Is AT&T Fiber good? Is AT&T Fiber worth it? As an IT professional who works from home full time and relies on my Internet connection to make a living, I have strong opinions about that. I think it also puts me in a good position to answer those questions.
While AT&T Fiber isn’t perfect, it does have a lot going for it. Depending on what your other choices are, it may be the best option in your area. Here’s how to know.
Advantages of AT&T Fiber
There are two big advantages of AT&T Fiber over what your cable operator offers. The first is that AT&T Fiber is the same speed in both directions. With cable offerings, your upload speed is slower than your download speed. When I had Spectrum, I had 200 megabits downstream, but only 6 megabits upstream.
The upstream speed is less important, in some use cases. For regular Internet use and for streaming, you need the downstream speed a lot more than the upstream speed. But when you’re working from home, or taking classes from home, the upstream speed becomes more important. A Zoom session requires 2 megabits in both directions. If I only had a 6 megabit connection, my kids and I couldn’t all be on Zoom at the same time. We’d all be trying to pull 2 megabits, and your 6-megabit connection is a best-case scenaro. You always get somewhat less than the rated speed. We’d get the dreaded “Your Internet Connection is Unstable” message.
With the same speed in both directions, my kids can be on Zoom school, my wife and I can both be working from home, I can run this webserver, and there’s still more than enough excess capacity in both directions to go around.
Getting more of your rated bandwidth
The other advantage of AT&T Fiber over cable offerings is you get more of the rated bandwidth. Neither of them give you 100% of your rated speed but you get more of it from AT&T than from your cable provider. When I had Spectrum, I generally got around 80% of the rated speed, and it varied depending on what the rest of the neighborhood was doing. AT&T tells you with gigabit to expect 880-940 megabits. I rarely get speeds below 900 megabits. On good days, I can actually exceed 940 megabits. I’ve clocked mine as high as 960 megabits.
Fiber is a dedicated line, so there’s less overhead. With cable, you’re sharing more of the infrastructure with the rest of the neighborhood. So if everyone is online at the same time, everyone’s speed drags a bit. AT&T promises more, and it delivers more of what it promises.
Why your AT&T Gigabit service may not seem fast
Admittedly, when I first got gigabit service from AT&T, I was a bit disappointed in it, and so was my neighbor. We would run our benchmarks, and find our upload speeds were crazy fast, along the lines of 960 megabits or more. But our download speeds were 600 or 700 megabits. Still fast, but not mind blowing. Using an app rather than a browser-based test evened out the scores consistently.
I’ve covered this more in a separate blog post.
Is AT&T Fiber reliable?
I’ve been working from home for more than five years. My company is 100% remote, so we have an understanding. It’s a given that from time to time, our Internet connections are going to drop. We’re not jerks about it. When your Internet drops, you tether your cell phone to your computer so you can come back online in a degraded state, and you’re not expected to go on video if you’re on a Zoom call. If you need to reschedule a meeting, you reschedule a meeting. We understand.
We’ve made that accommodation for almost everyone on our team at one point or another. Except we haven’t had to make that accommodation for me since I got AT&T Fiber in early 2018. We also haven’t had to make that accommodation for a coworker who has Verizon FIOS.
I know from my coworkers’ experience that not everyone’s experience with Spectrum is as lousy as mine was. I reliably had at least a two hour outage every week. So did the rest of my neighborhood. I know because everyone asked me about it. After I switched, my neighbors all did too, and nobody’s asked me an Internet question in nearly two years.
Admittedly we’re not talking a huge sample size here. But in my experience, it’s a good bet that AT&T Fiber is more reliable than whatever your other choice in your area might be. Because I know that other choice isn’t Verizon FIOS. That’s why I think AT&T Fiber is worth it.
What to do if your AT&T Fiber is unreliable
AT&T is better in some areas than others. In my 1960s neighborhood, AT&T had left its copper infrastructure to rot, and DSL here was terrible. I upgraded to U-Verse when it became available, which was a sort of hybrid copper/fiber offering. It took a couple of service calls to get it right, followed by a third because they contracted burying my cable out to Two Oafs and a Shovel™. When I upgraded to Fiber, everything they’d fixed to get U-Verse working was still there. The installer did find a couple of other problems, so it took a few hours for it to all start working. But once it did, it was reliable.
