The following describes our 360 approach to researching and analyzing internet service providers to guide prospective consumers.
1. We researched the companies and products people care most about.
U.S. News analyzed and compared a variety of publicly available data, including internet search data, to determine which internet service providers consumers are most interested in. We found 25 companies that stood out for further evaluation using the volume of searches and consumer research. After conducting a thorough analysis, we were able to condense the initial list to the 12 overall Best Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Taking a step further, out of the top 12 ISPs, we determined which is best by connection type, the best for gaming using latency (provided by the Federal Communications Commission) as a parameter, the best for rural areas, the best prepaid plans, and the cheapest in terms of the lowest regular rate. Fastest ISPs was also another sub-category to consider, but without the proper speed testing platform, this could not be captured appropriately. 360 Reviews instead offered consumers the fastest publicized ISP plans provided by our overall Best Internet Service Providers. With the companies determined, we researched their most important features to create a general layout of what consumers should know to assist with their purchasing decisions.
We compared the various plans, along with the monthly costs and associated fees that each company provided relative to its customers’ needs. The plans highlighted features such as connection type, download/upload speed, and data caps. We also considered the latency, consistency, and packet loss data provided by the Federal Communications Commission in regards to connection type and ISPs for gaming. With these factors in mind, we created a thorough set of guides that provides a 360 overview of what consumers should consider.
2. We created an objective 360 Overall Ratings based on an analysis of third-party reviews.
Our scoring methodology is based on a composite analysis of the ratings and reviews published by credible third-party professional and consumer review sources. The ratings are not based on the personal opinions, tests, or experiences of U.S. News. To calculate the ratings:
(a) We compiled two types of third-party ratings and reviews:
Professional Ratings and Reviews: Many independent evaluating sources have published their assessments of internet service providers and products online. We consider several of these third-party reviews to be reputable and well-researched. However, professional reviewers often make recommendations that contradict one another. Rather than relying on a single source, U.S. News believes consumers benefit most when these opinions and recommendations are considered and analyzed collectively with an objective, consensus-based methodology.
Consumer Ratings and Reviews: U.S. News also reviewed published consumer ratings and reviews of internet service providers. Sources with a sufficient number of quality consumer ratings and reviews were included in our scoring model.
Please note that not all professional and consumer rating sources met our criteria for objectivity. Therefore, some sources were excluded from our model.
(b) We standardized the inputs to create a common scale.
The third-party review source data were collected in a variety of forms, including ratings, recommendations, and accolades. Before including each third-party data point in our scoring equation, we standardized it so that it could be compared accurately with data points from other review sources. We used the scoring methodology described below to convert these systems to a comparable scale.
The 360 scoring process first converted each third-party rating into a common 0 to 5 scale. To balance the distribution of scores within each source’s scale, we used a standard deviation (or Z-Score) calculation to determine how each company that a source rated was scored in comparison to the source’s mean score. We then used the Z-Score to create a standardized U.S. News score using the method outlined below:
Calculating the Z-Score: The Z-Score represents a data point’s relation to the mean measurement of the data set. The Z-Score is negative when the data point is below the mean and positive when it’s above the mean; a Z-Score of 0 means it’s equal to the mean. To determine the Z-Score for each third-party rating of a company, we calculated the mean of the ratings across all companies evaluated by that third-party source. We then subtracted the mean from the company’s rating and divided it by the standard deviation to produce the Z-Score.
Calculating the T-Score: We used a T-Score calculation to convert the Z-Score to a 0-100 scale by multiplying the Z-Score by 10. To ensure that the mean was equal across all data points, we added our desired scoring mean (between 0 and 10) to the T-Score to create an adjusted T-Score.
Calculating the common-scale rating: We divided the adjusted T-Score, which is on a 100-point scale, by 20 to convert the third-party rating to a common 0-5 point system.
(c) We calculated the 360 Overall Score based on a weighted average model.
We assigned “source weights” to each source used in the consensus scoring model based on our assessment of how much the source is trusted and recognized by consumers and how much its published review process indicates that it is both comprehensive and editorially independent. The source weights are assigned on a 1-5 scale. Any source with an assigned weight less than 2 was excluded from the consensus scoring model.
Finally, we combined the converted third-party data points using a weighted average formula based on source weight. This formula calculated the consensus score for each product, which we call the 360 Overall Rating.
Cheap internet service providers should be affordable to most people. For this subrating, we gathered the lowest monthly cost plans of each company and compared them to each other to determine the cheapest internet service providers.
The Fastest High-Speed internet service providers should also be able to provide fast service. For this subrating, we looked at the highest plan from each company and compared their speeds.
Internet service providers have different types of internet such as fiber internet. We gathered companies that have fiber internet and scored them by their overall ranking.
Internet service providers also have prepaid option plans. We included companies that have prepaid plans and scored them by their overall ranking.
Internet service providers have different types of internet such as DSL. We included companies that have DSL internet service and scored them by their overall ranking.
Internet service providers have different types of internet such as satellite. We included companies that have satellite internet and scored them by their overall ranking.
Internet service providers have different types of internet such as cable. We included companies with cable internet and scored them by their overall ranking.
Gaming with the internet is highly dependent on latency. The lower the latency is, the better the internet plan is for gaming. We scored the best internet providers for gaming based on how low their latency is.
Internet service providers are found in various areas. For rural areas, we scored the companies based on how far they provide services to, specifically rural areas.