By Jim Kimble / Published November 5, 2023
Navigating the maze of high-speed internet options without a cable or phone line subscription can be daunting.
Over the years of being a cord-cutter, I’ve managed to secure an affordable plan that suits my needs for internet speed. In this guide, I’ll share the insights I’ve gained from my last seven years of personal experience of getting internet service without a cable bundle or phone line.
This guide aims to help you figure out everything from downloads to devices.
The basics about shopping for internet service
- Some cable companies tack on equipment fees if you are not using your own modem or Wi-Fi router. I have found that one of the easiest ways to save money on your internet bill is by purchasing your own modem and Wi-Fi router.
- If you have a larger house with a lot of internet-connected devices and screens, then a Wi-Fi mesh network is a better investment that will quickly pay for itself. Thankfully, most major brands including TP-Link and Netgear are compatible with all the major ISPs. You can double check with your local providers before signing up for service.
- You can easily learn about the difference between a modem vs router before you start shopping so you can get the best long-term monthly rate possible.
Aside from buying your own equipment, you should always ask for any installation fee to be waived.
If a typical broadband connection is too expensive or not within your budget, you can use a cellular provider for a mobile hotspot to stream video, or watch YouTube on your TV. And satellite internet is another option.
What internet providers are near me?
Generally speaking, there are five kinds of internet service providers in the U.S.
Cable internet, fiber-optic internet, mobile wireless, wireless internet, satellite internet, and DSL internet are all connecting homes across the United States.
- Cable internet
- Fiber-optic internet service providers
- Mobile Wireless using a Mobile Hotspot
- Mobile Hotspot Devices
- Wireless Internet
- Satellite internet providers
- DSL internet
Major cable providers such as Xfinity, Spectrum and Astound (formerly RCN) offer cable internet service over their copper wire connection. Cable internet has an average speed of 10 to 600 Mbps.
I was an internet Xfinity customer on-and-off for close to a decade, but eventually switched to RCN (currently Astound) because the company offered lower monthly rates. Regardless of which cable internet provider you use, my advice is the same:
- Never accept the first offer or discount that you are given
- Don’t feel obligated to answer all of their questions
- Be polite, but pushy
Let me explain my second and third points in detail. What do I mean when I say, “Be polite, but pushy”? By pushy, I am talking about being insistent on what you want (i.e. a lower price). You do not have any license to be rude whatsoever. In fact, being polite and patient is always your best path forward when negotiating your internet rates.
Customer service reps are often trained to ask probing questions in order to suggest higher price options for internet service. (This isn’t simply my experience, but it was also well documented in a 2016 Senate investigation.) So, there is nothing wrong with saying that you want a basic internet connection for email and that you use a TV antenna instead of streaming.
Xfinity is the largest cable internet provider in the U.S. and offers some level of service in the following states:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Cox internet serves approximately 22 cities across the U.S., including Macon, Gainesville, Providence, Palos Verdes, Roanoke, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Alexandria, Las Vegas, Pensacola, Irvine, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Tulsa, Cleveland, Meriden, New Orleans, Phoenix, Norfolk, Tucson, and Baton Rouge. But Cox has a data cap at 1,250 GB.
You can also get a residential internet connection with the following providers in the U.S.
- Spectrum Internet®: Starting at $49.99/mo for 12 months with Auto Pay.
- Speeds up to 300 Mbps.
- Free Advanced WiFi.
- Free Unlimited Mobile Line.
- Internet 100: Starting at $19.99/mo with AutoPay & paperless billing for 1 year.
- Ideal for email, web browsing, social media, or streaming TV.
- No contracts.
- 30-Day money-back guarantee.
- Up to 300Mbps: Starting at $25/mo with no contract required
- Free modem
- No contracts.
- 1-year Internet price lock
Fiber-optic internet service providers
Verizon FiOS, AT&T Fiber, Quantum Fiber (formerly CenturyLink), Google Fiber, Frontier and Xfinity are among the fiber-optic internet service providers.
