Should I Choose Spectrum Cable or Windstream as My High-Speed Internet Service Provider?

If you live in a rural area, Internet Service Provider (ISP) options tend to be limited. You sometimes receive only one choice, though if you’re lucky you may have as many as three. And if you fall into the latter category, you face the dilemma of choosing one ISP over another.

To help you with that decision, we share the ins and outs of two ISPs you could find in rural locations: Windstream and Spectrum Cable (formerly known as Time Warner Cable). You’ll learn about the types of internet service provided, equipment used, and customer satisfaction ratings. With that information, you should be able to easily decide about which provider should receive your business.

Side-by-Side Comparison

 Type of Service Cable DSL, Fiber
Download Speeds 60 Mbps 3 Mbps–1,000 Mbps
Price $44.99 per month $34.99—$79.99 per month
Equipment Fees Included $9.99 per month
Installation Fee Depends on location and setup complexity $35; can be waived for self-install
Data Caps No No
Customer Satisfaction 3.48/5 3.18/5
Packages View Plans View Plans

Data effective 2/20/2017

The Verdict:

Choose Spectrum Cable for faster speeds and reliability. You can’t always find Spectrum Cable in rural communities, but if you do, you should check out the available plans. Spectrum Cable delivers consistent, fast speeds, which you’ll need if you want to binge-watch Orange is the New Black or if you share the connection across multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices.

Choose Windstream for rural connectivity. If you live in a rural area where dial-up remains the norm, you should look into Windstream. You likely won’t get blazing fast internet, but you will enjoy better service than what dial-up has to offer. And if your main goals in accessing internet is to pay bills, email friends and family, or shop on Amazon, you can’t go wrong with DSL. The connection only begins to lag when streaming demands get heavy.

 


What You Should Consider When Choosing an Internet Provider:

Types of Internet

Spectrum Cable provides cable internet, meaning the ISP uses traditional cable television lines to carry data in to and out of homes. Cable internet generally offers higher speeds than other forms of internet like DSL and dial-up, but it loses out to fiber.

Windstream, by contrast, offers DSL internet in most of its service locations, though it does offer fiber in a few select areas. Because DSL is the more widely available of the two, we’ll be focusing primarily on that service for this comparison. DSL uses telephone lines to bring connectivity to the home. Speeds usually come in slower with DSL internet. However, DSL and cable tend to perform similarly during peak periods, as traffic slowing brings cable down to DSL-level speeds.

 

Coverage Area 

Find and compare Time Warner Spectrum and Windstream packages in your area:

Time Warner Spectrum Cable

Spectrum Internet is available in twenty-nine states, giving it a broader coverage area than Windstream. The top coverage spot goes to Hawaii, although you can find the ISP in states as far away as Maine.

 

Windstream

Windstream serves twenty-two states, with Michigan being its largest coverage area. The ISP’s service overlaps with Spectrum Cable’s in a few areas—likely including yours, if you’re reading this comparison.

 

Time Warner Spectrum Availability Map

Top 5 States:

  • Hawaii
  • Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • New York

Windstream Availability Map

Top 5 States:

  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Maryland
  • Kentucky
  • Iowa

A Note on the Comparison

Spectrum Cable

Spectrum Cable, previously Time Warner Cable, merged with Charter Communications in 2016. The two entities worked through the integration phase in the past few months, ultimately resulting in the official name change to Spectrum Cable. It’s worth noting here that the ratings used in this comparison were recorded before Time Warner Cable made the full name and service switch—back when the company was still exclusively Time Warner Cable.

Windstream

Windstream recently completed a merger with EarthLink Holdings Corp. The two companies hope that joining forces will make them more competitive, particularly in the business sector. As with Spectrum Cable, the ratings that appear here apply to pre-merger Windstream. We’ll update the ratings once consumers have had time to assess the new services.

 


Customer Satisfaction Ratings

Customer satisfaction ratings come from the HighSpeedInternet.com annual survey. We poll thousands of high-speed internet customers about their ISPs and then tally the results to determine an overall rating, as well as scores specific to elements like technical support, speed, and reliability. You can view our latest survey here.

Spectrum Cable

Overall Customer Rating

(3.5 / 5)

View Plans

Windstream DSL

Overall Customer Rating

(3.2 / 5)

View Plans


Installation and Setup

Spectrum Cable

(3.7 / 5)

Thanks to some TLC to its setup support (both online and via telephone), the company earns higher marks here than it has in the past. It’s not the top performer—those spots go to the fiber providers—but it’s far from the worst.


