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Can't Stand Your ISP Another Minute? Here's How to Switch

Are you over Optimum? Or exhausted with Xfinity? Here's how to switch internet providers as painlessly as possible.

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
9 min read
lower internet bill

Your internet service provider would like you to think so, but chances are it isn't the only ISP on the block. Maybe AT&T offers faster, cheaper service than Spectrum in your area -- or vice-versa. Or perhaps T-Mobile 5G Home Internet is newly available at your address, and you can finally move on from pricey satellite internet from Viasat.

Whatever the reason, you'll have to switch internet providers at some point. When that time comes, don't fret. Chances are it won't be that bad, at least not so troublesome that the hassle outweighs the reward of a faster speed, cheaper internet plan or more agreeable customer experience. Granted, it won't be fun (unless you're just really intent on canceling with your current ISP -- I've been there with a certain TV service), but it doesn't have to be a dreadful event either, especially when you know just how to do it.

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Switching internet providers comes down to three things: understanding your current internet situation, choosing another internet provider in your area and then coordinating a successful switch. It'll unfortunately take a phone call or two to customer service, and maybe a trip to the post office to return equipment, but other than that, it should be a fairly painless process. I'll go into more detail later, but first, let's take a look at why you might want to switch internet providers in the first place. 

Locating local internet providers

Why to switch ISPs: Moving on

Internet providers operate in specific areas so any time you move, there's the possibility you'll end up outside your current provider's service area. In that case, you'll have no choice but to find a new internet provider. If that's you, skip on down to the part about how to switch providers. 

But let's say you can carry over service with your current provider to your new address. You might have some new internet options at your new home, so it's still a good idea to take a look at what's available. Even if you aren't moving, checking out what's available at your current address and comparing it to what you've got now could be just as rewarding. 

Locating local internet providers

To greener pastures

When shopping for a new internet service, you'll want to consider a number of factors including but not limited to pricing, speeds, special promotions and the possibility of bundling your internet with other services. With that in mind, here are a few reasons why you might want to consider switching internet service providers.

  • Saving money - Lower introductory rates or flat-out cheaper pricing on comparative speeds could add up to significant savings. Your new provider may also come with lower equipment fees (or none at all) or special signup bonuses like gift cards or free streaming services that could contribute to your overall monthly savings.
  • Boosting speeds - Along with cheaper plan options, a different ISP may offer faster service for roughly the same price you're paying now. If you're looking for a significant speed increase, select providers such as AT&T, Google Fiber, Verizon Fios, Xfinity and Ziply Fiber now offer multi-gig service with speeds ranging from 2 to 5Gbps. 
  • Improving connection quality - Sometimes switching internet providers means switching the connection type entirely, which can make a big difference in your internet service. For example, those shopping for internet in rural areas may want to consider switching from satellite internet to a DSL provider for a connection that's more reliable in bad weather (along with probably being cheaper and free of contracts or data caps, a common pain point with satellite internet). Going from cable internet service to a fiber-optic provider also has its advantages, like faster upload speeds and better speed reliability during peak usage times. Here's everything you need to know about internet connection types when choosing a home internet service.
  • Bundling with TV - Along the lines of saving money, bundling TV and internet can potentially get you a cheaper rate versus ordering them separately. On top of that, signing up for internet and TV at the same time, waiting for just one installation technician, and having multiple home services on one monthly bill are all strong fringe conveniences that could make a switch feel worthwhile. 
  • Saying "so long" - Sometimes a bad customer experience, or string of them, is just too much to overcome. If it's gotten to that point, many of us will do just about anything to keep from giving the provider another cent, even if it means settling for a lower speed or higher price with someone else. Canceling can certainly be satisfying, but I'd recommend seeing if the provider is willing to try to make things right before switching to a lesser service.

Keep in mind that, in spite of the reasons to switch internet providers, the grass may not always be greener on the other side. Switching to a cheaper plan with another provider may cost you more in the long run if your new provider has hefty price increases after the first year, charges more for equipment or comes with data caps and surprising fees for going over. In short, it's important to carefully consider your options before signing up for a new internet service.

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How to switch providers

So you're moving and have to find a new internet provider, or you've weighed the pros and cons and decided you want to switch ISPs at your current address. Either way, the process is essentially the same. 

Ask your current provider about canceling

Contacting your current internet provider isn't always necessary at first, especially if you're moving and know your new address won't be eligible for service. But if you're staying in a serviceable area, it's worth speaking with a customer service rep to find out if you're under contract (and if so, what penalties could come with canceling) and what the ISP may be willing to do to keep your business.

