Should I Choose Spectrum or AT&T as My High-Speed Internet Service Provider?

When you start looking for an Internet Service Provider (ISP), AT&T and Spectrum Cable (formerly Time Warner Cable) are probably some of the ones that come to mind first. They already claim a decent share of the telecommunications market and are relatively well known to the average consumer.

But which provider should you choose? The answer to that question proves slightly more complicated. The two ISPs offer different forms of internet, and, while AT&T and Spectrum Cable are both available in most areas, they aren’t available everywhere.

Side-by-Side Comparison

AT&T cancellation page

Type of Service

Cable

Type of Service

DSL, Fiber

Download Speeds

60 Mbps

Download Speeds

6 Mbps–75 Mbps (DSL), 100 Mbps-1,000 Mbps

Price

$44.99 per month

Price

$40–$60 per month (DSL), $60-$80 per month (Fiber)

Equipment Fees

Included

Equipment Fees

Included

Installation Fee

$29.99

Installation Fee

$99, often waived

Data Caps

Unlimited

Data Caps

1 TB (DSL), No data caps on 1,000 Mbps plans

Customer Satisfaction

3.48/5

Customer Satisfaction

3.48/5 (DSL), 3.71 (Fiber)

Type of Service

Cable

Download Speeds

60 Mbps

Price

$44.99 per month

Equipment Fees

Included

Installation Fee

$29.99

Data Caps

Unlimited

Customer Satisfaction

3.48/5

AT&T cancellation page

Type of Service

DSL, Fiber

Download Speeds

6 Mbps–75 Mbps (DSL), 100 Mbps-1,000 Mbps

Price

$40–$60 per month (DSL), $60-$80 per month (Fiber)

Equipment Fees

Included

Installation Fee

$99, often waived

Data Caps

1 TB (DSL), No data caps on 1,000 Mbps plans

Customer Satisfaction

3.48/5 (DSL), 3.71 (Fiber)

Data effective 5/1/2017. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.

The Verdict

Choose Spectrum Cable for fast, reliable internet.

Spectrum Cable can’t compete with fiber, but it rules the roost in comparison to DSL. If you want high speed and fiber isn’t an option, you should take a closer look at Time Warner Spectrum. The ISP has made considerable improvements to its customer support over the last year, so receiving service from the telecom provider should be relatively painless.

Choose AT&T Internet for overall customer satisfaction.

AT&T wins the day for overall customer satisfaction, if only slightly. You should choose this ISP if you want transparent billing practices and dedicated customer service. AT&T also boasts an easy setup and installation process, which is sure to save you a host of headaches.

Find and compare Spectrum and AT&T plans and pricing in your area:

What You Should Consider When Choosing an Internet Provider

Types of Internet

Spectrum Cable provides cable internet, which means it delivers internet via coaxial cables. The cable connection offers fast speeds, but it comes with a susceptibility to traffic congestion. For example, when everyone in the neighborhood wants to catch the latest episode of Sherlock, you will probably experience slower internet speeds and upload/download times.

AT&T, on the other hand, employs two methods to deliver internet service: DSL and fiber. DSL usually clocks in slower than cable because it runs on existing phone lines rather than coaxial cables. This means its primary weakness isn’t slow speed, but signal interference. Most ISPs resolve this weakness with DSL filters, which separate the phone and internet frequencies to keep the modem from mistaking one signal for the other.

If your internet connection with AT&T relies on fiber, it will operate under a completely different methodology to deliver service. A fiber connection runs on fiber-optic cables, which tend to produce faster speeds and greater reliability. With this type of internet, ISPs almost always require home installation service because their technicians need to set up cabling and connections and ensure that your existing equipment can handle the higher speeds that come with fiber.

How to Choose

You would think all of these options would make life more difficult, but you can streamline the decision by narrowing it down to four factors: location, speed, devices, and price.

Your location and budget will immediately rule out some internet options. If location and budget don’t impact you, the number of people and devices in the home will. Generally, the more people and devices you have, the faster and more powerful you’ll want your internet connection to be. After all, it’s the only way to ensure the kids can stream HD videos and also play Destiny while you catch up on some email.

To put things metaphorically, speed can be compared to felines: if you want a cheetah, you should choose fiber, whereas cable is more like a sleek, black leopard. Cable is fast and reliable over the long haul, but not quite as fast or consistent as the fiber cheetah. However, DSL is more of a lynx and loses to both. It works well, but you shouldn’t expect it to keep up with the pack by handling multiple HD streams.

Coverage Area

Top 5 Cities:

  • Houston
  • San Diego
  • Raleigh
  • New Orleans
  • St. Paul

Top 5 States:

  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • California
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

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.

Spectrum Cable

Overall Customer Rating

(3.5 / 5)

AT&T DSL Internet

Overall Customer Rating

(3.5 / 5)

AT&T Fiber Internet

Overall Customer Rating

(3.7 / 5)

Installation & Setup

Spectrum Cable

(3.7 / 5)

Customers complained about Spectrum Cable’s installation process in 2015, and the ISP listened, creating better tutorials and offering more robust technical support the following year. As a result, Spectrum Cable increased its rating incrementally in the installation and setup category.

