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Internet Guide for Roommates: Choosing a Plan and Setting Up Wi-Fi

Need internet service for you and your roomie? Here’s how to decide on a plan and make the most of your Wi-Fi connection.

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
A group sits together watching a computer screen.

Finding an internet provider and plan that works best for you and your roommate is an important part of the move-in process.

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You don’t have to agree on everything when you move in with a roommate, but it’s best to be on the same page about most of the essentials -- where you’re going to live, how to fairly split the bills, what hand soap to put in the guest bathroom. You’ll also need to consider setting up internet service in a new place

Internet is often a bit more flexible than water, electricity or other utilities when choosing your provider and service tier. That’s a good thing, as it allows you and your roommate to decide on the best internet provider and plan, and optimize your Wi-Fi setup to suit everyone’s needs. 


But how do you know which provider and plan is best? Once you have an internet service, how do you make the Wi-Fi simple and accessible to everyone, guests included? This guide will cover everything you and your roommate need to get the best internet connection for your space.

Locating local internet providers

See what’s available

Signing up for a new internet service in any situation starts with checking out the internet providers in your area. Depending on where you live or are moving to with your roommate, it’s possible you will have multiple internet providers and plans to choose from.

Many areas have a cable internet service provider, such as Xfinity or Spectrum, and possibly a fiber ISP like AT&T Fiber, Frontier Fiber and Verizon Fios, available. These two connection types, cable and fiber, are often the best choice for speed, plan variety and overall value. 

Locating local internet providers

5G wireless internet from T-Mobile Home Internet and Verizon 5G Home Internet is another popular option due to its growing availability, low pricing and simple setup. Plus, if you or your roommate are a T-Mobile or Verizon voice customer, a bundle discount may be available that could save you $15 to $25 a month on home internet.

You’ll find a quick overview of providers and plans that are potentially available to you displayed in the tool above. If you haven’t moved yet, try updating the location to your new address for the best results.

Can the leasing office tell us what ISP to use?

Your landlord or apartment leasing office can recommend but not force you to use a certain internet provider. A recent FCC ruling prohibits revenue sharing between property owners and ISPs and requires owners to disclose exclusive marketing arrangements to "promote tenant choice and competition in the provision of communications services" for tenants.

That said, the home or apartment you and your roommate are moving into may only be wired for one particular type of internet service. If that’s the case, you may be limited to whatever provider is wired to serve your building.

Lease agreements typically restrict renters from installing new wires or equipment, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the option of running a new service, even if there are competing ISPs in the area. The best workaround is 5G home internet, which does not require any new lines to the home.

Want to learn more about how to get the best internet for your apartment? Check out our guide to internet for apartments.

Decide on an internet plan

Once you have narrowed down the available internet providers, it’s time for you and your roommate to choose which ISP and plan is best.

Your internet plan needs to do two things: deliver the speeds you need and fit into everyone’s budget. Unless there are strict budgetary limits, I would recommend first coming to a consensus on speed before opting for the cheapest internet.

For two people, each with multiple connected devices such as a phone, tablet and computer plus a streaming device or two, download speeds of 200 to 300 megabits per second will likely suffice. If either of you work mostly from home or take online gaming seriously, a faster connection -- 300 to 500Mbps -- will provide a bit more bandwidth to help ensure these activities go uninterrupted.

Multiple roommate situations may call for speeds of 500Mbps and above to keep everyone happy. Such plans are often the most expensive, but hopefully you’ll be splitting the bill with several roommates to keep the individual costs down.

Other considerations when choosing an internet plan

You’ve found a couple of plans that fit your needs and budget -- great! Narrow them down further by comparing data caps, equipment fees, contracts and promotional offers. 

Many providers, including AT&T Fiber and Spectrum, offer unlimited data and no contract requirements with all plans. Others, like Xfinity and Cox, may require a contract to get the lowest pricing, and a data cap may apply to some or all plans. The same goes for equipment fees -- select providers come with free equipment rental while others offer it only with certain plans, if at all. 

Data caps, and the fees charged for exceeding them, are something you’ll want to be aware of, especially if you and your roommate plan to stream most of your entertainment. The surprise fees (up to $100 depending on the provider) aren’t fun and could lead to pointing blame back and forth as to who used the most data.

A contract typically isn’t a big deal, but if your internet term agreement is longer than your lease agreement, you may be hit with early termination fees when you move out. Don’t sign a contract for longer than you plan on living with your roommate.

As for equipment fees, most ISPs give you the option to rent from them or use your own Wi-Fi router. If it’s free to rent, you should go that route. Otherwise, you’ll need to rent or buy a router for Wi-Fi service. My colleague, Joe Supan, has a few words to say about whether you should rent or buy your router.

Unless one of you plans to supply the router, I’d recommend renting. The rental cost over a year or two likely won’t exceed the initial purchase cost of a new router, and there’s no room for dispute over who gets the device when you move out.

