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Cox Cable is best for most

Your choice among cable ISPs will depend mainly on what's available in your area, since most consumers have only one or two cable Internet provider options. Prices and speeds can vary based on your location, and speed varies due to many factors.

Cox Cable Internet service (*Est. $42 per month) receives consistently high customer ratings and is available in many parts of the U.S., with concentrations in the Southwest, Midwest and Southeast regions. All Cox subscribers get 10 email accounts with 2 GB of storage each. Extras include antivirus and security tools, online backup, ESPN3 and a subscription to Nick Jr. Boost, an online education site for kids. Consumers can choose from higher-speed plans and PowerBoost, which offers faster downloads to some accounts when the bandwidth is available. Customer service is available 24/7.

Cox Cable gets the highest scores in PCMag.com's speed tests. It earns good ratings and a Silver Award from BroadbandReports.com, and top customer ratings from J.D. Power and Associates in the West. Other evaluations put it close to the top of the list.

Best regional ISPs

If you live in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana or Illinois, Wow! Cable's Internet service (*Est. $40 per month) gets high marks for reliability, service and support. Wow! offers several speed/pricing choices and its 3 Mbps plan is most competitive with other companies. Users get 10 MB of web space, dial-up access and five email accounts. Customer service is a highlight, and Wow! consistently scores well in the J.D. Power and Associates survey of customer satisfaction, winning in the North Central U.S. in 2012 as well as in other large surveys.

Cablevision's ISP division, Optimum Online ($30 per month) , is available only in the New York City area and parts of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. You get five email accounts, Wi-Fi and webmail access, so you can check email anywhere. Internet security tools include anti-spam software, a pop-up blocker, antivirus, a firewall and parental controls. Reliability and customer support are said to be top-notch. Optimum Online wins a Silver Award from BroadbandReports.com with an average subscriber rating of 78 percent over the past six months. This ISP also gets good ratings in PCMag.com's 2011 survey of ISP subscribers, ranking fourth among cable companies behind Wow! and Cox Cable.

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