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The Best Cable Internet Providers
Consumers are spoiled for choices in many areas, and that includes when trying to choose an internet provider. This guide is going to compare 4 of the top cable internet providers in the U.S. to help you decide which is the best cable internet provider for your needs.
We considered criteria such as customer service, fastest speeds, data caps and pricing, although in most cases prices will be based on where you live and current deals.
The 4 Best Cable Internet Companies
- Charter Spectrum — No Data Caps
- XFINITY by Comcast — Most Plan Options
- Mediacom — Fastest Speeds
- Cox Communications — Good Customer Service
The Best Cable Internet Providers: Summed Up
|Charter Spectrum||Comcast Xfinity||Mediacom||Cox Comm.|
|Best for||No Data Caps||Most Plan Options||Fastest Speeds||Good Customer Service|
|States serviced||44||39 + DC||22||19|
|Data cap||Unlimited||1 TB||400 GB-6,000 GB||1 TB|
|J.D. Power rating*||2/5||2/5||2/5||3/5|
Data as of 08/24/2020
- No data caps
- Contract buyout
- Poor customer service
Why we chose it
No data caps
Charter Spectrum is our only top pick to offer no data caps. Mediacom comes close to offering a deal as generous with data caps that reach 6,000 GB — but internet junkies and workaholics will rejoice in an unlimited supply of uploading, downloading, and streaming. And while average households likely won’t reach the caps placed by other companies, Consumer Reports claims that as entertainment trends continue to advance and technology like 4K streaming normalizes, data demands will increase. Charter’s lack of data caps will ensure that your plan can keep up.
For those looking to change providers, Charter Spectrum also offers a unique contract buyout promotion for qualifying Triple Play packages or limited Double Play promotion. After you’ve installed the service, Charter will cover any early termination fees from your current provider up to $500. That bundle comes with a free modem, free installation, and free DVR service — items for which other providers typically charge around $10 to $15 per month.
Points to consider
Only two plans?
In 2016, Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable and rebranded the collective service as Spectrum. Part of that rebrand was a focus on simplifying its services. The result? Only two speed options for your internet service: 60 Mbps and 100 Mbps. Fortunately, Spectrum has since listened to its customers and expanded its internet offerings. Spectrum currently offers plans with speeds of 30, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 940 Mbps. In fact, they’ve gone from one of the most basic offerings to one of the most diverse.
Xfinity by Comcast
Wide range of plans
Improving customer service
1 TB data cap
- Wide range of plans
- Improving customer service
- 1 TB data cap
Why we chose it
Wide range of plans
Xfinity plans start at 10 Mbps and incrementally increase to 2,000 Mbps in select locations. Whether you’re doing basic web browsing or spending hours on “Fortnite,” you’ll find a plan that fits your needs. This customization extends to Xfinity’s bundling options: In most locations, you’ll have the opportunity to add Flex 4K streaming device, Voice Remote, and the new Peacock streaming service from NBCUniversal for free and a number of different television and mobile phone options.
Improving customer service
Though Xfinity has a notorious customer service reputation for pushy reps and long wait times, its rankings have improved over the past few years. Its ASCI ratings have trended upward, with a 56/100 in 2015, a 59/100 in 2016, and a 60/100 in 2017 and 2018, and a
most recently 61/100 in 2019. In 2020 Xfinity has increased that dramatically to 66/100. For some context, in 2020 AT&T scored a 68/100 and Verizon earned a 73/100.
Comcast’s improvement isn’t sheer luck; the VP of Customer Service, Tom Karinshak, is actively working to overhaul its customer service. Two specific initiatives include a callback feature that enables customers to schedule a time for Comcast to call them (instead of waiting on hold) and an expansion on its digital care team.
Points to consider
1.2 TB data cap
When it comes to data, Xfinity has a cap of 1.2 TB (1,000 GB) on all plans. If you have a household of heavy internet users, the overage penalty is a $10 fee for every 50 GB over (after the third infraction). Comcast reports that 99% of its customers never even graze that limit. But if you have several people streaming, gaming, or uploading daily — 1 TB may be cutting it close.
