Spectrum Internet Review 2021 – CNET


Charter Communications

Charter Communications boasts that its Spectrum Internet service features no contracts, includes no termination fees and provides new customers with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Such a straightforward approach can be mighty appealing, especially when internet plans tend to be anything but simple. 

You get a choice of three different speed plans with Spectrum and the entry-level tier features a max download speed of 200 megabits per second, which is plenty fast for a provider’s opening option. Comparatively, other cable internet providers like Cox, Optimum, Xfinity and WideOpenWest offer plans that start at 25, 30, 50 and 100 Mbps, respectively.

Like

  • Straightforward pricing
  • No data caps on any plans
  • No contracts required for internet service
  • Free access to Spectrum’s nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots

Don’t Like

  • Competitive rates for cable, but pricier than many fiber providers
  • Internet service is slightly below the industry average for customer satisfaction

Spectrum Internet services over 28 million customers in 41 different states, so there’s a good chance it’s available in your area or somewhere nearby. If so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better cable internet provider, especially since Spectrum doesn’t enforce a data cap like its two biggest competitors, Xfinity and Cox. But if a 100% fiber connection is also available at your address, you should strongly consider going with that instead of Spectrum for the faster upload speeds and a more reliable connection overall. 

What are Spectrum’s speeds, and what do the plans cost?

Spectrum offers three different plans at three separate prices. None of them include data caps, and none require you to commit to a contract. That said, after 12 months, your monthly bill will go up by $25. Here are the specifics:

Spectrum Internet plans and pricing

Plan First-year promo rate Standard rate (after the promo period) Max download speeds Max upload speeds Term agreement
Spectrum Internet $50 $75 200Mbps 10Mbps None required
Spectrum Internet Ultra $70 $95 400Mbps 20Mbps None required
Spectrum Internet Gig $110 $135 1000Mbps 35Mbps None required

Your internet speed will depend on the plan you select

For most of its serviceable areas, your options are download speeds of 200 megabits per second, 400Mbps or the Spectrum Internet Gig plan, which clocks in with max download speeds of 1,000Mbps, or 1 gigabit per second. A Charter spokesperson tells CNET that approximately 85% of Spectrum’s service area will see the 200Mbps plan as their starting option, with most other areas seeing a 100Mbps plan as the lowest tier.

A quick word on cable

Spectrum Internet relies mainly on hybrid fiber-coaxial cable connections to provide service to subscribers’ homes. As you can tell by the three fast tiers offered by Charter, cable is a trusty method that offers download speeds better than those you’ll get with DSL, fixed wireless and satellite. That said, fiber internet can provide faster downloads and faster upload speeds, too. With cable internet plans like the ones offered by companies like Spectrum, Xfinity and Cox, your upload speeds will typically stay in the double digits at best.

According to a December 2019 report from the Federal Communications Commission, just under 1% of Spectrum’s potential customer base is eligible for fiber. But according to our source, that’s not true. While Charter does not release its fiber/HFC percentage publicly, the spokesperson said the FCC’s info is outdated: “A sizable percentage of our network is fiber, from our facilities down to the neighborhood, and virtually all of the 53 million homes our network passes can access gigabit speeds.” 

Yet the issue isn’t about gigabit speeds — after all, other cable internet competitors, like Cox and Xfinity, can boast of their Gig plans — but it’s all about the symmetrical speeds and better performance of a 100% fiber network. And that’s something Spectrum doesn’t have.

Charter Spectrum’s coverage (orange) extends across 41 states, including Hawaii.


FCC/Mapbox

Coverage across much of the country

Spectrum Internet is offered in 41 states across the country, so it’s actually easier to list the states where Charter Communications doesn’t operate: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah (as well as Washington, DC). If you live anywhere other than that, then there’s an above-average chance that you’re in Spectrum’s coverage map, or close to it.

That said, most cable internet providers struggle to offer service to rural areas with low population density, and Spectrum is no exception. If that’s your situation, check out our rundown of the best rural internet providers.

Spectrum’s strong suit: Straightforward terms

Charter tends to keep its Spectrum offerings fairly uncomplicated, but let’s burrow down to see what else you can expect with your service.

Additional monthly fees

As noted above, Spectrum prides itself on taking a no data caps or extra fees approach. This is mostly accurate. On top of the lack of contracts or data limits, each Spectrum plan comes with a free modem. However, if you want to connect to Spectrum’s network wirelessly over Wi-Fi, you’ll need to pay an additional $5 a month for the Spectrum router. (Note: If you opt for Spectrum Internet Gig, the router is also included at no extra charge.) Fortunately, like many other ISPs, Spectrum allows you to skip that extra fee by using your own, Spectrum-compatible router, with the caveat that your equipment won’t be eligible for Spectrum technical support. 

One-time installation fees

Spectrum temporarily suspended all in-home professional installations during the pandemic, but professional, in-home installation is once again an option. The standard in-home installation fee is $50 — or a hefty $200 for the Internet Gig plan. However, most installations of Spectrum Internet can be done on a self-install basis. In those cases, you’ll need to use a self-installation kit, which can be shipped to your address or sent to a Spectrum store for pickup. 

You’ll still need to pay a one-time charge of $10 for the self-installation activation and an additional $10 charge for the Wi-Fi activation fee.

No data caps

In contrast to some ISP rivals (we’re looking at you, Cox and Xfinity, among others), Spectrum does not impose data caps on its customers. That means you won’t have to track your data usage for fear of throttling issues once you hit some arbitrary threshold. 