Windstream

(3.4 / 5)

Windstream only outshines Mediacom in the installation and setup category. Some customers complain about canceled appointments or delayed service due to installation issues.


Internet Speed

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Cable delivers higher speeds, explaining the higher score. Spectrum Cable largely loses to fiber providers, which is to be expected; remember, fiber offers speeds much faster than both cable and DSL.

Windstream

(3 / 5)

Windstream’s DSL service ranks last in the speed category, as you’d expect given DSL’s notoriously low speeds. The speeds offered in some Windstream packages technically fulfill federal standards to be considered broadband internet, but that offers little consolation to consumers trying to stream a show on Netflix or play in an online video game tournament.


Reliability

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Spectrum Cable only surpasses DSL contenders in terms of reliability. A few customers complain about outages and intermittent connectivity—par for the course with cable services, which get backed up during peak traffic times.

Windstream

(3.2 / 5)

Windstream scores low in this category, but that comes as only a small surprise. The ISP serves largely rural markets, meaning intermittent connectivity is somewhat expected. The infrastructure needed to produce higher, more reliable speeds simply doesn’t exist yet.


Monthly Bill (Pricing)

Spectrum Cable

(3 / 5)

Spectrum Cable ranks on the lower end of the scorecard for bills and pricing. The ISP’s higher prices, occasional hidden fees, and price hikes likely explain at least some of the negative sentiment.

Windstream

(2.9 / 5)

Windstream and Spectrum Cable essentially tie when it comes to monthly bills and pricing. And despite Windstream’s pricing guarantee, customers complain about hidden fees and hiked costs.

 


Technical Support and Customer Service

Spectrum Cable

(3.6 / 5)

Spectrum Cable scores relatively well in this category, probably because of its recent focus on improving customer service. Its online tools and prompt response times seem to be soothing a few ruffled feathers.

Windstream

(3.3 / 5)

Again, Windstream ranks solely above Mediacom in the technical support and customer service category. And though the ISP promises 24/7 technical support, customer complaints range from poor phone support to late or absent technician help.

 


Advantages and Disadvantages

Spectrum Cable

Advantages

  • High speeds
  • Reliability
  • Bundling options

Windstream

Advantages

  • Availability in rural areas and underserved markets
  • Bundling options
  • Thirty-day money-back guarantee

Disadvantages

  • Higher prices
  • Unclear billing practices
  • Modem rental fees

View Plans

 

Disadvantages

  • Slower speeds
  • Modem rental fees
  • Lackluster customer service

View Plans

 


Equipment

Spectrum Cable

Spectrum Cable provides customers with a modem/router gateway that is compatible with the purchased plan and speed tier. The details listed here are for the ARRIS SURFboard SBG6580 Wi-Fi Modem, which Spectrum Cable has approved for internet plans with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

  • Four upload and eight download channels
  • Certification to DOCSIS 3.0 standard
  • Support for network management

 

Windstream

Windstream provides several Wi-Fi modems/router combos, and the one you get is based on the internet service package you order (Standard, Enhanced, Premium, Premium Plus, and One GIG). The benefits listed here apply to the Actiontec T3200, the gateway used to deliver both DSL and fiber internet plans.

  • Dual-band feature to easily direct traffic
  • Beamforming technology, which aids with signal transmission and strength
  • Support for a range of speed tiers

 


About the Providers

Spectrum Cable

Prior to being bought out by Charter Communications in 2016, TWC was second only to Comcast in terms of size and revenue. Charter Communications—and thus Spectrum Cable—still holds that second spot, coming in just on Comcast’s heels in number of broadband subscribers. Spectrum Cable offers internet, telephone, and television services in twenty-nine states.

Learn more about Spectrum Cable

Windstream

Windstream has headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas and provides internet and telephone services to consumers residing in largely rural areas. The company offers television service via DISH®. While the bulk of Windstream’s internet service network across twenty-two states is DSL, the company also offers fiber internet, called One GIG, in select areas. This gigabit product largely caters to business and enterprise customers, but it is available to residents in a few communities. And, after the EarthLink merger earlier this year, the company could potentially add either new coverage areas or higher speed tiers to its offerings.

Learn more about Windstream


Choosing an ISP can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible task. Examine the information shared here about Spectrum Cable and Windstream, and make a decision you can feel good about. Remember, too, that if you aren’t entirely satisfied with either provider’s service, you can always cash in on the thirty-day money-back guarantee that both companies offer. Basically, you’re in a low-risk, high-reward situation either way. So choose an ISP, evaluate the service, and decide whether or not it’s for you.

*Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.

 

Find and compare high-speed internet providers in your area: