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 story of Frontier internet is one of two services: a slow and expensive DSL network and a fast and affordable fiber network. Which one you get makes all the difference.
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.
Frontier offers two types of internet service: fiber and DSL. That means there are two sides to the Frontier value equation. Frontier fiber service is generally an excellent value—you can get 500 Mbps for around $50 per month or 1 gig for around $75, both of which are excellent prices well below the national benchmark for similar plans. (1) If you go for 2 gigs or even the newly available 5 gig plan, you'll pay quite a bit every month but enjoy excellent reliability and super fast speeds. If you go for 5 gigs, free tech support is included.
On the other hand, Frontier’s DSL plan is not nearly so exciting. It is around $50 per month for up to 115 Mbps, but the actual speed varies heavily with the specific area you’re in. Many places won’t see anywhere near 115 Mbps, but even if you do have that speed available, it’s not great for the price. There's also a required $85 installation charge. The good news, though, is that Frontier guarantees its DSL pricing for two years and doesn't require you to sign a contract.
To be fair, DSL service is almost always a poor value for money—it’s not unique to Frontier. And unlike some other combined fiber and internet providers, Frontier offers fiber in a good portion of its coverage area. (4)
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.
Frontier continues the tale of two in the performance department. The DSL service caps out at a fairly slow 115 Mbps, and that’s only in certain areas. While that’s sufficient for many day-to-day activities and light streaming, larger families or those who want to stream in HD may be left wanting more.
On the flip side, the fiber service is predictably excellent, with speeds up to 2,000 Mbps and no data caps to limit you. In fact, Frontier's fiber plans are some of the fastest, according to PCMag (2). The service has the fastest ping of any provider, according and a study by the FCC (3), and it's neck and neck with the competition in terms of speed and reliability. These fiber plans also offer symmetrical speeds, which means the upload speed is equal to the download speed. This is handy if you upload or share a lot of large files, and it tends to be unique to fiber.
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.
Frontier redeems itself in a big way when it comes to equipment and installation. If you have Frontier's DSL internet, the equipment itself is fairly standard. It works, but it doesn't look great on a desk and the capabilities are limited. It's free, which is nice, but you might still want to use your own gear if you need more control over which devices on your network get bandwidth priority. DSL installation costs $85, and there's no self-install option.
If you have fiber internet from Frontier, you're in luck! You get free rental of an eero 6 on the Fiber 1 Gig plan or an eero6E mesh Wi-Fi system, on the Fiber 2 Gig plan. If you have the 5 Gig plan, you'll get the TP-Link AXE300 6E with an optional TP-Link RE815XE Wi-Fi extender for an extra $10 per month. You could still technically use your own gear, but it's hard to do any better than the latest and greatest from eero and TP-Link.
If you're eligible, you may be able to get a Frontier self-install kit—otherwise, a professional will come to your house to install the internet for you. If you need a pro to come out, you'll be charged $50 on your first bill. Cancelation is also free, but some customers are charged a $20 restocking fee for rented fiber gear and a $50 restocking fee on DSL gear.
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.
The Frontier customer experience is a mixed bag. The service itself is fairly reliable—especially the fiber. The DSL service is relatively stable, but more prone to slowdowns during heavy traffic times (like the evening). We’ve also seen some reports online of speeds that are inconsistent with what’s advertised, so keep that in mind.
Frontier has also received very low scores in customer satisfaction from organizations like the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). (3) The provider ranked second-worst in overall satisfaction in the most recent surveys, falling well below average. The complaints we’ve seen point generally to a broad pattern of poor customer service, so if that’s a key factor in your choice of provider, you might want to steer clear until Frontier can sort out its issues.
Unlike most internet service providers, the only way to order internet service is to call in. It works okay for most people, but some folks love the convenience of handling everything without having to deal with phone trees, wait on hold, or talk to a live human. At least the hold music is nice, though, and you can enter info via text message!