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Xfinity vs. Spectrum: Which Does Cable Internet Better?

Comcast and Charter are two of the country's biggest broadband companies. Which should you trust for your home's online connectivity needs?

Spectrum and Xfinity logos on phones
James Martin/CNET

Cable internet is usually your next best option for a speedy connection at home if fiber isn't available at your address. The two most prominent cable providers are Comcast Xfinity and Charter Spectrum, which soared into second place after acquiring Time Warner Cable in 2016. Both providers can claim to offer internet service to about a third of the country, meaning they're an option for more than 100 million Americans each.

That's big business as far as home internet is concerned. So which one is the superior choice? Let's crunch the numbers on speed and value and dig through the terms, fees and customer service track records to find out. Here's the complete rundown.

Coverage map comparing Comcast Xfinity and Charter Spectrum
FCC/Mapbox

Xfinity vs. Spectrum: Coverage and availability

In June 2021 (the most recent data available), the Federal Communications Commission reported that Xfinity and Spectrum offered home internet service to more than 100 million people in the US. Coverage is most concentrated in the Northeast, the Midwest and the South with both providers. You'll also find Xfinity and Spectrum plans available in parts of the West, Southwest and mountainous regions of the US. Spectrum even offers internet service throughout the majority of Hawaii.

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Despite the large swaths of coverage, there's less overlap between the two providers' footprints than you might think. Though you'll find both available in several metro regions across the country, including Atlanta; Indianapolis; Knoxville, Tennessee; Minneapolis; and Orlando, Florida, the two providers each tend to stick to whatever parts of the map they've managed to wall off for themselves, with one often claiming a city's central, downtown area and the other planting its flag in many of the adjacent suburbs.

That means you aren't likely to find Xfinity and Spectrum available at the same address -- but moving across town might mean switching from one provider to another.

Xfinity vs. Spectrum: Plans and prices

It's tough to compare Xfinity's and Spectrum's prices quickly, side by side. While Spectrum offers three fairly straightforward plans across its entire coverage area, Xfinity offers several plans with different terms and fees in each of the three regions that make up its coverage map. In other words, get ready for a bunch of charts.

Let's get the easy one out of the way first. With Spectrum, you have three plans to choose from, with max download speeds of 300 megabits per second, 500Mbps and 940Mbps. Depending on your choice, your monthly bill will range from $50 to $90 during your promo period. After that, your monthly rate will increase by $25, meaning you'll pay $75 to $115 each month. The good news is that no contracts or data caps are associated with any of those plans.

Spectrum home internet plans

Plan Max speeds First-year promo rate Standard rate  Equipment fee Data cap Contract
Spectrum Internet 300Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $50 $75 $5 router rental (skippable) None None required
Spectrum Internet Ultra 500Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $70 $95  $5 router rental (skippable) None None required
Spectrum Internet Gig 940Mbps, 35Mbps upload $90 $115  $5 router rental (skippable) None None required

Xfinity offers a wider variety of plans and a more comprehensive range of prices and speeds, too. In all regions, max download speeds range from 75Mbps to 6,000Mbps in select parts of the footprint that have access to an Xfinity fiber connection. 

That said, per the FCC, fiber was only available to 4% of Xfinity subscribers as of June 2021, so at the majority of Xfinity addresses, the fastest speed available will be a 1,200Mbps cable plan. All Xfinity plans come with a 1.2TB data cap (more on that in just a bit), and in some regions, some plans come with a one- or two-year contract.

Xfinity's speed offerings are the same across all three regions.

Xfinity home internet plans (West division)

Plan Max speeds First-year promo rate Standard rate (after promo period) Equipment fee Data cap Term agreement
Connect 75Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $25 $50 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) Yes (1.2TB) None
Connect More 200Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $40 $60 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) Yes (1.2TB) None
Fast 400Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $55 $70 (after 24 months) $25 gateway rental (included for 24 months) None None
Superfast 800Mbps download, 15Mbps upload $65 $80 (after 24 months) $25 gateway rental (included for 24 months) None None
Ultrafast 1,000Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $75 $90 (after 24 months) $25 gateway rental (included for 24 months) None None
Gigabit Extra 1,200Mbps download, 35Mbps upload $80 $100 (after 24 months) $25 gateway rental (included for 24 months) None None
Gigabit Pro 6,000Mbps download, 6,000Mbps upload $300 $300 $25 gateway rental (required) None 2 years

