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AT&T home internet review: Fiber's nice, but DSL makes you think twice

The company's broadband service is available to over 40% of homes in the US, but only a third have access to its faster plans.

In this article

When it was first announced in May that AT&T was spinning off WarnerMedia into a combined venture with Discovery, AT&T CEO John Stankey implied it would give the company greater ability to focus on expanding its fiber footprint. In fact, Stankey went further and said the move would allow AT&T to home in on "the single goal of offering the best fixed-broadband service in the market."

So, where does that put AT&T now? If you're living in one of the 21 states where AT&T provides internet service and eligible for one of the company's fiber plans, then you're in a perfect spot -- AT&T's fiber internet offers a great connection at a terrific value. However, the majority of customers within AT&T's service area aren't living in homes that are wired for fiber. Instead, AT&T connects those customers using either fixed wireless or a DSL hybrid service. In both cases, that means less value and much slower speeds than what you'll get with fiber. 

Like

  • No contracts required to receive the lowest available price
  • No data caps for any fiber plans
  • Valuable perks and promotional offers

Don't Like

  • Much slower DSL plans are more prevalent than fiber options
  • No way to avoid additional monthly router fees by using your own
  • Data caps enforced on all non-fiber plans

In other words, recommending AT&T Internet Service really comes down to where you live and what's available at your address. If AT&T fiber is an option, then move it right to the top of your list. But if you're not serviceable for fiber, shop around to see if you can do better than AT&T's fixed wireless or DSL solutions.

AT&T Internet plans and prices

AT&T currently offers three fiber internet plans, none of which come with contracts or data caps. The company tells CNET that those fiber plans -- Internet 300, Internet 500 and Internet 1000 -- are available to just under a third of customers in the company's footprint. The rest of the plans use a DSL/fiber hybrid approach to service the rest of AT&T's customer base, though the addition of DSL infrastructure means that speeds are a lot slower.

Here's your full list of options:

AT&T home internet plans

Plan Max speeds Promo price (first 12 months) Regular monthly cost (after 12 months) Equipment fee Data cap
AT&T Fixed Wireless 10Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $70 $70 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 350GB
AT&T Internet 10 10Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $45 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 1TB
AT&T Internet 18 18Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $45 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 1TB
AT&T Internet 25 25Mbps download, 2Mbps upload $45 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 1TB
AT&T Internet 50 50Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $45 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 1TB
AT&T Internet 100 100Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $45 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) 1TB
AT&T Internet 300 (fiber) 300Mbps download, 300Mbps upload $35 $55 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) None
AT&T Internet 500 (fiber) 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload $45 $65 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) None
AT&T Internet 1000 (fiber) 940Mbps download, 880Mbps upload $60 $80 $10 modem/router rental (unskippable) None

For most of its serviceable areas, AT&T offers at least three of the above plans. In a few geographic locations, mainly rural or suburban areas, you may only have access to AT&T Internet Basic (not shown in the table above), which features either a 5-megabits-per-second plan or one offering 1.5 or 0.8Mbps. Basic is the right word for it and perhaps too generous.

At one point there were five AT&T trucks and technicians at my house installing fiber-optic broadband. It's been smooth sailing since then.

AT&T says that it's working on expanding its fiber network to as many as 3 million new residential and business locations by the end of 2021.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Here are the internet connection types AT&T offers

There are a couple of potential outcomes when you seek to sign up for AT&T's internet service. If you see any of the 300, 500 or 1 gig speed tiers offered at your address, then you have access to AT&T's fiber internet service, which uses 100% fiber technology. Fiber connections are symmetrical by design, which means that your upload speeds will be just as fast as your downloads, unlike DSL, cable and other modes of internet. That's particularly useful for videoconferencing, transferring files (for those of us working and schooling from home) and online gaming.

Outside of the three fiber plans, most of the rest of AT&T plans are DSL, a hybrid of fiber-optic and copper cable. This means speeds are much slower than a pure fiber connection, and you won't see upload speeds that are as high as your download speeds. 

