The Windy City attracts people from all over the world. Tourists who come to shop the Magnificent Mile. Baseball fans who've only ever seen Wrigley Field on television. And foodies who want to sample the stuffed deep-dish pizza and Chicago's signature hot dogs. Some of these visitors ultimately drop roots in what is one of the largest cities in the Midwest, which has made a name for itself as one of the top tech industry hubs in the entire world.
If you're one of them, you might be looking at the internet providers in Chicago and scratching your head. There are tech startups everywhere you turn, more than 60 broadband providers serving the city, and internet service providers advertising fiber and gigabit speeds, but settle in the wrong neighborhood and your broadband options may be extremely limited. That's the state of internet providers in Chicago! You'll either be overwhelmed with options or your street address will make the choice for you.
The Good News about Internet Providers in Chicago
Whether you're new to the city, you're moving across town, or you just need to switch ISPs because your bills have become bloated, there are lots of internet providers in Chicago that offer not only basic internet plans but also higher speed plans at affordable prices. And access to 1,000+ Mbps fiber internet is increasing all the time! Chicago also has low-cost subsidized internet plans for residents who meet certain criteria and initiatives like Connect Chicago, which is helping more people get online by providing free access.
The Bad News about Internet Providers in Chicago
As is the case in most metro areas, the bigger broadband companies with the biggest marketing budgets are the ones that will come up first when you search. When you're looking for cheap internet providers in Chicago, you may end up feeling discouraged because Xfinity from Comcast and AT&T might look like your only options. That's when you need to keep digging because as noted above, there are lots of smaller ISPs serving Chicago and its outskirts and these are the companies that are most likely to offer you the option of choosing an inexpensive or bare-bones plan. Sites like BroadbandSearch can help you find unbiased information about all of the internet providers in Chicago - not just the big name ISPs.
Internet Access in the Windy City in Brief
Like all cities, Chicago has its issues when it comes to its broadband infrastructure, though it should be noted that Chicago is one of the most connected cities in the state of Illinois. Many residents - especially low-income residents - still live in neighborhoods that are serviced by just two or three wired internet providers. Some of the broadband companies with the best deals (especially on ultra-high bandwidth plans) only service limited areas. Most residential customers can at least choose between cable and DSL because the necessary telephone and coaxial TV infrastructure has been around for decades.
What makes Chicago different is that there has been a great deal of investment in the expansion of fiber networks in the city. In 2018, the city completed construction of a 17-mile high-speed fiber network, and the ultimate goal is to network the entire city so that all residents have access to super high speed 1 Gbps internet. Even now while the project is still in its early days, the public and private interest in fiber has definitely given more Chicago residents access to gigabit speeds, but the fact is that the city is nowhere near close to achieving full coverage. The internet providers in Chicago service the city in a patchwork that leaves some people with less than stellar broadband at big ticket prices.
It's Always Worth Seeing What's Out There
Yes, your options may be limited by your neighborhood but that's no reason not to shop around. If you go running to one of the big broadband companies without exploring all your options, you can easily end up paying way more than you need to for internet access. What should you be looking for? When affordability is a priority, then pricing should be the first criteria you use to compare internet providers in Chicago... but it shouldn't be your last. If you're using the internet for work or your kids need it for school assignments, reliability and upload speeds are two factors you should include in your comparisons. Be open to checking out companies that you've never heard of before. Sometimes, smaller ISPs provide the best customer service!
Finding the Cheapest Internet Providers in Chicago Takes Work
When you go to a local ISP's website, chances are you're not going to see their lowest priced plans anywhere on the homepage. That's because they want you to sign up for one of the mid-priced plans that are the most common. But if you dig a little, you'll eventually find information about the many bare-bones broadband plans that ISPs offer but seldom advertise.
For instance, Xfinity has a basic introductory $19.99 25 Mbps internet-only package that might be available in your neighborhood. The price is good for one year, after which the plan gets more expensive, but many customers find they can easily get another year at the same price just by asking for it. RCN offers similar speeds at the same price and WOW! has a 100 Mbps plan for just $29.99 per month.
If you absolutely need symmetrical upload and download speeds for remote work and reliability is important to you, you're going to pay more but you can still get a good deal. Everywhere Wireless has a $40 plan with 50 Mbps symmetrical upload/download speeds and a network with multiple points of redundancy. They actually advertise (and deliver on) a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
When You Really Need High Speed Access
It's out there! In Viavi Solutions' " State of U.S. Gigabit Deployments" study, Chicago was one of the states with the most gigabit coverage. In fact, over 6 million people in Chicago have access to gigabit internet (which is more availability than in some industrialized nations) thanks to providers using existing networks in innovative ways and new modem technology that makes it possible to deliver higher speeds to more homes.
Unfortunately most of the internet providers in Chicago are still charging top dollar for fiber internet, but there are a few deals out there for customers who absolutely need gigabit speeds. Depending on where you live, RCN has one of the most competitive internet-only 1,000 Mbps fiber plans starting at just $59.99 per month. And again, you may be able to get fiber more cheaply just by asking for a better deal. The worst that's going to happen is that the ISP representative says no, and then you're no worse off than you were before.
But no matter what gigabit plan you choose, make sure you're actually getting those gigabit speeds. You might assume that your old hardware will work with your new service when in fact, that old hardware is causing a bottleneck. To get the speeds you're paying for, you may need a modem that supports the DOCSIS 3.1 and/or a new Wi-Fi router that can actually handle gigabit speeds. Check with your ISP to make sure you have the tech necessary to get what you're paying for.
There are Low-Income Internet Options, Too
If you're struggling to pay for internet access because the local ISPs don't offer their lowest-priced plans in your neighborhood, you still have options. Connect Chicago has 250 locations around the city where residents can get free internet access (along with computer classes and other educational services). The city and the state of Illinois have also partnered with some internet providers in Chicago to offer subsidized home broadband plans.
For instance, AT&T's Access program provides qualifying households with 10 Mbps service plus access to hotspots around the city for just $10 per month. To meet the eligibility requirements, at least one resident of the household must participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. If your household is 200% or below the federal poverty level or you are currently enrolled in any income-based government assistance program, you may also be able to get broadband service in Chicago through the non-profit organizations Human-I-T or PCs for People.
Apartment Dwellers May Not Have Their Pick of ISPs
There are two issues you may have when searching for bare-bones or inexpensive broadband plans. First, a lot of people do their research only to discover that just a few internet providers in Chicago service their neighborhood. At that point, your options are to find the cheapest plan or to see if satellite internet is a viable alternative. The second issue you may run up against is a landlord who has either signed an exclusive contract with a certain internet service provider or has simply decided that only one ISP is allowed to wire the building.
Your lease terms may actually specify that you can only use certain internet providers in Chicago or your landlord may simply deny access to technicians from other companies. In that case, you're stuck with whatever provider your landlord prefers so be sure to dig deep into that company's offerings to find the lowest priced plans.
These days, having broadband is a necessity when you're hunting for a job, doing school work, communicating with family, and getting around. And the city of Chicago is doing an admirable job helping all residents get connected not only to the internet, but to high speed internet. There's still plenty of work to be done but in the meantime you will probably find cheap or bare-bones broadband plans available at your address - if you're willing to do some digging.
They say that when you grow up in or move to the Windy City, your neighborhood defines you. For better or for worse, that's especially true when you're looking for affordable internet providers in Chicago.
Ready to see what's available in your neighborhood? Check out the ISPs in your area.