Fiber-optic gives you a true, individual connection that is not shared or hampered by high-traffic internet usage in your neighborhood. It’s the only connection that has equal download and upload speeds. You can get up to 1,000 Mbps of internet speed, depending on the provider.
I’m currently using Verizon Fios ($24.99 per month with pre-pay).
Verizon Fios covers 9 metro areas of the U.S. The coverage area includes Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Providence, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington D.C.
You should look over the lineup of offers in your area. Some include covering your cost of Netflix for a year or two.
But if you’re trying to keep your cost of Internet down, I recommend getting the $24.99 per month deal if it’s available. These days, it’s pretty easy to avoid renting your modem from Verizon – which costs around $15 per month.
TIP: When you are signing up for service, be sure to mention that you are going to be using your own Wi-Fi router or mesh network. Years ago, you were required to use a FiOS router, and I used to recommend buying refurbished Fios routers on eBay.
I spoke to two Verizon techs who did my home installation, and they told me that the company did away with requiring a FiOS-specific router years ago. Just about any Wi-Fi router can be connected to the FiOS ONT unit that delivers fiber optic service in your home. Make sure you set up auto-pay on your account to get the full discount.
If you do not live within the coverage are for Verizon FiOS, you can still get fiber-optic service from:
Mobile Wireless using a Mobile Hotspot
Cell phone providers are becoming a popular alternative to having a standalone internet connection. Some mobile wireless providers are now bundling plans with streaming services such as Disney+.
Using a budget cell phone plan from companies such as Mint Mobile or Cricket for a mobile hotspot may be cheaper than cable internet or fiber optic plans. Mobile phone plans from Verizon and Xfinity are now also offering some streaming TV packages as part of their service.
- Mint Mobile
- Xfinity Mobile
Mobile Hotspot Devices
A viable substitute for home Internet is using a Netgear Nighthawk Mobile Hotspot Router. The M1 (MR1100) model is a gigabit-class LTE mobile mobile hotspot router. It’s designed for a maximum download speed of 1Gbps. Buying an unlocked one will give you the most flexibility.
This portable router functions just like any other dual-band router operating on a 2.4 GHz and 5GHz frequency.
T-Mobile Wireless Internet
- Limited-Time Offer: Free Blink smart security package with T-Mobile Home Internet for $50/month with AutoPay.
- Trial Period: 15-day worry-free trial to test the service.
- No Annual Contract: Service without annual contracts or data caps.
- Speed Guidelines: Offers various speeds to match different needs, from basic browsing to high-demand applications like HD streaming and gaming.
- Cost: Starts at $50/month with AutoPay (eligible payment method required), with no extra fees.
- Technology: Utilizes a 5G Gateway and Wi-Fi 6 technology for home internet delivery.
- Setup: Easy setup with an app-guided installation process.
Verizon Wireless Internet
- Plans: Offers LTE Home Plus and LTE Home plans.
- Pricing: LTE Home Plus starts at $45/month with discounts ($80 without), and LTE Home starts at $35/month with discounts ($60 without).
- Discounts: Prices include discounts for Auto Pay & postpaid mobile unlimited plans that include 5G Ultra Wideband.
- Early Termination Credit: Up to a $500 credit to cover early termination fees from other providers.
- Money-Back Guarantee: 30-day satisfaction guarantee with a full refund if not satisfied.
- Premium Extras: Choice of a HomePod or a $200 Verizon gift card upon service activation.
Satellite internet providers
In 2024, you will start hearing more about satellite internet providers. Big players such as Amazon are talking up their expansion into residential internet service through satellite. Starlink, operated by SpaceX, is already providing internet access in 53 countries. And there are companies such as Hughesnet and Viasat operating in the U.S. You need southern exposure to get a consistent signal from the satellite providing internet access.
DSL internet is still a thing. Also known as Digital Subscriber Line, DSL connections are slower, and not as reliable as other options. You can get speeds up to 100 Mbps. But considering its price and other options available to most people, DSL is more or less the option of last resort.
