Early Prime Day Deals Best Desktop PC Deals at Best Buy Top Exercise Bikes 4th of July Sales on Mattresses 2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 First Drive The Right Personal Loan Soundbars Under $300
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. Spectrum: Which Is Best for Your Home Internet Connection?

Both providers offer fast speeds and reasonable terms, but your decision will really depend on which plans are available at your address.

We've got a couple of options for getting online here in Louisville, Kentucky, but two of the top providers for people to choose between are AT&T and Spectrum. Derby City isn't alone in this regard -- AT&T and Spectrum are two of the nation's largest home internet providers, and coverage from the two companies overlaps throughout much of the South and Midwest, as well as in parts of Texas and California. 

All told, each provider offers service to more than a third of the US population, so that means there are an awful lot of us choosing between AT&T and Spectrum for our home's internet connection. If that sounds like you, and you're looking for a quick breakdown of how the two providers stack up, you're in the exact right place! Keep reading for a look at each company's coverage map, plans, prices, terms, fees and customer service track records.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If they're available in your area, AT&T's fiber plans are pretty hard to beat, value-wise. They feature symmetrical speeds, no equipment rental fee, no contracts and no data caps. The average cost per megabit per second is a scant 10 cents across all tiers -- and is impressively even cheaper for the multi-gig plans (if they're available in your area). Comparatively, Spectrum's plans average 18 cents per Mbps, when you're still getting the promo rate, and 25 cents per Mbps after your first year. That impressive value is a big part of the reason why we named AT&T as our top overall fiber internet provider for 2022.

Read our AT&T home internet review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If AT&T Fiber is unavailable at your address, Spectrum is likely to offer the better value. None of Spectrum's plans will cost you more than 38 cents per Mbps after the first year. By comparison, AT&T's ADSL and fixed wireless plans have a much higher cost per megabit. The AT&T Internet 100 plan, which tops out with download speeds of 100Mbps, is the only one that keeps the price per megabit below $1. 

Read our Spectrum home internet review.

 

Spectrum Internet
AT&T coverage map of the United States
FCC/Mapbox

Where do Spectrum and AT&T offer home internet service?

Though they aren't available everywhere -- well-established satellite providers like Viasat and HughesNet are the only ISPs that can make that claim -- both AT&T and Spectrum offer coverage in multiple regions throughout the US. 

On AT&T's end, the map stretches through 21 states, with service focused across the Gulf Coast and up through the Great Lakes, as well as much of California. With Spectrum's sprawling cable empire, you'll find service available in parts of 41 states -- all of them, except for Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah (as well as Washington, DC). Note that Hawaii isn't on that list -- Spectrum does, in fact, provide internet service to the Aloha State.

Plans, speeds and monthly costs

Time for the nuts and bolts. Both AT&T and Spectrum offer a variety of plans throughout their respective coverage areas. Spectrum's offerings are pretty straightforward, so let's start there.

Spectrum Internet Plans and Pricing

Plan First-year promo rate Regular rate Max speeds Equipment fee Contract
Spectrum Internet $50 $75 200Mbps download, 10Mbps upload Modem free; $5 for router (skippable) None required
Spectrum Internet Ultra $70 $95 400Mbps download, 20Mbps upload Modem free; $5 for router (skippable) None required
Spectrum Internet Gig $90 $115 940Mbps download, 35Mbps upload Modem free; $5 for router (skippable) None required

As you can see, you'll find three plans to pick from with Spectrum, with download speeds ranging from 200Mbps up to 940Mbps. Note that the upload speeds are much slower -- that's a quirk of cable internet, which usually doesn't offer matching, concurrent upload and download speeds like a fiber connection will.

Spectrum plans don't require any contracts, but your monthly price will go up by $25 after the first year. On the plus side, Spectrum's internet plans don't come with many additional fees, save for the relatively low $5 equipment rental fee, which you can skip altogether if you're using your own router.

AT&T Internet 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, 1Mpbs upload $70 $70 None 350GB
AT&T Internet 10 10Mbps download, 1Mpbs upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 18 18Mbps download, 1Mpbs upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 25 25Mbps download, 2Mpbs upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 50 50Mbps download, 10Mpbs upload $55 $70 None 1TB
AT&T Internet 100 100Mbps download, 20Mpbs upload $55 $70 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 300 300Mbps download, 300Mpbs upload $55 $55 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 500 500Mbps download, 500Mpbs upload $65 $65 None None
AT&T Fiber - Internet 1000 940Mbps download, 880Mpbs 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

The list of AT&T plans is a lot longer because AT&T uses a mix of technologies to deliver different plans in different parts of its coverage map. In December 2020, the FCC listed AT&T as providing a high-speed fiber connection to about 30% of its customers. An AT&T spokesperson told CNET that the company's fiber footprint has grown since then, but wouldn't share a more up-to-date figure. 

