At home, an internet outage is an annoyance, but nothing more. Aside from interrupting whatever you're watching on Netflix, a brief break in online access for an hour or two is no big deal. At your business, on the other hand, even an hour-long outage can have serious repercussions on productivity and profits.
That's why, when you're looking for an internet service provider for your small business, you should look for more than just high speeds and low prices. Reliability is at the absolute top of the list, backed up by service level agreements that clearly spell out what you're buying. That's followed closely by support, which should be available 24/7 and knowledgeable enough to quickly handle problems so an outage doesn't ruin your day.
Business internet providers offer a feature set that consumer cable companies won't touch, including upload speeds that are as fast as download speeds, a detail that matters for design firms that routinely exchange massive video and CAD files with remote business partners. Prices are, unsurprisingly, higher than corresponding consumer plans but typically include no data caps. Using dedicated IP addresses, you can keep a permanent high-speed connection to a branch office or run your own public-facing server. Neither of those scenarios are possible (or advisable) with a consumer-focused internet plan. And business internet providers typically offer attractive add-ons like email and phone service for a relatively small surcharge.
For this guide, we've focused on large, nationwide internet providers in the United States. Depending on where your office is located, you might be able to find excellent local and regional options, but we don't have the space or the bandwidth to track down the hundreds of options in that category.
As one of two Tier 1 internet providers in this list (the other is AT&T), Verizon has more control over its network than competitors that have to purchase access from upstream providers. Fios is a fiber-based service that is available in three tiers, starting at 100 Mbps and going up to 940/880 Mbps, at prices ranging from $69 to $249 per month. The highest-priced plan include a single digital voice line for your business as well, and you can get additional discounts for bundling with Verizon Wireless plans or Fios TV.
Verizon also offers Internet Dedicated Services, at speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps, with the fastest connection costing $855 per month with a three-year commitment. For an extra charge, you can add 4G LTE wireless backup, which will keep critical services like point of sale systems running in the event of an outage.
Unlike some of its competitors, Verizon charges additional fees for equipment and some services, so be sure to include the full list of charges when comparing prices.
As one of the biggest brands on the internet and a Tier 1 provider, AT&T offers a dizzying array of options, with broadband, wireless, and Dedicated Internet plans available for the choosing. Special terms and pricing are available for government agencies, schools, and libraries.
Wired broadband plans start at $40 per month, with wireless backup available as an option. Wireless plans begin at $80 a month and top out at 100 Mbps speeds. Dedicated Internet access, offering speeds of up to 1 Tbps with traffic prioritization, will cost at least $550 per month and can run into the thousands of dollars monthly for a Gigabit connection. Although you can start your search online, getting a detailed price quote means filling in an online form or speaking with a sales rep.
Comcast Business, unlike its consumer cousin, has no data caps, and it offers dedicated, round-the-clock support for business customers. But this is still Comcast, as you'll realize when you discover that the best prices require a two-year contract. Expect to pay $80 to $500 per month for download speeds starting at 35 Mbps and going up to 1 Gbps. In our review of Comcast Business pricing, we found that internet packages that bundled a single phone line were actually cheaper than the internet-only versions. For the first two years, at least.
Comcast offers a slew of add-ons for business customers, including Wi-Fi options to secure your corporate network from the one you allow guests to use, as well as a backup option called Connection Pro, that provides a 4G LTE modem with battery reserve for up to 8 hours, so you can maintain connectivity in the event of an outage.
If those speeds are too sluggish, you can get Ethernet dedicated internet, with symmetrical download/upload speeds up to 100 Gbps and two permanent IP addresses. Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) router is optional. Be prepared to pay, though.
As expected from a division of cable giant Charter Communications, Spectrum Business plans come with a dizzying array of prices that vary based on contract length and whether you've bundled phone or TV service with your internet access. Speeds range from 200 Mbps to 940 Mbps, at prices from $65 to $250 per month with a 12- or 24-month contract.
The entry level plan includes domain name registration and email service, with higher-priced plans bundling voice service as well. Add-ons include a $20-per-month Wireless Internet Backup plan, static IP addresses (1 for $15, up to 29 addresses for $60 monthly), and a variety of Wi-Fi options.
Frontier's network covers huge swaths of the United States, including the Southwest from California to Texas, the entire Southeast, and every state that borders the Great Lakes, including Illinois and New York. There are some noteworthy gaps in the coverage map, however, including the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Virginia/Maryland/D.C, and the upper Northeast from Massachusetts to Maine.
Frontier's claim to fame is its 100% fiber-optic network, which allows it to offer upload speeds that are as fast as downloads, depending on the plan. That's the same network that Frontier's consumer customers use.
Frontier's website focuses mostly on its consumer offerings and is thin on what it offers business customers, and the only way to get details on a business plan is to call their business sales line. That leads us to believe that the main difference is easier access to support lines. Still, if you're in Frontier's service area, it's probably worth a call to figure out whether their no-contract plans are right for your business.
Does Google have a nationwide network? Well ... sort of. Google Fiber business plans are available to a large segment of the United States population, but only if you live in one of the 19 cities that are part of the network. You can expect to pay $100 a month for 250 Mbps service and $250 monthly for the 1 Gbps.
On Google Fiber plans, upload and download speeds are identical (equipment permitting) and there are no hidden fees or data caps, nor is a contract required. The monthly price includes installation and required networking equipment, although you're welcome to bring your own router if you prefer.
What type of internet connection is best for businesses?
For most office-based small businesses, a regular broadband connection with wired access to each desktop or laptop PC is the best choice, and you can easily add wireless connectivity. Businesses that are more spread out, with common areas for customers and employees, might prefer an all-wireless option. Be sure to check the terms of service carefully, however, as some providers restrict access to bars, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments that serve the public. If you data needs are especially demanding, with employees routinely transferring large files or doing HD video streaming, a dedicated connection is pricey but probably worth it.
If you work from home, do you need business internet?
Home-based employees can use large amounts of data, sometimes enough to exceed data caps that are common with consumer internet plans. Paying for unlimited access is usually still cheaper than signing up for a dedicated business plan. Consider a business plan if you need fast upload speeds (most consumer providers limit uploads to a fraction of download speeds) or if you need to run your own server (which is prohibited under the terms of service for most consumer plans).
What internet speed is appropriate for business use?
Each tier of increased speed comes at a higher price, sometimes significantly higher, so it's important to sign up for only as much bandwidth as you need. For lightweight office use by one or two users plus point-of-sale transactions, even the most modest package will probably do. As you add workers, especially if they routinely transfer large files, you'll want to expand speeds significantly. Businesses that do intensive work with large files, such as graphic design shops and videographers, should get as much bandwidth as they can afford.
Which business internet provider is right for you?
Start by using the provider's online form to see if service is available at your address. If your business is located in space you rent or lease, you'll also want to check with the owner to confirm that you're allowed to do any work required as part of the installation.
We recommend getting a detailed quote that includes all one-time charges as well as a firm estimate of monthly charges, including taxes and fees. If a long-term contract is required, be sure to find out what the monthly charge will be after the contract ends if you stay on a month-to-month basis.
Finally, look at any available add-ons, including business phone service, email, wireless backup, and business Wi-Fi that uses secure authentication rather than a simple password. You might find that those options can provide some extra savings and give you a single point of contact for support.
How did we narrow the field?
We looked at national internet service providers that offer plans dedicated for business use, with support staff that are trained to work with business networks of all sizes. We encourage you to use your local business connections to see if a smaller regional option might be a smaller alternative. All of these plans include 24/7 support, options for dedicated IP addresses, email and security add-ons, and symmetrical upload/download speeds.