AT&T vs. Optimum: Which Internet Provider Should You Choose?

Broadband connectivity has become more integral to our daily lives. Which of these companies should earn your household's trust?

Right off the bat, I must confess that I wasn't 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 had rebranded 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. So, AT&T versus Optimum it is. 

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.

AT&T Internet offers fiber-optic internet serviceDSL and fixed-wireless options. Optimum plans are mostly cable internet, but it has a growing number of fiber internet tiers too. Each company's fiber plans will give customers the most value. We'll see 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. 

Locating local internet providers

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
Price range $55 - $250 per monthSpeed range 300 - 5,000MbpsConnection FiberKey Info Unlimited data, no contracts, equipment included

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, covering at least 30 million customers by the end of 2025. Currently, it's available to just over 18 million households compared with Optimum's 1.6 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 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
Connection Cable, fiberKey Info Unlimited data on some plans, low price increasePrice range $40 - $80 per monthSpeed range 300 - 940Mbps

Optimum aims to keep things simple with fast speeds and solid value across its three main tiers of 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 the first 24 months of service. After that point, your monthly fees will rise by $10 in year three. 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 in the bottom third.

Read our Optimum home internet review.

AT&T vs. Optimum: Availability and coverage map

A coverage map comparing AT&T and Optimum
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A coverage map comparing AT&T and Optimum

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.


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. 

Locating local internet providers

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

While both touch a comparable 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

PlanMax speedsPromo price (first 12 months)Regular monthly cost (after 12 months)Equipment feeData Cap
AT&T Fixed Wireless 10Mbps download, 1Mbps upload$70 $70 None350GB
AT&T Internet 10 (DSL) 10Mbps download, 1Mbps upload$55 $70 None1TB
AT&T Internet 18 (DSL) 18Mbps download, 1Mbps upload$55 $70 None1TB
AT&T Internet 25 (DSL) 25Mbps download, 2Mbps upload$55 $70 None1TB
AT&T Internet 50 (DSL) 50Mbps download, 10Mbps upload$55 $70 None1TB
AT&T Internet 100 (DSL) 100Mbps download, 20Mbps upload$55 $70 NoneNone
AT&T Fiber - Internet 300 300Mbps download, 300Mbps upload$55 $55 NoneNone
AT&T Fiber - Internet 500 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload$65 $65 NoneNone
AT&T Fiber - Internet 1000 940Mbps download, 880Mbps upload$80 $80 NoneNone
AT&T Fiber - Internet 2000 2Gbps download, 2Gbps upload$110 $110 NoneNone
AT&T Fiber - Internet 5000 5Gbps download, 5Gbps upload$180 $180 NoneNone
Show more (6 items)

Optimum plans and pricing

PlanMax speedsStarting monthly priceRegular monthly price (after two years)Monthly equipment feeData capContract
Optimum 300 300Mbps download, 20Mbps upload$40 $50NoneNoneNone
Fiber Optimum 300 300Mbps download, 300Mbps upload$40 $50NoneNoneNone
Optimum 500 500Mbps download, 20Mbps upload$60 $70NoneNoneNone
Fiber Optimum 500 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload$60 $70NoneNoneNone
Optimum 1 Gig 940Mbps download, 35Mbps upload$80 $90NoneNoneNone
Fiber Optimum 1 Gig 940Mbps download, 940Mbps upload$80 $90NoneNoneNone
Show more (1 item)

I can feel your pain if you're feeling information overload. 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 and according to what a spokesperson told CNET earlier, they're available to approximately 1.6 million customers. But AT&T, out of its second-quarter reporting for 2022, says approximately 18 million of its customers are eligible for fiber. Optimum Fiber also features some multi-gig plans -- a 2Gbps tier for $120 per month and an Optimum 5 Gig plan for $180 monthly -- but they're currently only available to parts of Long Island, New York, with plans to expand soon.

Regarding cost, AT&T has the edge -- if you compare its fiber plans to Optimum's cable tiers. On the other hand, if you're in an area where Optimum Fiber is an option, its lower prices give it a slight advantage over AT&T Fiber. The gig plans are priced the same, but Optimum's 500Mbps plan is $5 cheaper per month, and the 300Mbps plan is a savings of $15 monthly. Yes, Optimum will bump up your bill amount after 24 months. But two years of solid savings is not an insignificant win for your household budget.  

AT&T vs. Optimum: Terms and fees

Let me cut to the chase: 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 hindering your broadband connection's performance. The same applies to most AT&T plans, except for 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.

AT&T vs. Optimum: Perks and promos

Optimum and AT&T offer some enticing promos 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. 

Optimum's no slouch, either. First, Optimum gifts new customers a Visa Prepaid Card, ranging from $100 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. 

Chart from the ACSI listing internet service providers ranks in 2020 and 2021
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Chart from the ACSI listing internet service providers ranks in 2020 and 2021
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, 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 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 is growing more aggressively as the larger company. You will get a good product if your address is serviceable for either of their fiber internet offerings. But Optimum's price increase after 24 months means you might 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 at $5 cheaper than AT&T's. The gigabit plans start even, both priced at $80 per month. However, after 24 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 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. 

Updated Sept. 9, 2022 9:00 a.m. PT

Written by  Trey Paul
CNET staff -- not advertisers, partners or business interests -- determine how we review the products and services we cover. If you buy through our links, we may get paid. Reviews ethics statement
Trey Paul Senior Editor
Trey Paul is a CNET senior editor covering broadband. His 20+ years of experience as a writer and editor include time at CNET's sister site, Allconnect, and working with clients like Yahoo!, Google, The New York Times and Choice Hotels. An avid movie fan, Trey's career also includes being a film and TV critic while pursuing a degree in New York.
Expertise Home internet and broadband, including plans, providers, internet speeds and connection types. Movies and film studies. Credentials
  • Master's degree in Cinema Studies from NYU and interviews with Conan O'Brien, Stan Lee and some of his biggest Star Trek childhood idols
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