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Comparing Internet Plans for Your New Place? Check the Cost Per Mbps

The cheapest internet plan isn't always the best deal. Consider the cost per Mbps when comparing internet plans for your new home.

David Anders Senior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
Expertise Broadband providers | Home internet | Security Cameras
David Anders
6 min read
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Comparing the cost per Mbps between internet plans can ensure you're getting the best deal. Here's how to find cost per Mbps and use it to your shopping advantage.

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There's so much to do when moving, so shopping for home internet is probably low on the priority list. Still, you'll want to take some time to find the available providers in your area, compare connection types (see our expert commentary on each internet type) and understand the fine print. You'll also want to take a look at available pricing and speeds, of course.

It’s natural to look at price and speed separately -- you know how much you want to pay per month and likely have an ideal speed in mind -- but you’ll also want to consider them together. In other words, you'll want to know the speeds you get for the price. That’s known as the cost per Mbps, and it’s useful for determining which internet deals are better than others.

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Knowing the cost per Mbps of a plan can help you distinguish between a decent internet deal or a service that is just plain cheap. But what, exactly, is the cost per Mbps, and how do you find it? For that matter, what is Mbps? Let’s dive right in.

Locating local internet providers

What is Mbps? 

Mbps, or megabits per second, is an indicator of how much data an internet connection can send or receive per second -- the miles per hour that data is traveling along the information superhighway, if you will. The faster your connection, the more you can do with it and the less time it will take to complete tasks like downloading an app on your Wi-Fi-connected tablet or uploading a video to social media.

Most internet service providers advertise a plan’s max speeds using Mbps, though some may also display Gbps, or gigabits (that’s 1,000 megabits) per second. Many ISPs offer a variety of speeds. AT&T Fiber, for example, offers 300Mbps, 500Mbps, 1Gbps, 2Gbps and 5Gbps plans. 

Locating local internet providers

Available speeds will vary by provider, but the FCC recently ruled that speeds must be 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up or higher to be considered broadband.

What does 'cost per Mbps' mean?

Cost per Mbps is the ratio between an internet plan’s monthly rate and its advertised speeds. Specifically, it estimates what you pay for 1Mbps, not including taxes and fees.

You may have come across per-unit pricing while at the grocery store (and if you haven’t, it’s a good idea to look for it, given the ongoing shrinkflation). The purpose is to help you quickly compare the value of multiple products by showing the cost per unit, like how much you’re paying for one ounce of soup in a small can versus a larger can of the same soup, for example. 

Cost per Mbps is essentially the same thing. It’s per-unit pricing for your internet to help you quickly compare value. Unlike at the grocery store, however, the cost per Mbps isn’t typically on display, so you will have to calculate it yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not hard.

How to calculate cost per Mbps

To find the cost per Mbps, divide the plan’s advertised monthly rate (excluding any anticipated taxes and fees other than for equipment) by its max speed. 

Take the Verizon Fios 300Mbps plan. Service starts at $50 a month for download speeds up to 300Mbps. $50 divided by 300 equals a cost per Mbps of around 17 cents. Not bad, but Verizon’s slightly faster Fios plan offers up to 500Mbps starting at $70 a month. $70 divided by 500 gives us a cost per Mbps of 14 cents. So, while the 300Mbps plan is cheaper, the 500Mbps speed tier is the better value. 

Again, you’ll want to omit potential taxes and fees from the equation, but it may be worthwhile to include the cost of equipment rental in the price. For example, Spectrum Internet offers speeds up to 300Mbps starting at $40 a month in select areas, but renting a router (it’s optional) will add $7 to your bill for an all-in cost closer to $47 a month. Other providers, such as Cox and Xfinity, may charge $13 to $15 for equipment rental, which can make a big difference when it comes to determining the overall value, especially when compared with a provider that has no equipment fees.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to be aware of introductory versus standard rates, if applicable. Sure, Xfinity’s Connect More plan starts at a low $35 a month for speeds up to 300Mbps (cost per Mbps below 12 cents), but after the first year, the monthly rate jumps to $76, bringing the cost per Mbps up to around 25 cents. 

What is a good cost per Mbps?

There's no right answer, but I would describe a cost per Mbps between 10 and 25 cents as "good" and anything lower as "great." Going higher than a quarter doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad internet deal, but I would recommend plans with a bit more value, if available. 

Similar to how the larger can of soup is likely to have a better price per unit than the smaller can, internet plans with more speed are typically the ones with the lowest cost per Mbps. Going back to our Verizon Fios example, the 500Mbps plan is a better value compared to the 300Mbps, but gig service, with speeds up to 940Mbps starting at $90 a month, tops them both with a cost per Mbps of less than a dime. 

It’s a similar story with almost every top internet provider and its selection of plans: the value goes up -- and cost per Mbps goes down -- with each upgrade to a faster speed. While the value is tempting, don’t let it convince you to sign up for a plan with more speed than you need.

Even if it’s a better deal, paying $80 for gig service (up to 1,000Mbps, cost per Mbps of 8 cents) from AT&T Fiber when you can get by on 500Mbps (starting at $65 per month, cost per Mbps of 13 cents) will have you paying more for internet than you need to. It’s like purchasing a 20-ounce can of soup when you’re only hungry for 12 ounces. The bigger can is a better value, sure, but a lot of soup will go to waste, and you’ll pay more for it than the 12-ounce can.

It’s most useful when comparing plans between providers

Evaluating the cost per Mbps of a single provider’s plans will show the value of upgrading to a faster speed tier, but it’s most practical when used to determine the value among providers with similar speed tiers.

Say you’re comparing the cheapest plans from Cox and AT&T Fiber. Cox starts at $50 per month for speeds up to 250Mbps in select areas, whereas AT&T Fiber is $55 for 300Mbps. Cox is $5 cheaper but has a cost per Mbps of 20 cents, while AT&T Fiber’s cost per Mbps is 18 cents. AT&T Fiber is the better deal, though slightly more expensive.

Here’s a look at the average cost per Mbps of some of the top cable and fiber internet providers. Since these are averages, individual plans from each provider will have a higher or lower starting price, faster or slower speeds and thus a higher or lower cost per Mbps. 

Also, keep in mind that the average starting price reflects introductory pricing and may increase significantly after the first year or two, depending on the provider.

Average cost per Mbps by provider

Provider Average starting priceAverage max download speedAverage cost per Mbps
Read full review
$39 850Mbps5 cents
AT&T Fiber
Read full review
$110 1,760Mbps6 cents
Read full review
$80 462Mbps17 cents
Frontier Fiber
Read full review
$90 2,125Mbps4 cents
Google Fiber
Read full review
$111 4,000Mbps3 cents
Read full review
$123 2,790Mbps4 cents
Read full review
$67 60011 cents
Verizon Fios
Read full review
$80 1,0108 cents
Read full review
$61 850Mbps7 cents
Show more (5 items)

Source: CNET analysis of provider data.

Final thoughts on comparing home internet plans

Cost per Mbps is a worthy consideration when shopping for home internet, but it shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor when choosing a provider or plan. In fact, if you go by cost per Mbps alone, you’re probably going to end up with the fastest, and most expensive, plan. 

Instead, start by comparing connection types, available speeds and pricing at your address. Next, take a look at the service conditions -- equipment fees, data caps and contracts (or lack thereof) usually give one provider the advantage over another. Finally, when it’s time to choose a specific plan, assess the cost per Mbps of the top contenders to determine which plans offer the speed you need for the best value.

For more tips on finding the right internet provider and plan for your home and making the most of your services, visit the CNET Home Internet hub page.