AT&T vs. RCN
When you move to a new city, you run the usual checklist: connect the utilities, figure out the best way to get to work, and find the nearest grocery store and emergency clinic. Other things on your list may include looking for the best restaurants on Yelp, forwarding the mail, and deciding on an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
That final task isn’t always easy. Depending on the city or area you live in, you may have multiple ISP options available. And if you’re in one of the neighborhoods serviced by both AT&T Internet and RCN, you’ll have two strong providers clamoring for your attention and leaving you confused about which to choose.
No matter what features and prices you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered with this post. You’ll discover information about the types of internet AT&T and RCN offer, their customer service, and their equipment. With those details, you’ll be able to make the best and most informed purchasing decision for your lifestyle and budget.
Type of Service
6 Mbps–75 Mbps (DSL), 1,000 Mbps (fiber)
$40–$60 per month (DSL), $80 per month (fiber)
$99, often waived
1TB (DSL), unlimited data (fiber)
Type of Service
25 Mbps–330 Mbps (cable), 1,000 Mbps (fiber)
$29.99–$59.99 per month (cable), $69.99 per month (fiber)
$4.95–$15.00 per month, depending on location and plan
Free with coupon
Data effective 5/1/2017. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.
Choose AT&T Internet for easy setup and installation. If you care about convenience and easy installations, you can’t go wrong with AT&T Internet. Its self-installation process takes about an hour to complete and will likely go off without a hitch.
Choose RCN for transparent billing practices. You should feel confident about your choice of ISP, and you will with RCN. This ISP earns five out of five stars in the monthly billing category, which is hard to argue against.
Find and compare AT&T and RCN plans and pricing in your area:
What You Should Consider When Choosing an Internet Provider
Types of Internet
Think of the different internet speeds as rivers. Fiber resembles Niagara Falls, rushing toward the sea. Cable might be the Mississippi: it flows quickly but slows down when it comes to heavily trafficked ports. DSL could be the creek at the edge of your property: it moves, but it typically arrives at its destination behind cable and fiber.
AT&T delivers internet to its customers via DSL, which means it uses phone lines to connect residents and businesses to the internet. DSL works well, but tends to be a little sluggish in comparison to cable and fiber. However, depending on the speed package, AT&T may deliver the internet connection via a hybrid DSL/fiber (fiber-to-the-node) network, which is considerably faster than typical DSL.
RCN offers internet to its customers through cable, connecting customers to the internet via cable lines. Cable offers higher internet speeds than DSL, but it can be prone to traffic congestion during peak periods.
Both AT&T and RCN offer fiber internet in select locations. Fiber internet relies on underground, fiber-optic networks that deliver the highest speeds along with enhanced internet performance and reliability. However, for the sake of this comparison, we will focus on only the DSL and cable offerings of AT&T and RCN respectively.
AT&T has been around longer than RCN, which probably explains its larger coverage area. You can find AT&T Internet in twenty-one states, from beautiful California to the mountains of Tennessee.
You’ll find RCN in six states, although that number may change as RCN continues to grow its fiber internet offerings. But the limited availability of RCN comes with its perks: you’ll receive better customer service and experience expected speeds more often. To date, the ISP seems to focus its coverage in urban metro areas.
- New York City
- Washington, DC
A Note on this Comparison
AT&T and the entertainment company—not the cable provider—Time Warner continue to work through their proposed merger. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said the merger would not require a review by the FCC. However, the merger’s future remains somewhat uncertain due to the new administration. Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council, says the administration has reservations about the merger because it could reduce competition in the marketplace. However, AT&T remains hopeful about the merger, saying it would “provide a more compelling alternative to cable companies.”
TPG Capital, a private equity firm based in Fort Worth, Texas, and San Francisco, California, finished its purchase of RCN Telecom Services LLC (RCN) and Grande Communications Networks (Grande) in February 2017. The two ISPs serve different markets, so the acquisition shouldn’t disrupt existing customers or internet service. Their combined power will make them the seventh-largest cable internet provider in the United States.
