Save on Streaming Android 13 Best iPad Best Samsung Phone Best Password Manager Sony Headphones Deal Gym Membership Savings MLB 2022
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you
Accept
Why You Can Trust CNET
We handpick the products and services we write about. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test ISPs

AT&T vs. Optimum: Which Internet Provider Should Earn Your Money?

Broadband connectivity has become more and more integral to our daily lives. In which company should you put your household's trust?

Right off the bat, I have to confess that I wasn't even sure what to call this article. It was initially going to be AT&T versus Suddenlink. But then the latter's parent company, Altice USA, announced it would be rebranding Suddenlink. So, should it be AT&T versus Altice USA? I'd wager that most of CNET's readers are more familiar with Altice's Optimum and Suddenlink brands than with Altice itself. Since Suddenlink will be transitioning to Optimum this year, I've decided to go with AT&T versus Optimum. However, be aware that on the Optimum side, I'll be including the regions and areas that Suddenlink is currently servicing.

OK, with that established, now that we've decided to pit AT&T and Optimum home internet services against each other, what exactly are we comparing? AT&T is one of the titans of the telecom industry, with broadband services available to approximately 40% of homes in 21 states across the US. Optimum also offers home internet to subscribers across 21 states, so it's no slouch, either.

AT&T Internet offers fiber-optic internet service, as well as DSL and fixed-wireless options. Optimum plans are mostly cable internet, but with a growing number of fiber internet tiers too. Each company's fiber plans will give customers the most value. We'll see that there's some overlap between their respective coverage maps, so in some cases, you could be faced with a choice between them when shopping for an internet service provider. 

Additionally, we'll compare plans, prices, promos and more to see which ISP might suit your home best. Let's dive in deeper to understand how they match up. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Let's start with AT&T's advantages over Optimum: greater overall availability and a more extensive fiber network throughout its footprint. AT&T has publicly committed to boosting its fiber reach over the next few years, committing to covering at least 30 million customers by the end of 2025. Currently, it's available to just over 17 million households compared with Optimum's 1 million.

As for the service itself, AT&T Fiber has no equipment fee and no data cap and requires no long-term contract. It features symmetrical download and upload speeds, and also boasts some decent perks, including rewards cards and free access to AT&T's national Wi-Fi Hot Spot network.

Where does it fall short? Many customers within AT&T's radius will only have access to its DSL service, which is inferior to the performance of cable internet. Also, AT&T DSL plans have a data cap.

Read our AT&T home internet review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Optimum aims to keep things simple with fast speeds and solid value across its three main tiers -- 300Mbps, 500Mbps and 1 gigabit. Like AT&T, it doesn't charge an additional equipment rental fee, require a term agreement or enforce data caps. It also features fiber plans in some of its markets, though not as extensively as AT&T.

As for Optimum's shortcomings, its promo prices are valid for just the first 12 months of service. After that point, your monthly fees will rise (and, in some cases, quite precipitously). Also, Optimum falls well short of AT&T regarding customer satisfaction scores -- while AT&T is often near the top in various surveys, Optimum tends to fall near the very bottom.

Read our Optimum home internet review.

 

AT&T vs. Optimum: Availability and coverage map

The coverage map for AT&T (orange) seems to overwhelm Optimum's availability (in blue). While there's some overlap between the two, you can also see neither one blankets the country.

FCC/Mapbox

At the top of the page, I mentioned that both AT&T and Optimum are available in 21 states across the US. But one glance at the above map from the Federal Communications Commission shows that AT&T covers more people. In fact, according to the FCC's numbers, AT&T is available to just over 40% of the country, while Optimum reaches nearly 6% across the nation. 

When you take a peek at some of the actual locations covered by the two ISPs, Optimum has Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the northeastern tri-state area -- Connecticut, New Jersey and New York (including New York City) -- all to itself. AT&T, on the other hand, doesn't have to compete with Optimum in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Where is there some crossover? Both AT&T and Optimum provide services in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.     

All that said, while both touch a similar number of states, AT&T can claim more widespread availability to customers across the US.

Compare AT&T and Optimum plans and prices

AT&T and Optimum each provide a variety of internet connection types. AT&T features DSL, fiber and fixed wireless options, while Optimum offers cable and fiber plans. Let's explore a bit more to see how they compare. 

AT&T plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Promo price (first 12 months) Regular monthly cost (after 12 months) Equipment fee Data Cap
AT&T Fixed Wireless 25Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $70 $70 None 350GB
AT&T Internet 10 (DSL) 10Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 18 (DSL) 18Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 25 (DSL) 25Mbps download, 2Mbps upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 50 (DSL) 50Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 100 (DSL) 100Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $55 $70 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 300 300Mbps download, 300Mbps upload $55 $55 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 500 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload $65 $65 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 1000 940Mbps download, 880Mbps upload $80 $80 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 2000 2Gbps download, 2Gbps upload $110 $110 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 5000 5Gbps download, 5Gbps upload $180 $180 None None

Optimum plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Starting monthly price Regular monthly price (after 12 months) Monthly equipment fee Data cap Contract
Optimum 300 300Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $40 $110 None None None
Fiber Optimum 300 300Mbps download, 300Mbps upload $40 $110 None None None
Optimum 500 500Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $60 $130 None None None
Fiber Optimum 500 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload $60 $130 None None None
Optimum 1 Gig 940Mbps download, 35Mbps upload $80 $140 None None None
Fiber Optimum 1 Gig 940Mbps download, 940Mbps upload $80 $140 None None None

I can feel your pain if you're feeling information overload at the moment. Let's see what we can do to simplify things. All of Optimum's offerings are better than AT&T's DSL and fixed wireless options. You get better download and upload speeds and won't have to deal with limiting data caps. 

