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Optimum home internet: Everything you should know before signing up

Optimum is among the top ISPs in the New York City area, rivaling Verizon Fios with fast speeds and low introductory prices. Here's what to know before signing up.

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Optimum is one of the newer cable internet providers on the block, introduced by parent company Altice in 2016 following an acquisition of Cablevision networks in the Northeast. Aside from its association with Altice and Cablevision, Optimum internet is known for fast speeds and fairly low introductory rates. 

There's certainly more to the provider than that, however, and you'll want to know it all before signing up. So let's get right to what you came for: A thorough breakdown of Optimum's home internet service, and what you can expect if you decide to become a customer.

The ins and outs of Optimum internet

We'll start with the first question worth asking when you're considering an internet provider: "is it even available?"

optimum-coverage-map
FCC/Mapbox

Is Optimum available at your address?

Optimum covers much of the greater New York City area and just a stretch beyond. North to south, serviceability runs from the top of Dutchess County, New York down to Toms River, New Jersey. East to west, Optimum is available from the tip of Long Island and past Bridgeport, Connecticut to a sliver of Pennsylvania along the New Jersey border to the west. There are some pockets in between, like much of Queens and Staten Island, that are not serviceable for Optimum internet.

In spite of the somewhat contained service area, Optimum is available to more than 10 million people, many of whom will have access to the plans and pricing listed below. Some locations, however, may see slightly different pricing and plan options. 

Now for the second-most important question, and one that's a bit more challenging to answer.

Is Optimum internet any good?

For the most part, yes. Optimum has fast speeds, low introductory pricing and largely favorable service terms, but no provider is without fault. Here's what I like most about the provider, along with some things you may want to be aware of before signing up.

Pros

  • Value -- Optimum has some of the lowest introductory prices of any major ISP and doesn't skimp on the speeds.
  • No data caps or contracts -- Which means no speed throttling, overage fees or early termination fees.
  • Advanced, affordable Wi-Fi -- Customers can rent a gateway modem/router device for $10 per month. Select plans come with a Wi-Fi 6 router (for the same price) for faster speeds and better performance.

Cons

  • Slower upload speeds in many areas -- Optimum is largely a cable internet provider, which means upload speeds are often slower than download speeds. 
  • Unpredictable price increase after 12 months -- The introductory pricing is great, but what about down the road? An Optimum spokesperson tells CNET that, prior to the expiration of the introductory pricing, customers will receive a notification with the anticipated change to their rates. How much that is, exactly, is subject to change.

That last one is a biggie. Optimum doesn't lock you in with a contract, but it'd be tough to otherwise commit to a provider completely oblivious of what you could be paying once the introductory period is over. You'll find those introductory prices below -- as for what those prices look like after the introductory period is over, customers will have to unfortunately wait and see.

Optimum internet-only plans

Plan Starting price Download speeds up to Upload speeds up to Equipment rental fee
Altice Advantage Internet $15/mo. 30Mbps 3Mbps None
Optimum 100 $30/mo. 100Mbps 35Mbps $10/mo. (skippable)
Optimum 300 $35/mo. 300Mbps 35Mbps $10/mo. (skippable)
Optimum 500 $45/mo. 500Mbps 35Mbps $10/mo. (skippable)
Optimum 1 Gig $55/mo. 940Mbps 50Mbps $10/mo. (skippable)

Optimum internet service details

Aside from the plan pricing and advertised speeds, what can you expect from Optimum internet? Some of that depends on the type of service your address is eligible for, while other aspects are applicable to all Optimum plans across all service areas.

It's largely cable, with some FTTH mixed in

As mentioned above, Optimum primarily uses a cable or cable hybrid network to deliver service. Cable isn't necessarily bad as it can offer gigabit download speeds, but the technology usually delivers much slower upload speeds. Those in Optimum's cable internet network will likely see max upload speeds of 35Mbps with lower-tiered plans or 50Mbps with gig service. That's likely to be more than enough for the average household, but it's still something worth keeping in mind.

Optimum's parent company Altice sees fiber internet -- specifically fiber-to-the-home connections -- as the immediate future of home internet, and has thus worked to build and expand a fiber network. An Optimum spokesperson tells CNET that Optimum FTTH service, which can deliver symmetrical download and upload speeds, is already available to more than one million homes, with more to come as "fiber deployment continues at a rapid pace." Fiber service comes at no extra cost compared to Optimum's traditional cable internet.

No data caps, no contracts

Regardless of the service type or plan you choose, Optimum internet is free of data caps and contracts. That's a nice contrast to rival cable providers Cox and Xfinity, each of which charges overage fees up to $50 or higher for going over your data allowance.

That said, I should also mention that Optimum internet isn't completely unlimited. The Acceptable Use Policy states that "excessive use of bandwidth, that in Altice's sole opinion, places an unusually large burden on the network or goes above normal usage" could lead to service disruptions. Most ISPs have a similar policy, and you'd really have to go out of your way to use that much bandwidth, especially on a consistent basis. If you're using the internet for streaming, gaming, working and learning from home, and so on (i.e. the same as any other household), you shouldn't have a problem.

Optimum Wi-Fi equipment and fees

You can rent an Optimum Wi-Fi router for an added $10 per month. The model you get depends on the plan you choose, as well as the network type (cable or fiber) available at your address. Select Optimum plans and those in fiber markets may come with a Wi-Fi 6 router, which can offer better Wi-Fi performance than older router technologies. Regardless of the Optimum Wi-Fi router that comes with your service, the equipment fee remains the same.

