Best Cable Internet Provider of 2023
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The fact is, cable internet is still the most common type of internet connection in the United States. And cable will be your best option for fast and reliable internet if you don’t have fiber internet in your area.
The internet technology known as “cable” often uses a combination network of copper cable and fiber-optic lines. That’s why cable internet is so much faster than it used to be.
This hybrid cable-fiber internet used by top cable internet providers can now take you up to gigabit download speeds. Cable will never beat fiber in the speed race, but cable internet is a strong, reliable workhorse that can get the job done for you.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about cable internet and its pros and cons. And if you’re thinking about switching ISPs, get a quick review in this article of some of the best cable internet providers of 2023.
What is Cable Internet?
Cable internet still offers much faster speeds than dial-up internet, DSL, or satellite internet. Hybrid cable internet can be a good choice for HD streaming, online gaming, and downloading large files.
Best of all, cable internet is available in most urban and suburban areas. For that wide coverage, we can thank the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, cable television was so popular that copper coaxial cables spread over much of the USA. That copper network now supports internet access for millions of people.
Pros & Cons of Cable Internet
High download speeds: Cable internet can deliver impressive download speeds up to 2000 Mbps (2 Gigs).
Wide availability: You can get cable internet in most urban and suburban areas.
Lower pricing than DSL and satellite: Cable internet plans will give you much more bang for your buck than DSL and satellite. At first, the pricing of all three may seem similar, as many first-tier internet plans tend to start around $50. But for that price, cable internet providers offer fast download speeds of 100-300 Mbps. You will get far slower speed and performance from DSL and satellite.
Lower upload speeds than fiber: Cable’s upload speeds can’t approach the symmetrical speeds of a 100% fiber connection. Most cable internet upload speeds top out at 50 Mbps, but 10-20 Mbps is far more common. That 10 Mbps upload speed will be enough for many households with average internet usage. But you may run into slowdowns or glitching if you have multiple devices streaming HD content or online games.
Shared bandwidth/varying connection quality: Cable internet operates on a shared network. Because those shared hubs have a maximum capacity, your internet performance may suffer during peak usage hours. Network congestion from lots of users can slow down your speed. But in recent years, top cable providers have expanded their hubs and reduced issues with network congestion.
Outages: Cable internet can be vulnerable to outages if anything damages the physical cables that carry your internet signal. Bad weather and construction are the most common events that damage or disconnect internet cables.
Cable Internet vs. Other Types of Internet Connections
Cable Internet vs. DSL
Top cable internet providers offer much faster speeds than Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections. DSL runs through telephone lines, not TV cables. DSL speeds vary widely. The newer type called IPBB may get you up to 100 Mbps. But some older DSL networks won’t even get you past 6 Mbps download speed, which is far below the FCC broadband minimum speed. DSL may be your only wired internet choice in areas that lack cable or fiber infrastructure.
Cable Internet vs. Fiber Internet
A new tech standard called DOCSIS 4.0 may lift cable internet speeds to a new level in the next few years, which we’ll discuss shortly. But until then, cable internet will always take a backseat to fiber internet. Fiber-optic connections send signals with light, not electrical impulses. And even 69% of lightspeed is much faster than electricity. Fiber-optic internet also features symmetrical speeds, which is perfect if you need ultra-fast speeds for gaming, videoconferencing, and large file uploads. But if you can’t get fiber internet, the gigabit download speeds of cable internet now based on HFC will be your next best bet for internet performance.
Cable Internet vs. Satellite Internet
Cable internet works from a wired connection, but satellite internet uses radio signals sent back and forth from satellites in space. Satellite internet is known for providing coverage in rural or remote areas where wired internet may not be available. Satellite internet will have slower speeds, higher latency, and data caps. Cable internet is generally more reliable, faster, and cheaper than satellite internet.
Cable Internet vs. Fixed Wireless Internet
Fixed wireless internet uses radio signals from towers to deliver internet data to your home. To get fixed wireless, you’ll usually have a receiver antenna installed on your roof much like a satellite dish. Fixed wireless can provide high-speed internet in some places. But your internet performance may be affected by obstacles between you and the tower, such as tall buildings or hills. Fixed wireless service can also be interrupted by heavy rain or snow, much like satellite internet. Cable internet will usually provide better performance and higher speeds than fixed wireless home internet.
