If you have a few options to compare, consider what’s important to you: price, speed, contract or no, data limits, customer service, etc. But that can be a lot of work – so to help you sift through the cable ISPs, we did the work for you.
In our search, we determined a few categories: the best overall cable provider, the one that provides the best data limits, best customer service, and the one that gives you the most for the least.
Let’s dive into the best cable internet providers of 2019.
Best Overall - Xfinity
|Performance Starter Internet||Up to 25Mbps||$29.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Plus Internet||Up to 60Mbps||$34.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Pro Internet||Up to 150Mbps||$44.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Blast! Pro Internet||Up to 250Mbps||$59.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Extreme Pro Internet||Up to 400Mbps||$74.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Gigabit Internet||Up to 1,000Mbps||(Not available)||View plans|
|Gigabit Pro Internet||Up to 2,000Mbps||(Not available)||View plans|
*Prices per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply.
**Actual speeds vary with location.
We gave Comcast Xfinity the win in our review of the best internet service providers of all types – and we stand by that when it comes to cable internet, too. Firstly, Xfinity is available in 38 states, making it the largest cable provider – so you’re pretty likely to see them in your area.
Secondly, Ookla’s speed test gave them great scores in consistency of speeds. Plus, they have a variety of plans at reasonable prices and both no-contract, 1- and 2-year contract options.
Unfortunately, however, Xfinity isn’t perfect. Your prices will vary depending on where you live, which means while in one region your price-per-mbps could be better than advertised, in others you’ll find it more expensive. However, for the bandwidth that you get, prices aren’t bad – although they will jump after the first 1-2 years.
Plus there’s a data cap to consider – 1TB is enough for most people, but if you’re a heavy data user, you’ll have to pay $10 bucks per 50GB you go over that. Or, pay an extra $50 each month to nab unlimited data.
Grab a Double- Triple- or Quad-play bundle with Xfinity and you’ll save the most of any ISP we’ve reviewed, cable or not - we saw up to $60 a month saved on one of their Quad-play bundles. Check out our review of the best TV, internet, and phone bundle deals to learn more.
Best for Data - Spectrum
*Advertised speed; actual speeds for price range from 30Mbps to 400Mbps, dependent on area.
**Starting price for the first 12 months, effective 07/16/19. All offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
Spectrum Internet technically only advertises the 1 plan: 100Mbps for $44.99 a month. But in reality, depending on where you live, you can get anywhere from 30 or 60Mbps of speed (or about 50Mbps, like I do) to as much as 200 or 400Mbps – for the same price.
So if you land somewhere in the middle, or better yet, near the top of that range – Spectrum gives you good value for the money – although not as good as Xfinity’s similarly-priced plan (up to 150Mbps for the same price).
That aside, the best thing is that there’s no data caps – it’s truly unlimited data for everyone.
So that means no throttling once you use up a certain amount of data, no overage charges, and no extra charges to get unlimited data. Plus, you don’t pay a router/modem lease, either – saving you $10-$20 bucks a month. Nice.
That said, Spectrum is best for those who don’t need incredible speed or have a lot of devices (>5) to connect to the web. If you do, you’ll start seeing the buffering symbol more often.
But if you’re a lone ranger, you can stream, game, and download to your heart’s content without ever running into issues with throttling.
Best for Customer Service - Cox Internet
|Plan||Download speed||Price||View plans|
|Internet Starter 10||10Mbps||$29.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet Essential 30||30Mbps||$39.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet Preferred 150||150Mbps||$59.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet Ultimate||300Mbps||$79.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet Gigablast||1Gbps (1000Mbps)||$99.99/mo.*||View plans|
*For the first 12 months, with 1-year service agreement.
Cox Internet casts a wide net and manages to catch a lot of different internet users, with plans ranging from 10Mbps to 1000Mbps in speeds. Their prices are a bit high, and only on occasion may wind up cheaper than Xfinity or Spectrum, depending on what’s available in your area.
For instance, an extra $5 a month for Spectrum will give you up to 100Mbps speeds - while $39.99 with Cox will only give you up to 30Mbps; likewise, for $5 bucks cheaper per month, Xfinity’s Performance Plus gives you up to 60Mbps. So Cox is certainly not winning the money game.
One thing Cox does have going for it is that they manage to hit the speeds they advertise – in fact exceeding them at least 80% of the time. But where Cox arguably does best is with their customer service. J.D. Power gave them the best customer service of cable providers in the South region, while they tied in that category in the East with Optimum.
ACSI is a little more straightforward – Xfinity actually beats them out there, but only by 1 point; Optimum also beats Cox by 3. However, combined with Cox’s higher average J.D. Power rankings, and wide availability, we’re declaring Cox the best for customer service.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though – Cox has data caps (1TB, 1.5TB) or an unlimited upgrade option. You can also choose or forgo a 12-month contract, and you’ll have to pay router fees. Plus, if you’re a light user looking at Cox’s 10mbps and 30Mbps plans, you can get the same or more for cheaper with other ISPs – pretty much any of the others in this guide.