As for installation, standard installation is included at no extra cost when you order online. If you'd prefer professional installation, which includes Wi-Fi configuration on up to six devices and hardwiring on one device, it'll add a modest $59 to your initial costs.

Can I use my own Wi-Fi equipment?

Yes, Optimum is one of the few providers that gives you the option to use your own equipment and skip the monthly equipment rental cost. Note that you'll need to provide your own compatible modem and router (or modem/router combo device) at the time of installation, and using your own equipment will likely limit service upgrades and technical support down the road.

If you already own compatible equipment, using what you have could save you some money on your bill. On the other hand, if you're considering purchasing your own equipment upfront, keep in mind that it may be many months before the $10-a-month savings makes up for the initial purchase cost.

Optimum vs. Verizon Fios

Without question, Optimum's biggest rival is Verizon Fios. The ISPs share much of the same service areas, so pricing, speeds and service terms stay fairly competitive between the two. Here's a look at how the two compare:

Pricing

Optimum has the advantage of lower plan pricing, at least for the first 12 months of service. The Optimum 300 plan is around $5 per month lower than Verizon's lowest-priced plan, which offers max speeds of 200Mbps (300Mbps in New York City). Optimum's gig service is also a bit cheaper, starting at $55 per month compared to $80 with Verizon. Additionally, Optimum's equipment rental fees are $5 less per month than Verizon's. 

Speeds

While both providers have gig speeds, I've got to give the advantage to Verizon Fios here. Verizon Fios employs a 100% fiber network, which supports symmetrical or near symmetrical download and upload speeds. Optimum does have a fiber network, but not to the scale of Verizon. The majority of Optimum service areas are cable or fiber/cable hybrid, meaning lower upload speeds compared to Verizon Fios.

Data caps, contracts, etc.

Neither provider enforces data caps or contracts. Call it a draw.

Customer satisfaction

Verizon Fios leads all providers, including Optimum, in both ACSI ratings and J.D. Power's rating in the East region. 

All things considered, Optimum and Verizon Fios are closely matched. If pricing drives your decision, Optimum is likely to be your better option, but if upload speeds and customer satisfaction are a concern, you may want to consider Verizon Fios. 

Optimum vs. other cable providers and DSL internet

There is a little overlap between Optimum and cable providers Spectrum and Xfinity. For the most part, Optimum has lower introductory pricing than both, though Xfinity may have the absolute cheapest plan in some areas (but with lower speeds than Optimum's cheapest plan). Neither provider can come close to Optimum's mid-tier and gig plan pricing, though.

Xfinity has faster max speeds than Optimum (and Spectrum) but you can get gigabit from any of the three. Optimum has a larger fiber footprint in the greater New York City area than Spectrum or Xfinity, so you're likely to get faster upload speeds with Optimum.

I won't dive much into Optimum versus DSL service from providers like CenturyLink or Frontier. Just know that if DSL is an option in your area along with Optimum, go with Optimum -- it's likely to be cheaper and will definitely be faster.

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American Customer Satisfaction Index

Optimum customer satisfaction by the numbers

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, gave Optimum a customer satisfaction score of 65 out of 100 in 2020, which was the industry average. While Optimum scored above many providers including Spectrum and fellow Altice service, Suddenlink, it did fall below Verizon Fios, AT&T and Xfinity.

Optimum did not fare as well with J.D. Power, which placed the provider below the average for the East region with a score of 693 out of 1,000. Optimum customer satisfaction came in above Frontier (623) but fell just below Spectrum (696) and well below Cox (713), Xfinity (726) and Verizon Fios (769). It's unclear what exactly led to Optimum's subpar customer satisfaction score, as J.D. Power evaluates customer feedback on a number of factors including service reliability, customer service experiences and billing. Speaking of customer service, if you need to contact Optimum customer service, you can find ways to get in touch with an Optimum customer service representative below.

Customer satisfaction numbers are often a good indicator of what to expect from an ISP, but there isn't anything too alarming about Optimum's scores that would push me one way or the other. If you're thinking about Optimum service, average or slightly below average customer satisfaction scores shouldn't deter you from taking a look at service details and how Optimum compares to other providers.

To sum up

If Optimum is available in your area, it's likely to be one of your better internet options. Optimum offers a variety of download speeds from 100 to 940Mbps for lower pricing than you'll find from nearly any competitor with similar speed tiers. No contracts or data caps add to the overall value of the service, as does the relatively low equipment rental fee. Just watch out for that price increase after 12 months.

Optimum internet FAQs

How do I get in touch with Optimum customer service?

Optimum technical support is available 24/7, while general customer service is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Optimum customer service number varies by location. Find the appropriate number at optimum.net/support/phone-list. You can also find answers to common questions and live chat with an Optimum customer service representative here.

What is Altice Advantage Internet?

Altice Advantage Internet is a discounted internet service available to qualifying Optimum and Suddenlink customers. The plan comes with download speeds up to 30Mbps and upload speeds up to 3Mbps starting at around $15 per month. Equipment is included at no additional cost, and as with all Optimum internet plans, there is no data cap or contract.

What happened to Cablevision?

Altice acquired networks previously operated by Cablevision in 2016. Since the acquisition, Altice transitioned service in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania to the Optimum brand.