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RCN home internet review: Great pricing out the gate, but beware the steep increase

This regional cable internet service provider is part of Astound Broadband, the sixth-largest cable company in the US.

rcn-isp-home-internet-van
Ry Crist/CNET

I have to be honest. I nearly titled this review "Confusion in cable-land." Why? Because my eyes glazed over as I pored through the differences in offerings for the six metro markets that Residential Communications Network covers. But that hardly matters for most of you -- unless you're planning to relocate from one RCN market to another. What matters most is what RCN offers in your area.

What RCN brings to the table is some of the most aggressively priced promo offers to be found for cable internet. Add in the fact that RCN doesn't enforce contracts, termination fees or data caps, and you're looking at a winning combination -- or an appealing one, at least.

7.0

RCN home internet service

Like

  • Low first-year pricing
  • No data caps
  • No contracts

Don't Like

  • Limited availability to metro areas
  • Sharp price increase in the second year of service
  • Confusing equipment fees

What's the catch? RCN's monthly fees jump an unusually large amount after your first year. I would normally ding it quite a bit for that escalation -- and don't get me wrong, it's a sizable leap and you need to be aware of that extreme increase -- but it's not quite what we would term "trap pricing." The main reason being that RCN doesn't tie you into a term agreement, so when you run into that price hike, you are free to either bail or try to negotiate with your provider before paying those larger bills. 

Let's dig in a bit and uncover more about RCN home internet service. 

Here are the places you can get RCN internet

RCN has been in business since 1993 and is currently owned by Astound Broadband, which additionally provides services under the Grande Communications and Wave Broadband regional brands. RCN offers home internet service to six different metro areas in the US. That includes Boston, Chicago, the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania), New York City, Philadelphia (mostly Delaware County) and Washington, DC. 

RCN internet plans and pricing

This is where I felt like I was wrangling cats. RCN does not offer the same plans and pricing across any of its six markets. We've listed below the plans available in its Philadelphia market, which sits almost squarely in the middle of the variety of options that RCN provides its customers throughout its service areas. The prices available to you will depend on where you live, but we'll discuss that further in a second.

RCN internet plans (Philadelphia market)

Plan Max speeds Starting monthly price (first year) Regular monthly rate (after one year) Monthly modem costs Data cap Contract
50Mbps Internet 50Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $22 $105 $3 (skippable) None None
300Mbps Internet 300Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $32 $146 $5 (skippable) None None
600Mbps Internet 600Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $42 $150 $5 (skippable) None None
Gig Internet 940Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $52 $158 $5 (skippable) None None

Let's talk more about those prices

The monthly prices you see above are fairly representative of what you'll find across all the RCN markets, but I do want to point out some of the differences as well. Overall, across all RCN markets and plans, you will see an average cost of 14 cents per Mbps for your first-year promo pricing. That is tops among all the cable ISPs we've reviewed thus far, including Suddenlink (15 cents), WideOpenWest (15 cents), Spectrum (17 cents), Optimum (21 cents), Xfinity (25 cents), Sparklight (28 cents) and Cox (53 cents). 

Even more impressive, customers in Boston, New York City and Washington, DC, will see even more competitive pricing. For example, DC customers can get a 300Mbps plan for $30 a month, New Yorkers can sign up for a promo rate of $35 a month for a 500Mbps plan, and best of all, Boston residents will see an average cost of 7 cents per Mbps on introductory pricing, including a Gig Internet plan for just $40 a month.

Here's RCN's full home internet rate card for customers in Chicago (promo prices not listed). The $15 modem rental fee is much higher in Chicago than in other regions.

RCN

That's the good news. The not-so-great side of the story is the price jump after your first year of service. Whereas the average cost per Mbps was 14 cents for the introductory pricing, RCN's regular rate, which kicks in after 12 months, holds an average cost of 57 cents per Mbps. While that's not the highest we've seen among cable ISPs -- here's looking at you, Cox (80 cents per Mbps) -- it's certainly one of the starkest differences we've seen between the promo rate and the regular rate.

What does that look like in real terms? Check out the table above and look again at the sticker shock awaiting Philly customers of the 300-940Mbps plans. Each one of those offerings has a monthly price that leaps by more than $100 after the first year, which is staggering compared to the average price jumps of cable competitors like Xfinity (average increase of $15 to $50 after 12 months), Cox (average increase of $15 to $26 after 12 months), or Spectrum (a flat increase of $25 for all plans after 12 months). Compared to those, an arbitrary increase of $100 in the monthly cost of your home internet service is an extremely tough pill to swallow, especially if you're trying to keep your budget buttoned down.

When we asked RCN about that massive move in the second year of service, its spokesperson said, "It's important to note that first year promotions do not increase to the standard retail rates published on the rate card ...[which are] generally the maximum price that one may pay, and what is published for consumers to reference.

"Additionally, RCN customers are provided advanced notice that the promotion is coming to an end, along with their new monthly rate," they said. "This information is included in their billing statement the month before the promotion ends." 

