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Charter Spectrum versus Kinetic by Windstream: Which ISP is better for your home?

There's a lot to like about Spectrum and Kinetic, but the better service may come down to whether or not fiber is available in your area.

Shopping for home internet service in your area often comes down to two options: a cable internet provider or an alternative to cable, like DSL or fiber. For many, those options are Spectrum and Kinetic by Windstream. If that's you, you're likely wondering which is the better choice for your home internet.

A good rule of thumb is that cable internet is better -- faster, more reliable, greater value -- than DSL, but fiber-optic service often trumps cable for the same reasons. So given the option of Spectrum or Kinetic DSL service, Spectrum will typically be the best choice for speed and value. On the other hand, if fiber is available at your address, you'll find Windstream tough to beat by any cable provider (Spectrum included). There's a lot more to it than that, though, so let's take a look at what sets Spectrum and Kinetic apart.

Charter

Spectrum offers three speed tiers -- 200, 400 and 940Mbps -- that are available throughout nearly all Spectrum markets. Pricing is also fairly standard in service areas, but it is a little higher than many providers. A low equipment rental fee helps offset the relatively high starting prices, as does unlimited data and no contract requirements, but look out for a $25 price increase on all plans after 12 months.

Read our Spectrum review.

 

Spectrum Internet

Windstream

A DSL connection can't deliver the same speed stability that a cable connection can, so speeds are going to vary, anywhere from 10 to 200Mbps, with Kinetic DSL. Fiber service is a bit more consistent with 200, 400, 500Mbps and gigabit speed tiers available in most service areas. Starting pricing on Kinetic DSL and fiber plans is lower than Spectrum, and has a lower price increase after 12 months. Like with Spectrum, all Kinetic plans come with unlimited data and no contracts.

Read our Kinetic by Windstream review.

 

Kinetic Internet

spectrumwindstream.png

Spectrum (blue) and Kinetic (orange) both have fairly wide coverage maps that overlap in several regions.

FCC/Mapbox

Comparing tech and availability

Spectrum is the second-largest cable internet provider in the U.S., next to Xfinity, and extends coverage to more than a third of the population through the service areas shown above in blue. The network is 100% cable, which enables Spectrum to deliver fast download speeds -- gigabit service is available in 99% of Spectrum markets -- but the limited bandwidth of coaxial cables limits upload speeds to a max of 35Mbps. 

In spite of the seemingly vast coverage area shown above in orange, Kinetic is available to less than 3% of U.S. residents, mostly due to the fact that Windstream covers large rural areas via its DSL network. Speeds are often less-than-impressive over DSL, but Kinetic is considerably faster than most DSL providers with speeds of 100Mbps or higher available throughout 64% of service areas. 

Windstream's fiber service is available to roughly a quarter of households serviceable for Kinetic, nearly all of which are eligible for gigabit speeds. Kinetic fiber not only offers faster speeds than DSL, it also comes with the perk of symmetrical download and upload speeds, an advantage you won't get with cable internet service from Spectrum.

Spectrum versus Windstream plans and pricing

As mentioned above, starting prices are going to be a little cheaper with Kinetic than Spectrum, but that doesn't mean Kinetic will always be the better value. Kinetic DSL speeds and pricing varies by market and even by address, which means Kinetic could have you paying around the same or more than Spectrum's cheapest internet plan but for less speed. Here's a look at each provider's plans.

Spectrum internet plans and pricing

Plan First year rate Standard rate Max download speeds Max upload speeds
Spectrum Internet $50 $75 200Mbps 10Mbps
Spectrum Internet Ultra $70 $95 400Mbps 20Mbps
Spectrum Internet Gig $110 $135 940Mbps 35Mbps

Regardless of the Spectrum service area you're in, the plans listed above are likely going to be available with the same speeds and price. The same cannot be said for Kinetic plans, however: Those vary by price and speed depending on the market.