AT&T DSL

(3.8 / 5)

AT&T slightly edges out Spectrum Cable in the installation and setup category, which is likely due to its easy-to-use self-installation kits and guides. It will be interesting to see how AT&T fares this year as Spectrum Cable continues to focus on improving its customer service and support.

AT&T Fiber

(3.9 / 5)

ISPs that offer fiber generally perform well in the installation and setup category. The precise reason behind the higher rating remains a mystery, but it likely entails clearer instructions and fast installations, either with or without a technician present.

Internet Speed

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Spectrum Cable falls within the upper echelons of internet speed, as is to be expected with speedy cable service.

AT&T DSL

(3.5 / 5)

DSL always comes in lower than cable—it’s simply slower. But it works just fine and tends to not get as congested as cable.

AT&T Fiber

(3.9 / 5)

Fiber flies past both DSL and cable, which is no surprise. It uses a different process to deliver internet service, and, as a newer, more expensive technology, it claims fewer customers than cable or DSL.

Reliability

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Because cable is readily available, you can think of it as “Old Faithful.” You might experience some latency when all the neighbors get home from work and access the internet, but you’ll still be able to depend on it to browse the web and watch your favorite shows.

AT&T DSL

(3.6 / 5)

AT&T DSL ranks slightly higher than Spectrum Cable, probably because the internet experiences fewer latency issues during peak times.

AT&T Fiber

(3.9 / 5)

AT&T ranks fifth in reliability, only eclipsed by other fiber providers and RCN.

Monthly Bill (Pricing)

Spectrum Cable

(3 / 5)

The hard truth is that no ISP really ranks well in the billing category; however, Spectrum Cable comes in at the lower end of the spectrum. Customers most often complain about hidden fees and price hikes.

AT&T DSL

(3.1 / 5)

AT&T only just slides past Spectrum Cable, even though it also employs data caps on internet-only plans.

AT&T Fiber

(3.2 / 5)

AT&T Fiber comes at a higher price point, which makes the higher score somewhat startling. Even then, the difference in rankings among the ISPs is negligible—most fall in the same range.

Technical Support and Customer Service

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Spectrum Cable has done a great deal to improve its ratings in this particular category, where it outshines AT&T DSL, but falls short of AT&T Fiber.

AT&T DSL

(3.5 / 5)

AT&T presents a mediocre score for customer service and support. It’s not the worst one of the bunch, but it isn’t the best, either.

AT&T Fiber

(3.7 / 5)

AT&T ranks fourth in technical support and customer service. Perhaps this is because the ISP has already gained an understanding of its customers through its wizened DSL offering.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Spectrum Cable

Advantages

  • No contracts
  • No data caps
  • Bundling options

Disadvantages

  • Installation fees
  • Modem rental fees
  • Sharp price increases after initial promo period

AT&T Internet

Advantages

  • Bundling options
  • AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spot network
  • AT&T Wi-Fi Gateway included with plan

Disadvantages

  • Slower speeds (DSL only)
  • Data caps for internet-only plans
  • Contracts

Equipment

Spectrum Cable

ARRIS TG1672G

  • DOCSIS 3.0 compliant and backward compatible with DOCSIS 2.0 or 1.1
  • Supports simultaneous Ethernet and wireless connections
  • Four Ethernet ports

AT&T

AT&T Wi-Fi Gateway*

  • All-in-one modem and router
  • Supports IPv6, the latest internet standard

*AT&T provides a new Wi-Fi Gateway to customers purchasing AT&T Fiber and delivers it during on-site installation. The newer model ensures top speeds and reliability.

The Merger

AT&T and Time Warner—not to be confused with Spectrum Cable (formerly Time Warner Cable)—agreed to a merger last fall, although the actual merging remains in limbo. The deal faces a lot of scrutiny and criticism on the part of policymakers, regulators, and financial traders, as well as a bit of uncertainty on the part of current or potential customers. The two companies say not to worry; since each provides different product offerings, the merger should only benefit customers rather than put them at risk.

Specifically, AT&T and Time Warner promise to develop new video content optimized for mobile devices. They also hint that the merger could increase competition in the cable TV market, thereby giving consumers more viewing and buying options at better prices.

But critics and consumers aren’t necessarily convinced that the merger will produce a golden future in telecommunications and TV. Public Knowledge, for instance, argues that AT&T might use Time Warner as some sort of “bargaining chip.” The organization also raises concerns about consumer privacy. Other analysts worry that the merger could increase prices.

Meet the Providers

Spectrum Cable

Time Warner Cable merged with Charter Communications in 2016, broadening its service options and coverage area. Most recently, the telecom provider started branding itself underneath Spectrum Cable. The company serves more than 400 million people in twenty states, with Hawaii claiming the largest percentage of the service pie.

For more information about Spectrum Cable (formerly known as Time Warner Cable), visit our Spectrum Cable provider page.

 

AT&T

AT&T hopes to finalize its merger with Time Warner in 2017, potentially adding to its already robust DIRECTV and other TV offerings. As the company now stands, it provides internet services to over 200 million people in twenty-one states. Its largest coverage area occurs in Illinois.

For more information about AT&T, visit our AT&T provider page.

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