AT&T offers a much slower DSL hybrid service called ADSL that augments the traditional phone-line approach with copper cabling for regions where fiber is unavailable. AT&T also offers fixed wireless service in some parts of the country.

That methodological mix means that AT&T's speeds, plans and prices will vary wildly depending on your location. If AT&T fiber is available in your area, you could sign up for symmetrical upload and download speeds of 300Mbps for $55 per month, which is less than you'd pay for AT&T's fixed wireless plan, which offers download speeds that top out at 10Mbps and uploads that only hit 1Mbps. Meanwhile, AT&T ADSL subscribers will start at $55 per month regardless of the actual speed that's available at their address. Depending on the location, that speed could be anything from 10Mbps to 100Mbps.

Like with Spectrum, AT&T internet plans don't require contracts -- but with AT&T the price only goes up after 12 months with the ADSL plans. Even then, the jump is less severe than you'll see with Spectrum -- expect to pay an additional $15 per month after the first year for an AT&T ADSL plan. Another point for AT&T Fiber plans: There's no automatic price hike after the first year.

What other terms and fees should I expect?

I already mentioned the equipment rental fees, but I'll summarize them in case you're skimming: Spectrum plans come with a free modem, but you'll need to pay an extra $5 per month to rent a router that lets you connect wirelessly over Wi-Fi. You can skip the fee if you swap in a router of your own. Meanwhile, AT&T skips the equipment rental charges completely.

Beyond that, here's a quick run-through on the rest of the fine print.

Installation and activation fees

Spectrum temporarily suspended in-home professional installation due to the pandemic, so the typical installation fee of $50 (or an eyebrow-raising $200 for the already-pricey Internet Gig plan) doesn't currently apply. Instead, new customers can request a self-installation kit for $10. There's also an additional, one-time Wi-Fi activation fee of $10, which feels arbitrary.

AT&T charges $99 for professional installation, though it often waives this fee as part of its online promotions. You can also request a self-installation kit, but it isn't available at every address, so you'll need to check for eligibility.

Data caps

Spectrum doesn't enforce data caps on any of its plans, so you can surf, stream and download to your heart's content without fear of incurring a fee or seeing your speeds throttled. Give Spectrum a gold star for that, I say -- especially since data caps are definitely a thing with other cable internet providers, namely Comcast Xfinity and Cox.

As for AT&T, the company boasts unlimited data with its fiber plans, which is great -- but ADSL and fixed wireless customers aren't so lucky. With those plans, AT&T enforces a data cap of 1 terabyte (1,000GB). Once you use more data than that in a given month, you'll start incurring charges of $10 for every 50GB of excess, up to a maximum penalty of $100.

The good news is that there are ways to dodge this data cap. Your first option is to pay an extra $30 per month to upgrade your plan with unlimited data. The second (and for most customers, better) option is to get unlimited data at no extra charge by opting for AT&T's home internet and TV bundle. I'm not handing out a gold star sticker for that, but it's something.

AT&T gets strong marks in customer satisfaction from the ACSI.

American Customer Satisfaction Index

How do AT&T and Spectrum's customer satisfaction marks compare?

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which runs yearly surveys across various product and service categories to gauge -- you guessed it -- customer satisfaction, the ISP category is holding steady. That's not too bad, especially considering that 2020 was the first time the industry saw positive growth in over five years. On the whole, customer satisfaction with their internet provider came in at 65 out of 100 in 2021, which was equal to 2020 and up 3 points from 2019. 

So how did our two providers of note finish? AT&T earned a score of 71, which was up three points over the previous year's finish and landed it in a tie with Verizon at the top. Spectrum, meanwhile, came in just below average with a score of 63. That's four points higher than the company's score in 2019 and on par with what it captured in 2020, which might indicate some positive momentum, but there's still a bit of work to do, it seems.

Separate customer satisfaction data from J.D. Power & Associates seems to back that up. In the company's 2021 study of ISP satisfaction, Spectrum finished with a below-average score in each region polled. Meanwhile, AT&T finished with the top score among all ISPs surveyed in the North Central and South regions, earning an overall average of 738 out of 1,000. Spectrum's best finish was in the South, where it earned a score of 725, just beneath the regional average of 727.

Summing it all up

AT&T and Spectrum both offer home internet service to a significant percentage of the US population, and their footprints overlap in several regions. If you're choosing between the two, be sure to check whether or not AT&T offers fiber connections at your address. Those will provide you with the best upload and download speeds at the best price. If not, you'll likely be better off with Spectrum, as AT&T's ADSL and fixed wireless plans aren't a great value and come with a monthly data cap to boot.

Now playing: Watch this: Slow internet? We've got tips to speed it up
1:33

More on home internet, routers and Wi-Fi

Unavailable