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.
Spectrum offers speedy, reasonably priced cable internet service, and a strong budget plan. We wish there were fewer fees attached, though.
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)
Spectrum service offers a solid value—particularly at the lowest tier. There are only three plans to choose from, which could either be a plus or minus depending on your perspective. In this case, we feel it’s a good thing: the plans are straightforward and easy to understand.
The lowest-tier plan offers speeds up to 300 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary) at a decent price, according to government benchmarks (1). That's just $0.17 per megabit per second, with speeds that blow any DSL plan out of the water. The other two internet plans are less exciting, but still reasonably priced for the first year. After 12 months, your price could be up by $20 or more.
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.
Spectrum offers speedy performance overall, with packages up to 1,000 Mbps available (wireless speeds may vary). The lower tiers are more exciting—almost every provider has a gig plan these days, but Spectrum’s lowest plan has speeds up to 300 Mbps, which is still excellent for all but the heaviest users. Additionally, there are no data caps on any of the plans, so you can use as much bandwidth as you like.
Speed is only half the equation, though—even the fastest connection is useless if it doesn’t work when you need it. Luckily, Spectrum is on par with its closest cable competitors here. It offers faster-than-advertised speeds most of the time, according to the US Federal Communications Commission (2), and earned the top spot for median speeds from Speedtest.net (3). Spectrum’s latency scores were a little higher than competitors Xfinity and Cox, but at just 25 ms, you’re still within the playability range for most online games.
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.
Spectrum’s equipment setup is a bit different than most—at least when it comes to fees. There is no charge for the modem, but there is a $5 monthly fee for the wireless router (waived on the gig plan). What this means is that Spectrum gives you a separate modem and router, instead of a combined gateway. It also means you can opt to bring your own wireless router if you prefer. Customers can also add Wi-Fi extenders, called Pods, for $3 each per month. If you use the Spectrum router, you can use the company's highly rated smartphone app to manage settings and parental controls.
Installation is straightforward and affordable. If you need a pro to come out, you can opt for a professional installation for $59.99. If you can handle the installation yourself, the self-install kit is about $25. We’d prefer free self-installation, but it isn’t the highest self-install fee we’ve seen, so we’ll take what we can get.
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!
We’ll just come right out and say it: Spectrum has a lot of fees. While you may never see most of them, it’s worth noting that they’re there. Here’s a sample:
These aren’t going to be on every bill, and you may never see most of them. However, when you do, it makes for a poor experience.
When you add second-year price hikes in the range of $20+, things aren't looking good for Spectrum customers. However, Spectrum customers seem to be about as satisfied with customer service as customers with competitors Cox and CenturyLink, and it's only slightly worse than average. (4)
If Spectrum is the only cable provider in your area and your home isn't wired for fiber internet, we recommend the service. Just set a calendar reminder to contact customer service in a year and see if you can negotiate the price down!