A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Switch Internet Providers

It's time to switch internet providers, but you could incur fees and have a stressful experience. Here's what to know before you change your internet service provider.
Sara J. Nguyen, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Nov 11, 2022

Changing your internet service provider (ISP) is a big task. You may be looking for something faster or more affordable, and it's overwhelming to try and find the right provider along with the best plan for your needs.

Although this is normally deemed a hassle, it's worth it. Finding a new ISP and then switching providers can lead to a better internet connection and experience for you. After all, when you have an important deadline to meet or just need to know what happens in the next TV episode, the buffering icon is frustrating.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on what to consider before you cancel your current internet and how to painlessly switch to a new internet provider.

In this article
1. Read your contract
2. Determine your internet needs
Speed
Cost
Connection type
3. Pick a new ISP
4. Contact your current ISP
5. Sign up and schedule installation with your new ISP
How to switch internet providers FAQ
Bottom line

1. Read your contract

Before you begin your switch to a different internet provider, you'll need to read the fine print of the contract you signed with your original provider. Not all providers require a contract, but you may have signed one to get a better deal on your internet bill. For example, many ISPs offer a two-year contract at a reduced rate. If you want to break the contract early, there are probably repercussions, such as a cancellation fee.

Known as the early termination fee (ETF), the cost of canceling your internet service will vary depending on your provider and the terms of your contract. Some contracts charge you a larger ETF if you cancel during your first year, and other providers may offer a prorated fee based on how long you still have on the contract. You may be looking at anywhere from $15-$500 as an ETF.

Some providers (such as Verizon Fios) are willing to cover the cost of an ETF if you switch to their service. This may be a factor you want to consider when moving to a different ISP.

You may also need to consider if you need to return a router or modem when you cancel. If you return this equipment late or never give it back, then you could see additional charges.

2. Determine your internet needs

There's probably a reason why you’re switching internet providers. Maybe you're moving or you faced throttled speeds one too many times. This can help guide you on what to look for next in an ISP.

Speed

Another factor to consider is internet speed. Although there are several different ways to speed up your internet, you may need to switch providers if you can't find a way to increase your internet bandwidth. Here are some things to consider when choosing an internet speed:

Although you may think you want the fastest plan available, it may not always be necessary for your household. For example, two people who don't heavily use the internet might not benefit from paying for unlimited data. You'll want to consider how many people will use the internet, the number of devices connected, and if you need a high-performance workload for gaming, streaming, or other online activities.

Cost

One of the most important factors in choosing an ISP is your budget. Before moving to a new provider, you should evaluate if they have any upfront costs for setting up the service.

If you're looking to save money, inquire about:

Connection type

The last factor to consider when determining your internet needs is what type of connection you need. There are four popular types of connections:

  • Fiber: Fastest option but limited geographic availability
  • Cable: Good value with high speeds but slower than fiber
  • DSL: Widely available but the slowest
  • Satellite: Most available option but can be slow

What's available in your area will limit your connection options, but it's good to know what you want to prioritize when choosing a connection type. For example, you may want fiber internet, but your rural location may limit your options.

To learn what providers are available in your area, you can enter your ZIP code in this tool to find out.

3. Pick a new ISP

Once you've determined what you need in terms of speed, connection, price, and availability, you can start comparing ISPs.

You'll start with determining what's available in your area. You may have several options or only a few. Don't forget to consider smaller providers. Just because they aren't big-name brands doesn't mean they don't provide excellent service at a budget-friendly cost.

Here are some questions to consider when comparing providers in your area:

  • Does it offer any bundles?
  • What are the customer support options? Is there a 24/7 phone line or only a chatbot on its website?
  • Is there a data cap?
  • Is the unlimited plan really unlimited or is there a cap?
  • What are the average download and upload speeds?
  • Do you find the contract reasonable?
  • Do you need add-ons?
  • Are there hidden costs, such as an activation fee?
  • Are there overage fees?
  • What are the installation and equipment costs?
  • Is it reliable?
  • What kind of internet connections are available?

