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The best cable internet providers in 2021

Most cable providers offer gigabit speeds and high data allowances. The best will offer that and more. Here's our pick of the best cable ISPs.

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While fiber-optic may be the preferred choice for home internet, cable internet is certainly a close second, and it has the advantage of being much more readily available. Cable providers serve 89% of US households and cover 97% of urban areas, so there's a good chance that cable internet is available near you.

Which cable internet provider you can get depends on your address, but you can largely expect a few speed options including a gigabit service and lots of data (or unlimited data) from each. All cable ISPs aren't the same, however, as you'll find pricing, service terms and customer satisfaction vary by provider. Considering these factors and others, select cable ISPs rise to the top -- here's our pick of the best.

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  • Price range: $20 to $80 per month
  • Speed range: 50 to 1,200Mbps
  • Data cap: 1TB per month
  • Equipment fee: $14 per month
  • Contract: One year or none
  • 2020 ACSI score: 66/100 (first among cable ISPs)

Comcast Xfinity is not only the largest cable internet provider, it's also the fastest in many areas. The Xfinity Gigabit plan offers download speeds up to 1,200 megabits per second, 20% faster than the 940 or 1,000Mbps plans available from most other cable ISPs, and for around the same price (or lower). Xfinity also offers an even faster plan, Gigabit Pro, that advertises speeds up to 2,000Mbps, but the plan is only available to those with access to Xfinity's highly limited fiber internet service.

If a gigabit connection is faster than your home needs, Xfinity has a variety of other cable internet plans ranging from 50 to 800Mbps in most locations. Keep in mind, we're talking about download speeds here. Unlike fiber internet, download and upload speeds are not the same with cable internet. Upload speeds with Xfinity cable internet can range from 3 to 35Mbps depending on the plan you choose, which isn't significantly different from any other cable ISP.

Also keep in mind that, since Xfinity has such a broad coverage area, pricing, speeds and service terms can vary by region. For example, those in the West may have slightly lower pricing but also slower speeds on select Xfinity plans. Additionally, some Xfinity service areas may require a one-year contract to get the lowest pricing while others do not. Regardless of your region and the plan you choose, be sure to watch your data usage as all Xfinity plans come with a 1TB per month data allowance and a potentially hefty fee for going over. 

Read more about Xfinity home internet.

 

Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Price range: $50 to $110 per month
  • Speed range: 200 to 940Mbps
  • Data cap: None
  • Equipment fee: $5 per month
  • Contract: None required
  • 2020 ACSI score: 63/100 (third among cable ISPs)

Spectrum isn't the cheapest cable internet provider, but customers won't have to worry much about extravagant or unexpected fees on their bill. With unlimited data, no contracts and a low equipment fee of only $5 per month, Spectrum's cable internet pricing is as straightforward as they come. 

After the first year of service, Spectrum internet pricing increases to the standard rate, which could raise your monthly bill by $20 to $25. While no increase would be nice, Spectrum's is still lower than you'll get from major cable providers like Xfinity and Cox, which have increases of $30 or higher on select plans. And if you find Spectrum's standard price hike too steep, you can cancel your service without penalty since Spectrum does not require a contract.

Speaking of contracts, Spectrum also has a contract buyout offer good for up to $500 to help new customers out of their contract with another provider. The only catch is that the contract buyout offer is only available when you sign up for qualifying Spectrum internet and TV bundles.

Read more about Spectrum home internet.

 

Optimum
  • Price range: $30 to $55 per month
  • Speed range: 100 to 940Mbps
  • Data cap: None
  • Equipment fee: $10 per month
  • Contract: None required
  • 2020 ACSI score: 66/100 (second among cable ISPs)

Like Spectrum, Optimum internet plans include unlimited data and a relatively low equipment fee, and they require no contract. Optimum plans also come with significantly lower introductory pricing than Spectrum -- or any other provider considering the speeds you get. 

The Optimum 100 plan, which advertises download speeds up to 100Mbps starting at $30 per month, isn't the best internet deal you'll find, but the provider's value increases as you go up the speed tiers. Optimum 300 offers three times the max speed for only $5 more per month, followed by Optimum 500 which starts at $45 per month and Optimum Gig starting at $55 per month for download speeds up to 940Mbps. 

At $55 per month for speeds up to 940Mbps, Optimum Gig has a cost per Mbps of less than six cents, which is the lowest of any plan from a major cable internet provider. The Optimum 500 plan is also a decent value, coming in at around nine cents per Mbps. 

Optimum's overall value may be short-lived, however, as an unpredictable price increase after 12 months could significantly raise your monthly bill. Thankfully, like Spectrum, Optimum does not require a contract, so you can cancel service if the price increase is too much.

