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WOW Home Internet Review: Cable Broadband Done Better

The name may not be as familiar as rival telecoms AT&T or Cox, but this provider is a principal player in several states.

WOW logo on a tablet with a purple background
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're wondering -- no, my Caps Lock didn't get stuck. WideOpenWest, which prefers to go by WOW, is an internet service provider that operates in the southern and central portions of the US. According to the most recent Federal Communications Commission data, the service is available to just over 7 million customers across the country (though that doesn't take into account the markets sold off in 2021, but more on that later).

WOW offers customers a hybrid coaxial cable/fiber-optic internet connection with download speeds ranging from 100 megabits per second to 1 gigabit (1,000Mbps).

7.2

WOW home internet review

Like

  • No contracts, no fear about cancellation fees or being tied to an unwanted plan
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • No data caps, no need to worry about overage fees

Don't Like

  • Limited availability, just nine states
  • Service interruptions can be a bit too frequent, depending on your location

If you're living in one of the nine states where service is available, then WOW may be the best option available at your address. First and foremost, the price is right: WOW is one of the more affordable cable providers in the US, with relatively well-priced plans that easily exceed broadband speeds. On top of that, WOW won't lock you into a long-term service contract, and your connection comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If a fiber connection is available at your address, that's still the way to go, but otherwise, there's a lot to like about WOW home internet. Let's explore a bit more.

WOW coverage map showing a band from the midwest southward
FCC/Mapbox

Here's where you can find WOW home internet service

You can currently find WOW home internet service in 19 markets among nine states across the US. Here's the list of states: Alabama (Auburn, Dothan, Huntsville and the Montgomery Valley), Florida (Panama City and Pinellas), Georgia (Augusta, Columbus and Fort Gordon), Illinois (Chicago and Chicagoland), Indiana (Evansville), Michigan (Detroit and mid-Michigan), Ohio (Cleveland and Columbus), South Carolina (Charleston) and Tennessee (Knoxville). 

On June 30, 2021, WOW announced it was selling five of its markets to Atlantic Broadband and Astound Broadband. The two Ohio markets are headed to Atlantic, and the markets in Illinois, Indiana and Anne Arundel, Maryland, are switching to Astound. The sale to Atlantic Broadband was completed in September and the Astound agreement closed in November. According to a WOW spokesperson, the transition is still occurring, so until that final handover, "customers should see no changes" to their internet plans.

"WOW remains dedicated to delivering exceptional broadband solutions," the statement added.

WOW plans and pricing

WOW offers asymmetrical hybrid fiber-coaxial cable internet plans. The reliance on coaxial cable infrastructure means that your download speeds will be a lot higher than the upload speeds.

WOW plans and prices

Plan Max speeds Promo rate (12 months) Regular rate (after one years) Equipment fees Data cap
Internet 100 100Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $20 $40 $14 for modem rental (optional) None
Internet 200 200Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $40 $45 $14 for modem rental (optional) None
Internet 500 500Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $50 $55 $14 for modem rental (optional) None
Internet 1 Gig 1,000Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $65 $75 $14 for modem rental (optional) None

WOW Internet sits in a sweet spot, with a good variety of plans, but not so many that things get confusing. Even more importantly, the pricing of those plans -- especially the regular rates that kick in after the promotional offer -- is highly competitive. WOW's plans are more affordable than comparable plans from larger cable providers like Xfinity, Spectrum and Cox. They're a better value than what you'll get from AT&T, Verizon and Frontier, too.

Another strong point for WOW: Those prices aren't designed to push you into a more expensive speed tier once the promo period ends. Your bill will increase after the introductory rate, yes, but it won't shoot up by $25 or $30 like other competitors, and the increase won't necessarily force you to upgrade to a faster plan's promo rate to get a better value, which is a pretty common trick you'll see from lots of other providers.

Speaking of speed...