Super fast speeds
- Super fast speeds
- Package customization
- Customer service
Why we chose it
A high-speed cable option with an impressive range, Mediacom’s plans start at 60 Mbps and rocket up to 1,000 Mbps. For internet-obsessed users, speed is the most important factor; and while Mediacom’s max offerings are astronomically excessive for the majority of households, these high-speed options (in addition to high data limits) mean that heavy internet users will never have to worry about maxing out or cutting back.
Bundling your TV and internet service starts at just $49.99 per month in most locations. The base plan comes with 60 Mbps and 50+ channels, though Mediacom’s packages allow for easy customization. That customization is primarily in the number of packages they offer. The customization doesn’t stretch to choosing your own download speeds, or to increasing the data cap on any given plan. Speeds and data limits are set and tied to each other.
And while Mediacom doesn’t offer Charter’s unlimited data, the range is still impressive: 400 GB to 6,000 GB. That top tier is six times larger than Comcast’s and Cox’s data caps.
Points to consider
Unfortunately, Mediacom hits the lowest of the low for customer service. It falls behind Comcast, Cox and Spectrum with a 59/100 from ACSI. Additionally, its J.D. Power scores were so low that it only ranked in the West region and with a 2/5. In online forums and comment boxes, customers complain that issues are rarely resolved and that they experience frequent outages. Customers also note that they’re often double-billed and spend long periods waiting for customer service to respond.
If high speeds are worth a few phone calls or some occasional internet downtime, Mediacom is still a solid bet. It does offer a 90-day money-back guarantee, so if you experience any of these common grievances within the first three months, you can cancel your service without contract penalties.
- Good customer service
- #1 for streaming video (Nielsen data)
- No throttling
- Limited selection of plans
- Higher prices
Why we chose it
Cox fares well when it comes to servicing its customers, ranking highly in J.D. Power customer satisfaction scores for the West region. Its worst score comes from the Cost of Service metric, aligning with what we found on its poorly valued plans. But, overall, customers are generally more satisfied with Cox than Spectrum or Mediacom. The company tends to have reliable service and decent customer interaction, a rarity within the cable internet space.
Cox also strives to break out of the pack with its Panoramic Wi-Fi, a router upgrade that is basically Cox Communication’s version of a Wi-Fi Mesh system. This system extends its wireless farther, eliminates dead zones, and covers your whole home with fast connections. It comes with a free professional install but will cost you $10.99 per month. If you live in a large home with many areas that struggle to maintain a strong signal, this could be a convenient solution, although it may not be worth the cost if you’ve never had issues with your Wi-Fi’s reach.
Points to consider
While Cox’s low speeds of 10 Mbps may appeal to ultra-light internet users, those plans don’t come at a great value. In most cities, 10 Mbps of speed costs $29.99 ($40 after the promotion expires), and an additional $10 gets you 30 Mbps. Comcast Xfinity’s most popular promotional deal, by comparison, is $34.99 for 100 Mbps. Smaller households with few devices and basic internet activity may be interested in Cox’s light plans, but you can get much faster speeds for the same price from other providers.
How We Chose the Best Cable Internet
We looked at the nation’s four largest cable internet providers and dug into their packages, bundling options, and customer service reputations to see how they stacked up. The best internet service is fast, reliable, and painless to work with, but the right provider for you depends on what you prioritize in your service.
We should start by saying that your choices for a cable internet provider are likely limited; in fact, in many cases, you may not have any options at all. The limit in options is the result of regional monopolies and technological restrictions. Essentially, cable and internet providers won’t invest in building infrastructure and wiring if they have to compete with another company that already dominates that region. Our favorite providers were the ones with a nationwide presence who you were likely to encounter in your search.
The best cable provider doesn’t just offer the cheapest price; it also comes with limited fees, a range of speed options, and bundling discounts. We also preferred features that added a more rounded value to your internet package — like price locks, advanced equipment, or no data caps.
