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Frontier vs. Spectrum: Which Should You Choose 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.

It's tough to be picky when shopping for home internet service. In most cases, you're limited to whatever internet service providers offer coverage in your area. In many 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 data published by the Federal Communications Commission in late 2020, Frontier and Charter Spectrum were two of just nine internet 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 to look closely at how the two providers stack up in terms of technology, speeds, coverage and customer satisfaction.

How do Frontier and Spectrum match up on 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.

Frontier vs. Spectrum on internet plans and pricing

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

Frontier Internet Plans

Plan Max speeds Starting monthly price Equipment fee Data cap
Frontier Basic Internet (DSL) 9Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $33 None None
Frontier Preferred Internet (DSL) 25Mbps download, 1Mbps upload $40 None None
Frontier Premium Internet (DSL) 115Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $50 None None
FiberOptic 500 500Mbps download, 500Mbps upload $50 None None
FiberOptic Gig 940Mbps download, 880Mbps upload $75 None None
FiberOptic 2 Gig 2Gbps download, 2Gbps upload $150 None None

Spectrum Internet Plans

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

Download speeds reach as high as 2 gigabits per second 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. 

With Spectrum, your cable internet speeds are pretty simple -- the company offers plans that start at 200Mbps and are capable of hitting downloads as fast as 940Mbps, just shy of gigabit speed. 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 $33-$50 per month, while the company's fiber plans range from $50-$150 per month. With Spectrum's cable plans, costs typically range from $50 to $90 per month, though the company generally includes fewer additional fees than competitors.

Both providers also offer access to discounted internet plans for qualified low-income customers. Charter has Spectrum Internet Assist, which offers download speeds of 30Mbps and upload speeds of 4Mbps with no contracts or data caps. Meanwhile, both Spectrum and Frontier participate in the government's Affordable Connectivity Program, which gives qualified customers a discount on existing Frontier or Spectrum internet service. 

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

FCC/Mapbox

Frontier and Spectrum coverage and availability compared

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 2020. 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 near the bottom of the pack for 2021.

American Customer Satisfaction Index

Frontier vs. Spectrum on customer satisfaction marks

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 2021 report. That's still two points worse than the overall category average of 65 and well below AT&T and Verizon Fios, which led all providers with a score of 71. Still, the report notes that Spectrum's 2021 score is four points higher than in 2019, indicating some potential positive momentum.

As for Frontier, the company finished near the bottom in customer satisfaction among the internet providers included in the ACSI survey, above only the last-place finisher, Suddenlink. Its 2021 score of 57 was actually up two points from 2020, which is progress, but the number hasn't topped 60 since 2015 when Frontier earned a 61. That's a multi-year 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.

Are there other considerations between Frontier and Spectrum?

There are a few other key points to keep in mind as you compare 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 on your plan, 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, both offer promotional rates to new subscribers, so you can expect your bill to go up after a year. 

Data caps

Neither Frontier nor Spectrum enforces 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 ISP 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 clarifies 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 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 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 Spectrum's privacy preferences page to opt out of sales calls, marketing emails and promotional mail.

Frontier vs. Spectrum FAQs

What's the difference between Frontier and Spectrum?

One of the most important differences between Spectrum and Frontier is how they deliver the internet to your home. Spectrum's internet service is almost exclusively through cable connections, while Frontier delivers the internet via DSL or fiber, depending on one's address. What that means is that Spectrum service is going to be consistent no matter where you're located -- you'll have three plan options, ranging from 200Mbps to 940Mbps. Frontier, on the other hand, offers much slower speeds if all you can get are its DSL plans (9-115Mbps), but potentially faster options (up to 2,000Mbps) if your address is serviceable for Frontier FiberOptic service.

Does Spectrum or Frontier offer fiber service?

Spectrum's internet service is delivered strictly via cable connections across the US. On the other hand, according to the Federal Communications Commission, Frontier offers fiber internet service to approximately a third of its national footprint. Its Frontier FiberOptic product features speed tiers of 500, 940 and 2,000Mbps.

Should I switch from Frontier to Spectrum?

That depends. If you're currently getting Frontier DSL service (which tops out at max download speeds of 115Mbps), it probably makes sense to switch to Spectrum, whose slowest plan is 200Mbps. You wouldn't be looking at an upgrade if you're currently subscribed to Frontier FiberOptic though, which provides symmetrical download speeds (which Spectrum can't match). So, in that scenario, a change doesn't make much sense.

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