Determining how much Internet speed you actually need can be rather tricky, and a recent industry survey indicates that the average consumer not only does not know how much they need but is not even fully aware how much they are currently getting. Even if a customer has just one Internet service provider to choose from, there can be a handful or more plans available with no obvious right choice.
Determining How Fast Is Fast
Broadband internet refers to high-speed Internet, and the FCC defines broadband as providing at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. From a modern perspective, that is not really that fast. That said, if you have access to those speeds, then you can accomplish most activities online with little trouble. But to put it into perspective, the average U.S. home has access to at least 100 Mbps or more, and it is becoming much more common for the average U.S. home to have access to 1 Gbps—or 1,000 Mbps.
The Devil Is in the Details
The FCC is aware that many if not most consumers are getting a lesser service on average than they believe they are paying for and have even been cracking down on ISPs using misleading marketing. You have to note the fine print. If a plan reads that you will get up to 100 Mbps but you often get less than half that due to congestion, then that could result in Internet issues for your family of four or more.
Internet Activities and Recommended Bandwidth
The first step in determining the bandwidth you need is recognizing the online activities that are important to you. If all you do is browse the Web and check your email, then 3 Mbps is probably enough, and 5 Mbps is ideal. If you consume a lot of social media or stream HD movie videos, then you probably want 10 Mbps at minimum, and if you game or watch 4K video, 35 Mbps is preferable.
Household Size and Usage Patterns
The number of residents in your home is an important factor too. If you live alone, then the FCC bare minimum for broadband will probably provide you a great experience. But what if your household includes two adults and two teens who are often watching their own televisions while also accessing laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices? Time those recommendations above by four at least. In fact, the industry estimates that the average modern household needs at least 100 Mbps.
Upload Is a Factor as Well
ISPs tend to market download speeds, which is the bigger number and what most consumers care about. But as many people learned during the recent lockdowns that upload speeds can be a factor as well. If you often video conference or upload big files, then you may want to ensure that your minimum is enough for those activities.
Be Aware of Data Caps Too
Data caps are not ideal for the average modern connected home, and fortunately, they are becoming less common. Exceeding your cap can result in your bill going up or your Internet service being throttled for the remainder of the billing period. Neither is ideal. If you are dealing with caps, consider upgrading to an unlimited plan, which most ISPs offer. Better yet, if you are fortunate enough to have competition in your neighborhood, use that to your advantage to negotiate an even better deal.