Best for Speed on a Budget - Optimum
Optimum is the oddball of our list with the smallest coverage area: just Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. But if you’re in their coverage area, they’re very worth checking out.
Not only do you get speeds that start at 200Mbps for the same as what Spectrum charges for half that, but you don’t have to worry about data caps, either. Plus, for just $10 bucks more per month for the next 2 tiers, you get 300 or 400Mbps of speed – perfect for downloading and uploading or streaming HD content.
Cox’s similar plans – Preferred 150 and Ultimate – comer in $15 and $25 higher than Optimum 200 and 300, respectively; and Xfinity’s are $10 bucks more per month. Spectrum is the only one with slower speeds for the same price as Optimum’s lowest-tier plan.
The thing that’s too bad about Optimum is just it’s availability – otherwise, it’d be just about the perfect provider.
How we chose the best cable ISPs
When sorting through the myriad of cable internet service providers, we focused on a few things, in this order:
- Availability. If it’s not in your area, it doesn’t matter how good it is.
- Performance: Next, we looked at the FCC’s fixed-broadband report and a few other reports to determine how well they actually perform.
- Price: Price was next, then lastly:
- Customer service: In theory, you shouldn’t need customer support very often, so we put it nearer the bottom of our considerations – but it still matters.
- Best overall: We chose Xfinity as the best cable provider because they’re widely available, have an array of affordably-priced plans, and consistently hit at or above their advertised speeds – countrywide.
- Best for data: Spectrum is limited in plans, but with unlimited data at rock-solid speeds and good coverage, they’re our pick.
- Best customer service: Cox Internet averages out to have better customer service than Xfinity in many cases, and they’re the 2nd-most available cable ISP around.
- Best for speed on a budget: If you’re looking for speed for cheap, you can’t beat Optimum – but they’re very limited in availability, so if they’re not in your area, go with Xfinity or Spectrum.
How do I pick the best internet provider for me?
There are a few steps to this, so we’ll break it down.
First, identify the providers in your area. In 2016, 70% of U.S. residents had 3 or fewer options for internet in their area. In the years between, that hasn’t changed much.
That said, satellite internet is available in nearly every state to nearly everyone. DSL is the next most available; followed by cable, then fiber-optic internet. So if you live in a more rural region, you’ll be pretty limited – possibly to just DSL and satellite; or satellite alone.
Likewise, live in a suburban or city region, and you’re more likely to have access to DSL, cable, and possibly even fiber-optic provider options. You can try this tool to see what’s available for you.
Next, figure out what kind of speeds you need. How many people use the internet at your home? For what kinds of uses? I.e. surfing, streaming, gaming, downloading, etc. If streaming, what kind? SD, HD, 4K? Music?
For reference, here’s a good chart detailing number of devices, use, and data in Mbps:
|Very high usage||50Mbps||100Mbps||150Mbps||200+Mbps|
Finally, figure out how much data you use per month. If you already have an ISP, they may have information on your monthly data usage under you online account, either in billing or in a more specific area. This is important in determining how much data you’ll need per month.
Many cable ISPs start at 250GB of data per month; that’s fine for low-usage. Each of the providers we recommend start much higher – at least 1TB (1000GB). If the provider you’re looking at has 1TB, you’ll typically be fine, unless you have a large household of 4K streamers, gamers, etc – data super-users.
That said, if you’re only using the internet for checking your email and browsing the web, you won’t need much in the way of either data speeds (Mbps) or data caps. However, it’s important to note that many ISPs have overage charges for going over their data limit – whatever number of gigabytes that is.
What’s the difference between cable, fiber, and DSL internet?
We’ll start with the simplest of the 3: DSL. DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, uses existing telephone wires to transport your internet information to and from your home. Because of this, it’s inherently limited in the speeds it can reach.
Cable internet travels by underground copper coaxial cables to your home, allowing for faster speeds than DSL; but, since these have to be installed underground, they’re more limited in availability.
Fiber-optic is similar to cable in that it’s made of underground cables, but that’s where the similarity ends. Fiber utilizes long, thin pieces of glass and plastic to transport data by bouncing light, rather than electricity. This allows the greatest speeds and for longer distances.
What internet types is best - cable, DSL, or fiber-optic?
The answer to this question is nuanced. Fiber offers the fastest, most stable download and upload speeds, suggesting it’s the best – but it’s very limited, so it isn’t an option for everybody yet.
Cable provides speeds nearly as fast as fiber-optic and is more available, but if there are multiple people using the same internet service in your neighborhood, you all will share the same bandwidth — slowing everyone down. And, cable still isn’t available in most rural areas.
Finally, DSL is more available, and you won’t be sharing your data with your neighbor – but top-speeds are nowhere near as fast as either cable or fiber-optic. So ultimately, what’s best is the one that’s available to you at the fastest speed you need and the right price — but twist our arm for a straight answer, and fiber is the one.