Top Cable Internet Providers
The largest ISPs in the nation are cable internet providers. Cable is your best internet option, if there is no fiber available in your area. Here are the best cable internet providers measured by pricing, speeds, reliability, and customer satisfaction.
Best Cable Internet Provider of 2023
Spectrum serves 32 million customers in 41 states. With hybrid fiber-coaxial technology, Spectrum can offer speeds up to 2 Gigs in select areas and up to 1 Gig elsewhere. Upload speeds will vary between 10-35 Mbps depending on your plan. Spectrum delivers good customer support with a 24/7 tech helpline and chat. The company is also known for low promotional pricing for its first year, though prices will climb after the promotional period. Spectrum’s prices are simple and transparent, with free equipment included in your monthly plan fee. That’s why Spectrum takes the top slot over Xfinity, its largest rival in these rankings. The other big advantage Spectrum holds over Xfinity is that Spectrum imposes no data caps. Even though Xfinity’s data caps are high at 1.2 terabytes (TB), heavy data users can still go over the limit. A Benton Institute study shows that 14.6% of homes use over 1 TB of data per month. No data caps from Spectrum means no overage fees and no throttling, which is a win for customers. Overall, Spectrum takes top honors among cable internet providers for the strength of its performance and service across all categories.
Xfinity is owned by Comcast and serves 32.1 million customers in 40 states. Like Spectrum, Xfinity has a strong, established network and a track record of operational stability. Xfinity can give you very fast HFC cable internet at up to 1 Gig download/35 Mbps upload, and Xfinity’s promotional plan prices are some of the best in the industry. After the promotional period, though, you will get significant price hikes, including equipment rental fees. The other downside of Xfinity’s pricing plans is that they are complex and vary depending on your region. It’s harder to figure out what you’ll end up paying. The biggest unpredictable factor is the 1.2 TB data cap on many Xfinity plans. Many people won’t approach the cap, as it’s pretty high. But If you go over your data limit, you may be charged overage fees up to $100/month. So even though Xfinity will give you fast speeds and a solid network, they fall short in pricing stability. Customer service has also scored below average in the past, though a recent national survey shows improvement.
Cox is a leading cable internet provider serving 19 states. Cox’s top-speed plan is currently at 1 Gig, which is plenty of bandwidth for households with average internet usage. The first-tier plan starts on the lower side of industry prices and stays there, with no planned price increase. All other plans start out competitive but increase to higher prices than the competition after year 1. Cox also charges equipment rental fees, though you can avoid them by using your own compatible modem/router. Unlike most other cable companies, Cox also asks you to sign a one-year contract if you want their initial promotional rate. If you cancel before the first year is up, you’ll pay an early termination fee. And, like Xfinity, Cox will give you a data cap of about 1.2 TB and charge you for every extra 50GB you use over that limit. You’ll get good internet performance and speed from Cox, but watch out for those data caps.
Optimum provides cable internet services in 21 states. A small percentage of Optimum’s customers can get all-fiber service, but most of its 5 million subscribers only have access to cable internet. Still, like the other top cable internet providers, Optimum can offer download speeds up to 1 Gig. Optimum also requires no data caps or annual contracts. Equipment is included with your monthly plan fee. Given that Optimum also sets low prices and an unusual two-year price guarantee, what’s the catch? Well, there seems to be a customer satisfaction problem. Optimum ranks very low in the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study. Reasons for that low ranking from customers are mixed, but it is something for you to consider as you choose an internet provider.
WOW! (WideOpenWest) is the smallest of the cable internet providers listed here, serving 6 states. Like the larger cable ISPs, though, WOW! uses HFC technology. WOW! can give you up to 1 Gig (1000 Mbps) download speed and 50 Mbps upload speed. Even better, they offer that speed at very low introductory rates, far lower than most cable internet providers. Monthly prices rise after the first year, but still remain about $20 lower than competitors each month for most plan speeds. The only downside to WOW! service is data caps, particularly for the lower-speed plans, which are limited to 1.5 TB. But their higher speed plans also raise the data caps, so you will get a 2.5 to 3 TB allowance. WOW’s higher data caps are much less likely to trigger overage charges than the data caps for Cox or Xfinity. And WOW! scores above average for customer satisfaction too. Even as a smaller cable ISP, WOW! seems to deliver better than some of the big players.
How to Choose the Best Cable Internet Provider
Availability: Find out which providers operate in your area and offer coverage at your specific location. Enter your zip code to see our detailed plan list customized for your area.
