Mediacom offers a decent overall experience, with fast speeds and modern Wi-Fi gear. However, big rate hikes, a hefty installation cost, and lots of small fees bring the rating down.
Sparklight, formerly known as Cable One, is a cable internet provider primarily serving suburbs and rural areas in over a dozen states. Its no-contract plans offer good download speeds to areas fiber doesn’t often reach, but its data caps aren’t ideal.
Rating Mediacom’s value requires a long-term mindset. When you first sign up, the prices are extremely low—possibly the best on the market. Some come in at just 20% of the national benchmark, if you opt for paperless billing and autopay (1). However, each year, your cost gradually increases until it reaches a “standard value” (usually after three years). These prices are less exciting: you’ll end up paying roughly double what you initially signed up for. Depending on the length of your contract term, you may be able to jump ship before the price gets too high, but this might be too much effort for some.
Now, to be fair, many internet service providers (ISPs) do this (with a few notable exceptions, like CenturyLink). Mediacom is also pretty transparent about these price hikes and when you can expect them. However, the low starting prices here make the increases feel worse than they are, and that’s not great.
Sparklight’s no-contract cable internet plans are generally a decent value compared to other providers available in the communities the company serves. While you might not be able to get fiber in these areas, you’re likely to find DSL, satellite, or other cable internet service providers (ISPs). The speed you get for the price is comparable to other cable providers or a bit cheaper, and the performance surpasses DSL and satellite. All of this means Sparklight’s plans are worth strongly considering if your address is in one of its service areas.
We recommend choosing a Sparklight plan with at least 200 Mbps of download speed, but ideally more if it’s in your budget. Since Sparklight is a cable provider, upload speeds tend to be far below the download speeds. Upload speeds increase with each pricing tier, so if you work from home and have multiple connected devices you may want to pick one of the more expensive plans for seamless video calls.
All of Sparklight’s plans have data caps, except for its most expensive Gig plan. Data caps are typical for cable providers. While some competitors offer data caps over 1 TB for all of their plans, Sparklight’s plans have data caps that range from 100 GB to 1.5 TB. You can get 100 GB blocks of additional data for $10 during months when you need it, or you can upgrade to unlimited data with any plan for an extra $30/month. When calculating your needs, consider that the average person uses 536 GB of data per month (1).
The Gig plan offers the most data for your dollar and the highest speeds, but it’s more expensive than fiber plans with comparable download speeds, at least in some of the service areas. If you don’t want to pay top dollar, the Internet 300 and 500 plans also offer good speeds and high enough data caps for the needs of most households. We wouldn’t recommend the Internet 25 plan because its low speeds and data cap won’t comfortably meet most people’s needs.
We have no major complaints about Mediacom’s performance. There’s a range of plans available (up to 1 Gbps), so you can find something to suit whatever your needs are. We do have a couple of small gripes, though.
First, there are data caps on all internet plans, with no unlimited data option. The lowest-tier package has a cap of just 350 GB, which is pretty harsh, given the average person uses 536 GB per month (2). The middle-tier internet plans have 1.5 and 3 TB limits, and that's better—this should be plenty for most users and is in line with most other providers that have data caps.
The 1 Gbps plan bumps data caps up to 6 TB, which is effectively unlimited for most use cases, although a household streaming in 4K could theoretically max this one out, too. Going over the cap costs $10 per 50 GB, which, again, is in line with other providers charging overage fees.
Our other gripe is that there are no plans faster than 1 gig. In a world where internet providers are increasingly offering 2 gig and even 5 gig plans, we’d love to see Mediacom do the same. Admittedly, though, 1 gig should be plenty for all but the heaviest of users.
Sparklight is available in mostly rural and suburban areas where customers probably won’t be able to get fiber internet. This makes Sparklight’s cable internet speeds the best option in some communities that are otherwise served only by DSL or satellite, which can be slow and unreliable. According to a report from Ookla, Sparklight had the highest download speeds among fixed broadband providers in North Dakota and New Mexico. (2)
Sparklight is a fiber-rich cable provider, meaning it delivers service using a mix of fiber and coaxial cables. While it can achieve download speeds of up to 940 Mbps, its upload speeds are much lower than that, reaching 50 Mbps. This is a technical limitation of cable connections that those with fiber connections won’t experience. While this isn’t ideal for households with several people who want to do heavy gaming or take video calls at the same time, Sparklight’s download and upload speeds are generally still sufficient for most households. And for regular browsing and streaming for multiple users, it's just fine. However, the data caps may hold you back if you’re a heavy internet user. Occasional outages and inconsistent speeds do affect service according to customer reports on Downdetector. (3)
Mediacom offers a home networking combo called Xtream WiFi360pro. It uses a cable modem and eero Pro 6 mesh routers to ensure coverage over your whole house. The cost is $10 per month for a pair of routers, and you can add additional units for $6 each if needed.
Installation is less exciting. A professional installation and an activation fee will cost you around $120 total, and there’s no option to do it yourself. The fees can sometimes be waived with certain promotions—we recommend shopping around for one or asking a sales rep because these are steep.
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When you sign up for Sparklight internet service, you can call to schedule professional installation or choose self-installation. Both options are reasonably fast according to customer reviews. Professional installation is typically free and can be scheduled at your convenience. There's technically a $90 professional installation fee, but it is waived as part of a "permanent promotion." Self-installation is free and should take about 15 minutes once you receive your equipment in the mail.
You can choose to purchase your own Sparklight-supported modem or lease a modem from Sparklight for just over $10/month, less than some other providers. The installation cost, activation fee, and any equipment deposits may be waived for qualifying new customers.
The Mediacom customer experience is decent overall. The provider scores a bit below average on customer satisfaction surveys like the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) (3), but overall, the service itself is fine. Speeds are solid and reliable, the Wi-Fi equipment is good, and the prices are competitive (at least initially).
Our biggest knock against Mediacom is the tremendous amount of small fees the company hits you with. In addition to the equipment and installation fees already mentioned, the company charges one-time fees for activation, early termination of your contract, and “Wi-Fi certification” (whatever that means). There’s a fee every time you have a technician come out for service. All these fees add up and can really sour the experience over time.
Customer experience with Sparklight is about average compared to other providers. Tech support is available 24/7 by phone or email, and there are plenty of help articles available online. Like most other providers, equipment installation is straightforward whether you have it done professionally or do it yourself.
Common complaints include unplanned outages, inconsistent speeds, and long wait times to reach Sparklight support by phone, according to user reports on Downdetector. (4) If you try Sparklight’s internet service and it doesn’t live up to expectations, the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.