AT&T vs Spectrum Internet

I’ve had high speed Internet for about as long as anyone in my ZIP code–as soon as DSL was available, I signed up and paid through the nose for it. It took a while for fiber optics to become an option, but I switched once I did. I’ve been a Southwestern Bell/AT&T customer for a good 17 years. Over the years I weighed AT&T vs Spectrum Internet. And for a while, I switched.

I switched to Spectrum in 2016, then back to AT&T in 2018. There are pros and cons to each of them, so I thought going through them might be helpful. Keep in mind Spectrum encompasses several legacy companies. Charter Communications started re-branding itself as Spectrum soon before it acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Of the three, only Bright House Networks had a good reputation. Hence the use of the new name.

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Speed

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet
Choosing an Internet provider is less straightforward than setting up your modem. Here are some observations about AT&T vs Spectrum Internet from a longtime AT&T customer.

Spectrum advertises top speeds of 200 megabits in some areas, a gigabit in others, with the intent to roll gigabit out to its entire service area by the end of 2018.

AT&T’s offering can vary widely. from old-school DSL that tops out at around 11 megabits, to the former AT&T U Verse offering that offers speed ranges from 3 to 25 megabits, and AT&T Fiber, which offers speeds at 5, 50, 300, and gigabit. AT&T has recently rebranded all of this as AT&T Internet, although the specifics can vary.

I found that AT&T generally delivers 90-95 percent of its advertised speed most of the time. Charter Spectrum delivers closer to 80 percent. When Charter offers 200 megabits in your area and AT&T tops out at 25, the difference doesn’t matter. When both companies are competing on even ground or close to it, AT&T delivers more speed for your dollar.

There’s one more important distinction with AT&T Fiber. It’s the same speed in both directions, unlike earlier AT&T offerings and all of Charter’s offerings. With AT&T’s gigabit service, I can actually upload at speeds over 900 megabits. It’s amazing.

In my case, AT&T offers gigabit service in my neighborhood while Spectrum only offers its old 200 megabit service. The price is within $5, but the two don’t compare.

One caveat: There’s not a lot of point in shopping around if you end up buying a bigger, faster connection than you need. Here’s some advice on sizing your Internet connection. Both of them are likely to try to upsell you on connection speed, so it helps to go in with some idea how much you use.

Advantage: AT&T if Fiber is available. Otherwise, Spectrum.

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Data Caps

ISPs are immensely profitable, but they’re always looking for more. One way they look for more is by charging extra for certain ways of using the Internet, which is what net neutrality is all about. The other way is by charging extra for using it more, by imposing data caps.

AT&T has had data caps for years, but didn’t start enforcing them until 2016 and didn’t include a tool to measure your usage until after they started enforcing them, which is what drove me to talk to Spectrum in the first place.

AT&T’s data caps magically disappear if you buy TV service from them, or if you go with their gigabit tier. That should tell you what they’re trying to do–they don’t want you to be buying an Internet only plan and service from Netflix instead of buying TV service.

In the past, the cap was 300 GB, which is easy to break. Today, it’s 1 TB. During the summer when the whole family is home and streaming video or music most of the day and I’m VPN’ed into work, we can use over 300 GB. It would take a lot of work to bust that 1 TB cap. We’d have to stream a lot of 4K content, but I don’t think even that would do it.

Charter’s regulatory approval to merge with TWC prohibits data caps until 2023 or so. By then, the game may have changed. Or it’s possible Charter will merge again and extending that prohibition will be part of the deal. In the meantime, it’s an advantage. But not the advantage it once was.

Advantage: Spectrum

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Throttling

Spectrum makes a big deal of saying they don’t throttle their Internet service. Maybe they don’t intentionally throttle. But in my experience, Zoom teleconferencing and streaming baseball with MLB.tv work so badly as to be nearly unusable. I don’t know what it is about those two services and why Charter’s infrastructure doesn’t like them, but they work much better on AT&T, even lower-speed AT&T services.

Advantage: AT&T

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Running a server

Charter’s terms of service on its home Internet plan prohibit running a server on a home account. AT&T blocks port 25 but other than that, it doesn’t care. If you want to run any kind of server, you’ll have to get a business account from Spectrum, which is more expensive, though not prohibitively so. But AT&T is much more reliable, and if you’re running a server, reliability is pretty important.

Plus, if you can get AT&T Fiber, having symmetric upload/download streams helps a ton with running a server.

Advantage: AT&T

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Reliability

In theory, AT&T should be more reliable since U-Verse and Fiber cables are underground, where they are better protected from the elements. In practice, a bad installer can ruin any inherent advantage.

