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AT&T vs. Spectrum Internet Service Providers
After years of comparing the nation’s largest internet providers, and diving into both AT&T and Spectrum independently, we’re putting them head to head. Because these two providers have similar availability (both dominate California and Texas, for example), there’s a chance you’ll need to compare the two.
We found both offer solid customer service and a similar price range. For fans of fast speeds and no data limitations, we recommend Spectrum. While shoppers who value their TV service and bundling options, will be better off with AT&T. We’ve compared both on the many features that make up the best internet provider.
AT&T vs. Spectrum Overview
|J.D. Power Rating||5/5||5/5|
|Bundles with||Satellite TV, Phone||Cable TV, Phone|
|# of states serviced||21||43|
|Speed range||1.5 – 1,000 Mbps||100 – 940 Mbps|
|Internet type||DSL, Fiber||Cable|
|Other features|| 1 TB data cap |
$50 AT&T Visa Reward Card included with online purchase
| No data cap|
$500 contract buyout
30-day money-back guarantee
|Price range||$40 – $90||$45 – $50|
|Contract length||1 year||None|
|Read Review||Read Review|
We’ll be frank — the internet industry has a bad reputation when it comes to customer service. Whether it’s incorrect billing, being passed through phone trees, no-show technicians, or faulty connections, dealing with your internet provider can be a nightmare. But when your connection goes out, calling is about your only option. To minimize the pain, we dug into third-party ratings from J.D. Power, Consumer Reports, and the American Satisfaction Index (ACSI), to gauge customer experience.
Both AT&T and Spectrum score well relative to the rest of the industry, but AT&T generally earns the top spot. They each won awards for customer satisfaction from J.D. Power (AT&T in the North and Spectrum in the South). AT&T outranked Spectrum when rated by the ACSI, but Spectrum pulled ahead when Consumer Reports surveyed their readers. All this is to say, your own experience will depend on your local agents, but in general we’re confident both AT&T and Spectrum can provider customer service that is better than the industry average.
| 1.5, 3, or 5 Mbps|
10, 18, or 25 Mbps
50, or 100 Mbps
300, or 1000 Mbps
|100, 200, or 940 Mbps|
The speed options you have, with both providers, will vary depending on where you live and what technology exists in your neighborhood. AT&T offers both DSL and fiber-optic internet, but rarely in the same area. While its fiber network is widespread (and has plans to expand), AT&T fiber is only available in 4% of U.S. zip codes. You’ve got a higher chance of having access to AT&T’s DSL, which features four speed tiers, although available speeds vary even within those tiers. For example, a resident in one state may have the options of 5 Mbps, 18 Mbps, or 100 Mbps — while a few states over a customer might be asked to choose from 1.5 Mbps, 25 Mbps, 50 Mbps, or 300 Mbps. In either case, there’s a good chance you can find a speed to fit your internet needs. We appreciate the range of internet users that AT&T can accommodate, though those offerings are pretty sporadic.
Usually, Spectrum customers will only have the option for cable internet. Depending on your location, that speed will either be 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps, or 940 Mbps. Spectrum’s speed caters to heavy internet users and large households. If all you do is email and web browse, Spectrum’s plans will be overkill. But users who stream, download, and game will appreciate the generous runways (especially because the starting price is the same as AT&T). And Spectrum pairs these high speeds with an unrestricted data allowance, which guarantees you can take full advantage of its plans without extra charges or speed throttling. It’s worth noting, however, that even AT&T’s 1 TB data caps will be sufficient for most customers.
One of the perks of bundling with AT&T is that you don’t need to add a phone plan to get the best promotions. Most internet providers save the best savings for packages that include internet, TV, and a home phone line. But it’s 2018, and most U.S. residents don’t need a phone line. AT&T pairs your internet service with its satellite TV, DirecTV. In our review of the best TV providers, we found DirecTV to be a fan favorite. It has an impressive DVR, great sports programming, and six channel packages to choose from. The TV/internet bundle will include free installation ($99), no activation fee ($35), three free months of premium channels, waived equipment fees for the duration of your contract, and a $50 Visa gift card. And on AT&T’s fiber internet bundles, you’ll also get unlimited data usage.
If you’re just looking for TV and internet service, Spectrum’s options aren’t as generous. Bundling just those two services will only get you the perks offered to every Spectrum plan — no contracts, no data cap, and a free modem. While it pales in comparison to AT&T’s TV/internet bundles, Spectrum’s packages for all three telecommunication services is a great value. By bundling TV, internet, and home phone services, you can use its $500 contract buyout to leave your current provider, likely fee-free. Switching to Spectrum also comes without the obligation of signing a new contract, and if you have any further hesitations, Spectrum offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. That makes it a better option for trial runs than AT&T, whose plans all come with one- or two-year contracts and steep fees for terminating early.