You'll find asymmetrical download and upload speeds with WOW internet plans, as we mentioned above. In practical terms, that means that your connection won't be as robust as a complete fiber-to-the-home connection for tasks that involve uploading lots of data to the web. That includes many common tasks important for the work-from-home or remote-schooling life -- such as uploading large files, hopping on Zoom calls or FaceTiming with study buddies.

That said, WOW Internet features higher upload speeds than most cable internet providers. For example, its Internet 500 plan features upload speeds up to 50Mbps. Comparable plans from Cox, Spectrum and Xfinity max out their upload speeds at 10 to 20Mbps. 

Uploads aside, the additional good news is that the least expensive plan WOW offers comes with download speeds of up to 100Mbps, which is much faster than the introductory plan of most ISPs and well above the FCC's broadband definition of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload.

Also, it's worth noting that if you set aside the promo price and look at the regular rate, then for only an additional $5 per month, customers can double their speed with the Internet 200 plan. In fact, that seems to be what many customers are choosing to do.

WOW CEO Teresa Elder shared in an early May 2021 webcast that 88% of new customers in the first three months of 2021 were opting for the 200Mbps plan or higher, up from 51% during the comparable period in 2020. 

An Eero mesh router on a table.

WOW customers can lease a two-piece Eero mesh Wi-Fi router for an extra $10 a month.

Ry Crist/CNET

Other things to consider

No contracts, no data caps and the 30-day money-back guarantee all probably leap off the page when you first look at WOW's internet offers. There's more to think about, though, so let's look at some of the details.

Additional monthly fees

WOW Internet charges $14 a month for a modem rental. Like many other ISPs, you do have the option to avoid this recurring fee by using your own compatible device -- though WOW "strongly recommends" (PDF) you lease it from WOW. 

There's also a charge of $10 per month if you want to add "Whole-Home Wi-Fi" to your plan via mesh router rental. Specifically, this includes two of Amazon's Eero mesh devices. Any additional Eero devices will add another $6 a month per device to your bill. That's only so-so as far as value is concerned -- a two-piece Eero system costs $199, so you'd be better off just buying the router for yourself if you plan on keeping your connection longer than a year and a half. What's more, there are other mesh routers we like better.

30-day money-back guarantee

This is a customer-friendly option that WOW provides, especially when you consider that the company doesn't hold you to a contract and the ominous threat of heavy cancellation fees that comes with it.

There are a few small-print details to this guarantee, as you might imagine. It does not extend to taxes and fees paid or any equipment charges you incur. Also, to claim the money-back guarantee, you cannot reestablish service with WOW Internet within 180 days.

Incentive deals for new customers

WOW offers a free self-install kit to all new customers. You can also get your first month of service for free if you order online. Finally, there's a deal for a Visa Prepaid Reward Card of $100 for new customers who sign up for the 100Mbps speed tier. That increases to a $150 reward for 200Mbps, $200 for 500Mbps and a $300 gift card for new gigabit signups. All these offers are valid for a limited time and customers must have the service for a minimum of 90 days to qualify for the gift card. 

No data caps, for the most part

For several years, WOW Internet has made a point of touting its data-cap-free internet plans (PDF). It spoke of a "better internet experience without limitations" and said its customers could use the internet "how they want it, when they want it, with no limit."

As you might imagine, there was some consternation when, in April 2021, the company sent out an email to some customers notifying them that "we're introducing a monthly data usage plan for your Internet service on June 1, 2021." What gives?

A WOW spokesperson told CNET that this new data plan is currently only being rolled out in Chicago. That should reassure most of the company's other broadband customers. 

Also, considering that Chicago will no longer be part of the WOW footprint by the end of this year, you might be tempted to ignore this move. But when we asked if this implementation could be on its way to other markets, we didn't get a denial. 

Indeed, during an Investor Day webcast in December 2021, Elder was asked again about whether WOW customers could expect more data caps down the road. "We've launched usage-based billing, which doesn't really create data caps," said Elder. "It creates different tiers of pricing."

