only in a handful of metro areas across the country — Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Huntsville, Kansas City, Nashville, Orange County, Provo, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and West Des Moines.
None of AT&T’s internet-only plans require you to sign a contract to receive the lowest available price. However, you must sign a term agreement to get specific bundle deals. But, new in 2022, AT&T does not charge you an additional fee to use its Wi-Fi gateway. Previously, customers had to pay an extra $10 a month. But no longer.
Available to approximately a third of its footprint, AT&T fiber plans provide excellent value. There are five different plan options — 300, 500 and 940Mbps, as well as 2-gigabit and 5Gbps — ranging in price from $55 to $180 per month, with no data cap. Altogether, AT&T’s fiber plans average 10 cents per Mbps, which is solid, but even more spectacular are the multi-gigabit plans, which average out to 5 cents per Mbps, which is outstanding.
AT&T’s DSL plans, which are more readily available, offer significantly less value, averaging just over $2 per Mbps. The plan with the least bang for your buck is AT&T Fixed Wireless, which offers max download speeds of just 10Mbps for $70 a month. That comes out to $7 per Mbps.
AT&T Home Internet
There is no need to worry about cancellation fees on any of the CenturyLink plans — none of them come with any contractual commitments whatsoever. The value is pretty strong with CenturyLink, too — the company’s fiber plans average out to a cost of 16 cents per Mbps, while the DSL plan rings in at a value of $1 per Mbps, which is hard to beat among DSL offerings.
There is an additional cost for your modem/router rental, but CenturyLink does allow you to skip it and use your own equipment.
Available in many suburban and rural areas where it often competes with satellite providers (most of which require a two-year contract), Kinetic by Windstream sets itself apart by ditching term agreements altogether. You can get either DSL (a majority of its footprint) or fiber service (currently about a fifth of its network) for an average cost of 50 cents per Mbps during the first year and 56 cents per Mbps after that.
All Optimum plans feature no data caps, no contracts and some of the best promo pricing you can find for cable internet. Your first-year pricing will feature an average cost per Mbps of 11 cents, which is one of the most affordable rates we’ve seen for that internet connection type. After 12 months, however, the average cost per Mbps jumps to 46 cents, which is middle of the road, at best.
Spectrum is about as straightforward as you can get when looking at cable internet providers. There are three plans — 200Mbps, 400Mbps and 1 Gig — and all are free of contracts and data caps. Across all three, the average cost per Mbps in the first year is 18 cents, which isn’t bad for cable internet. Perhaps more impressive, the second-year jump isn’t too steep (for an ISP, anyway), up to an average of 25 cents per Mbps.
Elon Musk’s budding internet service is unique among satellite internet providers in that it doesn’t require a contract. Also, the average cost per Mbps of its standard plan (250Mbps) is approximately 40 cents, which is excellent considering it also features unlimited data. The premium plan, which offers 500Mbps, bumps up the average cost per Mbps to $1. Still pretty impressive for an internet technology known to fall on the pricier side.
That said, Starlink still requires a bit of a commitment in that customers must make a one-time equipment purchase of $599 (or a whopping $2,500 if you’re purchasing the premium plan). That’s a sizable chunk of change that most cable and fiber internet customers get to avoid. But for rural regions of the country that don’t have access to those connections, this could be a digital lifeline.
Verizon, which scores top customer satisfaction marks in most surveys, doesn’t require contracts for any of its various home internet plans. That’s the easy part. The more difficult task is figuring out the pricing. Verizon Fios (its fiber-optic internet service) is the most clear-cut, featuring three different plans — 300, 500 and 940Mbps — that feature an average cost of 12 cents per Mbps.
Verizon 5G Home Internet (its 5G fixed wireless internet solution) is a bit squishy because the download speeds, ranging from 300 to 940Mbps, aren’t guaranteed. But assuming the minimum of 300Mbps, the average cost per Mbps would be 17 cents. However, Verizon 5G Home is an all-in price that includes taxes, fees and equipment, whereas Verizon Fios only includes the equipment rental in the gigabit plan. Additionally, qualified Verizon Wireless customers can get 50% off the cost of Verizon 5G Home, which will significantly cut your costs.
Verizon’s DSL and LTE Home Internet services don’t require contracts, either, but the cost per Mbps is much higher. DSL features an average cost of $2.67 per Mbps, while LTE is even higher at $3.10. In addition, LTE requires an equipment fee of $10 a month for 24 months or a one-time fee of $240.
Other no-contract internet service providers to consider
- Astound Broadband by RCN: This regional cable internet provider boasts some of the best pricing you’ll see in its first year. It has quite a range of pricing across the six markets it services — Boston, Chicago, Lehigh Valley, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC — but overall it has a very competitive average cost of 14 cents per Mbps for the first year. That tough-to-beat price for cable internet falls closer to the pack in the second year, as the average cost jumps all the way up to 57 cents per Mbps.
- Cox Communications: There’s flexibility here, but it comes at a cost. Cox doesn’t require you to sign a contract to receive internet service, but it does encourage customers to sign a one-year agreement, which takes $10 off the monthly bill. That means that if you agree to the contract, you are paying an average of 53 cents per Mbps, while those who pass on the term agreement must pay an average of 67 cents per Mbps. Cox also offers StraightUp Prepaid Internet, which provides the simplicity of one plan (25Mbps download) with all equipment, installation and taxes included in the price. For that streamlined approach, you’ll pay $2 per Mbps, which is much higher than the other plans Cox offers and doesn’t give you any options for faster download speeds.
