If you’re looking for faster, better internet service, cable internet may be your best bet. There’s a pretty good chance you have access to at least one or two cable internet providers, but how do you know which is best? This question drove us to dig through lengthy research and not-so-friendly data to find the best cable internet.
Heads up: Time Warner Cable is now Spectrum
Heads up: Time Warner Cable is now Spectrum//=$callout_box_copy; ?>
Charter Spectrum acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016, and soon both Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable will be rebranded as Spectrum. Data we used in this article treated Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable as separate services.
Cable internet provider comparison
Here are the largest cable internet providers based on service coverage and number of customers.
Best cable internet providers
|Providers||Max speed||Real speed*||Data limit||Details|
|Comcast XFINITY||250 Mbps||99%||1 TB||View Plans|
|Charter Spectrum||60 Mbps||100%||None||View Plans|
|Time Warner Cable (Spectrum)||60 Mbps||94%||None||View Plans|
|Optimum||35 Mbps||101%||None||View Plans|
|Cox||300 Mbps||75%||1–2 TB||View Plans|
*Real speed is the percentage of speed that at least 80% of customers experience at least 80% of the time during peak (evening) hours compared to advertised download speeds.1
**Latency is the time (measured in milliseconds) it takes for data to travel. The lower the latency, the better experience you’ll have using the internet, especially with online gaming.
Best cable internet providers summary:
- Best overall – Charter Spectrum
- Fastest plans – Comcast XFINITY
- Best real speed – Optimum
- Most improved – Time Warner Cable (Spectrum)
- Running behind – Cox
We used national survey data and research from a federal regulator to find the best cable internet provider. As always, our experiences using and reviewing cable internet also played a part in our decision-making process.
The criteria for determining the best cable internet almost entirely came down to speed, latency, and data limits, but we also weighed contract options and pricing. Now, let’s get to our picks!
The best overall cable internet
Winner: Charter Spectrum
Charter Spectrum delivers 100% of advertised download speeds for a majority of its users, and it doesn’t deal in long-term contracts or data limits. That means there’s no need to sweat over making a commitment or feel ashamed for watching all of One-Punch Man in one sitting. Charter Spectrum’s latency isn’t too shabby either (27 ms, on average), so gaming online should be smooth—not smooth as butter, like Optimum’s average latency of 13 ms, but smooth enough not to rage-quit.
If Optimum’s cable internet service was more widely available and its speeds higher than 35 Mbps, it might have made our choice for best overall cable internet. If you live in one of the four states that carries Optimum internet, give it a shot. And if 35 Mbps isn’t enough speed for you, you may want to consider our other runner-up for cable internet, as long as you’re not looking for excellent customer service.
Comcast’s XFINITY service also came close to claiming the title of best cable internet. Despite its infamous customer service, XFINITY delivers 99% of advertised speed for most users, and it covers nearly a third of the United States. XFINITY doesn’t require a contract either, so it’s an option for those who don’t want to get stuck in a long-term relationship with their cable provider. ISPs can be needy (not just cable ISPs), so we prefer a no-strings-attached service.
If you’re looking for more specific cable internet recommendations, we’ve also picked winners for speed, price, and customer service.
The fastest cable internet
Winner: Comcast XFINITY
It can seem like almost every internet provider boasts fast internet, but we looked past marketing gimmicks and used hard data to find the fastest cable internet. The FCC’s Measuring Broadband Report found that the majority of XFINITY customers experience 99% of advertised download speeds.2 That means if you pay for a 100 Mbps download speed, you’re more than likely to experience a 99 Mbps download rate. It may seem strange to give an ISP credit for delivering speeds you pay for, but getting speeds as advertised is not the norm.
Charter Spectrum and Optimum are the only other ISPs to have higher speed percentages than XFINITY, and we’re not just talking cable internet providers. XFINITY, Charter Spectrum, and Optimum are in the top three for actual download speed compared to what they advertise. To compare, Cox’s download speed measured at 75%, so most Cox customers are losing out on 25% of the speed they paid for.
Runner-up: Charter Spectrum
While Charter Spectrum scored 1% higher than XFINITY (it’s a perfect 100% in the FCC report), its speeds max out at 60 Mbps, so it didn’t make the cut for fastest cable internet. If you happen to have a choice between XFINITY or Charter Spectrum and you’re not a speed demon, Charter Spectrum might be better for you (we did give it the Best Overall award, after all).
Optimum is another close competitor for fastest cable internet. However, its highest speed is a not-fast-but-not-slow 35 Mbps, and it’s still available only to about 4% of Americans. If you can get your hands on it and you’re not sharing bandwidth, by all means give Optimum a try.
The cheapest cable internet
Winner: Charter Spectrum
Charter Spectrum offers cable internet service at $30 per month for speeds up to 60 Mbps. Most other cable ISPs start around $40–$50 per month for less than 60 Mbps, so Charter Spectrum handily wins out for lowest pricing. However, there is a catch—low prices may not be available to everyone.
Cable internet pricing can be messy because so much of it depends on where you live or if you combine services (TV, phone, etc.). Still, Charter Spectrum is one of the larger cable internet providers, so the $30-per-month price tag should be available to most customers. If you can’t find that price, it never hurts to bring up the competition when talking to Charter Spectrum (or any other ISP). In fact, we’ve negotiated lower pricing ourselves by specifically mentioning a competitor’s specials.
The biggest competitor for the cheapest cable internet is XFINITY from Comcast. XFINITY is the only other major cable internet provider to offer plans starting at $30 per month (Performance Starter), but it lost to Charter Spectrum because of its slower speed (10 Mbps). However, XFINITY fares better for no-contract cable internet service.