Read more about Optimum home internet.

 

Mediacom
  • Price range: $20 to $80 per month
  • Speed range: 60 to 1,000Mbps
  • Data cap: 200 to 6,000GB per month
  • Equipment fee: $12 per month
  • Contract: None required
  • 2020 ACSI score: 59/100 (fifth among cable ISPs)

Other than Mediacom's cheap internet plan -- which starts at just $20 per month for speeds up to 60Mbps -- there's nothing particularly special about the provider, but it does boast terrific availability. Where providers like Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox and Optimum primarily stick to the big cities, Mediacom caters to much of America's heartland, extending broadband availability to rural areas throughout much of the Midwest and South. 

Those within Mediacom service areas will likely have three to four plan options ranging from 60 to 1,000Mbps. Each plan comes with its own data cap, but only one plan comes with less than 1TB (1,000GB) of data, which is about the standard you'll find from other major cable ISPs that have a cap. Higher-tiered Mediacom plans come with 2,000 or 6,000GB data, which might as well be unlimited for the average household.

Read more about rural internet options.

 

Cox
  • Price range: $30 to $100 per month
  • Speed range: 10 to 940Mbps
  • Data cap: 1TB per month
  • Equipment fee: $11 per month
  • Contract: One year for lowest pricing
  • 2020 ACSI score: 61/100 (fourth among cable ISPs)

Cox Communications is the third-largest cable internet provider in the US, behind Xfinity and Spectrum. As far as speeds, pricing, etc., Cox is more or less comparable to any other cable ISP -- but the provider's appeal to online gamers is something you won't find anywhere else.

Cox is the only provider with an add-on service feature targeted directly at gamers. Available with plans of 50Mbps and up, Cox Gamer Elite supports a more stable connection with less lag and fewer ping spikes than standard service. Customers can get the add-on service for an additional $7 per month, a small price to pay for improved connectivity while gaming.

Read more about reducing lag for better gaming.

 


Best cable ISPs honorable mentions

These cable internet providers also offer decent pricing and speeds. If any are available in your area, they are also worth a look. 

Atlantic Broadband

As the name implies, Atlantic Broadband offers service primarily along the East Coast. Introductory pricing ranges from $40 to $80 per month for speeds ranging from 50 to 1,000Mbps. 

RCN

RCN is available in a few major cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC. Unfortunately, plans, prices and speeds vary by each location, but customers can expect these factors to be comparable to other major cable companies.

Sparklight

Formerly known as Cable One, Sparklight is another cable provider that, like Mediacom, largely serves rural and suburban areas. Plans range from $39 for up to 100Mbps to $125 per month for gig service, which is a bit higher than most ISPs.

Suddenlink

Along with Optimum, Suddenlink is a division of Altice. Like Optimum, Suddenlink plans are high value with fast speeds for comparatively low prices. Suddenlink plans aren't priced quite as low as Optimum, however, and Suddenlink availability is much more sparse.

Wide Open West

WOW Internet (Wide Open West) is available in 19 markets across nine states, most of which are in the Midwest and South. Depending on the market you're in, WOW plans start at around $20 to $65 per month with speeds ranging from 100 to 1,000Mbps.

Best cable ISPs recap

Cable internet boasts almost the same availability as DSL but can deliver much faster speeds and better connection quality, making it a top choice for broadband, especially in markets where fiber is unavailable. For the most part, cable ISPs have similar speeds and pricing, but those featured in our list of the best -- Xfinity, Spectrum, Optimum, Mediacom and Cox -- stand out for their exceptional speeds, customer-friendly service terms and/or unique services. 

Read more: The best high-speed ISPs for gigabit internet

Cable internet FAQs

Is cable internet better than fiber-optic?

Cable internet is available to twice the number of households as fiber-optic and can support similar download speeds, but its advantages over fiber largely end there. Fiber internet typically comes with faster upload speeds and better speed reliability than cable, often for a lower price than you'll pay for cable internet, depending on which providers are available in your area.

Why are cable internet upload speeds so slow?

Cable internet providers use coaxial cables, the same ones used for cable TV, to run internet service the last mile or so to your home. These cables do not have the same bandwidth capacity as fiber-optic cables and therefore cannot support symmetrical download and upload speeds. As a result, cable internet upload speeds often range from 1 to 50Mbps, though the download speeds may be much higher.

Why do I only have one cable internet provider?

Operating costs are the biggest obstacle preventing multiple cable providers from offering service in the same market. However, more people have access to more than one provider with cable internet than any other service type (excluding satellite). According to the FCC, multiple cable internet providers are available to around 7% of US residents, compared to less than 4% with fiber and 3% with DSL service.

Read more