So, which is right for me?
|If you…||Then you should go with:||Here’s why:|
|Need fast and reliable speeds..||Spectrum||While AT&T’s fiber internet is well-regarded, it’s availability is very sparse. It’s more popular DSL service is much slower than Spectrum’s cable speeds (which start at a whopping 100 Mbps). The FCC found that Spectrum offers its advertised speeds more reliably than AT&T’s DSL service (95% of the time vs. 75%).|
|Are a TV junkie…||AT&T||If you care more about the quality of your TV service than internet, you’ll want to go with AT&T. It’s TV service, from DirecTV, is one of our favorites. You’ll also receive better promotional offers for bundling with AT&T.|
|Want more contract freedom…||Spectrum||Not only will Spectrum help you leave your current contract (with $500 in fee assistance), but you won’t have to sign a new one. And if you find the service isn’t up to par, Spectrum has a 30-day money-back guarantee.|
|Value customer service..||AT&T||While Spectrum sometimes rates a bit above industry average for customer satisfaction, AT&T consistenly earns a top spot. It won the J.D. Power award in the North Central region, and placed second in all other locations. It also ranks second (just behind Verizon) with the ACSI.|
How to Compare Internet Companies
Start with availability
There’s a pretty good chance you won’t have access to both AT&T and Spectrum as internet options. In fact, it’s possible that neither will service your address. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that 85% of U.S. households have two or fewer internet options. Big cable companies intentionally avoid competition in places where one provider may already have a dominating presence. As you embark on your search for internet, it’s essential to first figure out which providers will service your address. You can check by plugging it into providers websites or using online resources like Allconnect. Once you know what providers are options, you can start comparing them.
Gauge your speed needs
As you’re comparing internet providers, speed plans will likely be the most important point of comparison. In order to know which plan is best for you, you’ll have to gauge how much speed your household needs. The FCC reports that 39 Mbps is the median home internet speed. After consulting with network experts and the FCC’s speed guide, we’ve built a tool to help you find a baseline speed that fits your usage.
Internet Speed Guide
|Light Use||Moderate Use||High Use||Very High Use|
|1–3 devices||5–10 Mbps||15 Mbps||25 Mbps||50 Mbps|
|4–8 devices||15 Mbps||25 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps|
|8–10 devices||25 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||150 Mbps|
|10+ devices||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||150 Mbps||200+ Mbps|
Light use: emails, web browsing, social media, SD video streaming
Moderate use: music streaming, occasional online gaming, streaming HD video on one or two devices.
High use: Multiple devices streaming HD video simultaneously, multiplayer gaming, video conferencing.
Very high use: Multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, large file downloading, multiplayer gaming, video conferencing.
We recommend you pair that speed with an appropriate data allowance too. Light internet users won’t need more than 500 GB of data. If your household uses the internet for more demanding activities (like gaming, downloading files, and HD streaming), you’ll be better off with at least 1 TB of monthly data.
Consider price holistically
The best deal won’t be as straightforward as the lowest price. The value of an internet package has several components to consider. Fees and post-contract price hikes are hidden aspects that could cost you down the line. We recommend reading contracts carefully for any small fees and the price of your plan after your contract is up.
Bundling opportunities can add value, too. You’ll often save at least $10 on each service you bundle, and equipment ($5-$15 monthly) and installation fees (upwards of $100) are waived in most bundle promotions.
Who has the best internet service?
When it comes down to it, internet providers are pretty similar to each other, and if you have a choice at all (based on availability), it’s the little things that will help you find your best. The best internet provider will depend on what features are a priority for your household — whether that’s speed, price, bundling opportunities, customer service, or equipment capabilities. Check out our review of See all top-rated providers for head-to-head comparisons of the nation’s largest providers.
Should I buy my own router?
Our network experts recommend most people purchase their own router. Not only will you save money on rental fees (typically $10-$15 each month), but it can also help increase your internet quality. There’s a good chance all your neighbors are renting the same stock equipment as you, and they all operate on the same frequency — slowing everyone’s internet traffic. You can find routers at pretty much any price point, but we recommend investing at least $70. We found four favorite wireless routers for all kinds of internet users.
What types of internet connections are there?
There are a handful of different internet types — cable, DSL, fiber-optic, and satellite. The best will depend on what you most value from a provider. Cable internet uses coaxial cables built into the infrastructure of your neighborhood. It’s the most popular type and you’ll likely find fair speeds for reasonable prices. DSL uses existing telephone wires, and is generally less reliable but with widespread availability. Fiber-optic internet is the latest technology — it’s super fast and really reliable, but availability is limited. Satellite internet is available in all 50 states, and to many remote locations. But it’s speeds are limited, and prices aren’t competitive.