In addition to AT&T's fiber and DSL plans, the company offers a fixed-wireless option, which involves installing an antenna and wireless equipment within the home. Speeds won't get much higher than 10Mbps with a connection like that -- it's intended mostly for homes that lack other options for getting online.

According to the most recent report from the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T Internet plans are 30% fiber, 7% fixed wireless and the rest are DSL. That said, the FCC's numbers are out of date (and the data comes with plenty of other flaws, too). 

An AT&T spokesperson wouldn't disclose the most current breakdown of its service plans when we asked, but the company says that its fiber footprint is larger than the FCC's year-old data suggests. As we mentioned at the top of the page, AT&T's CEO has doubled down on the company's commitment to fiber expansion.

at-t-coverage-map

AT&T home internet is available in 21 states throughout the South, the West and the Midwest.

FCC/Mapbox

AT&T Internet availability

AT&T's internet service area covers 21 states across the country. The list includes Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. You can dig deeper on the AT&T coverage map to uncover the specific cities included within each state.

What to expect from your AT&T internet bill

For the most part, AT&T Internet is straightforward. But there are a few differences from other internet service providers that are worth paying attention to. 

You can't skip the equipment fee

Whereas many ISPs -- including Spectrum, Verizon and Xfinity, among others -- give you the option to avoid a modem or router rental by using your own equipment, you won't be able to escape that charge with AT&T. You have to use the AT&T Wi-Fi Gateway, which adds an extra $10 a month to your bill. However, you're free to disable the router part of that gateway and use a router of your own.

One-time fees

AT&T charges $99 for a full, in-home tech installation. For some addresses, there's no self-install option (you have to go online to find out if you "qualify" for the self-install kit). On the positive side, you'll frequently find online promos where the $99 fee is waived (typically for the higher-speed plans), so keep your eyes peeled for offers like that. If none are available, you could also try asking them to waive it when you're calling to sign up.

If you're struggling to get a signal in the far reaches of your home, AT&T will sell you a Smart Wi-Fi Extender to pair with the gateway -- those will cost you $50 each.

No data caps -- at least not with fiber

This is where things get a little squirrelly. For the most part, AT&T Internet plans don't come with data caps. Customers get unlimited data with all fiber plans. That means you won't have to track your data usage for fear of fees or throttling issues once you hit some arbitrary threshold. But there's still a decent chunk of AT&T's geographic footprint where fiber isn't yet available, and in those cases, there is a data allowance. 

Non-fiber AT&T Internet plans (0.8Mbps-100Mbps) have a data cap of 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes). If you go over that monthly limit, you'll incur a $10 charge for each additional 50GB of data that you use, up to a total of $100 a month. That's right on par with other major providers who enforce a data cap, including Comcast Xfinity and Cox, but both offer caps that are a bit higher, at around 1.25TB (1,250GB). Cox also waives all of your overage charges the first month you break the cap -- don't expect a free pass like that from AT&T.

If you think you're likely to surpass AT&T's data allowance, you can upgrade your plan to include unlimited data for an additional $30 a month. Another option is to choose a TV and internet bundle, which would allow you to get unlimited data at no extra charge -- though there's usually a contract involved with any bundling of services.

One last caveat -- the data allowance for AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is actually 350GB a month. While the $10 charge for each additional 50GB you use is the same as above, fixed wireless customers can be billed up to a total of $200 extra per month for overage fees. That's a recipe for sticker shock, so you'll want to be extra cautious with your data usage if you're a fixed wireless subscriber.

Access to the AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spot Network is free

AT&T's nationwide network of over 30,000 hotspots is free to all AT&T Internet customers. This allows you to be connected when you're away from home without using up your mobile data. Check out AT&T's mobile hotspot map to get a sense of where you can find those available locations.

