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Astound Broadband/RCN Home Internet Review: Great Starting Price, but Beware a Steep Increase

This cable broadband provider covers several of the country's top 10 metros. Here's what you can expect.

7.0

Astound/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

This week, Astound Broadband announced a nationwide launch of a new internet speed tier featuring download speeds up to 1,200 megabits per second. That puts it right in a dead heat with Xfinity for the fastest cable broadband plan available nationally. Not too shabby.

But I have to be honest. I nearly titled this review "Confusion in Cable Land." Why? Because my eyes glazed as I pored over the differences in offerings for the six metro markets covered by Astound Broadband Powered by RCN (whoa, that's a mouthful!). But that hardly matters for most of you unless you're planning to relocate from one Astound Broadband market to another. What matters most is what Astound/RCN offers in your area.

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

Astound Broadband logo on a phone with a green background
Sarah Tew/CNET

What's the catch? Astound's monthly fees jump a considerable amount after your first year. I would typically ding it quite a bit for that escalation -- 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 is that Astound/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 and learn more about Astound Broadband powered by RCN. 

Astound/RCN internet availability

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

Astound/RCN internet plans and pricing

This is where I felt like I was wrangling cats. Astound/RCN does not offer the same plans and pricing across 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 Astound 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.

Astound/RCN internet plans (Philadelphia market)

Plan Max speeds Starting monthly price (first year) Regular monthly rate Monthly modem costs Data cap Contract
300Mbps Internet 300Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $15 $148 $7 (skippable) None None
600Mbps Internet 600Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $25 $152 $7 (skippable) None None
Gig Internet 940Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $35 $160 $7 (skippable) None None
1200Mbps Internet 1200Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $45 TBD $7 (skippable) None None

How Astound/RCN compares with other ISPs on pricing

The monthly prices you see above are representative of what you'll find across all the Astound/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 8 cents per megabit per second for your first-year promo pricing. That is right at the top among all cable ISPs we've reviewed, including Suddenlink (13 cents), WideOpenWest (15 cents), Spectrum (17 cents), Optimum (21 cents), Xfinity (25 cents), Sparklight (28 cents) and Cox (53 cents). 

For example, customers in New York City will see some extremely competitive pricing for that area. New Yorkers can sign up for a promo rate of $50 a month for Gig Internet. That's an impressively affordable 5 cents per Mbps on introductory pricing for our friends in the Northeast that's more affordable than the gig offers from Optimum and Verizon Fios. To top it off, gig customers will also get two months of service for free.

Here's RCN's full home internet rate card for customers in Philadelphia (promo prices not listed). 

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 8 cents for the introductory pricing, Astound/RCN's regular rate, which kicks in after 12 months, holds an average price 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 undoubtedly 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 300Mbps-to-940Mbps plans. All of those offerings have a monthly price that leaps by more than $100 after the first year, which is staggering compared with 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) and Spectrum (a flat increase of $25 for all plans after 12 months). Compared with those, an 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 Astound/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 Astound with a term agreement, so as you approach the end of your promo period, you can see what terms Astound/RCN offers or try researching other ISPs in your area. For example, Verizon Fios may be an option for customers in the Washington, DC, area, and Chicagoans may choose to switch to Xfinity. In each case, though, make sure to do your homework. If Verizon's DSL service is the only other option for you, Astound/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 Astound customers.

Additional Astound/RCN internet fees

While all markets charge a one-time activation fee of $10, the modem rental fee differs from city to city. For instance, the modem cost for Philly customers is $7 a month, while New York customers will face no charge for their modem. But then you go over to the DC market and you'll be charged $10 a month for your modem, while those of you in Chicago get Astound/RCN's highest modem fee at $16 a month. 

As for your router, this is a whole other charge. 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 

Astound does give you the option to skip the modem and router fees altogether by using your own equipment. You can use your own modem and router if they're compatible with Astound/RCN's network. As you're about to see, this may be the easiest way to navigate a web of potential add-ons. 

Astound/RCN has more options, but also potentially more fees

Although Astound/RCN gives you the chance to skip the equipment fee, it also makes several supplemental items available that could help boost your home networking hardware -- while bumping up your bill, too. 

For example, while a standard Wi-Fi router is typically going to run you $10 a month (it is included in some plans), Astound/RCN gives you the option to add enhanced Wi-Fi to 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. 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.

Astound/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. Like the Eero Pro 6 deal, the first month's rental is free.

There are other opportunities to upgrade your broadband experience, including the option to add a Sonos smart home speaker ($6 a month) or Sonos Beam soundbar ($13 a month).

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 rent them. Still, these might provide 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.

Astound/RCN deals and promotions to further catch your eye

Astound offers a few intriguing deals to try to sway your attention. It has a handful of limited-time offers available, including free installation (in all markets) if you order online, an $80 value. In addition to the free installation, online orders will also receive a $100 gift card in some markets, others will get one free month of service, and some markets might see both.

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

Lastly, new Astound/RCN customers in New York City who order a 500Mbps plan or above will receive two free months of service.

Astound/RCN's customer satisfaction numbers are solid 

Astound doesn't appear on either the J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study or the latest 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 on our home internet for work and school, not just bingeing Netflix. 

Over at PCMag's 2022 Readers' Choice awards, Astound did very well. It scored a 7.9 in overall customer satisfaction, which put it in the top five listed internet providers. It also scored well above the average industry score, which was 6.9. 

Lastly, Ookla's speed test stats for the first quarter of 2022 show that RCN was the fastest broadband provider in Chicago. On the other hand, Verizon took that prize in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. 

The bottom line on Astound Broadband/RCN internet service

Astound Broadband/RCN is at the top of the class for cable internet providers. It gives you many different options to customize your service and its first-year pricing is second to none. Yes, that significant 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 Astound or seek services elsewhere after your first year. 

Astound Broadband/RCN home internet FAQs

What does RCN stand for?

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

How do I contact Astound/RCN customer service?

Much of what you need can be found online at the Astound Support Center and using the MyRCN Mobile App. Astound/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 Astound/RCN on Twitter -- @RCNConnects -- and Facebook.

What is Astound/RCN's Internet First program?

Astound/RCN began the Internet First program in April 2020 in response to the 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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