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Frontier Communications vs. Charter Spectrum: Which is best for your home internet?

With footprints that cover much of the continental US, these are two of the biggest internet providers in the country. Here's how they stack up.

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It's tough to be picky when you're shopping for home internet service. In most cases, you're limited to whatever providers offer coverage in your area. In a lot of parts of the country, that decision comes down to Frontier Communications and Charter Spectrum, two major ISPs with overlapping footprints that stretch across several regions in the US.

Those footprints aren't insignificant. In fact, according to FCC data published at the end of 2019, Frontier and Charter Spectrum were two of just nine internet service providers with coverage that can claim to reach more than 10% of Americans. If you're trying to decide between them for your home internet needs, we're here to help -- keep reading for a close look at how the two providers stack up in terms of technology, speeds, coverage, customer satisfaction and more.

Check serviceability for Charter Spectrum and Frontier Communications

Technology and speeds

There are multiple methods internet providers can use to deliver internet connectivity to people's homes. Fiber is often the fastest option, but it's only available in neighborhoods equipped with ground-laid fiber-optic cable, and rollouts like those are slow going.

Frontier offers fiber internet in parts of California, Texas, Florida and Indiana, covering about one third of the company's customers, as per the FCC. The rest of Frontier's customers get online with a much slower, phone-line-based DSL connection. 

Meanwhile, Charter only offers Spectrum fiber service to less than 1% of its customer base, and it doesn't offer DSL service at all. Instead, the company gets 99% of Spectrum users online via coaxial cable connection. In fact, Charter Spectrum is the nation's second-largest cable provider. The infrastructure it acquired after purchasing Time Warner Cable in 2016 plays a big role there.

With cable internet, download speeds will typically come in at a few hundred Mbps, though Spectrum's fastest plans can go as high as 940Mbps.

Pricing and plans

That brings us to plans -- here's a look at what both companies have to offer:

Frontier Internet Plans

Plan Download speed / Upload speed Typical monthly cost
Frontier Basic Internet (DSL) 3-9Mbps $38
Frontier Internet (DSL) 12-25Mbps $45
Frontier Internet (DSL) 45-115Mbps $55
FiberOptic 50 50Mbps / 50Mbps $50
FiberOptic 500 500Mbps / 500Mbps $60
FiberOptic Gigabit 940Mbps / 880Mbps $80

Spectrum Internet Plans

Plan Download speed / Upload speed Typical monthly cost
Spectrum Internet 60-200Mbps / 10Mbps $50
Spectrum Internet Ultra 400Mbps / 20Mbps $70
Spectrum Internet Gig 940Mbps / 35Mbps $110

Download speeds reach as high as 940Mbps with Frontier if you're eligible for fiber service, with matching or near-matching upload speeds, too. With Frontier DSL, download speeds are typically in the double digits, topping out at about 115Mbps. Frontier doesn't list its DSL upload speeds and the company didn't respond to our questions, but upload speeds with DSL usually won't get much higher than 10Mbps.

With Spectrum, your cable internet speeds will vary by region, but the company offers plans capable of hitting downloads as fast as 940Mbps, just shy of gigabit speed. And, while entry-level speeds start at 60Mbps in some regions, Charter tells CNET that Spectrum download speeds start at 200Mbps across nearly 75% of the company's footprint. However, limited upload speeds are a common shortcoming with cable internet, and Spectrum is no exception. Even with the company's fastest plan, your uploads will be held to just 35Mbps.

As for prices, monthly costs for Frontier DSL service range from $38-$55 per month, while the company's fiber plans range from $50-$80 per month. With Spectrum's cable plans, costs typically range from $50-$110 per month, though the company generally includes fewer fees on top of that than competitors do.

Both providers also offer discounted internet plans for qualified low-income customers. Spectrum's is called the Internet Assist plan, and it offers download speeds of 30Mbps and upload speeds of 4Mbps with no contracts or data caps. Meanwhile, Frontier offers the Lifeline Program, which gives qualified customers a discount on existing Frontier internet service. Both discounts require an application, so check with the provider to see if you're eligible and how much you could save.

Both Frontier and Spectrum offer residential internet service throughout much of the continental US. Spectrum also offers internet service in Hawaii.

FCC/Mapbox

Coverage

With coverage across 46 states -- including Hawaii -- Charter Spectrum is one of the nation's largest internet providers. Frontier is smaller, but it's a major player, too, connecting people in 25 states. The two services overlap in several regions, including parts of New York, Texas, southern California, and the Midwest.

According to the FCC, Spectrum home internet was available to just over 100 million Americans at the end of 2019. Meanwhile, Frontier's customer base clocked in at 30 million.