How do I get internet service without cable?
Cable providers may still want you to sign up for a TV and internet bundle. But you shouldn’t feel pressured these days. Reality eventually sunk in after millions of people cut the cord from cable TV bundles and satellite packages.
Eager to keep up with the times, cable companies have pivoted hard into providing fast, residential internet alongside other services such as mobile phone plans and home security.
Make sure you are taking advantage of online-only pricing, or introductory rates.
You should definitely buy your own cable modem, Wi-Fi router or other equipment instead of renting equipment from your service provider.
I am currently using a TP-Link Archer A20 because I prefer the range it delivers around my two-story home and out into my yard. If I were buying a router today, I would go directly to the TP-Link website, and check latest router and mesh networks on sale.
TP-Link Archer AX55
The Archer AX55 has Wi-Fi 6 speed, high-gain external antennas and enhanced home security features
What does that mean for you, the consumer? You now have more power to negotiate, even if you only have one internet service provider in your area.
How to Negotiate for Internet without bundling cable
Here is one of my many stories from negotiating with a customer service representative. This story happened roughly five years ago.
I am not picking on Comcast here. I have been a happy customer of theirs for years. Rather, I want to give you a firsthand account of how you can get the best deal possible for internet service.
A few years ago, I called Comcast for Internet service because I saw a deal online for $34.99 per month. When I started my phone call to my local Comcast agent, I was told that the “best deal” for an Internet-only package was $79.99 per month. But I could get a slightly better deal if I bundled my Internet service with cable.
Bundling is a pretty typical sales strategy with most cable companies. It is part of what’s called “upselling” the customer – something that every major cable TV and satellite TV provider practices.
It essentially means that customer service agents are trained to suggest upgrading to more services than what you’re looking for. Why? Because it reaps huge profits in the cable TV business, especially when those introductory rates expire.
To level the playing field a bit, I am going to tell you about secret rates that are never advertised. Watch this video from C-SPAN 3 for a minute because it’s on point with what I’m going to show you.
You should always be aware of this when
Be Aware of Upselling
During my call to Comcast, I was asked a number of questions about how my wife and I use our Internet. Do you stream a lot? Are you a gamer? Do you work from home?
I said no, no and no…
The truth is I do all of those things and more. So why did I tell these little white lies? Well, a couple reasons.
It’s really nobody’s business what I use my Internet service for as long as it’s legal. More importantly, I know from a government report that these questions are designed to probe for information so it can be used to upsell you more services that you’re not asking for.
So I had to stay firm: I was looking for an introductory rate without bundling any other service. Paying $80 per month was way too much, I said.
I was put on hold. A few minutes later, I was offered Internet service for $49.99 per month (60Mbps download/5Mbps upload), but it had to be bundled with phone service.
Nope, not interested. I guess I’ll call somewhere else, I told her. “I see that the introductory rate for RCN is about $29.99 per month,” I said.
That last statement prompted the agent to put me on hold again. Little did my customer service agent know: I had already checked out the local competitors in my area, and none of them had service at my new address.
When she came back, she “found” a new deal. There was a smaller Internet-only package of 25Mbps download and 6Mbps upload for $39.99 per month. This was closer to what I was looking for. The download speed was plenty for streaming on multiple devices and even gaming. But I still wasn’t done negotiating.
Keep asking questions even when you seem close to a deal
I had a question about data caps. Were there any in my area? What are fees associated with them? I was told that there was a fee – about $50 if I went over my monthly allotment of 1024GB. “No one has ever gone over it,” the agent reassured me.
I had some questions. So I was put on hold again so a manager could talk to me. What were the first words out of his mouth?
After quickly introducing himself, he said I was eligible for $99 per month deal for bundled TV and Internet. There was no mention of my question about data caps.
There was the upsell again.
Always maintain control of the conversation
I stopped him and asked for his name again. Names are important, but really what I’m doing here is reasserting my control over the conversation. This is a really important thing to keep in mind.
