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The biggest test of residential internet service is happening right now as people shelter in place and work from home to slow the spread of COVID-19. And the service providers, despite some hiccups,
seemed to have pulled through.

The schedule for PCMag surveys coincidentally put internet service providers (ISPs) in
the spotlight smack-dab in the middle of this digital pandemic response. What
we found in our results was both consistent with the past and telling about the
future.

Let’s jump right to the two big winners this year. Both are services from big-name companies that support super-fast fiber to the home and happen to be curtailing any
efforts to expand (and in some cases are getting much smaller). Yet their offerings are so
beloved by their users that you’d be a fool to have any other
ISP if one of them is available in your neighborhood.

READERS’ CHOICE WINNER

“Local” ISP: Google Fiber

Consider that local in quotes as semi-ironic, since Google Fiber has
service in multiple cities—yet it’s hardly a national provider. That said, what Google
Fiber offers is absolutely the very best an ISP can do, according to PCMag readers. They praise
the service for everything from setup to cost to customer service, but especially
for speed and ease of use.

READERS’ CHOICE WINNER

National ISP: Verizon Fios

A decade and a half is a long time to consistently impress people, especially
in the technology world. As of 2020, Verizon’s Fios fiber-to-the-home service
has done so 15 times in our annual surveys. Sometimes it shares the
award, sometimes it steals it all for itself, but it’s the only consistently high-rated internet service with a huge footprint.  

Google Fiber took the big win this year, its first
time appearing in our Readers’ Choice results. That’s in part because it has a
limited user base in just a few cites. It’s limited enough that it hasn’t always met
the minimum threshold we need for responses to be included (go too low and we
don’t feel it’s statistically valid to include an ISP—which is why your own
amazing local ISP most likely didn’t make the cut).

But take a glance at those numbers. Google Fiber only fell
below 9.0 (out of 10) on two measures, and then it was only to a still-stunning 8.8 for cost and tech support each. Google Fiber’s overall satisfaction score
of 9.1 is literally the highest overall satisfaction score we’ve seen in the
last 15 years of surveying people about ISPs. The only other company to come
close was Verizon Fios itself, when it got an 8.9 in 2012. Google
Fiber’s across-the-board 9.0+ scores are stunning enough. That it earned a
whopping 9.4 for likelihood to be recommended? That’s almost as perfect as a
recommendation gets.

We learned a long time ago to never discount Verizon
Fios
. Not only is it the long-time winner of this survey, it’s also a perennial
winner in our Fastest ISPs
testing each year—it most recently won as Best Gaming
ISP for 2020
.  

This wasn’t the best year Verizon Fios has had in our
survey; its 8.2 overall satisfaction score is its second lowest ever. But that’s up from the
8.1 it had in 2017 and 2018 and consistent with last year. Fios was also up
when it comes to fees/cost (from 5.9 to 6.7, its worst score this year), tech support
(7.1 to 7.5), and likelihood to be recommended by friends (8.0 to 8.1). Most of Fios’s other scores were the same or a little lower.

Are there other ISPs of note this year? We had an
interesting showing by RCN (a cable provider found mostly in the northeast,
plus Chicago), Grande Communications (out of Texas), and Wave Broadband (on the West Coast)—all of which are owned/operated by the same parent, TPG Capital. Users
of those three ISPs flooded our survey, so much so that we got more responses from RCN users than we did Comcast (which is the largest ISP in the nation with
service in 40 states). That deluge wasn’t enough for a win this time—Grande did
win last
year
 and RCN the three years before that—but  RCN and Grande both got a respectable 8.1
overall score, and Wave didn’t do bad at 8.0. 

Below them was WOW! Internet, which topped our survey in 2013, in sixth place. Interestingly, after that spot, (almost) every ISP
couldn’t get enough respect in recommendations to even get a decent Net
Promoter Score. The NPS (a score between -100 up to +100) is used by many
companies to see how well customers speak about them. Below WOW!, the NPS scores
are mostly negative numbers, indicating many more detractors than promoters.

In
comparison, Google Fiber’s NPS of 86 is so astronomically high it now has a guaranteed
spot in our year-end Best Brands
collection
. Last year’s winner (Grande) earned a Best Brand with a measly
55, so that alone signifies the difference.

The bottom-of-the-heap ISPs in our results, as always, tend to be slow. It would be
satellite if we had enough response for those, I’m sure. Instead, it is the
services that are mainly based on digital subscriber line (DSL) connections—the
“broadband” that these days feels like dial-up speed, and happens to
use the same copper wiring as those old dial-up modems. Even the two mobile wireless
providers that made the cut this time (AT&T and Verizon Wireless) scored
higher than the DSL providers, at 6.4 and 6.3 overall, respectively.

Note that having fiber to the home isn’t a guarantee of
great scores: Frontier bought up a healthy chunk of Verizon Fios property on
the West Coast but could still only manage a 6.7 overall satisfaction rating
from its customers. AT&T’s own fiber was only a few tenths ahead of that at
7.1 (but at least managed a positive NPS, even if that number is
a 4 out of 100).

It’s
worth noting that Verizon Fios had one of the largest number of survey respondents who subscribe to TV and internet service, at 72
percent. Only Optimum Online had more, at 73 percent. Even Comcast’s Xfinity only had 69 percent of PCMag
readers taking the TV option. For the full triple-play option—which includes
internet, TV, and a home phone—Fios leads at 60 percent. Don’t confuse use
with satisfaction however; we asked people to rate how they feel about
the cost of those services, and Fios was only at a 7.2 for internet alone, and
lower the more people added services.

It should also be noted that our two winners are not much of
a monopoly. We asked people if their ISP was the only choice they had at home
for broadband internet. For Verizon Fios it was only true for 6 percent of the
users; Google Fiber was at 3 percent. (The ISPs most likely to be the
only choice local monopolies: Suddenlink at 47 percent, followed by Optimum
Online, Mediacom, and Cox all tied at 32 percent.) The more choice customers had, the higher the satisfaction rate overall with the ISP they
picked.

Below is the full table of results for Readers’ Choice
2020: Home ISPs.

The PCMag Readers’ Choice survey for ISPs was in the field
from April 20, 2020, through March 11, 2020. For more information on how the
survey is conducted, read the survey methodology.

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