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.
Cox provides a great customer experience and reliable speeds, but you’ll spend more for higher-speed plans, extra data, and add-ons.
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.
Cox plans range from around $0.60/Mbps for low-speed plans to around $0.10/Mbps for the fastest plan, which is more expensive than other cable internet providers. The good news? Cox has more lower-speed plan options, so if your internet budget tops out at $50 a month, Cox might be your new best friend. At speeds of 200 Mbps and above, however, Cox loses the price war.
What you get for the money is pretty good. All plans have a 1.25 TB data cap (unless you pay an extra $50 per month for unlimited), but that’s more than most people need. And unlike providers where unlimited comes standard, Cox won’t throttle your speed if you get a little data-hungry. Just beware of overage charges (which can really add up) if you go over the limit.
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.
Generally, Cox delivers the speeds it says it does, sometimes even a bit higher—though the speed you experience also depends on lots of factors, such as the equipment you’re using and your distance from the router.
Cox specializes in cable internet, which is faster than DSL and satellite, but slower and less reliable than fiber. It’s also typically cheaper and more reliable than wireless internet. The US Federal Communication Commission, in fact, says actual speeds from Cox are faster than advertised and nearly identical to competitor Optimum. Those speeds are stable, too. The report found slowdowns less than 5% of the time. (1) However, cable internet is known to be slower during peak usage times because you and your neighbors are all using the same street lines.
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.
Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi Gateway ($13/month to rent) is a modem and router in one, and you can purchase (but not rent) additional Wi-Fi pods ($129.99 each) that plug into a regular power outlet to reduce dead spots in your home. Because these pods can be used only with Cox, they're only an ideal solution if you plan to be with Cox for several years. The good news is Cox is also compatible with tons of other modems and routers, so you could save a few bucks while using your own gear.
With Cox, a self-installation kit is free. But if getting set up on your own makes you sweat, a Cox professional can install it for $100... but that installation cost goes up if your home isn’t already wired up and ready to go. They’ll ensure cabling makes it from the street into your home, but you might need to hire a contractor or handyman to run wires to a specific room.
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.
Reviews for internet service providers are notoriously low in general, but Cox does pretty well according to our real customer reviews. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) ranks Cox ninth in customer satisfaction among internet service providers—the same as Frontier. (2) That's lower than average, but not by much.
We think Cox’s 30-day, no hassle money-back guarantee is solid. And we like its service. If you opt for self-installation, you can still get plenty of help online or by phone if needed. But if you use your own gear or technology isn’t your thing, $10/month will get you extra help, day or night, for things like malware removal, software installation and reconfiguration, and general troubleshooting.