You need to maintain control of the conversation. And you need to understand that you’re dealing with highly trained people who are laser focused on upselling. So here’s what I did.
I explained why he was summoned to the phone. He knew why, of course. Then, I asked again my question about the data caps.
No one has ever gotten hit with an data overage fee, he said. “It’s impossible,” he added.
Impossible? Then, why have a fee to begin with?
The answer I got was some mumbo-jumbo about how it was developed back when DSL was offered. I knew there was a little bit more to the story.
After my conversation with the manager, there was no more upselling. Instead, I kept asking questions.
If you keep asking questions and maintain control of the conversation, your chances of saving money only goes up.
How I chipped off more fees for my low priced Internet
I knew that I would already be using my own modem and router. That saved me from rental fees tacked on my bill. Buying your own modem and router can save you another $15 per month, according to Fair Shake.
But there is still more money to be saved.
I knew from doing a little research ahead of time that the people renting the condo that I was moving into were already Comcast customers. So I asked: Could I self install my Internet service instead of having a service technician come out?
Watching someone else hook up my equipment, and pay them to do it seems kind of silly. I still had to pay a $15 “activation fee.”
There was no clear explanation about what the activation fee covers. But hey, it beats paying $90. The added savings actually came from my customer service agent. She told me that if I enrolled in autopay then a $5 credit would be applied to my bill every month. That got my monthly payment to $34.99 per month.
Now that’s a good deal.
5 More Tips For Getting Internet without Cable
1) Don’t bundle: Learn to Keep Saying No
Cable and satellite companies all work from a similar business model. They attract customers with an introductory rate that, for a time, may be a fair and competitive deal. That deal will change in a matter of months, and the price will go up (sometimes significantly).
When you call back to get the price back down, you’re met with a calm, but firm resistance. I got an introductory rate for Internet that lasted me 12 months.
I also knew exactly how much my rate was going to increase after it ended. So there are no surprises for me. I only got this deal because I refused to bundle, cited rates offered by competitors and continued saying no to deals as they got better.
I accepted the fourth offer made to me. You can do the same exact thing. It’s not that hard.
2) You’re quoted a price, but not fees
Let’s say a local cable company is offering an introductory offer of 25Mbps for $39.99 per month. Sounds pretty good, right?
It does until your first bill shows up in the mail or your inbox invoicing you for $50. What happened? Fees, my friend.
Even if you’re just subscribing to Internet, make sure you ask about the rental fee associated with your cable modem. I recommend buying your own cable modem. You could save up to $15 per month from your bill. I personally found that my Internet speed improved substantially once I bought my own cable modem.
Jim’s Choice: I bought the Motorola MB7621 in 2019, and used it for months before switching to fiber-optic. It supports most ISPs and has a two-year warranty.
Cable companies began creating new fees as a way to charge customers more money in a way that did not affect the base price of programming packages that are advertised to you and me. Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed a rule requiring cable TV operators to disclose the full pricing for “video programming services” in promotional materials and on their bills.
Will it ever happen? I don’t know. What I can tell you is that many customers routinely get upset about this style of billing. Congress even held a series of hearings on the matter. You can read the findings of the Congressional investigation yourself. Check out this graphic from their report on what direction broadcasting and other fees have been going in:
3) Watch out for data caps
Data caps are just another sneaky way to levy more fees on customers. Except this is specifically aimed at broadband users streaming Netflix or playing video games. Watch too much Netflix and you get whacked with an extra charge. There has been mounting public pressure about the practice of data caps as a way to toll customers.
The Federal Communications Commission, under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, is proposing a formal inquiry into the practice of data caps by internet service providers (ISPs). The move seeks to examine the use of data caps by broadband providers and their impact on consumers and competition.
The FCC wants to understand the rationale behind ISPs’ data limits amid increasing consumer demand for broadband and the technical possibility of offering unlimited data.
