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.
Starry provides no-contract fixed wireless internet in just a handful of cities. Its cheap plans, free equipment, and high speeds make it a solid alternative to cable and fiber. Unfortunately, the company's financial instability makes it a poor choice for anyone with other options.
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.
Starry’s fixed wireless plans are straightforward and attractive. There are no contracts or data caps. Equipment and installation are provided for free. Prices are subject to change, but there are no price hikes built in since the company doesn’t offer large short-term discounts to new customers like other internet service providers (ISPs) do. It is worth checking for ongoing promotions before you sign up. Starry sometimes offers deals on its plans, like 200 Mbps for $30 per month, which is an even better value than usual.
The Starry Plus plan has 200 Mbps download speeds, which gives you more than enough speed for working from home, streaming, and browsing the web on multiple devices. Starry’s prices and upload speeds tend to beat cable plans with comparable download speeds. At gigabit download speed with Starry, you get half the upload speed of comparable fiber plans, but it’s still more than enough for most people and often cheaper.
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.
Starry offers fixed wireless internet service with performance that rivals most other connection types available in the urban areas it serves. Fixed wireless is, of course, wireless. But unlike mobile internet, which allows you to access the internet wirelessly with your phone anywhere, it works by beaming the internet connection directly to equipment mounted on top of your building. Starry sets itself apart from other fixed wireless providers because it takes advantage of high-frequency spectrum, which allows it to achieve up to gigabit speeds.
Actual speeds vary based on several factors, like how many devices are being used on your network and which apps you’re using. In Q3 of 2022, Starry reported its customers had an average download speed of 196 Mbps, upload speed of 104 Mbps, and latency of 20.3 ms. (1) Speeds have slowed a little over time, but only by a matter of milliseconds.
While it’s not as good as fiber, this is more than adequate for streaming, gaming, video chats, and other intense use on multiple devices simultaneously. Since Starry’s internet service uses fixed wireless rather than a wired connection, weather can affect signal range and reliability. Some users have reported slowdowns and outages due to rain and snow. (2)
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.
All Starry internet customers get free professional installation and are provided with equipment to use at no cost while their service is active. The included ZyXEL router is functional and easy to use, but the company doesn't publicize whether you can use your own instead. Either way, there's no extra equipment cost.
Installation appointments have 30-minute arrival windows, which is respectful of customers’ time. The installation process takes 1–2 hours. The installer will activate the service, make sure it works in every room, and set up your router and devices. There is no self-installation option.
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.
Starry has a great reputation for customer service, but has recently been in the news for mass layoffs and even pulling out of one of its newest service areas—Columbus, Ohio. (3)
If you can still get Starry, you'll benefit from a 30-day satisfaction guarantee and no contracts. Starry will refund you for service interruptions that last longer than 24 hours if you request the credit within 30 days, unless the outage is because of scheduled maintenance, power outage, weather, or something else beyond the company’s control.
Customer service is impressively responsive. Support is offered by phone, email, and social media. The website offers plenty of help articles, and the app has a chatbot that can inform you of outages at your address. Starry reports it has a Net Promoter Score of 69 (excellent) while other broadband providers have an average of 0 (neutral), meaning customer satisfaction with the brand is unusually high. (4)