That said, I had U-Verse for years and if I had any outages, they were brief enough that I didn’t notice them. In my first month with Spectrum I had an outage several hours long due to a storm. Then, in the spring of 2017, long outages became a weekly occurrence, even in nice weather. Even when I’m not seeing service trucks in the area, I’ve had to get used to frequent short outages (a few seconds in length). If it happens while I’m reading the newspaper, it’s no big deal. If it happens while I’m VPN’ed into work, it might be. Spectrum Business’ speed may be business grade, but its reliability isn’t. In mid-2018, Spectrum had an outage that affected much of the St. Louis area for nearly 24 hours and had no answers for me when I called. I mentioned I could get gigabit service from AT&T, and Spectrum still wouldn’t tell me what they planned to do to avoid a repeat.

There were a lot of things about U-Verse that I was unhappy about, but it was reliable. Its reliability put Charter to shame. U-Verse had become obsolete, but its fiber offering puts AT&T back in the game.

If you can get fiber from AT&T, it’s no contest. AT&T wins the AT&T vs Specrum Internet reliability battle by a landslide. If the fastest you can get from AT&T is 25 megabits, and reliability is paramount, you may want to settle for the slower speed from AT&T, especially if you work from home. There’s that much of a difference.

Advantage: AT&T

AT&T vs Spectrum Internet: Customer Service

ISPs are legendary for providing terrible customer service. Time Warner Cable customers looked forward to the Charter merger because Time Warner Cable and Comcast provided the worst customer service in the country, not just the industry.

I’ve never been enamored with AT&T support. In the past, getting AT&T to admit to a problem was very difficult. Today their main saving grace is that they have a self-service support page that lets you take care of almost anything you could need yourself. And the service is reliable enough that you won’t need support very often.

Charter’s customer service is better than average, and I’m not talking ISP average. It’s better than average in general. When I’ve called them, they’ve done what they said they would, and once they notice that I seem to know what I’m talking about, they’ve generally been willing to put down the script. Their hold times are short. And when it takes them more than a few minutes to find an answer they apologize. They’re a long way from AT&T. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s nothing their customer service can do but apologize, and that’s pretty maddening.

When considering AT&T vs Spectrum Internet, not needing customer service is usually preferable. And I needed AT&T customer service about once every three years or so in the past. I needed Spectrum customer service about once every three months, and toward the end, they were increasingly powerless to help me. I’ll give the edge to Spectrum here, since I’m measuring support and I already gave AT&T credit for its reliability.

Advantage: Spectrum

AT&T vs Spectrum: Phone

AT&T has a cheaper VOIP plan than Charter, but if you actually ever use your phone, you can expect to run into overages on the $20/month service. The two companies’ $30/month plans are more or less equal. Charter pushes their home phone service hard because it’s immensely profitable; if you want landline-like service I recommend you get an OBI 200 and connect it to Google Voice. You’ll save a fortune.

Advantage: Neither

AT&T vs Spectrum: TV

I don’t make a lot of use of cable TV packages. My favorite baseball team is out of market so to watch them, I have no choice but to stream baseball through MLB.tv. I also prefer watching Netflix rather than tethering myself to someone else’s schedule.

You have to buy a traditional TV package to get out of AT&T’s data cap, or get its gigabit service. If you were going to buy a TV package anyway, this gets your AT&T’s more reliable service. Which company offers the better package is up to you to figure out though, as it can vary from area to area and there’s a lot of personal preference involved. If you’re thinking of using AT&T’s $35 DirecTV Now service to try to get your data cap eliminated, sorry. It doesn’t count. I looked into that. But if you get gigabit plus DirecTV Now, the overall value is better than what you get from Spectrum.

Advantage: AT&T

AT&T vs Spectrum: Installation fees

Neither company charged me an installation fee in 2016 or 2018. I had to pay a pretty hefty installation fee for AT&T U Verse way back when, but that was a number of years ago. Be sure to ask about installation fees, but as long as Charter Spectrum keeps shedding customers and AT&T smells blood, installation fees will probably stay off the table for both.

AT&T vs Spectrum: In conclusion

When both companies are bringing their A game, AT&T has clear advantages. AT&T’s gigabit service is faster than Spectrum’s gigabit service, and AT&T gives you that speed in both directions.

The problem is that neither company brings their A game, or even their B game, to all of their service areas. In mid-2018, for example, AT&T’s gigabit service is competing against Spectrum’s 200-megabit service. But I have friends whose choices are 200-megabit Spectrum vs 25-megabit AT&T. And some can only get sub-par Spectrum service, or sub-par AT&T service.