The commission announced plans in June to open a consumer portal for public input on how data caps affect internet usage. This feedback will contribute to a broader assessment of data caps’ implications for various communities, including those with disabilities, low-income families, and groups that have historically faced discrimination.
The FCC will also review its legal authority to address concerns raised by data caps.
I suggest that you also read this USA Today article about why Charter dropped data caps when it acquired Time Warner Cable.
4) Downloads, uploads & truthiness
Some ISP’s will brag about how much download speed they are capable of piping into your home. Good for them. They also may suggest to you that a baseline Internet package could slow you down and cause lags when you stream Netflix and so forth.
I’ve always used Internet speeds around 25 to 50Mbps and rarely have a problem. Just remember: download speed is the rate at which you can download something from a remote server (e.g. watching a movie on Netflix).
Most of the time, when a download slows down for you, it’s more likely the server — not your Internet connection. So getting a high speed Internet connection doesn’t actually speed up everything.
Sometimes, you may also encounter lag or hangups because of shared bandwidth. Uploads is the speed at which you can post a photo on social media, or move some files to Google Drive.
5) Agents get incentives on “savings” and selling
Here’s the money saving part: There’s a lovely silver lining in the way many cable, satellite and ISP’s operate. They are terrified of losing you as a customer. They don’t want their steady stream of income (i.e. you) to go to someone else.
That’s why the cable/satellite industry has both pooh-poohed the idea of cord cutting as a growing trend, and slyly got in the game of offering broadband and alternatives to traditional cable.
There’s a ton of training that customer service reps (the pawns of the corporation’s chess board) undergo to keep you as a customer.
The knights of the board are called “retention specialists” and these guys are the ones with the juice to give you the best deals on Internet service without cable. How do we tap into their special powers?
Retention agents at major cable and satellite companies are evaluated and compensated based on how well they can sell you more, even when you are asking to downgrade your service.
Commissions can be a significant portion of retention agents’ salary. These commissions range from approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of retention agents’ salaries at Charter, Comcast and Time Warner Cable and DirecTV. These figures were compiled by Congress as the TWC and Charter merger were underway, and they’re still very telling. Retention agents are able to access their performance metrics in real-time. Draw your own conclusions with how that affects you when you’re calling trying to cancel or downgrade service.
Becoming a “save” to save on Internet without cable
If you want to downgrade from a cable and Internet bundle to just Internet service without cable, the best way to do this is to initiate the break-up. Call and insist that your last day of service will be at the end of the month. Be firm. Mean it when you call. You’ll meet quite a bit of resistance. They’ll ask what the problem is. Why do you want to cancel?
Their training is kicking in. And you can look at this diagram I’ve included which illustrates it nicely. The diagram shows the top-down approach that Time Warner Cable was using to retain as much of your current cable/Internet subscription as possible. Generally, this is fairly successful because most people don’t really want to get rid of their cable. They don’t want the hassle of removing their equipment and returning it. They just want a better deal. The truth is the cable company doesn’t want you unhooking their equipment either.
But to get that best deal for Internet service without cable, you need to get to the bottom of the scale I’m showing you. Somewhere between the “final save” and “maintain relationship”. You need to learn about the secret rates.
What are the best Internet without cable deals?
I keep getting an introductory rate on my Internet — about $35 to $40 per month — after being quoted much higher prices.
What’s the best way to begin?
If I already have Internet service from a cable company and I’m not moving, I start the call by giving them a date of when I’m ending service. I schedule my cancellation date about 30 days out. Once I make my intentions known, the probing questions start. I don’t give them info they can use to upsell me. So I say I spend most of my time outside.
I end the call saying that I would only remain their customer, and think about returning to cable someday (lie) if I got the $35 per month rate. That was not an advertised rate. If I’m told no, then I end the call with my cancellation date hanging out there.
Pretty soon, a retention specialist will call or email. Either way, do I end up with a lower price? Sure. I learned how to order off the menu. And now that you have all my best tips, it’s time for you get a better deal on internet service without cable.