Customer Satisfaction Ratings
Customer satisfaction ratings are based on a five-point system. The overall and specific ratings come from the HighSpeedInternet.com annual survey, 2016 Internet Provider Customer Satisfaction. The ratings found here relate directly to what are labeled as “AT&T DSL” and “RCN” in the survey.
Installation & Setup
AT&T Internet receives quality marks in the installation and setup category. Most people who subscribe to AT&T Internet can easily install and set up the equipment themselves.
RCN receives high marks in the installation and setup category. It provides easy-to-follow guides and online tools to help with self-installation. RCN also employs two-hour service windows, meaning you won’t waste time waiting all day for technical support to show up on your doorstep.
Due to the nature of a DSL connection, AT&T Internet expectedly won’t win high awards for speed. DSL tends to flow a little slower than cable and fiber. But DSL and cable sometimes move at nearly equivalent speeds during peak periods.
Considering RCN provides cable internet, this lower speed ranking seems a little odd. It outshines AT&T Internet by only a fraction of a point. Still, the reality is that the speed of RCN clocks in a little higher, which could be important if you want to stream games, TV shows, and movies.
AT&T Internet offers relatively good reliability—you shouldn’t experience too many outages or performance issues. Because the internet runs on DSL lines, though, you might see some signal interference. You often can work around problems related to interference with DSL filters.
RCN scores high for reliability, coming in higher than even AT&T Fiber. When it comes to reliability, only fiber providers like Frontier surpass RCN.
Monthly Bill (Pricing)
AT&T Internet falls roughly around the middle in the monthly bill category. Customers complain about hidden fees and prices not keeping with what was advertised. They also tend to say that prices increase sharply for higher speed packages.
RCN ties with Frontier and CenturyLink in the monthly billing category with a perfect score. It seems the ISP keeps its promise of “easy-to-understand” bills, a feature touted on its website.
Technical Support and Customer Service
AT&T Internet claims another middle spot when it comes to technical support and customer service. Customers voice complaints about poor technical service, unresolved issues, and lackluster communication skills.
RCN receives a solid score for technical support and customer service, although the ISP ultimately falls toward the middle of the pack. Some customers have shared that the self-help customer service portal can be a little frustrating to use.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Greater coverage
- Bundling options
- Easy installation and setup
- Slower speeds
- Hit-or-miss customer service
- Unclear billing practices
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 2-hour service windows
- No contracts
- Limited coverage
- Limited bundling options
- Installation fees
AT&T provides internet subscribers with a wireless gateway, a device that combines a modem and router into one piece of equipment. The models vary, but AT&T typically sends customers a NETGEAR or Pace gateway. If you purchase fiber service or upgrade from DSL to fiber, AT&T will send a new gateway to support the higher speed tiers.
RCN offers several products, including a modem, router, and two wireless gateways. The equipment supplied depends on which internet package you purchase. For example, RCN’s fiber internet requires the DOCSIS 3.1 device. RCN charges monthly rental fees on its equipment that range from $4.95 to $15.00 per month.
About the Providers
AT&T stands as the largest ISP to date, capturing 38% of the market. The ISP seems to be trying to secure that lead with its potential Time Warner merger, as the integration would make the ISP more competitive on the cable-television side. In the meantime, AT&T continues to expand its fiber internet offerings, which could prove a wise decision as consumers increasingly seek faster internet speeds.
RCN Telecom Services LLC headquarters in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. To date, its largest coverage areas occur in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Lehigh Valley, Boston, and Washington, DC. RCN provides cable and fiber internet to residential homes and businesses. The long-term consequences of integrating with Grande Communications Networks remain unclear at this point, but they could involve bringing more high-speed internet packages to homes in Texas and the Northeast.
If you live in an area where both AT&T and RCN are available, you could face a tough decision. Make it easier by continually referring to the information shared in this post. With details about each provider’s customer service, pricing, and speed, you will be able to confidently select your next ISP.
Erin is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. She has over ten years of experience, with a background in marketing and creative writing