Look for limited time offers

It’s common for internet providers to offer promotional signup bonuses such as free gift cards and streaming service subscriptions. Depending on the provider and plan you choose, gift card amounts can range from $50 to $300. That’s a nice chunk of change you and your roommate could put towards food, cleaning supplies and other essentials for your shared space.

Sign up for service

After deciding on the best provider and plan, you’ll need to order service. The quickest, easiest and sometimes most rewarding way to sign up for internet is online, but you may have to call the internet provider to order. Your leasing office may be able to help you get signed up for internet as well.

Be aware of any upfront costs, such as installation and activation fees, and be sure to communicate them with your roommate as soon as possible. 

If professional installation is required, be sure to schedule the install for after your move-in date and during a time that you or your roommate will be present. 

Whose name should the internet be in?

That’s ultimately up to you and your roommate, but there are a few considerations that may influence the decision.

The first would be if one of you works from home but not the other. It may be best to have internet in the work-from-homer’s name to make it easier to contact customer service and tech support if there are service or billing issues. If you’re working from home and the internet goes out, you wouldn’t want to have to reach your roommate first in order to contact your ISP.

Another factor is potential discounts, particularly with 5G home internet. T-Mobile Home Internet and Verizon 5G Home Internet offer lower monthly internet rates to mobile customers. If you have either mobile provider and you want the discount, the account will likely need to go in your name.

Finally, if one of you plans on moving out before the other, it’s a good idea to put internet service in the name of whoever will be staying there longer, for obvious reasons.

Set up your Wi-Fi network

Professional installation often isn’t necessary, especially in apartment buildings that are already wired for internet service, so you’ll probably be going the self-installation route. Don’t worry, it won’t be hard (see our self-install guide for tips by provider).

The biggest challenge is deciding where to put your router. Aim for an elevated, central location in your home to help ensure the signal range reaches both your and your roommate’s spaces. 

On top of a bookshelf is a good place for your router, or by the main TV if you plan on plugging your smart TV or gaming console in via Ethernet -- we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of using Ethernet versus Wi-Fi

Also, consider placing the router in a communal space so that if it ever needs to be reset, doing so won’t require invading another’s personal space.

Whatever you do, don’t put your router in these spots, and definitely don’t try to hide your router behind or beneath something.

Create your Wi-Fi networks

Once service is activated and your router is ready, you’ll need to set up the Wi-Fi network. This process is typically straightforward and can be done in minutes using an app. 

One of the first steps is to name your network, and it’s a great, early opportunity to bond with your roommate. Bounce Wi-Fi and internet puns off each other, names with a clever nod to the relationship, or past experiences you have with your roommate.

Next, choose a password that is both easy for you and your roommate to remember, but difficult for others to guess. Your phone number, pet’s name, birthday, etc. are not good passwords. A random password stacked with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols is best for security. Just be sure to write it down (exactly as it is) and keep it somewhere handy for when you or your roommate need it, or use a good password manager.

Go ahead and create that guest network

You will have friends and family over, and so will your roommate. They will want access to your Wi-Fi. A guest W-Fi network will allow your and your roommate’s visitors to connect to the Wi-Fi without logging onto your main, private network. 

Why is a guest Wi-Fi network important? It’s not just to restrict access to your personal devices. If guests use a malware-infected device or download a virus while connected to your private network, they may unintentionally expose your network (and all those connected devices) to security threats. 

A guest network is also ideal for connecting smart devices with fewer security protections, such as security cameras, streaming devices and smart speakers.

Setting up a guest network is simple. Here’s how to do it.

Enjoy your internet

After setting up your Wi-Fi network, your internet service is ready for you and your roommate to enjoy. Expect the occasional issue, like temporary drops in speed during peak usage times (especially when using cable or 5G internet), or the need to reset your router. If you find your internet service is consistently failing to meet your expectations, you may want to consider switching providers or upgrading to a faster plan.

Internet roommate FAQs

Can I have my own internet connection separate from my roommate?

Unless your lease agreement specifically says otherwise, you and your roommate could potentially have separate internet connections. It would most likely have to be from separate providers -- you couldn’t sign up for Spectrum’s 300Mbps plan while your roommate gets 500Mbps, for example -- but it is possible. 

Determine if the pros (billing autonomy, no sharing data) outweigh the cons (higher pricing, possible Wi-Fi signal interference) before deciding if personal internet connections are best for you and your roommate.

Can my roommate see my internet activity?

Anyone with admin access to the router can view connected devices and visited webpages. That does not mean they can see the contents of your internet sessions, however. For example, your roommate may be able to see that you pulled up Gmail, but they would not be able to easily view your emails or other encrypted data.

Can I restrict my roommate's internet data use?

Most routers allow you to view connected devices and how much data they use. You can limit or turn off access to these individual devices but not to an entire user such as your roommate. Let’s say your roommate’s streaming stick uses more data than anything else in the apartment combined. You could technically turn off internet access to the device (but your roommate could equally as easily turn it back on).

The advisable approach would be to have a conversation about data use with your roommate and take steps to reduce internet data use, if needed.