But once we start looking at the 300Mbps tiers and above, it becomes a win for AT&T. First of all, fiber internet always outperforms cable internet connections. Fiber connections feature symmetrical download and upload speeds (cable internet has much slower upload speeds than download speeds). Now, Optimum features some fiber plans too. According to what a spokesperson told CNET earlier, they're available to just over a million customers. But AT&T, out of its first-quarter reporting for 2022, says approximately 17 million of its customers are eligible for fiber

Additionally, when it comes to cost, AT&T has the edge. While AT&T and Optimum are just about equal on starting prices for comparable speed plans, AT&T's price is the price. There's no steep jump after your first year of service, as is lurking with Optimum's plans. To be fair, many ISPs take the same approach as Optimum and give you an alluring price out of the gate but bump up your bill amount after 12 months. I appreciate that AT&T takes a different approach, and I suspect your household budget will welcome that predictability.  

AT&T vs. Optimum: Terms and fees

Let me cut to the chase: Both AT&T and Optimum aim to do right by their customers by minimizing the extra charges and fees. For example, neither provider requires a term agreement, so there's no fear of early termination fees. Let's take a peek at other terms and conditions you might encounter. 

No monthly modem fees 

This is fairly recent news. At the start of 2022, both AT&T and Optimum charged an additional $10 per month for equipment. Even worse, AT&T didn't give you a chance to skip that fee by using your own equipment. However, effective immediately, both providers have trashed their previous fees and now include gateway devices (modem or router) in the monthly cost. That's great news.

One-time installation fee 

Optimum has the cheaper setup charge, which runs $59, but is included if you order online. Similarly, AT&T will waive its installation charge -- a higher, $99 fee -- if customers order online.

No data caps to fear, for the most part 

All Optimum customers get unlimited data with all plans. That eliminates any worries about possible data overage fees or throttling issues to hinder the performance of your broadband connection. The same can be said with most AT&T plans, except the DSL and fixed wireless options. Those are still burdened with data caps, unfortunately. Customers will be charged an extra $10 for each additional 50GB of data used per month, up to $100 per month (or $200 per month for fixed wireless customers). Chalk this one up as a win for Optimum.

HBO Max logo on a mobile phone screen

HBO Max plays a part in all of Optimum's promo packages, with some tiers providing a free subscription for a full year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T vs. Optimum: Perks and promos

Both Optimum and AT&T offer some enticing promos to try to lure potential customers. 

AT&T comes strong with the perks. To start, customers who sign up online will receive a $200 AT&T Visa Reward Card. Additionally, new fiber customers will get free access to AT&T's nationwide network of 30,000 hotspots. 

But Optimum's got the upper hand here. First, Optimum gifts new customers a Visa Prepaid Card, ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the tier you select. Second, new customers have an opportunity to add two or more lines of Optimum Mobile for the reduced cost of $30 per month. Third, an HBO Max subscription (a value of $15 a month) is included on all plans, from three months (for subscribers of the lowest, 300Mbps tier) to a full year (Gig customers and above). That's a solid value of $180 for gigabit customers. 

American Customer Satisfaction Index

AT&T vs. Optimum on customer satisfaction: It's not even close

Let's start here: ISPs are dead last among all industries for customer satisfaction. However, within that context, AT&T fares quite well within the category, while Optimum has some work to do. 

AT&T appeared near the top of the charts in J.D. Power's 2021 US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study. It shone brightly in two regions -- the North Central and South -- and had an average score of 738 out of 1,000 possible points. Optimum was second-to-last in the East region with 655 points, which was well below the overall average of 714. It fared even worse in the South (under the banner of Suddenlink), where it garnered only 621 points. 

Over at the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the latest metrics show AT&T in third place, with 69 out of 100 points. While that's down 3% from the previous year, it's still well above the industry average. Conversely, Optimum fell far short of the industry average and, at 59 points, it snagged a spot at the bottom of the ACSI chart. The only ISP below it was Suddenlink, which, as we mentioned at the very start of this article, is actually Optimum now. Ouch.

AT&T vs. Optimum: What's the bottom line?

In reality, even though there's some crossover in the states they cover, AT&T and Optimum won't often go head-to-head for your dollars. Both providers are expanding their fiber footprints, though AT&T, as the larger company, is growing more aggressively. If your address is serviceable for either of their fiber internet offerings, you're going to get a good product. But Optimum's looming price increase after 12 months means that you'll get the greater value in the long run from AT&T.

AT&T vs. Optimum FAQs

Is Optimum cheaper than AT&T?

For the most part, Optimum's starting prices are cheaper than comparable AT&T plans. For example, Optimum's 300Mbps plan starts at $40 per month, while AT&T's 300Mbps is $55 monthly. Optimum's 500Mbps plan starts $5 cheaper than AT&T's. The gigabit plans start even, both priced at $80 per month. However, after 12 months, when Optimum's rates increase, AT&T becomes cheaper across all plans.

Does AT&T offer faster speeds than Optimum?

More widely, yes. AT&T offers multi-gigabit speeds -- 2Gbps and 5Gbps -- to just over five million customers across its footprint in over 70 different cities. Optimum currently offers those same multi-gig plans only to parts of Long Island, New York. However, both providers offer gigabit plans to the majority of their customers.

Are AT&T and Optimum the same company?

No. AT&T is a telecommunications company that provides broadband and mobile services, while Optimum is owned by Altice USA, itself one of the largest communications companies in the country. Optimum Mobile utilizes the T-Mobile network for its wireless plans.

Unavailable