For example, here are some well-known internet providers and their main plan features:

Internet provider Price range Download speed range Data cap Connection type
AT&T Fiber $55.00–$80.00/mo 300–940 Mbps Unlimited DSL/fiber-optic internet
CenturyLink $30.00–$70.00/mo 200–930 Mbps Unlimited DSL/fiber-optic internet
Comcast Xfinity $24.99–$80.00/mo 75–1,200 Mbps 1.2 TB–Unlimited Cable internet
Cox $49.99–$99.99/mo 100–1,000 Mbps 1.25 TB Cable internet
HughesNet $64.99–174.99/mo 25 Mbps 15–100 GB Satellite internet
Spectrum $49.99–$89.99/mo 300–940 Mbps Unlimited Cable internet
Verizon Fios $49.99–$89.99/mo 300–940 Mbps Unlimited 5G/DSL/fiber-optic internet
Prices as of 11/11/2022.

When you have the right answers, you can make the best decision on which ISP is best for you.

But first, you should check to see if your current ISP has a competing offer.

Consider other plans from your current ISP

Sometimes an upgrade to your current plan is what you need to improve your internet speeds. Getting in touch with your current ISP to explore other plans may be your best option.

You may want to consider bundle offers, upgrading to an unlimited plan, or signing a longer-term contract for a better value. If you qualify, you may want to check if your current provider will let you switch to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

4. Contact your current ISP

Your ISP probably doesn't want to lose you as a customer. As a last resort, you could try calling them and explain you want to cancel your plan. They may offer an incentive to stay. If they don't, you can ask about the next steps for canceling your plan. They will probably explain the related ETF, returning equipment, and anything else you may need to know.

5. Sign up and schedule installation with your new ISP

Before you cancel your current ISP, you'll want to set up a date to switch to your new provider. When you sign up for a new service, it will let you know the installation date. Then you can contact your current ISP to cancel your plan.

You may want to cancel the day of your installation date or a few days later in case setting up goes wrong and takes longer than anticipated. You could also opt to wait for the installation of your new provider before canceling on your old provider. This way you minimize your chance of not having access to the internet when you switch providers.

How to switch internet providers FAQ


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How long does it take to switch internet plans?

How long it takes to switch internet plans will depend on your providers and if you're receiving a new router or modem from your new internet service provider. It can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. 

It's best to ask your new provider for the timeline for setting up and installing the internet. You may want to cancel your old plan a few days later than the installation date to ensure you're not without internet access.


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Why do people switch internet providers?

People switch internet providers because they are moving to a new location where the provider doesn't service, they are experiencing poor speeds, or they need to change their budget. Essentially, people want the best value, and they are looking for the fastest internet speeds at a reasonable price in their local area.


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Can I get out of an internet contract?

You can get out of an internet contract by canceling, but you'll pay an early termination fee (ETF). The fee can range from $15–$500. Your contract terms will tell you the exact ETF. It's usually based on how long you stayed in the contract, which means the ETF will be higher at the beginning compared with the end of the contract. 

Depending on the terms, you may find it more affordable to finish the internet contract before switching providers.

Bottom line

Regardless of your reason to switch ISPs, you need to ensure the fees associated with switching providers are reasonable to you. This can involve the ETF and installation costs. But the effort may save you money, especially if you end up with a more affordable internet plan with the same or faster internet speeds.

Along with switching ISPs, you may also want to take a look at preventing people from stealing your Wi-Fi, setting up and installing a virtual private network (VPN) on your router, and checking to see if you need a new router.

Author Details
Sara J. Nguyen
Sara J. Nguyen is a freelance writer specializing in cybersecurity and marketing. Her educational background in public relations helps her work closely with companies to provide informative and engaging content for their audience. When she's not writing, you can find her planning her next international trip.