Who’s the Top ISP?

Americans have an insatiable desire to rate things. We want to go to the best restaurant in town and drive the most highly-rated car. PCMag ranks the biggest ISPs every year.  It’s an interesting exercise in that each year it points out a few noteworthy ISPs. The magazine asks readers to rate ISPs on a number of factors, including broadband speed, satisfaction with the connection process, and the interaction with customer service.

This year’s winner and highest-rated ISP is NextLight, the municipal fiber utility in the city of Longmont, Colorado. The ISP had the highest rating ever for PCMag and got an overall rating of 9.9 out of 10. The highest-rated national fiber providers were AT&T Fiber and Verizon FiOS, both with a rating of 8.2. Google Fiber was also highly-rated but doesn’t have a big enough footprint to be considered a national provider.

The highest rating for a cable company was Astound Broadband, with a rating of 7.8. Starlink was rated as the best satellite provider with a rating of 8.2. The final category was 5G FWAS wireless, and Verizon won in this category with a ranking of 7.9.

This is an interesting survey, but it is not close to being a scientific sample. The only voters are PCMag customers who also subscribe to the company’s What’s New Now newsletter. An ISP had to receive at least 50 customer responses to be considered. PCMag runs numerous polls throughout the year to let customers rate a range of technical products and services.

There are a few takeaways from the poll responses. The survey rated a local fiber provider the best with a rating of 9.9, while the best cable company in the country got a 7.8 rating. I can’t help but wonder how many other small fiber ISPs would get a high rating if they could get fifty customers to respond to the survey. It’s not hard to imagine that many other municipal providers, cooperatives, independent telephone companies, and small fiber overbuilders would have rated higher than AT&T and Verizon fiber, and higher than all of the cable companies.

The ratings for Starlink and Verizon FWA fixed wireless are interesting because these companies are bringing broadband to many places where all other broadband alternatives are inadequate. I talk to rural folks all of the time who have converted to FWA wireless, and they are thrilled to finally have a broadband solution that works. When you’ve been on rural DSL, high-orbit satellite, or a cellular hotspot, a new alternative is a welcome new option. But I have to wonder how well Starlink and FWA cellular wireless will do after federal grant funding results in fiber networks being built in many of the rural markets in the country? How many people will ditch Starlink and change to a fiber connection that’s both faster and a lot less expensive?

I have my own definition of the best ISPs. The best ISPs are those with almost no churn. This means customers don’t leave these ISPs to change to another ISP. Every ISP has churn from customers that move, die, or have a financial downside. But the best ISPs rarely lose customers to their competition. I’m sure this is true for Longmont’s NextLight as it is for hundreds of other small fiber ISPs across the country. Getting this accolade is great for Longmont. The many other small fiber ISPs don’t need a national magazine to tell them what a great job they are doing. Their customers show them that every day.

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