The data in this story is gathered via the PCMag Speed Test tool, which you can test below. (For the best results, run it on a PC with no VPN running, no streaming video happening on your home network, and with an Ethernet connection to your router. For the least overhead, connect your PC to the modem provided by your ISP—but don’t leave it hooked up, that’s a security risk.)
Every time the test is run, it collects information: the ISP’s name (based on your IP address), your location (using the same IP address), browser used, and download and upload speed of the connection. For our annual Fastest ISPs stories, those speeds are put into a formula (80% of download speed in Megabits per second, plus 20% of the upload speed also in Mbps) to create a number we call the PCMag Speed Index, which we use to compare ISPs head to head.
But we can’t use a “speed” index to compare ISPs for gaming, because most games don’t need that much throughput, since so much of the gaming work happens on the device you’re using. Instead, we need a number to measure the quality of the connection. To do that, we created the Gaming Quality Index. It’s a much simpler calculation: we take the latency of the connection (measured in milliseconds) and add it to the score for jitter (which checks the consistency of the latency). Adding the two provides a number for comparison. The lower the Gaming Quality Index number, the better the quality. You won’t ever reach zero but an ISP can dream.
In the charts below, you’ll see purple bar charts depicting the Gaming Quality Index, with the lower number on the far left indicating the ISP in the lead. For comparison sake, click the tab at the top to see how the same ISP fares for speed, utilizing the same tests during the same time. It goes a long way to showing you that speed and quality are not always the same…yet sometimes they are, depending on the broadband provider.
All tests in the story were made between December 1, 2019 and November 30, 2020. We used 280,777 US-based tests to quantify the results (we gathered 397,574 tests worldwide). If you don’t see your ISP (or mobile network carrier) listed, they either didn’t have connections of a high-enough quality on average, or you and your fellow ISP customers didn’t use our tool to take enough tests.
For the nationwide results, same as in our Fastest ISPs story, the first list is all “major” ISPs that had at least 1,000 tests, serve multiple states, and reach 1 million customers or more. We also looked at “all” ISPs, to compare any and all named ISPs that received at least 100 tests. For an ISP to be included in the regional sections it also had to have a minimum of 100 tests in that specific area of the country.
While wireless carriers do appear in our data, they seldom make the final results of these Fastest ISPs or Best Gaming ISPs stories because they’re not great for throughput or low-latency gaming. That said, if you want to know about the best mobile networks you can get, read our Fastest Mobile Networks coverage.
The Best Gaming ISPs in the US 2020
There are many kinds of ISPs in the United States, from big giant corporate monoliths like Comcast and Charter to conglomerates that specialize in one thing but still want to have a finger in the broadband provider pie—like AT&T, Google, and Verizon. Then there are lots of small ISPs that fill in the gaps not filled by their larger competitors, be they a local utility or a start-up company that sees a need.
To give you a good cross-comparison, we offer two different kinds of winners. The first is among the “major” ISPs, or those with deep pockets because they have a large reach. The second is across all the ISPs in our results.
First the major ISPs. Verizon Fios once again tops the list, as it did last year. That’s the benefit one has in providing a straight-up fiber-to-the-home (FttH) network with synchronous up and down streams; Verizon is smart enough to make sure its other, slower DSL internet and mobile services are marketed separately. This year’s Gaming Quality Index of 19.7 isn’t the best we’ve ever seen from Verizon Fios (last time it hit 16.9), but it’s certainly the best you’ll see from any ISP in this list with over 1 million customers. Click the Speed Index tab and you’ll see, in this case at least, that speed and quality run hand in hand with Fios.
The lineup of major ISPs doesn’t change much year to year, but that’s not the case when measuring “all” ISPs. Reminder: for an ISP to be included we just need 100 individual tests or more from that provider over the year. So sometimes ISPs we’ve never heard of crop up as their users take the PCMag Speed Test, and 2020 is no different.
For example, last year’s top placed gaming ISP was DirectLink, a co-op ISP out of Oregon—but this year, DirectLink didn’t even make the cut (it didn’t have anywhere near 100 tests). Which is too bad because it had a killer 5.2 Gaming Quality Index.
This time around the award goes to an ISP we are familiar with for winning in our Fastest ISPs story over the summer: CFU, or Cedar Falls Utilities, in Iowa. CFU is still posting impressive speeds and quality; its 9.1 Gaming Quality Index is the best among any ISP in the nation.
But second place is only one-tenth of a point away, and that goes to a regional ISP, Empire Access, an upstart installing fiber lines in townships along the central border of New York and Pennsylvania. (Full Disclosure: the author’s father is an Empire Access customer, and the author is jealous.) Empire Access doesn’t have the best speed scores, but for low latency it’s good enough for an e-athlete to consider a move.
Regular readers of these ISP features won’t be surprised to see the other providers in this list. Familiar names like Hotwire, MetroNet, FairlawnGig, and Google Fiber all show up. Notice that all of them have Gaming Quality Index scores well ahead of the major ISPs above. If we were to continue the list past 10 slots, Verizon Fios’s 19.7 would be at No. 12. Real gamers should stick with the localized, hyper-responsive broadband providers whenever possible.