Kinetic by Windstream aims to bring better internet to rural and remote areas. While it offers one of the best values in internet service anywhere, it’s hampered by a mediocre customer experience.
Fast, inexpensive internet with great customer service, equipment, and installation? Wow is right. This internet company is a solid choice for most people. But if you’re a heavy streamer, its cable and fiber networks might not be beefy enough in all locations.
Windstream’s Kinetic internet service offers a surprisingly strong value. Prices are competitive—in fact, the 1 gig plan ties Google Fiber as the most affordable option we’ve seen for gigabit download speed. They both cost just over 50% of the national benchmark for similar plans (1).
The advertised prices are for a 12-month introductory period and will increase in the range of about $15 after the first year. This practice of second-year price hikes used to be the norm, but the best fiber internet providers we review have abandoned the practice.
Overall, Windstream represents one of the best values in home internet if you can get fiber. It's also a good deal if you can get only DSL, but your speeds will be much slower.
WOW! offers 100 Mbps to 5 Gbps plans at a great price, whether or not you sign up for an optional one- or two-year contract. If you don’t mind signing a contract, WOW!’s plans will cost you about 25% of the national benchmark for a similar plan (1). After that, prices transition to month-to-month rates, which are $10 to $15 higher but still well below the benchmark.
To get WOW!’s advertised prices, you need to sign up for both autopay and paperless billing (a $5 monthly savings) and commit to a two-year contract. If you’re not sure whether you want to be chained to WOW! for that long, don’t worry too much about it. If you duck out early, you’ll pay only $15 for each month left on your contract—which isn’t much more than you’d pay if you skip the contract from the start. (2)
There are data caps of either 1.5 TB or 3 TB, depending on your plan. These are pretty high, but if you’re a heavy user, you could be charged up to $50 extra every month and have your speed throttled.
Kinetic by Windstream is a fiber and DSL internet service. Normally, that would mean two sides to the performance story—excellent speed, reliability, and consistency with fiber, and then DSL. That’s technically true of Windstream, but there’s a big “but” to consider.
The “but” is that Windstream is primarily targeted at rural areas, where other internet options may be limited to satellite or even dial-up (yes, that’s still a thing). In these markets, the Kinetic service can actually be a breath of fresh air—including its DSL. Plus, there are no data caps to worry about, which is a major limitation with satellite. Finally, the fiber performance is excellent, with speeds up to 2 gigs.
The majority of WOW!’s network is cable and fiber, though some customers in Alabama still have legacy DSL service. WOW!'s speeds top out at 5 gigs, but for most households, 250 Mbps is plenty fast. We generally don't recommend more than 1 gigs.
WOW's cable plans have upload speeds that cap out at 50 Mbps, but its fiber plans are symmetrical. That means you can upload as fast as you can download. Most people will be fine with 50 Mbps upload speeds, but if you upload a lot of photos or videos, WOW! fiber could save you some headaches.
Windstream charges a pretty standard $10–$12 per month for equipment rental if you are in its fiber service area. This gets you a very usable wireless gateway.
If you are in a DSL area, you'll be charged a $10 monthly modem fee but will also need a router. You can technically bring your own equipment, but Windstream officially supports a very limited number of modems, so it might be easier just to rent one.
The Windstream professional installation fee seems very reasonable at first—just $35 (or free, with some promotions). However, there’s a $50 activation fee on your first bill that brings it more in line with other providers. If you need a phone jack installed, you’ll be charged another $65 on top of the other fees. Ouch.
You can install your DSL connection for free if you're home is already wired correctly, and online instructions make it a breeze.
WOW! includes a free modem for your first year ($14/month after that), and fiber plans come with a free Wi-Fi router too. If you have cable service, you can rent a Whole Home Wi-Fi system, which includes a coveted eero base and one extender for $9.99. Additional extenders are $5.99 each, but most households won’t need more than one because eero’s that good. eero comes with an app you can use to manage your network, and you can add security services for an additional cost (under $10/month) if you want ad-blocking, malware protection, or parental controls.
A free self-startup kit is available to most new customers, but if you prefer professional installation, it’ll cost you $75. The good news is that with professional installation, WOW! waives its $10 activation fee, so it’s really just $65 more to have a technician’s help.
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The customer experience with Windstream leaves something to be desired. The provider ranks low in independent industry benchmarks like the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) (2), with a score of 62 out of 100. This is slightly below the industry average of 64.
Customer reviews of Windstream are generally mixed, with some pointing out that since they are often the only decent choice in an area, they try to get away with the bare minimum customer service. Customers also complain about frequent outages that sometimes last for days (3). That said, if your only other option is satellite internet (with its high prices and higher latency), it may be worth dealing with less-than-stellar customer service.
WOW! provides an award-winning customer experience, ranking fourth-highest in J.D. Power’s ISP Satisfaction list in the North Central US region in 2022. (3)
We should note that in 2021 WOW! sold a couple regions of its business (Evansville, IN and Chicago) to Astound broadband, so customers may see some changes in their service. That said, Astound ranks fifth on P.C. Mag's Readers' Choice awards, so you're probably in good hands. (4)