Kinetic internet plans and pricing

Plan First year rate Standard rate Max download speeds Max upload speeds
Kinetic 50 $27-$60 $55-$67 50Mbps varies
Kinetic 200 $37 $55-$67 200Mbps 200Mbps
Kinetic 400 $37 $55-$67 400Mbps 400Mbps

The Kinetic pricing structure is a bit weird in that customers start with a "base" plan (listed above), then can upgrade that plan to faster speeds, if available, for an added cost. 

As a potential Kinetic customer, you may be eligible for any of the three base plans. Then, if faster speeds are available, you can upgrade your plan for an extra $10 to $30 per month. For example, your address qualifies for the fiber Kinetic 200 base package, but you want gig service. You'll start with the 200 base plan, then "upgrade" to gig service for an additional $30 per month for a total monthly cost of $67.

It's also important to note that Kinetic 50, the base DSL plan, may come with speeds below 50Mbps. Speeds in around 15% of Windstream service areas are below 25Mbps, which is lower than what is considered "broadband" internet, but plan pricing still falls in that $27-$60 per month range. 

So which is the better deal?

It all comes down to the Kinetic connection type available at your address and the pricing in your area. Even in the fastest Kinetic DSL markets, speeds are going to be slower with DSL service than Spectrum, which starts at 200Mbps. Though Kinetic DSL may be cheaper per month, especially if the $27 price point is available in your area, Spectrum is going to give you more speed for the money, which makes it the better value. 

Then there's fiber service from Windstream, which starts at $37 per month for speeds up to 200Mbps. That's $13 less per month than Spectrum for the same download speeds, plus you get the advantage of symmetrical upload speeds. In select areas, Kinetic 400 is available at $37 per month, which is a significantly better deal than Spectrum's 400Mbps plan. As for gigabit service, you'll pay around $67 per month for the first year with Kinetic compared to $110 with Spectrum.

Pricing is fairly straightforward with both

The advantage for best speeds and monthly rates could go either way depending on the service type, but the two providers are more evenly matched when it comes to added costs and the fine print.

Spectrum has a slightly lower equipment rental fee at $5 per month whereas you'll be paying $6 to $10 per month with Windstream. Another advantage to Spectrum is that your modem is included for free, meaning you could use your own, high-performance router, and skip the $5 monthly fee altogether. Windstream also lets you use your own equipment, but you'll have to provide the modem and the router when doing so. 

Neither provider enforces data caps, which means no threat of overage fees added to your bill. Additionally, neither provider requires you to sign a contract for service. Spectrum takes no contracts a step further with a contract buyout offer, which gives new customers up to $500 to help them out of an existing contract with another provider, but you'll have to sign up to a internet and TV bundle to qualify.

acsi-isp-customer-service-ratings-2021
American Customer Satisfaction Index

Spectrum edges out Windstream in customer satisfaction

The American Customer Satisfaction Index scores from Spectrum and Windstream were consistent from 2020 to 2021 with scores of 63/100 and 61/100, respectively. Spectrum also fared better with J.D. Power in 2021, earning a score of 725/100 compared to Windstream's 682/100. In both cases, I attribute Windstream's slightly lower score to the difference in technology. If the numbers were separated by Windstream DSL and Windstream fiber, I'd be willing to bet Windstream fiber would fare better than Spectrum.

But Windstream has a better reliability track record 

Windstream customers can be less concerned about service outages, at least according to downdetector.com. As of this writing, Windstream has four major outage issues logged for the month of October. Spectrum, on the other hand, has an outage logged for every day of the month so far, including multiple issues within the same day in some cases. September gives an even more telling story with Windstream having only two reported outage issues -- whereas Spectrum again has at least one for every day of the month.

Spectrum versus Windstream recap

Speed and value comes down to the internet connection type available at your address. Cable service like that from Spectrum is often going to be a better option than DSL, though Kinetic DSL service is impressive compared to other DSL providers. If Kinetic's fiber service is available, it's likely to be faster, and cheaper, than cable internet from Spectrum. Both providers offer unlimited data, low equipment fees and no contract obligations, but Spectrum also comes with the comfort of a slightly better customer satisfaction rating. Just be wary of outages should you choose Spectrum over Windstream.

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