Xfinity home internet plans (Central division)

Plan Max speeds First-year promo rate Standard rate (after promo period) Equipment fee Data cap Term agreement
Connect 75Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $30 $49 $14 gateway rental (skippable) Yes (1.2TB) 1 year
Connect More 200Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $40 $69 $14 gateway rental (skippable) Yes (1.2TB) 1 year
Fast 400Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $55 $79 $25 gateway rental (included for 12 months) None 1 year
Superfast 800Mbps download, 15Mbps upload $70 $89 $25 gateway rental (included for 12 months) None 1 year
Ultrafast 1,000Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $75 $99 $25 gateway rental (included for 12 months) None 1 year
Gigabit Extra 1,200Mbps download, 35Mbps upload $80 $109 $25 gateway rental (included for 12 months) None 1 year
Gigabit Pro 6,000Mbps download, 6,000Mbps upload $300 $300 $25 gateway rental (required) None 2 years

Xfinity home internet plans (Northeast division)

Plan Max speeds First-year promo rate Standard rate (after promo period) Equipment fee Data cap Term agreement
Performance Starter 75Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $65 $65 $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Performance 200Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $84 $84 $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Performance Pro 400Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $40 $89 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Blast! 800Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $60 $94 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Extreme Pro 1,000Mbps download, 20Mbps upload $70 $99 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Gigabit Plus 1,200Mbps download, 35Mbps upload $80 $104 (after 24 months) $14 gateway rental (skippable) No None
Gigabit Pro 3,000Mbps download, 3,000Mbps upload $300 $300 $25 gateway rental (required) No 2 years

Pricing is where Xfinity gets a bit complicated. For starters, let's pull out that top-tier Gigabit Pro plan, which is only available at addresses with access to Xfinity fiber. It costs a hefty $300 per month and comes with a two-year agreement in all three regions. You'll also need to request a site survey to verify that your address is serviceable for the plan.

As for the standard cable internet plans, available everywhere with download speeds of up to 1,200Mbps, monthly prices range from $25 to $80 during the promo period and from $49 to $109 after that. Just pay attention to those price jumps because, in some regions, they can get awfully steep.

How steep? Things aren't so bad in the West, where the average price increase on those cable plans is around $20. But in the Central division, where contracts are mandatory with all plans, that average increase shoots up to $33. In the Northeast, only the four fastest cable plans come with a price increase after the first year -- between them, the average jump is about $34. If you live in the Northeast and you subscribe to Xfinity's 400Mbps Performance Pro plan, you've got the worst of it. After the promo period, your bill more than doubles, skyrocketing from $40 to $89 per month. 

Xfinity vs. Spectrum: Which offers the better value?

The easiest way to get a quick sense of value with an internet plan is to look at the monthly cost per Mbps. Spectrum's average cost across all three plans during the first-year promo period is 18 cents for each Mbps of download speed. After Year 1, that average goes up to 25 cents per Mbps. Both are decent figures -- the only cable provider that does better is WideOpenWest, or WOW, which charges an average of 15 cents per Mbps during the first year and 21 cents per Mbps after that.

With Xfinity's smattering of cable plans, you'll pay an average of 25 cents per Mbps during the first year and 39 cents per Mbps after your promo ends and your bill goes up. (The Gigabit Pro fiber plan does come in at 5 cents per Mbps, but again, you're paying $300 each month for it.) That's still better than many other competitors, including cable internet rival Cox Communications, which charges an average of 53 cents per Mbps during Year 1 and 80 cents per Mbps after that.

With more plans and three separate regions, there's a lot of variance in the Xfinity value proposition, and some plans offer better value than others. Overall, though, you'll be paying a bit more than you will with Spectrum.

When you factor in Xfinity's contracts, data caps and price hikes, it's pretty clear that Spectrum wins on value.

