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.
Google Fiber offers affordable gig speeds with no contracts, data caps, fees, or fuss. Unfortunately, it’s still hamstrung by extremely limited availability.
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.
Google Fiber internet is an excellent value for the money. There are only two plans: 1,000 Mbps (1 gig) for $70 per month and 2,000 Mbps (2 gigs) for $100 per month. The 1 gig plan is among the most affordable we’ve seen at that speed, costing a little more than half the national benchmark fro similar plans (1). The 2 gig option is also drastically cheaper than many other providers’ similar offerings (if they even have a 2 gig plan). There’s no budget option for those who don’t need speeds this fast, but for what Google does offer, the value is hard to beat.
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.
Google Fiber is one of the fastest internet providers and offers excellent performance. The speeds are more than enough for even the heaviest users, and there’s enough bandwidth to power a whole household of HD streams. Since this is fiber, upload speeds are also excellent—1,000 Mbps on both plans. Unlimited data is the cherry on top of this delicious internet sundae. Our only knock is that some providers have started offering even faster speeds (though the majority of households won’t need more than what Google offers).
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.
Equipment is another area where Google Fiber really shines. Installation of the fiber jack is free, and there are no monthly fees for the network box, which functions as both a modem and router. This means that, outside of any state-imposed access fees, the advertised prices are what you’ll actually pay for broadband internet service. Many other providers end up costing $10–$15 more per month due to equipment rental fees, so this is a refreshing change of pace.
Additionally, Google doesn’t charge any sort of activation fee. This is another area where other internet providers sometimes get you—they advertise free installation, but charge a significant “activation fee” that negates the deal.
On paper, Google Fiber and its equipment are fantastic. We had to bump this score down, however, because of the slow pace of installation. Some customers complain of having to wait for months or even years to have fiber installed at their homes, even after the fiber-optic cables have been laid in their neighborhoods.
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.
Given the excellent speeds, (relatively) affordable pricing, and lack of fees, it’s safe to say that living with Google Fiber makes for a fantastic experience. For the most part, you can just do what you need to do online and forget that you even have an internet service provider, which is great. When Google anticipates a change to your account or service, it generally lets you know well in advance.
If you do end up needing support, you’re dealing with Google. In general, this means really good online help and so-so phone support. That said, we’ve seen comparatively few customer service complaints about Google Fiber, and our own experience with Google Fiber has been that we rarely need customer support anyway. The company claims (2) it topped results in over 20 categories in an American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey, but the actual results of that survey don’t appear to be public, so all we have are anecdotes.
Something else that we love about Google Fiber is how straightforward the billing is. The monthly statements are very clear about how much you owe and when you’ll be charged compared to the sometimes confusing internet bills from other providers, so there’s no ambiguity about charges. You can also access your account and billing info using your Gmail login, so you don’t have to worry about yet another username and password.