AT&T offers one of the best values in internet service—fast fiber internet speeds at reasonable prices, plus some of the best support in the business and rock-solid reliability. With no contracts, no data caps, and no monthly equipment fee, AT&T is one of the best home internet providers we tested.
CenturyLink offers excellent fiber internet, but it’s available only in limited markets. If you can't get fiber, you may be able to get a DSL connection but you'll pay nearly as much.
The AT&T fiber plans represent an excellent value proposition. The speeds are competitive, and the prices at any given tier are lower than nearly every other provider. One exception, Xfinity, offers slightly cheaper gig plans in some markets. Another, Google Fiber, offers $10 less on gigabit speeds. However, AT&T is more likely to be available in areas that have cable internet from Spectrum and Cox, and we think AT&T fiber is usually the better deal.
For the money with AT&T, you get outstanding download speeds and excellent upload speeds. And with unlimited data on fiber internet plans, you can actually use your gigabit connection without worry.
Some legacy customers may have DSL internet from AT&T. The most affordable AT&T plan is more than $50 per month, but this can either be basic DSL (speeds up to 75 Mbps) or the excellent, fiber-based Internet 300. If you can get only AT&T fixed wireless, you’ll pay higher prices, face data caps, and suffer through 1 Mbps upload speeds. Other providers just offer much better deals on plans in these tiers.
CenturyLink offers two types of plans, depending on your location. The more common option is DSL, which is relatively slow and offers inconsistent speeds. The other option is fiber, which is extremely fast and reliable.
Generally speaking, the DSL options are not a great value. The price is reasonable, but the speeds mean you’re likely to get more for your money elsewhere (this is true for many DSL providers). The fiber plans are a much better value—they offer much more speed for the money than CenturyLink’s DSL plans and are competitive with other providers’ fiber offerings. In fact, CenturyLink's 940 Mbps plan costs a little more than half of the national benchmark for similar plans (1). We highly recommend CenturyLink fiber if you have it available.
AT&T claims 99% reliability (1) for its fiber internet service, and that’s pretty accurate in our experience. In fact, over several years of constant daily use in a packed house (two people working from home, two kids doing schoolwork, lots of streaming video and calls), we haven’t had a single major disruption. This is a marked contrast to our previous provider.
Additionally, speeds are consistent, with little variation based on the time of day, activity, or even the particular speed test used. Its median download speeds are slightly slower than its cable and fiber internet competitors, but only by a matter of milliseconds (2). This all adds up to a great experience where the service “just works,” and nobody ever really needs to wonder if they’ll be able to do what they need to do.
It's also worth mentioning that because AT&T fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables, upload speeds are equal to download speeds. That means you can upload huge files in seconds, video chat, live stream game play, and more without a hiccup.
There’s a performance divide based on the type of service available. The CenturyLink DSL plans can range from 15 to 100 Mbps, which is a wide range. Additionally, 15 Mbps just isn’t great these days. It doesn’t even reach broadband speeds (25 Mbps or more). That said, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting the advertised speed—whatever plan you sign up for, you seem to get what you pay for with CenturyLink.
On the other hand, the fiber plans offer Gigabit speeds (up to 940 Mbps), which is excellent. Additionally, fiber internet offers synchronous download speeds and upload speeds, meaning you can game, video chat, or upload large files just as fast as you binge Netflix. Fiber also tends to be inherently reliable because of the way the technology works—the light signals in fiber optic cables can carry more information over longer distances than coaxial cables. We have no complaints about performance on these plans.
AT&T fiber internet installation is about as simple as it gets. You have two options: a $99 professional installation by an AT&T technician or a DIY self-install kit.
If you can get only DSL with AT&T, the equipment is still free but you'll be charged a $49 activation fee. If you don't want to self-install, you can have a pro come out for an additional $99.
The self-install is very easy and comes with clear instructions, so we’d recommend that for pretty much everyone. Activation and configuration of your Wi-Fi network are handled through the simple AT&T Smart Home Manager app, so you don’t even need to log into the router settings page like with some other providers.
It is worth noting that both of these charges are a bit higher than what the competition charges. CenturyLink doesn’t charge for self-installation, for example, while Xfinity charges only $89.99 for a professional install.
That said, if you do need a professional to come out, you can count on fast and friendly service. We’ve personally had techs out on a couple of occasions and were happy with the experience.
Learn more about whether you need a professional installation.
Finally, the AT&T wireless gateway is surprisingly nice. Called AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, it’s super simple to set up, provides solid range, and looks decent on a desk. Compared to the routers and gateways provided by some other providers, this one’s a breath of fresh air.
CenturyLink installation is more or less on par with other providers in terms of installation procedures and costs. If your neighborhood is wired for only DSL with CenturyLink, you can have your internet service set up by a pro for somewhere between $129 and $300 based on the installation requirements. You can alternatively choose to do a self-install for $15.
If you live in an area wired for CenturyLink fiber, your pro installation and equipment rental are free, and you may be able to self-install for free. You could also wrangle unlimited data and an included mesh wireless network if you sign a contract, so be sure to ask. This is about on par with other fiber internet providers.
Find out whether you need a professional to come by or if you can handle setup yourself.
As for equipment, the CenturyLink modem and router are also pretty standard stuff. The company charges around $15 per month for equipment rentals for DSL customers. The gear is nothing to write home about, but it works. You can also buy the modem outright from CenturyLink for up to $200—whether this is a good deal for you depends on how long you plan to have CenturyLink as a provider.
We don’t particularly recommend buying your own router. Both the DSL and fiber services require a modem certified by CenturyLink to function, so you may as well save some money and use the built-in wireless router.
Internet providers have traditionally had a terrible reputation for customer service, but AT&T scores above average with national rating organizations like the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). These ratings have improved over the last few years, which is encouraging.
AT&T offers several options for getting help:
The support site also has lots of information available. It’s easy to use, and if you do need more help, the options involving service reps usually get a quick, friendly response. While it’s not perfect 100% of the time, AT&T customer support tends to be better than average.
AT&T makes it easy to stay connected away from home, too. Subscribers get access to a nationwide network of free Wi-Fi hotspots. Since AT&T offers mobile phone service in addition to internet, you'll be able to log on in from almost anywhere.
CenturyLink consistently scores slightly below average in customer satisfaction (2), largely due to complaints about a lack of responsiveness regarding customer service. The service also gets a lot of complaints from new fiber internet customers, but complaints are very common industry-wide.
CenturyLink hires techs and contractors from around the country, so some inconsistency is expected. It redeems itself slightly, though, with an easy-to-use support page.
The company is expanding and we hear that many new cities will have fiber internet hookups from CenturyLink within the next few years. If you can get only DSL, though, you may have a connection as slow as 3 Mbps or one as fast as 100 Mbps, with huge variation in latency depending on how far you are from the nearest access point.
We like that CenturyLink provides DSL to customers who may have no other option, but we don't recommend the DSL offering if you have access to cable or fiber internet from another provider.