Either way, you're not tied down to RCN with a term agreement, so as you approach the end of your promo period, you can see what terms RCN offers or try researching other ISPs in your area. For example, Verizon Fios may be an option for customers in the Washington, DC market and Chicagoans may have the option of switching to Xfinity. In each case, though, make sure to do your homework. If Verizon's DSL service is the only other option for you, RCN will still be cheaper, and those considering a jump to Xfinity will need to be aware that to receive the best rates, you'll need to sign up for a term contract, which is not required of RCN customers.

Additional RCN internet fees

While all markets charge a one-time activation fee of $10, the modem rental fee is a bit different from city to city. For instance, the modem costs for Philly customers will range from $3 a month to $5 a month, while New York Gigabit customers will pay $10 a month, which, to be fair, is still a bit lower than many providers. But then you go over to the Washington, DC market and you'll be charged $12 to $13 a month for your modem, while those of you in Chicago get RCN's highest modem fee at $15 a month. 

As for your router, this is included for free in almost all plans. There are a few exceptions, but we'll talk a bit more about that in just a bit.

You can avoid the monthly rental charge 

RCN does give you the option to skip the modem and router fees altogether by using your own equipment. Unlike AT&T -- which is also a competitor in the Chicago market but doesn't give its customers an option to skip the equipment fee -- RCN will allow you to use your own modem and router, so long as they're compatible with RCN's network. As you're about to see, this may be the easiest way to navigate RCN's web of potential add-ons. 

More options, but also potentially more fees

Although RCN gives you the chance to skip the equipment fee, it also makes several supplemental items available that could help give your home networking hardware a boost, while bumping up your bill in the process. 

For example, while a standard Wi-Fi router is included in most plans, RCN gives you the option to add enhanced Wi-Fi for your home. For the Boston, New York and Philly markets, this is supplied via the Eero Pro 6 mesh router, which my CNET colleague Ry Crist gave high marks when he put it through its paces late in 2020. RCN will charge you $10 a month to lease it, with the first month free. But it should also be noted that customers in the Chicago, Lehigh Valley and Washington, DC, areas will get the lesser-rated Eero 6 for the same rental price.

RCN also taps on the shoulders of gamers by offering a chance to upgrade to a gaming router. Customers on a 250Mbps plan or higher can opt to rent the Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 for $13 a month on top of your monthly modem charge. Similar to the Eero Pro 6 deal, the first month's rental is free.

At the risk of sounding like a used-car salesperson, it doesn't end there. RCN also offers other opportunities to upgrade your broadband experience, giving you the option to add a Sonos smart home speaker ($6 a month) or Sonos Beam soundbar ($13 a month) as well.

Yes, all of these options will ultimately increase your bill -- and if you plan on using them for longer than a year or two, it probably makes more sense to buy them outright rather than renting them. Still, these might provide some significant value to your service, especially if you can foresee using them for those initial 12 months when your broadband bill is at its lowest. You might also find it helpful to try a mesh network out in your home to see if it makes a meaningful difference -- if it does, you could consider purchasing one for yourself outright. If not, you're only out a single month's rental fee.

Perks and deals to further catch your eye

RCN offers a few intriguing deals to try to sway your attention. At present, it has a handful of limited-time offers available, including free installation in all markets if you order online (an $80 value). 

Also, customers with plans over 200Mbps in all markets can add a TiVo Stream 4K for free for 12 months (and $6 a month thereafter) to their broadband package.

Lastly, new RCN customers in New York City will receive two months of free service (months 2 and 5, specifically), while new customers in the other five RCN markets will get one month free.

Customer satisfaction numbers are solid 

RCN does not appear on either the J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study or the 2021 ISP report from the American Customer Satisfaction index. We've used these two industry benchmarks to track how broadband providers measure up with American consumers. This has become especially important as more and more of us lean upon our home internet for work and school, not just binging Netflix. 

Over at PCMag's 2021 Readers' Choice awards, RCN did very well. It scored an 8.0 in overall customer satisfaction, which put it in the top five listed internet providers. It also scored well above the industry average score in the survey, which was 7.1. 

Lastly, Ookla's speed test stats for the second quarter of 2021 show that RCN was the fastest broadband provider in Chicago and Washington, DC. On the other hand, Verizon took that prize in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. 

The bottom line

RCN is at the top of the class when it comes to cable internet providers. It gives you many different options to customize your service and its first-year pricing is second to none. Yes, that big change in monthly price after 12 months is substantial -- but to an extent, that is mitigated by the lack of contracts binding you to those hefty charges. With no early termination fees looming, the power is in your hands to try to negotiate with RCN or seek services elsewhere after your first year. 

RCN home internet FAQs

What does RCN stand for?

RCN began as Residential Communications Network back in 1993. Although it is now owned by parent company Astound Broadband, RCN still has its headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey.

How do I contact RCN customer service?

Much of what you need can be found online at the RCN Customer Center and using the MyRCN Mobile App. RCN also has a US-based customer support staff available by phone every day, all hours at 800-746-4726. Lastly, you can also connect to RCN on Twitter -- @RCNConnects -- and Facebook.

What is RCN's Internet First program?

RCN began the Internet First program in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's an affordable internet service offered to low-income families participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. Qualifying households will have access to max download speeds up to 50Mbps for $10 a month. There are no activation or installation fees, no contract is required and participants receive free service for the first 60 days.

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