The best no-contract cable internet
Winner: Comcast XFINITY
Getting cold feet about having a cable internet provider move in? It’s okay to avoid commitment—go with a no-contract service. XFINITY offers internet service without a contract for an okay price. However, XFINITY’s no-contract service does mean you’ll need to set a reminder: you’ll need to remember your discount expires. (ISPs call it promotional pricing, but it’s really just a discount.)
If you don’t cancel or renegotiate your service when the discount expires, as sure as the sun will rise, you will see a bill increase. It isn’t just XFINITY that does this. We’ve found it with every ISP, cable or not.
Be sure to set a reminder on your calendar to make a phone call when the discount expires (typically after 12 months). It’s never fun to call and negotiate, especially with XFINITY. But even though we usually have to call and pretend we’re cancelling, we think it’s worth the time (and pain) so we can spend that money on something we love doing, like making chocolate chip cookies.
Runner-up: Charter Spectrum
If you’re wondering about other no-contract cable internet providers, we couldn’t find many. Charter Spectrum says it offers no-contract service, which would put it above XFINITY for best no-contract internet, but Spectrum’s small print seemed somewhat misleading. We found contradicting information about its no-contract service, and we think the reason may be the recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable. XFINITY was much more straightforward about its no-contract service, so it had a slight edge over Charter Spectrum.
The best customer service for cable internet
Internet customer service is the butt of many jokes, and for good reason—it can be terrible. To find the best customer service, we used the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report. We trust ACSI because it surveyed more than 12,000 internet customers and is the “only nation cross-industry measure of customer satisfaction in the United States.”3
The thing is, internet service providers scored the lowest out of any industry according to ACSI—even worse than subscription TV and phone service (ouch!). It makes us wonder if the best customer service for internet is really worth mentioning. But regardless, the “best of the worst customer service” turned out to be Optimum. It received a score of 69 out of 100 (the industry average is 64). To compare, XFINITY scored the worst for cable internet with a 59, but we can’t say we’re surprised about that.
Though we didn’t pick Time Warner Cable (Spectrum) as any of our winners, we thought it worth mentioning it has the biggest improvement in customer satisfaction. It went from a score of 58 in 2015 to score of 66 in 2016. It’s the biggest improvement for an ISP, cable or otherwise, and we hope it continues the trend into 2018.
We’ve covered the best customer service and every other winner for cable internet, but how does cable internet fare against other types of internet providers?
Is cable internet better than DSL or fiber?
After digging through the FCC’s research, we couldn’t help but be impressed with how well cable internet stacks up against DSL and fiber.
The FCC notes that cable ISPs are the “driving growth” behind faster internet service.4 In fact, median download speed for fiber internet is barely ahead of cable internet (52 Mbps vs. 49 Mbps).5 That’s a mere difference of 3 Mbps. (Good job cable internet!) Also, cable internet’s median download speed has increased by 47% year after year, whereas fiber has increased only 14% and DSL only 21%.6
...median download speed for fiber internet is barely ahead of cable internet.
Cable internet still has a few downsides, though. For example, you share cable lines with your neighbors, so if everyone decides to hop on the internet and watch YouTube in high definition at the same time, you can experience slower speeds. It’s very much like rush hour traffic—if everyone decides to get on the road at the same time, things get congested, and you soon find yourself driving more slowly than usual.
We’ve mentioned it already, but another drawback is availability. If you’re lucky, you can choose between two or three cable internet providers, but the reality for most Americans is a choice between only one or two. A lack of options is always bad for consumers, and cable internet is no different. However, this is the case not just with cable internet, but with ISPs in general.
Can I get cable internet and TV together?
If you want TV and internet from the same provider, cable internet is the easiest way to do it. After all, both are delivered via the coaxial cable in your home.
Each provider we reviewed offers a television and internet service package. You can even save some money if you combine the two. If you want to know how a provider’s TV service compares to its internet service, you can check out our TV service reviews.
If you still have questions about cable internet, you can check out some of the more popular questions we get in the FAQs.
FAQs about cable internet
Q: What is cable internet?
Cable internet takes its name from the same coaxial cable you use for cable television.
Q: Who has the fastest cable internet?
We don’t want to repeat ourselves, but we picked XFINITY as the fastest cable internet provider of 2018.
Q: What’s fastest—cable, satellite, DSL, or wireless?
Cable internet is, on average, faster than DSL, and DSL is typically faster than wireless or satellite internet.
Q: Which companies offer cable internet?
Here’s the most complete list of cable internet providers we’ve come across.
Q: Are cable TV and cable internet the same?
No, but many cable companies sell internet and TV together as a bundle.
Q: Why is cable internet slow sometimes?
There can be numerous reasons for experiencing slower-than-usual internet speeds. If it’s not your modem, computer, device, etc., then it might be the cable technology. You share cable lines with neighbors, so you could get slowed down during busy hours, but it shouldn’t be a common occurrence.
Where do we go from here?
Did we answer all your cable internet questions, or was there something we missed? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Do you think cable is better than DSL? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Federal Communications Commission, Measuring Broadband in America Report
2. Federal Communications Commission, Measuring Broadband in America Report
3. American Customer Satisfaction Index, About ACSI
4. Federal Communications Commission, Measuring Broadband in America Report
5. Federal Communications Commission, Measuring Broadband in America Report
6. Federal Communications Commission, Measuring Broadband in America Report