When all things are more or less equal, AT&T beats Spectrum, and beats it rather handily. But AT&T’s 25-megabit service is a hard sell against Spectrum’s 200-megabit service. I’d consider it, but I’d second-guess myself a lot. And AT&T’s 25-megabit service is a no-go against Spectrum’s gigabit service. You’ll curse Spectrum during its outages, but you’ll resent slow speeds all the time.

If the speeds are even close, get AT&T because the AT&T speeds will be better than they sound and the reliability will be rock solid. If AT&T doesn’t seem like it’s trying, go with Spectrum. But check again in six months. You might be glad you did.

15 thoughts on “AT&T vs Spectrum Internet

  • July 27, 2016 at 6:16 pm
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    I have the same problem with Comcast. It is almost assured that when a storm rolls through our Internet will go down. Sometimes it’s a matter of minutes, other times it can be for many, many hours. When I had DSL in St. Louis, it was an extreme rarity when my Internet dropped.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2016 at 2:40 pm
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    What Uverse doesn’t proclaim is that internet speeds drop precipitously when the TV is being used. I couldn’t understand why my internet connections were so slow until I contacted AT&T support on the phone and was told that when the TV and internet are being used, the internet speed will drop. Thankfully AT&T offers a 30 day, no questions asked cancellation period, so I’m back to Charter.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm
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      That’s extremely valuable information. Thank you!

      Reply
    • October 22, 2016 at 1:13 pm
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      thanks for the valuable info, never would have guessed it makes a difference to use a TV and internet at the same time

      Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 11:00 pm
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    I am just now experiencing that very thing! I’m on my 2nd Router and tech visit with Uverse. After switching channels and going to only on band (vs dual band) the tech had it up an running just about to the 18mbps I’m paying for. when TV was on later in the evening, my internet went back to nill! I’ve only been with uverse for 3 weeks. Going to call about that no-questions cancellation policy for sure and call charter asap! Thanks for the info!

    Reply
  • November 1, 2016 at 4:34 pm
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    Thank you very much for the useful details!

    Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 1:23 pm
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    Trying to understand how Charter/spectrum delivers their service. I am currently on Fios, but wanting to cut my bill… Internet is fairly slow. I thought it was the website I was on. I am only on 25/25, but with Spectrum can get 100/100 and still cut my bill by $50…. but also want phone line for faxing.

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    • November 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm
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      I would think you’d notice an improvement in speed with Charter. Charter can give you a phone line but they’ll need to confirm whether it’s compatible with fax machines. It’s VOIP, and they have to do something special on their end for it to work. I couldn’t get my fax machine to work reliably on AT&T U-Verse’s phone service.

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      • November 16, 2016 at 7:51 pm
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        Thanks Dave. I have had VOIP before and do not like it. I wonder what I have since it fiber optics… can you give me a scenario? I learn by “doing” if that makes sense…

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        • November 16, 2016 at 8:19 pm
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          Pretty sure FIOS is VOIP as well. U-Verse is fiber optics and it’s VOIP.

          Reply
  • February 18, 2017 at 9:30 am
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    I’m trying to decide to change from Charter Communication to At&t U Verse. I do like Charter’s customer service. I think it is extremely good. If I have a problem with anyone of my 3 bundle package, and they can’t fix it over the phone, they will have a tech out the very next morning. That to me is worth so much. I’ve asked my U Verse or At&t neighbors, how is the customer service and I never receive a positive comment. I know At&t offers a much lower price, but I feel Charter. although not perfect, has my back to correct any problems very quickly. I think I just talked myself into staying with Charter.

    Reply
  • March 6, 2017 at 3:17 pm
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    I love my old AT&T analog twisted pair phone. It works when nothing else does. When you have a VOIP phone, how do you call customer service when the Internet is down?

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    • March 6, 2017 at 5:06 pm
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      I haven’t had any problems with my VOIP line. It’s actually been more reliable than my old analog line because the old wiring in my neighborhood was/is so bad. It depends on how you implement it but the VOIP can work independently from your regular Internet connection. But if both of them are down, then yes, you have to use a cell phone to call them. Which is what I had to do when my old analog line was down.

      Reply
  • March 10, 2017 at 3:23 am
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    I think Direct TV and Spectrum is better. Direct TV has great channels and the NFL Sunday Ticket and Spectrum internet goes up to 100 mbps, but regardless what internet company you have. You never get the full amount with Wi-Fi. Only way to get the full MBPS is through a hardline.

    Reply
  • October 1, 2018 at 8:28 am
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    I have been using AT&T for quite a while now and I am nothing but satisfied with its service. I am glad that the points they were lacking in comparison to spectrum – they made sure to work on them and get back up with a bang.

    Reply

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