While most major internet providers come with no contract, some, including Cox, Mediacom and Xfinity, may require you to sign a contract for a year or longer to get the lowest pricing. Others, like satellite providers HughesNet and Viasat, require a contract with all plans. If you're under contract, canceling before the term-agreement is up can, and probably will, result in early termination fees. ETFs are often pro-rated, meaning the fee is less the farther you are into your contract, but they could still add a couple hundred dollars to the cost of switching providers.

Even if you aren't under contract, it's possible that an untimely cancellation could cost you. Fees can get lost in the fine print even more so than contracts and early termination fees, so it's often worth calling to find out what penalties, if any, to expect when canceling service.

Hear what they have to offer

I'd be willing to bet that while you're on the phone with your internet provider asking about the conditions of canceling service, you'll receive an offer for lower pricing, a speed upgrade or some other incentive to keep you from leaving. While your first instinct may be to reject the pitch, go ahead and listen to the offers, if you have the time and patience for them -- it's possible that the deal they offer you could be better than the one you're switching providers for. 

On the other hand, if the deal doesn't knock your socks off and you can live with the potential consequences of canceling, your next step will be to sign up for service with your new provider.

Sign up with your new provider

Once you've found another internet provider and plan (and decided to decline any competing offers from your current ISP), it's time for the most crucial step when switching providers: signing up for service and receiving your install date. Before doing so, you'll want to be absolutely sure about switching as canceling your order with a new ISP, even if it's before the installation, can come with its own set of fees or, at the very least, an unnecessary credit check.

When you're ready, most providers make it easy to sign up for service online. If you know exactly what you want, that's often the best way to go. Some ISPs, like AT&T and Kinetic by Windstream, may even offer gift cards or bill credits just for signing up online. 

If you're somewhat undecided as to which plan is best and what equipment you need, or have other general questions, calling a sales representative couldn't hurt. In addition to answering your questions, they may be able to offer you an exclusive promotion that isn't available or easily found online. Chances are you'll also be able to sign up for service while on the phone, but if you're worried about missing out on online-exclusive offers, ask the sales rep to include them. If they can't, just get the information you need and then sign up online.

Save the date

However you sign up for service, you'll receive a date and time window for installation. You may have a few dates or times to choose from as well as the option for self-installation, which can make it much easier to coordinate the installation with your move-in date. Once you've got the installation details, it's safe to go ahead and cancel with your current provider.

Make one last phone call

I know, this is potentially the third time you'll have to call customer service, but unfortunately, that's the only way to cancel with most major internet providers. You'll likely be transferred to a retention department with a special set of offers targeted at keeping your business, but you can be firm in your request at this point. Ask to schedule the cancellation as close to the new service installation date as possible, or, in the case of moving, whenever your move-out date is.

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Return your equipment

If you've rented a modem, router or other device from your provider, it will be your responsibility to return that equipment by bringing it to a brick and mortar location if possible (where you may also be able to cancel your service if you don't want to call customer service), or by mailing it back. It's inconvenient, sure, but failure to return the equipment on time, usually around a month or so after cancellation, could result in additional fees.

Plan ahead before switching internet providers

Switching internet providers will likely take at least a few days to complete, depending on when you can schedule the installation. Consequently, you'll want to plan ahead in order to minimize the amount of time you may have to go without internet service. With a little planning and patience, switching internet providers should be a fairly painless process that will hopefully end with upgrading your home to a better internet service.

Switching internet provider FAQs

Can I switch internet providers if I'm still under contract?

In most cases, yes, but doing so may come with an early termination fee of up to $200 or more, depending on the provider and length of time left on your contract. Not paying the ETF could have a negative impact on your credit report and make it difficult to return to the provider should you need to sometime down the road. 

Some internet providers are willing to pay the early-termination fee for you in the form of bill credits or a check for the amount of the fee, typically up to $500. Optimum, Spectrum, Verizon Fios and others extend such contract buyout offers to new customers. If you're still under a contract but need to switch providers, see if other available providers are willing to help you out with the early termination fees.

Will I lose my email address if I switch providers?

If your email address is hosted by the ISP (name@ISP.com or something similar), chances are you will lose the email address and all others associated with your account once you cancel service, though some providers may allow you to keep your email address for a small monthly fee.

Email accounts not directly hosted by your ISP such as Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc, are not lost when switching internet service providers.

Can I go back to my old provider after switching ISPs?

Maybe your new internet service provider isn't as fast or cheap as you expected and your old ISP is looking better now than the day you left them. So long as your previous provider is still available (if you moved, it may not be), you should be able to return to them at any time. 

Some things that may complicate returning to your former provider include being in a contract with your current provider or having an outstanding account balance with your old provider. Also, keep in mind that discounts, speed tiers or other special offers that you had with your previous provider may no longer be available.