- Frontier Communications: Whether you have access to Frontier Internet (DSL) or Frontier FiberOptic (fiber), you won’t have to worry about any binding contracts. In addition to that, equipment fees are included in the monthly price, too. Customers of Frontier FiberOptic will see an average cost of 40 cents per Mbps for first-year pricing, while DSL customers can expect to pay $2.17 per Mbps.
- Mediacom: Though you’ll need to contend with data caps, Mediacom’s Xtream internet selections do not require you to sign a long-term contract. Across all four plans, you can expect to pay an average of 28 cents per Mbps during your first year; after that, the average cost per Mbps jumps to 43 cents. It should be noted that its two fastest plans (Internet 300 and the Gig plan) have an additional scheduled increase after 24 months.
- Rise Broadband: This fixed wireless internet provider features service with download speeds of either 25Mbps or 50Mbps, and with both, you can select either unlimited data or a 250GB data cap. The average cost per Mbps in the first year is $1.40, increasing to $1.70 after that.
: This ISP is a bit unusual among cable internet providers in that it doesn’t play the game of trying to entice you with a promo price that then jumps up after 12 months. Instead, what you pay now — an average cost per Mbps of 19 cents — is essentially what you’ll be paying later. However, it does discount its Freedom Connect 600Mbps plan for the first three months of service. Also of note, Sparklight enforces data caps, so there’s the potential for additional fees if you exceed your monthly limits.
- Starry Internet: This fixed wireless provider offers a solution that is similar to 5G home internet in that it uses millimeter-wave technology. It features no contracts and the price includes equipment, installation costs and unlimited data. The average cost per Mbps for Starry Internet is a reasonable 25 cents.
- T-Mobile Home Internet: Similar to Starry, T-Mobile Home Internet features everything under one price, with no contracts required. Included in that one price — $50 a month (or $30 per month for eligible Magenta MAX mobile customers) — are all equipment and installation fees as well as taxes. That said, the cost per Mbps is difficult to pin down since speeds will vary by address. T-Mobile claims most customers will average between 33 to 182Mbps download speeds. However, when CNET tested T-Mobile Home Internet, we hit a max of 132Mbps, and we’ve also received anecdotal evidence of customers hitting speeds of up to 300Mbps in some areas. Meanwhile, per T-Mobile, it’s possible some could potentially max out at 33Mbps. In other words, your mileage may vary — but if your address has a strong connection to a nearby cell tower, T-Mobile could be well worth a shot.
WOW: WideOpenWest, which prefers to go by WOW, aims to wow its customers by requiring no contracts and no data caps, so you don’t have to fear overage fees. This cable internet provider offers four different plan options, with a highly competitive average cost of just over 14 cents per Mbps for its promo price and 21 cents after the first year of service.
Xfinity: Unfortunately, Xfinity requires customers to sign a contract to get its lowest price on internet service. In some cases, and for some plans, it even calls for a two-year commitment. That said, Xfinity does offer a Prepaid Internet option that requires no contract and gives you 30 days of internet service for $45. There is no deposit required and no fees, but you must make a one-time modem purchase of $35. The max download speed offered is 50Mbps, which means this service has an average cost of 90 cents per Mbps, which is much higher than the 25 to 39 cents per Mbps that other Xfinity customers will pay.
Ziply Fiber: This relatively new company — it began offering service in 2020 after acquiring networks in four Northwest states from Frontier Communications — aims to simplify the purchasing process by skipping credit checks, data caps and term agreements. It features DSL and fiber plans, with the average cost per Mbps at 25 cents for the promo period and 40 cents after the first year.
Best no-contract internet providers FAQs
What should you look for in a no-contract internet provider?
As discussed earlier in the article, you’ll want to look at the cost per megabit per second of the provider’s plans to get a better sense of whether you’re getting a good deal. While it’s fantastic to avoid having to sign a contract — and, in general, it is wonderful to avoid the looming threat of early termination fees associated with said contract — you still want to do your homework and make sure you’re not paying a premium for the freedom of not having a term agreement.
Also, look into the type of internet connection offered by the ISP. While some households — especially those in underserved or rural areas — may not have many options, the general rule is that satellite internet is better than DSL, cable internet is better than satellite, and fiber internet trumps them all. 5G home internet, which made some significant strides in 2021, may also become a legitimate option for many across the country.
Who’s the best no-contract internet service provider?
It may sound like a cop-out, but the best no-contract internet provider for you is the one that’s serviceable at your address. As we’ve mentioned many times in our ISP reviews, all things being equal, if you can get fiber internet at your location, that’s the way to go. It’ll give you the best performance of all the internet connection types — you’ll get symmetrical download and upload speeds — and often will also be the most affordable, in terms of cost per megabit per second. Google Fiber, which includes all equipment costs and fees in your monthly rate, is the cheapest at 7 cents per Mbps. But its availability pales compared to the fiber plans of AT&T, for example. If you live in one of the 12 metro markets in which it offers service, Google Fiber is an easy choice, but AT&T Fiber might be the top option for the rest of us.
How can I get Wi-Fi at home without a contract?
We get this question quite a bit, as many assume they have to pay for Wi-Fi separately from their internet service. But that’s not the case, generally. You often get Wi-Fi when you sign up with an internet provider, as many will provide you with a gateway, which is a combination of a modem (which connects your home to the internet) and a router (which takes that internet signal from the modem and broadcasts it, wirelessly, to the other devices in your home). Even if your ISP only provides the modem, it will allow you to either rent a router from them or use your own. Basically, if you’re able to get an internet connection at your address without having to sign a contract, you should have options to have Wi-Fi at your home without committing to a contract as well.
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May 14, 2022 at 05:15AM