Free access to nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots

In addition to connecting at home, Spectrum Out-of-Home WiFi is available to customers for free whenever you’re out and about. The company boasts more than 500,000 hotspots across its entire coverage map — to connect when you’re in range of a network, just sign in with your account username and password for unlimited access. Customers can also use the My Spectrum app for quick access.

isp-customer-satisfaction-2020

American Customer Satisfaction Index

Customer satisfaction scores could stand to improve 

The good news? Charter’s Spectrum service is doing better now with customers than it has since it acquired Time Warner Cable in mid-2016. But there’s still work to do. 

For example, when you look at the J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study for 2020, Spectrum was consistently below US regional averages. Spectrum earned its highest score in the South region, nabbing 732 on a 1,000-point scale, but that still placed it behind AT&T, Xfinity and Cox, as well as the overall region average of 738 across all providers. 

Over at the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Spectrum’s 2021 numbers held steady with 2020, which was up by 7% over 2019. However, with a score of 63 out of 100, Charter Spectrum still ranked two points below the average for all ISPs and placed behind Verizon Fios, AT&T, Xfinity and Cox. Spectrum fared a little better with the ACSI for its internet equipment, notching a score of 69 out of 100, but that still trailed the same four providers: AT&T, Verizon Fios, Xfinity and Cox.

An apparent 3-hour Spectrum outage on April 5, as charted on DownDetector.com. At its peak, the site logged nearly 15,000 user complaints that service was down.


DownDetector

As for reliability, the site DownDetector.com tracks user outage complaints for various online services, including internet providers. Spectrum’s history includes numerous instances flagged as outages, but that’s on par with every major provider, most of which show a baseline of hundreds of outage complaints at any given moment.

Thus far in 2021, DownDetector has flagged 59 possible outages, where the site tracks a sustained spike in user complaints. Most of these spikes hit a peak of less than 1,000 complaints, indicating a small-scale outage in some nook of the coverage map, but others are much wider. On April 5, Spectrum’s outage complaints shot up from 300 or so to almost 15,000, with the apparent outage lasting roughly 3 hours. An outage on Feb. 22 seemed even more severe, peaking at more than 17,500 complaints, though the issue seemed to be fixed within 90 minutes or so.

For comparison, Comcast Xfinity, a slightly larger cable internet provider than Spectrum, has seen 100 outages on DownDetector so far this year, though none of them have peaked any higher than 5,000 complaints. Meanwhile, Cox Communications, a cable internet provider with a customer base that’s about five times smaller than Spectrum’s, has seen almost double the number of outage reports in 2021, totaling in at 112 thus far for the year. That said, as with Comcast, none of Cox’s apparent outages in 2021 have peaked any higher than 5,000 complaints.

To sum it up

Spectrum home internet offers three fast-speed tiers with unlimited data and no contracts. Customers are also spared some of the extra fees you might find with other ISPs — there’s no additional monthly fee for the modem, for example.

But one thing Charter Spectrum has in common with most providers is it does bump up your monthly price after the first year, so be aware of that pending change. Also, as a cable provider, Spectrum is able to provide fast download speeds, but the technology doesn’t offer symmetrical upload speeds, which may negatively impact those who are working remotely from home.

Spectrum Internet FAQs

Is Spectrum the same as Time Warner Cable?

Essentially, yes. Charter Communications purchased Time Warner Cable back in 2016, right around the same time that Charter also acquired Bright House Networks. At the time, those two moves made Spectrum the second-largest US internet service provider and third-largest TV provider. 

Are there Spectrum packages available?

There is an assortment of Spectrum packages available, including Triple Play (internet, TV and home phone) and Double Play (two of the aforementioned services) bundles. Most of the package options offer the 200Mbps plan, and those that feature Internet Ultra (the 400Mbps plan) are available only in certain areas. You can expect to save anywhere from $5 to $10 a month depending, on the Spectrum package you select. 

Is Spectrum Internet fast?

The quick answer is, it depends on what plans are available in your area. The Spectrum Internet Gig plan is plenty fast, at 1000Mbps, but is not the fastest residential plan available across the US. (Xfinity, for example, offers a 1,200Mbps plan as well as a 2,000Mbps plan in select areas.) 

Overall, when looking at ISPs across the country, Ookla determined that Spectrum was the fourth-fastest provider in the US, with an average Speed Score of 120.66 during the first quarter of 2021. That puts Spectrum behind Verizon (160.07), Cox (153.57) and Xfinity (139.33). It should be noted that Ookla’s Speed Score does not represent straightforward Mbps, but rather a weighted scoring system that looks at download and upload speeds.

That said, when looking at Ookla’s most recent Consistency Score — a different metric that measures how regularly providers deliver broadband speeds to their customers — Spectrum notched a first-place finish at 88.3%, topping Verizon’s 87.4%. 

Does Spectrum offer discounts for low-income customers?

Spectrum does have a program for eligible, low-income households. Spectrum Internet Assist features an affordable, broadband plan (30Mbps download, 4Mbps upload) with similar terms as the other internet plans — no data caps, no contracts and a free modem — for a discounted rate of $18 a month. You’ll need to apply to determine eligibility. For example, at least one member of the household needs to be a recipient of an assistance program, such as the National School Lunch Program.

Separate from that offer, Spectrum is also participating in the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which provides eligible households across the company’s operating area a credit up to $50 a month.

Will Charter Spectrum pay me to change from my current provider?

Spectrum does offer a Contract Buyout option for eligible new customers. You can get up to $500 toward the Early Termination Fee from your previous provider. As you might expect, there’s some small print involved as well, but to our eyes the biggest restriction to this offer is it’s not available to those looking just for internet service. Instead, you must order one of Spectrum’s qualifying Triple Play or Double Play bundles.

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