Xfinity vs. Spectrum: Contrasting terms and fees

Neither provider goes overboard with extra fees, and both give you the flexibility to skip them whenever possible. Here's the breakdown:

Installation

Xfinity charges $40 for in-home, professional installation of your home internet service. Spectrum charges $50, but the cost shoots up to a stink-face-inducing $200 if you go for the fastest plan, Internet Gig. You can skip the fee with both providers by using a self-install kit and plugging everything in yourself, though Spectrum charges $10 for its self-install equipment, while Xfinity's kit is free. 

It's also pretty standard for internet providers to waive the fee for professional installation to help entice you into signing up, so it's worth asking for that if you're trying to negotiate the best deal.

A Comcast Xfi Wi-Fi router

You'll need to pay $14 monthly to rent the Xfinity xFi Gateway, but you can skip that fee by using your own modem and router.

Comcast

Equipment rental

Both providers charge a monthly equipment fee for renting a gateway or router, but you can skip that fee by using your own gear in both cases. It's a little easier with Spectrum, which provides a modem at no cost and then charges $5 per month if you rent a router -- just get a router of your own and kiss that $5 fee goodbye.

With Xfinity, you'll be charged $14 per month for renting a combination modem/router gateway device, so you'll need both a modem and a router of your own (or a combo device of your own) to skip the fee.

Data caps

Here's where Spectrum and Xfinity start to part ways. None of Spectrum's internet plans have a data cap, so you can browse, stream, Zoom and download as much as possible without fear of incurring extra charges. On the other hand, Xfinity enforces a data cap of 1.2TB (1,200GB) for all of its plans. You'll see extra charges on your bill if you burn through more data in a given month.

Specifically, Xfinity will charge a $10 fee for every 50GB of data over the cap, up to a maximum charge of $100 each month. The good news is that 1.2TB is more than enough for most households. In fact, during 2020 when home internet usage soared because of the pandemic, average monthly data usage in America peaked at about 400GB. That's one-third the size of Xfinity's data cap.

Still, if you're a heavy user of home internet -- someone with lots of family members or roommates online, or someone who regularly games online, downloads or uploads lots of large files, or spends most of the day tied up in video calls -- then a data cap might rightly give you pause. In that case, you might want to consider signing up for Xfinity's unlimited data offer, which will add $30 to your monthly bill. But remember that it's only really worth it if you would otherwise incur at least three overage charges per month.

In 2022, Xfinity scored just above the average among all ISPs from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, while Spectrum came in just below.

ACSI

In a battle for customer satisfaction, Xfinity outperforms Spectrum

The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its 2022 scores for the ISP category, and the overall rating among all providers dropped a point from last year to 64 out of 100. Xfinity and Spectrum both hovered around that average, but in different ways. Spectrum finished 1 point below average at 63 (no change from the previous year), and Xfinity finished two points above average at 66 but suffered a 1-point loss from the year earlier. Along with finishing slightly above the average for the second year in a row, Xfinity's score was best among cable providers and fourth-best among all ISPs, trailing only Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

J.D. Power also ranks internet providers for customer satisfaction. Its 2022 report is divided across four regions -- Xfinity outscored Spectrum in all of them and beat the overall category average. Out of a 1,000-point scale, Xfinity received scores of 706 in the East region, 703 in the North Central region, 736 in the South region and 709 in the West region. That comes to an average score of 714, just a tick above the overall ISP average of 710.

Spectrum's overall average with J.D. Power rings in at 689, 21 points below the overall ISP average. The company's strongest finish was a 719 in the South; its weakest was a 666 in the East.

Our overall verdict: Spectrum wins

It's a close one. Both providers are huge, but Xfinity has a slightly larger footprint, and if you can find it, the company's 6,000Mbps fiber plan is one of the fastest in the industry. Spectrum doesn't offer anything like that. Xfinity also boasts a better variety of plans than Spectrum and a slightly better customer service track record.

Still, I say Spectrum wins out for offering much better value than Xfinity. You'll pay less per Mbps with Spectrum, and you won't have to put up with data caps, contracts or severe price hikes like Comcast's customers. What's more, Spectrum's plans and prices are more straightforward and easier to understand than Xfinity's.

As cable providers, neither will offer upload speeds that are anything close to fiber. But if fiber isn't an option, they're your next best bet for a fast, reliable connection at home. Between the two, I give the edge to Spectrum.

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