Internet and cable providers are notorious for their mediocre customer service. From faulty equipment, surprise fees, incorrect bills, and endless phone trees, cable internet providers can be tough to deal with. We used third-party satisfaction surveys from J.D. Power and the American Customer Satisfaction Index to gauge the customer service of cable providers. High-scoring companies are more likely to tell you exactly what’s on your bill, promptly schedule installations, and provide promised speeds — all without forwarding your call to three different departments.
Our picks below offer a balance of fast speeds, decent customer service, and chances to save on your monthly bill. Once you’ve decided on your priorities and found out what’s available in your area, any of these options should seamlessly fit into your life.
How to Find the Right Cable Internet Provider for You
Find your local providers
According to the FCC’s Broadband Progress Report, 70% of Americans have fewer than three provider options (and that’s counting all internet types). Satellite internet is available nationwide and is usually one of those options. DSL and cable have pretty varied availability based on state, and fiber-optic internet is the rarest. Your first step should be checking which providers service your home. Our tool above can help you find the providers available in your ZIP code.
Audit your speed needs
When it comes time to purchase your internet plan, you’ll need to know how much speed your household needs. Internet service is sold in speed-based packages, measured in Mbps (megabits per second). Typically, cable internet packages range between 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps and accommodate HD video streaming, online gaming, and file downloading. If you only use the internet to check email or social media and you don’t want to pay for excess speed, DSL or satellite internet might be best for you. Keep in mind, these slower speeds usually come at a poorer value.
Determining your needs depends on your usage habits. A couple of things play into usage demands, including the number of connected devices and the type of internet activity. Internet speed works kind of like a traffic highway: The more people using it, the slower you’ll have to go. High-demand usage like video conferencing or real-time gaming requires higher speeds and more monthly data.
- 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, real-time gaming, video conferencing
- Very high use – multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, large file downloading, real-time gaming, video conferencing
|Number of Devices||Light Use||Moderate Use||High Use||Very High Use|
|1-3||5-10 Mbps||15 Mbps||25 Mbps||50 Mbps|
|4-8||15 Mbps||25 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps|
|8-10||25 Mbps||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||150 Mbps|
|10+||50 Mbps||100 Mbps||150 Mbps||200+ Mbps|
Determine your data requirements
Internet data works similarly to your phone data plans in that you receive a certain allotment of gigabytes (GB) to “spend” over the course of a month based on your online activity. Most cable internet companies implement data caps starting at 250 GB. For some context, 1 GB is needed for about one hour of Netflix SD streaming and 3 GB per hour for HD streaming. If you’re just using the internet for light emailing and web browsing, you can stay near 50 GB per month. Heavy users should look for a plan with around 500 GB of data or more. If you happen to go over your data limit, providers will issue a warning and eventually charge a fee for more data.
Cable Internet FAQ
Though fiber-optic internet is run with literal cables, it’s quite different from traditional cable internet. Fiber transmits the internet through strands of glass rather than copper; as such, it’s completely unaffected by environmental conditions and it multiplies typical internet speeds.
Fiber providers are few and far between, with minimal availability. Traditional cable providers like Comcast are beginning to introduce fiber service, but it has a long way to go before reaching the same nationwide availability as other internet types.
We’d highly recommend it. There’s a fair chance that all of your neighbors are renting the same stock equipment from your local internet provider, and you’ll have more network issues because of it. These routers are on the same frequency, and that’ll slow traffic down for everyone during prime surfing hours. By purchasing your own unique router, you can jump into a faster lane.
You can also save about $10 to $15 (the typical rental fee) each month by buying your own equipment. A wireless router typically costs between $60 and $200 upfront, but without the provider’s monthly fees, it will start paying for itself after a year or so. Just check with your internet provider to make sure it’s compatible.
Simply put: The modem acts as a bridge between your home and your internet service provider by establishing a connection to the internet, and the router serves to connect the internet/WiFi to your devices by broadcasting a WiFi connection throughout your home. There are modems and routers that have merged into one device — a good way to free up space and reduce clutter.
Our Other Internet Reviews
We’ve been digging into a variety of internet providers over the years, and we’ve found the best providers for other internet types. If cable internet isn’t available in your area, check out our other reviews below: