It wasn't that 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. 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, the number of households with standalone internet service has increased to 41% as of the first quarter of 2021. That growing customer base has led to heightened competition among internet service providers, and it's one reason why we're seeing some ISPs drop their contract requirements. You may even see some providers offer to buy you out of your contract to get you to switch over to them.
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 you'd prefer one who won't ask you to sign on the dotted line, then keep reading for the full rundown.
Month-to-month internet can come at a price
One note of caution before we get started: Just because you don't have to sign a term agreement doesn't always mean you're getting the best price. For example, some providers will put a premium on their pay-as-you-go plans while their contract rate will be much cheaper. Sure, you might not have to pay any early termination fees without the contract, but your cost per megabit per second will be higher.
To help keep your costs in perspective, we'll consider the cost per Mbps for each listed provider. In the US, the average cost per Mbps was 64 cents in 2020, according to the NCTA, a broadband and TV trade association. It should be noted that this figure is focused on cable internet -- and the price could vary based on your type of internet connection (higher for DSL and satellite, cheaper for fiber) -- but it's an excellent place to start to try to compare apples to apples.
Top no-contract internet providers
None of AT&T's internet-only plans require you to sign a contract. However, to get specific bundle deals, you will be required to sign a term agreement. Also, unlike many ISPs, AT&T does not give you the option to use your own equipment, so you'll have an additional monthly charge beyond the cost per Mbps listed below.
Available to approximately a third of its footprint, AT&T fiber plans provide excellent value, with an average cost per Mbps of 9 cents during the first year of promo pricing and 13 cents per Mbps after that, when the regular rate kicks in. 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 per month. That comes out to $7 per Mbps.
AT&T Home Internet
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 pretty competitive 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.
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 of the monthly bill. That means that customers who agree to the contract are paying an average of 53 cents per Mbps, while customers who pass on the contract have to 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 present any flexibility in download speeds.
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 as well.
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.
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 two-gigabit speeds, so the actual cost per Mbps is between 5 and 7 cents, which is excellent. You're getting a really 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.
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.
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.
All Optimum plans feature no data caps and no contracts. The promo price for the first 12 months of cable internet service, across all four plans, averages a cost of 21 cents per Mbps.
RCN has quite a range of pricing across the six markets it services, 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.
Rise Broadband features a fixed wireless internet 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.
Sparklight 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 32 cents -- is essentially what you'll be paying later. However, it does discount its Starter 100 plan for the first six months of service.
Also, note that Sparklight enforces data caps, so there's the potential for additional fees if you exceed your monthly limits.
Spectrum is about as simple as you can get when you're 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 17 cents -- after that, expect that to jump to an average of 25 cents per Mbps.
Elon Musk's budding internet service -- which is scheduled to exit its beta testing phase in October -- is unique among satellite internet providers in that it doesn't require a contract. Also, the average cost per Mbps is approximately $1.32, which is excellent considering it also features unlimited data.
That said, Starlink still requires a bit of a commitment in that customers must make a one-time equipment purchase of $499. That's a 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.
Starry Internet is a fixed wireless internet solution that is similar to 5G home internet in that it uses millimeter-wave technology. It features no contracts and its one price includes equipment, installation costs and unlimited data. The average cost per Mbps for Starry Internet is a very reasonable 25 cents.
Suddenlink features some of the best promo pricing you can find for cable internet and none of its plans require a contract. Your first-year pricing will feature an average cost per Mbps of 15 cents, which is one of the most affordable rates we've seen. After 12 months, however, the average cost per Mbps jumps to 46 cents, which is middle of the road at best.
Similar to Starry, T-Mobile Home Internet features one plan, one price and no contracts required. Included in that one price -- $50 a month -- 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 around 100Mbps 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, T-Mobile notes it's possible some customers could potentially max out at a measly 25Mbps.
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.
Verizon doesn't require contracts for any of the various home internet plans it offers. That's the easy part. The more difficult task is figuring out the pricing. Both Verizon Fios (its fiber-optic internet service) and Verizon 5G Home Internet (its 5G fixed wireless internet solution) feature an average cost of 15 cents per Mbps. However, Verizon 5G is an all-in price that includes taxes, fees and equipment, whereas Verizon Fios only includes equipment in the gigabit plan.
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.
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. It offers four different plan options, with a highly competitive average cost of 15 cents per Mbps for its promo price and 21 cents after the first year of service.
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 have to 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.
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.