Speed and Plans: Check out the available plans and choose one that suits your internet usage needs. You’ll need more speed for high-data activities. If you work remotely, watch a lot of HD programming, or play real-time games, you’ll need more speed, especially for multiple devices.
Data Caps: When cable companies impose data caps, those caps are usually high. 1.2 TB (terabytes) is a typical data cap for cable internet. But if you have many devices in your home that are all HD streaming and real-time gaming, you may exceed even this high data cap.
Pricing and Contracts: Compare the costs and terms of different plans. Look out for promotional pricing, contract durations, equipment fees, and any additional charges such as installation or early termination fees.
Customer Service: Read our expert reviews and pay attention to national survey results to assess the provider’s customer service reputation.
Bundled Services: If you’re interested in combining your internet with other services such as television or phone, check out which providers offer the best bundled packages for potential cost savings.
How Does Cable Internet Work?
Cable internet usually operates through Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial Networks (HFCs), which combine the power of fiber-optic cables with copper coaxial cables. Fiber-optic cables create the long-distance backbone of the network that travels between states and through cities. Coaxial cables make up the last mile or so of connectivity to individual homes.
The more copper cable you have as part of your cable internet connection, the slower your internet will be compared to an all-fiber connection.
There are two common types of internet connections that you cable internet provider might use:
Fiber to the Node (FTTN): With FTTN, fiber-optic cable will run to a node that supplies several hundred homes. Because the homes are usually within a one-mile radius, the expression “last mile” for copper cable developed. FTTN is the most common kind of connection for many top cable companies.
Fiber to the Curb (FTTC): In FTTC setups, fiber-optic cables are extended to a point near the user’s residence. From there, the connection is then switched to coaxial cables, which deliver the internet signal to the user’s home. While FTTC provides much faster speeds compared to FTTN, it will not offer the same performance as a full fiber-optic connection.
An all-fiber connection is called Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Cable internet companies do not usually offer this kind of connection. When they do, they call it all-fiber or 100% fiber. You will be able to tell if an internet plan is all fiber because the upload speeds will match the download speeds.
Benefits of a Cable Internet Connection
With a cable internet connection, you can expect fast and reliable internet access for various online activities. You’ll be able to stream high-definition videos, participate in video conferences, play online games without significant lag, and download large files quickly. Cable internet also allows multiple devices to connect simultaneously without freezing, slowing down or disconnecting.
That being said, remember that your internet connection’s actual speed and performance may vary. Factors that can affect your speed will include the plan you choose, network congestion, and the quality of your modem/router. Most importantly, the speeds advertised by your provider are “up to” speeds, which means your actual speeds may be lower. Test your actual internet speed to see what you’re getting.
Cable Internet of the Future: DOCSIS 4.0
Improving speeds to that degree would clearly change the game for the entire internet industry. Those speeds—particularly the improved upload speeds—would place cable internet on a footing closer to fiber.
But the benefits of DOCSIS 4.0 thus far remain strategies, not realities. Time will tell if cable internet will be able to step up its game to stay competitive with all-fiber internet in the next five years.
Cable Internet Installation: Professional or Self-Install?
Self-installation will usually save you quite a bit, as it’s either free or brings a low charge from $10-20. Professional installation averages $50-100. But with many plans, especially the more expensive plans, cable internet providers may offer you a free installation. Free installation also may be part of a promotional offer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cable internet available in my area?
Cable internet is primarily available in urban and suburban areas where cable TV infrastructure exists. Cable may not be as widely available in rural regions, where DSL or satellite internet may be your main options. Enter your zip code to find out detailed information on internet plans available in your area.
Can I use my own modem with cable internet?
Many cable internet providers allow you to use your own modem. Don’t forget to check with the specific provider about modem/router compatibility and any required configurations.
Can I switch cable internet providers easily?
What is the average cost of cable internet?
Can I get cable internet in my area?
Type in your zip code to see our detailed lists of internet plans in your area. You’ll get prices, speeds, and everything you need to see the best internet provider for you.
 Pew Trusts. “How Do Americans Connect to the Internet?”
 Wikipedia. “Hybrid fiber-coaxial network.”
 Wired magazine. “Internet at the Speed of Light.”
 Benton Institute. “Broadband Usage Still Robust for First Quarter 2022.”
 Xfinity.com. “Data Usage.”
 J.D.Power. “2022 U.S. Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study.”
 Fierce Telecom. “Fierce Fundamentals: DOCSIS 4.0”
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