That seems like more than just semantics to me.

So, if the usage-based billing -- cough, data cap -- does get rolled out to other markets, what should customers expect? The data cap for Chicagoland is 1.5 terabytes for the Internet 100 and 200 plans, 2.5TB for the Internet 500 plan and 3TB for the gigabit plan. Customers with the Gig plan will also have the option of getting an unlimited data plan for an additional $30 per month.

The overage fee will be automatically waived the first time you go over your data plan. After that point, customers can expect to be charged $10 per 50GB of additional data they use over the cap, up to a maximum of $50 per calendar month. Unused data will not roll over into the next month.

All of that is pretty reasonable as far as data caps are concerned. For instance, Comcast Xfinity won't give you a mulligan the first time you break your data cap, and the monthly maximum overage penalty is $100, not $50. On top of that, 1.5TB of data is more than enough for most households, and more than three times as much data as the average home used in Q4 of 2021, per OpenVault's broadband insights.

A chart of customer satisfaction with ISPs showing AT&T, WOW and Xfinity as the top three

WOW came in a close second to AT&T in the North Central region of J.D. Power's latest satisfaction study of ISPs. 

J.D. Power

WOW wins decent customer satisfaction ratings, with some caveats

The 2021 American Customer Satisfaction Index for ISPs does not single out WOW for an individual score. Our ACSI contact confirmed its inclusion in the total numbers, but said there's "too little market share to be measured by name." Overall, as an industry, we know that ISPs tend to be among the lowest-ranked in the ACSI ratings -- ranking only above subscription television services. So, overall scores being in line with the previous year doesn't tell us much. 

Over in the 2021 J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, WOW Internet had a very decent showing in the North Central region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. It nabbed a 730 score on a 1,000-point scale, which landed it just below AT&T for a second-place finish and solidly above the area's average ISP score of 712. It also finished ahead of Xfinity, Spectrum, CenturyLink and Frontier in that same geographical area.

If you do a Google search on WOW customer satisfaction rankings, you'll likely come across mentions of frequent service interruptions. There were outages in the Detroit area in March of 2021, then a repeat of interruptions a month later for many of those same Michigan customers. The website DownDetector.com tracks outages like these, and you'll find plenty of them in WOW's history. 

That said, WOW also shows up on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to customer experience. In PCMag's 2021 Reader's Choice awards, WOW Internet notched a spot among the top 10 ISPs with a 7.7 out of 10 score. That put it above more familiar providers -- such as Xfinity, Spectrum and Cox -- and well above the ISP average of 7.1/10. 

Here's the bottom line

WOW offers some of the most affordable broadband plans you can find from a cable internet provider in the US. It also features some admirable customer-first features, including no contracts, money-back guarantees and unlimited data. But its reach isn't far and wide -- and at some point in early 2022, its footprint will cover just 14 areas in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina and Tennessee. That makes it a smaller player in the world of cable internet, but WOW still merits strong consideration for the attractive prices and terms if it's available at your address.

WOW Internet FAQs

Where does WOW get its name?

WOW is short for WideOpenWest. It is headquartered in Colorado and provides internet, TV and phone services to customers in the Midwest and Southeast. 

How can I contact WOW customer service?

There are several ways to reach out to WOW customer service. You can find most of what you need by visiting its Contact page. Several phone numbers are listed, all dependent on your address and whether you're an existing or potential customer inquiring about service.

Additionally, you can use the WOW Twitter contact page, a great way of tracking where any outages may be occurring, or visit the WOW Facebook page.

Is WOW participating in the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program?

Yes. WOW supports the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program, an initiative to help keep low-income households connected to vital internet services during this time of remote learning, work and health care information. WOW also offers its own low-cost plan, called Internet for Education, which provides affordable broadband access for qualifying households of K-12 students.

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