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OK, so Nashville Tennesee isn't Chattanooga, which, with its EPB Fiber Optics' 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps), has the fastest community internet in the country. But Nashville has far more choices than the single fiber-optic Internet Service Provider (ISP), one cable internet provider, or one DSL ISP that many cities and towns are stuck with today. No, Nashville has lots of hot internet choices as well as hot country music venues.
But before diving into Nashville's top ISP picks, keep in mind that, just like everywhere else, the advertised prices are not the same as what you'll pay. The "list" price doesn't include taxes or fees. The prices will also vary wildly depending on what deal you get. Many ISPs offer cheaper packages that also offer you cable TV, landline, or 4G/5G phone services. These bundles are normally only for one or two years and require you to sign a contract.
In addition, not all speeds are available everywhere. For example, I have friends who can 940 Megabit per second (Mbps) AT&T Fiber in some parts of town while friends in Brentwood tell me they can only get 100Mbps.
Also, before subscribing to a service, always check to see if there's a data cap. Today, thanks to work and school from home, video-conferencing, and 4K video streaming, many of us use more broadband than we ever had before. One TeraByte (TB) of data per month is a lot, but it may not be enough to cover what you use in 2021.
It's no 10Gbps, but few people in Nashville who can get Google Fiber 2Gbps speeds will complain!
The prices for the speed are hard to beat, too. Nashville's Google Fiber's 1Gbps plan costs $70 a month plus taxes and fees. The 2Gbps plan starts at $100 per month. You can also add home phone service for an additional $10 a month.
Google Fiber's one problem is it's not available in much of greater Nashville.
Xfinity from Comcast, on the other hand, is available in much of the city and outlying regions. Xfinity offers cable internet with speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. Its prices vary depending on your speed, you can go as slow as 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $46 a month with autopay and e-billing. On the high side, 1.2Gbps, if available, will run you $106 a month with autopay and e-billing. As usual, package deals may reduce your internet costs.
AT&T prices vary wildly, like most ISPs' prices do, depending on the contract length and what other services --AT&T TV (Formerly AT&T TV Now and DirecTV Now) -- you bundle with it. Generally speaking, 100Mbps and 300Mbps cost $35, 500Mbps is $45, and 940Mbps is $60 a month. The 100Mbps service connects you to fiber via a fixed-wireless internet connection between your home and the AT&T access point. To all these prices, you can tack on additional taxes and equipment fees.
You may sometimes see sites claiming that AT&T still offers DSL internet. That's no longer the case. Beginning on Oct.1, 2020, AT&T stopped offering DSL. Some existing DSL accounts are still being supported. But AT&T will no longer offer it as a new service.
Finally, if you don't have much cash, EarthLink offers Nashville's cheapest service with its basic DSL internet plan of 15Mbps for $25 a month. This company from the internet's modem past offers DSL services as fast as 75Mbps for $75 a month.
In Nashville and close-in suburbs, Earthlink also offers fiber. This service, EarthLink Hyperlink, can deliver up to 1Gbps speeds for a mere $100. One nice thing about all Earthlink's services is it doesn't have data caps.
The speed and reliability of your internet service are a direct by-product of the technology that the ISP uses to bring those bits to your home or office. Whether you have a choice of technologies is often dictated by when the cabling in your neighborhood was installed. In newer neighborhoods, with fiber available, you can expect speeds up to 1 Gb/sec, with symmetric connections that upload as fast as you can download. Older neighborhoods might be limited to coaxial cable connections, which can reach download speeds that are competitive with fiber but typically have much slower upload speeds. In areas that only have old style twisted-pair copper wiring, you might be able to find DSL connections that offer modest speeds. If no wiring is available, you'll have to investigate satellite or fixed wireless connections, or consider using your mobile data service.
Should I be concerned about privacy with my ISP?
Your Internet service provider can see (and log) the address of every page you visit and every web service you interact with. They can't snoop into the contents of encrypted web pages, which is one reason why the overwhelming majority of web traffic now takes place over HTTPS. They can't read your email or eavesdrop on any other communication that takes place over an encrypted session, either. If you're concerned about the possibility that your ISP might be tracking your activity, your best option is to switch to an encrypted DNS service like DNSCrypt. For maximum security, configure your network to use a virtual private network (VPN); you'll find some options here: "Best VPN in 2021: Expert reviews of the best VPN services."
What should I look for in the fine print from my ISP?
For the most part, agreements with consumer ISPs are designed to insulate them from financial liability if they have outages or extreme slowdowns. But there are plenty of provisions that affect what you can do. We recommend reading your ISP's acceptable use policy (AUP) carefully. Most of the prohibitions are unsurprising: You typically can't set up your own server on a consumer internet account, for example, nor can you use hacking tools or blast out spam. You'll also find language prohibiting a broad spectrum of bad behavior, such as posting obscene content or threats, or engaging in any activity that is prohibited by local, state, federal, or even non-U.S. law. Finally, look carefully at data caps, and specifically at what happens if your usage exceeds the limit for your plan. In a worst-case scenario, you might be completely cut off from the internet unless you upgrade to a more expensive plan or pay for additional data.
Hidden fees and data caps
Take what I tell you here as a starting point. It's a pain, but you really need to check out the available plans and take a long, hard look at hidden fees and data caps. Then, and only then, you will be able to make a smart internet decision. But, look at it this way, at least in Nashville most of you actually will have choices to make. In many places, there is no real choice at all.