Spectrum's customer satisfaction rating sits just below the overall average for the ISP category, as surveyed by the ACSI. Meanwhile, Frontier was ranked at the very bottom of the pack for both 2019 and 2020.

American Customer Satisfaction Index

Customer satisfaction

So, how satisfied are Spectrum and Frontier's customers after signing up for home internet service? According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which lists yearly benchmarks on the topic across a wide range of categories, including internet providers, the answer is that there's some definite room for improvement.

Of the two, Spectrum ranked higher, earning an overall satisfaction score of 63 out of 100 from the customers the ASCI surveyed for its 2020 report. That's still two points worse than the overall category average of 65, and well below Verizon Fios, which led all providers in 2020 with a score of 73. Still, the report notes that Spectrum's 2020 score is four points higher than it was in 2019, indicating some potential positive momentum.

"Spectrum has experienced strong growth in its residential internet business, adding about 351,000 customers in the third quarter of 2019 alone, outpacing growth in the same period of 2018," the ACSI's 2020 report reads. "Customers are happier with the variety of plans Spectrum offers compared to a year ago."

As for Frontier, the company finished dead last in customer satisfaction among the internet providers included in the ACSI survey for the second year in a row, and for the fourth time since 2015. Its 2020 score of 55 was unchanged from 2019, and the number hasn't topped 60 since 2015, when Frontier earned a 61. That's a multiyear customer satisfaction rut relative to Frontier's competitors, and it applies to other arenas Frontier competes in, too, including its TV service for fiber subscribers.

"The company struggles in other telecom categories as well, placing last or second-to-last across all industries," the ACSI notes.

Frontier didn't respond to multiple emails sent to the company's press line, but I'll update this space if and when I hear back.

Other considerations

There are a couple of other key points to keep in mind as you're comparing internet service from Frontier and Spectrum. Here's a quick rundown:

Bundles

Both Spectrum and Frontier offer additional services like TV and home phone that you can bundle with your home internet plan at a potential discount. It's worth considering whether a bundle like that might be a good fit for you -- here's a helpful guide that'll let you know what to look for.

Contracts, fees and rising costs

Don't forget about taxes and fees, which are mostly unavoidable as you shop for an internet plan. Your specific fees will depend upon the specific plan you select, but know that Frontier's equipment rental costs are factored into the base price. With Spectrum, your modem rental is free, but you'll need to pay $5 a month to rent one of the company's routers.

Neither Frontier nor Spectrum's internet plans require a long-term contract, so you can cancel at any time without fear of penalty. However, Spectrum offers 24 months of promotional rates to new subscribers, so you can expect your bill to go up after two years. Frontier doesn't use promotional pricing like that, so your monthly bill won't change unless Frontier decides to change its prices.

Data caps

Neither Frontier nor Spectrum enforce data caps with any of their internet plans, so you can feel free to browse, stream and game online as much as you like without fear of incurring extra charges.

Privacy policies

You generate data whenever you use the internet, so it's worth considering what your internet service provider does with that data. Both Frontier and Spectrum list information to that end in their respective privacy policies, each of which is less intimidating to read through than you might expect.

Frontier's privacy policy makes clear that the company gathers usage data, including browsing history and viewing habits. Along with letting Frontier manage its network and billing, the stated purpose of that data collection is "to better understand our customers and market our services, as well as to deliver relevant advertising."

Frontier discloses that it may share data that can identify you with select third parties, but adds that it requires those agents and vendors to use that data as Frontier directs, and in full accordance with Frontier's policies for keeping it secure.

"We do not otherwise share your personal information," Frontier's policy states. "We may, however, share anonymous or aggregate information with third parties, including to improve how we provide service to existing and potential customers."

Frontier maintains an internal Do Not Call list for customers who wish to opt out of marketing calls. You can put your phone number on it by calling 1-800-921-8101. To opt out of marketing emails, send a message requesting to unsubscribe to privacy@ftr.com.

Meanwhile, Spectrum's privacy policy acknowledges that Charter gathers usage data and third-party data in order to refine its services and recommendations. It also commits that Charter will not sell personally identifiable information to anyone for any purpose. That includes your browsing history, call records and viewing activity.

"We do not sell or otherwise share information that personally identifies our customers... to third parties for those third parties' own use, such as marketing or advertising of their own products and services," Spectrum's privacy policy reads. "While we have no plans to do so, if we ever changed this business practice, we would provide customers with advance notice and obtain their express consent."

You can also visit's Spectrum's privacy preferences page to opt out of things like sales calls, marketing emails and promotional mail.