The basics
THE USA: Once you arrive

Setting up broadband and phone services in America

Cable provide a simple guide for international students arranging broadband internet and phone services once they've arrived in America...


Whether you’re studying within sight of the Statue of Liberty, or getting some sun on Venice Beach during your lunch break, the United States of America offers a wide range of experiences, sights and sounds.

Yet when you’re so far away from home and in a country big as America, you’ll want to be able to keep in touch with friends and family back home. Fortunately, there are some simple and budget friendly ways to do just that. Here’s what you need to know about your time in the USA.


How do I get a mobile, landline or broadband deal in America?

You may initially find it difficult to sign up for a phone or broadband contract, but your first step is to set up a bank account when you arrive. You should take at least two different types of ID (ensuring one is your passport), along with proof that you’re studying and/or working in the US. Once you’ve got an account that’s registered to wherever you’re staying, you can then approach broadband and phone providers to sort out your contracts.


Who can I get broadband from in the States?

Unlike the UK, where the leading broadband providers are generally the same wherever you go, you’ll find that your best bet for getting online across the US varies from state to state.

If you’re staying on the east coast in states like New York, Pennsylvania or Washington D.C, Verizon (formerly part-owned by Vodafone) is the most popular internet service provider (ISP). Similarly, it’s also the leading choice for broadband in states like Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Move west to the heartland of America, in places like Nebraska, Wyoming and Minnesota and smaller providers like WOW! Broadband tend to outperform the country-wide Verizon. Meanwhile, if you find yourself on the west coast then Cox Communications broadband has the highest levels of customer satisfaction and biggest subscriber base, so expect to see lots of ads for the ISP in places like California, Nevada and Oregon.

Apart from a collection of unfamiliar provider names, there’s another big difference you’re likely to immediately notice when it comes to broadband: speed. While you might be used to broadband measured in Mbps (megabits per second) in the UK, American ISPs still offer entry level packages measured in the much slower Kbps (kilobits per second), with higher end superfast connections being much harder to find.

Surprisingly, relatively big names like AT&T offer speeds from as little as 768Kbps. This goes some way to explaining why the average US download speed is around 8.6Mbps.


What’s the best way for me to call home from America?

While the broadband market is quite complex, there’s a clear leader when it comes to country-wide customer satisfaction for mobile phones: Verizon Wireless gets the most positive reviews, with smaller providers Sprint and T-Mobile following close behind.

For making calls to other numbers within the US, you can quickly pick up a Pre-Paid (Pay-As-You-Go) SIM or even a handset and SIM combo from superstores, convenience stores and malls. Alternatively, it’s easy to sign up for a mobile contract from any of the leading providers – many of which have optional international call packages that can bring down the cost of calling home dramatically.

Another viable alternative for keeping in touch is purchasing credit for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) packages like Skype or Vonage and making calls to landlines and mobiles through your PC, laptop or tablet. Essentially working like a Pay-As-You-Go mobile plan, you can easily keep track of how much you’re spending on keeping in touch with home. Finally, you could always make VoIP calls to other users for free – as long as they’re online at the same time as you and have the software installed at home.


What are my rights as a consumer in America?

For the most part, you’ll find a similar degree of consumer protection in America as in Britain. Responsibility for this is shared between the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice.

You’ll find that consumer law changes slightly from state to state, however. For example, Minnesota became the first US state to pass a law making ‘smartphone kill switches’ mandatory in any handsets sold there. This enables you to disable your smartphone remotely if stolen.


Is there anything else I should know?

It’s been said that the US and UK are separated by a common language. Yet while you probably already know that our ‘pavement’ is their ‘sidewalk’ and our ‘rubbish’ is their ‘trash’, the differences in telecoms language might not be as obvious. The US equivalent of Pay-As-You-Go, for example, is Pre-Paid. Similarly, instead of using a ‘mobile’ phone or connecting to a ‘mobile’ network, substitute ‘cellular’ or ‘cell’ instead. You’ll also find some broadband speeds are given very specific names: a T1 connection, for example, just means downloads of around 1.544Mbps. In any instance where there’s a term you don’t quite understand, just ask for clarification.



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About Author

Dean Reilly is the news editor of, and has been writing about technology since launching the UK's first MP3 magazine in 1999. His pastimes are mostly geeky, including comic books, movies and video games.


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