AT&T Internet offers nice deals and promotions

AT&T likes to run short-term promotions and deals throughout the year. Currently, one of the main promos offered is a $200 AT&T Visa Reward Card for new fiber customers that order online.

If you opt for the company's fastest plan, Internet 1000, AT&T will throw in a free subscription to HBO Max. That's a decent value: HBO Max regularly costs $15 a month.

isp-customer-satisfaction-2021
American Customer Satisfaction Index

AT&T Internet boasts strong customer satisfaction numbers

AT&T crows that "you deserve the best," and the company points to its stellar showing in J.D. Power's US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study as evidence that it's delivering. AT&T nabbed the top spot in the North Central and South regions in that study, with an average score of 738 on a 1,000-point scale. Only Verizon (758) and Midcontinent (754) can point to a higher average in the survey, but they each only competed in one region. AT&T locked horns with the competition in three areas.

AT&T Internet fared just as well with the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which releases a yearly customer satisfaction survey for internet providers. AT&T's 2021 score of 71/100 was tied with Verizon Fios for the top spot and well ahead of all other competitors and ahead of the industry average of 65. AT&T also saw a jump of just over 4% in its score from the previous year, which was the biggest jump among all providers from 2020 to 2021.

The ACSI also surveys customer satisfaction with each provider's Wi-Fi equipment, and just like the overall score, AT&T saw a 4-point bump here, too. With a score of 74 out of 100, AT&T's equipment tied with Verizon for the top spot among all providers. That's a notable bit of reassurance given that AT&T doesn't let you use any other modem in place of its own gateway.

To sum it up

If AT&T's fiber service is an option for your address, it's tough to find a better combination of service and affordability. The catch? AT&T's fiber plans aren't an option for approximately two-thirds of the company's coverage area. All other AT&T plans are fraught with issues not faced by fiber, from slower download speeds to data caps. Simply put, don't hesitate if you can get an AT&T fiber plan, but research your options if only lower speeds are offered in your area.

AT&T Internet FAQs

Does AT&T Internet Service require a contract?

No. While the promo price typically expires after your first year of service, you don't have to sign a term agreement to receive that price. 

Is AT&T Internet fast?

The answer to this question always depends on which plans are available in your area. No matter the fastest plan that any provider might offer (say, the 3,000Mbps Gigabit Pro plan from Xfinity), it's moot if it isn't available at your address. So, for example, AT&T's Internet 1000 plan is plenty fast, but it's not available to all AT&T areas. As of now, AT&T fiber is available to 14 million households across 90 metro areas. The company's goal is to add another 3 million residential and business locations by the end of 2021. 

For a third-party perspective on what's fast, the speed-testing website Ookla tracks ISPs based on its scoring system that looks at both download and upload speeds. Using the most recent metrics taken during the third quarter of 2021, AT&T came in fifth place, behind Verizon, Cox, Xfinity and Spectrum (in that order). 

Similarly, AT&T ranks in fifth place when you look at Ookla's Consistency Score -- a different measure showing how often providers deliver broadband speeds to customers. Surprisingly, it wasn't even that close, with AT&T Internet at 78.2% and the same four providers ahead of them at either 83% or higher. 

Does AT&T offer any low-cost internet options?

Yes. Access from AT&T is an affordable option for eligible households within the 21 states that AT&T services. Internet service up to 25Mbps for $10 a month may be available for limited-income households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or getting Supplemental Security Income benefits. 

How can I cancel my AT&T Internet?

You can start the process by going to the AT&T Contact Us page. You can cancel your AT&T internet at any time without an early termination fee since no contracts are required for service. However, since you get billed on a month-to-month basis, you will not receive a refund or credit if you cancel before the end of your billing cycle. 

Also, pay attention to the small print of some of your promo offers. If you have an internet plan that gets you free HBO Max, for example, you'll lose that access upon cancellation.

Lastly, if you desire to transfer your service, rather than cancel (for a pending move, for example), you can contact an AT&T moving specialist at 800-288-2020.

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