If you’re one of the first in the area to get the service, don’t be surprised if you have some problems early on. But once they fix it, the service is very reliable. Keep calling in if it’s not working. Once you get a good tech on site to check everything, the service works well.
Downsides to AT&T Fiber
Overall, I like AT&T Fiber. But it’s not perfect. So in the interest of being fair, let’s talk about what’s not as good about AT&T Fiber, so you can make a good decision. This isn’t an advertisement for AT&T Fiber. I’m an IT Security professional describing a service so you can decide if it’s worth buying.
First of all, it’s fairly expensive. That’s probably why you’re asking if AT&T Fiber is worth it. Chances are it costs a bit more than the competing offering. I’m paying around $130 a month for Internet and phone, with no TV. (I don’t buy TV service, due to personal beliefs I won’t get into.) Charter Spectrum will give me everything for $100, then they’ll probably jack my price to $120 after a year. But even after the mandatory price increase, they’d be cheaper.
But like I tell Charter Cable every time they call me, I expect my service to work, and theirs doesn’t. AT&T is charging me a Rolls-Royce price, but they’re delivering top of the line quality and reliability. Charter charges a Cadillac price, but what they deliver is more like a Yugo. Since I rely on my Internet connection to make a living, I need the reliable service.
Now, I’m also buying gigabit service. AT&T has slower tiers that are less expensive. Charter’s $120 offering isn’t really comparable to AT&T’s most expensive offering. AT&T’s cheaper offerings are more price competitive, though they have some limitations.
The problem with AT&T’s cheaper offerings is they have data caps. The caps are fairly generous, and even with all that my family and I have going on, we probably wouldn’t run up against it most months. But there are caps, so you need to watch your usage. Fortunately when you sign into your AT&T Portal, they tell you what your usage is. They didn’t used to do that, so I’m glad they made that change. If you’re going to have a problem, you can do something about it.
Spectrum’s big selling point used to be that they don’t have data caps. That’s not them being generous, that was a concession Charter Cable had to make with the FCC in order to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House, which had been the rare cable company with good customer satisfaction. In 2020, Charter Cable announced a plan to go back on its FCC concession and impose data caps. On January 20, 2021, it rescinded that request, likely because it didn’t think an FCC led by someone other than Ajit Pai would go along.
But on May 18, 2023, that agreement expires. So I expect that means Charter Cable (and therefore Spectrum) will have data caps just like everyone else after 2023.
Of course, in areas where AT&T is competing with someone other than Spectrum, the competitor already has data caps.
With cable providers, you can buy your own equipment to get around monthly charges to lease it from them. AT&T doesn’t allow that. You have to use their equipment. There’s a way to bridge their equipment so you can use your better equipment, but you still have to pay the monthly fee and use their equipment in between them and you.
I have friends who used to work at various AT&T competitors, and from the horror stories they tell me about competitors’ equipment, the AT&T equipment is better. The equipment works pretty well, and if it stops working, or becomes obsolete, you can call AT&T and make them replace it.
But still, having to lease equipment from AT&T is a disadvantage. For what I’ve paid AT&T over the years in equipment fees, I could have something really nice. But I don’t have the choice.
If you’re interested in AT&T Fiber, I assume it’s available in your area, but availability is still a problem. You just can’t get AT&T Fiber everywhere. You can’t necessarily get AT&T Fiber everywhere you can get other AT&T lines of service. The situation is improving, at least where I live, but rollout of better Internet service has always been a problem here in the United States. Not all of my coworkers can get either AT&T Fiber or Verizon’s equivalent, FIOS.
It doesn’t really matter if AT&T Fiber is better if you can’t have it.
Is AT&T Fiber worth it: In conclusion
So is AT&T Fiber worth it? Is AT&T Fiber good?
Yes and yes. Of course I wish the price were lower, but there’s not much we can do about that. There’s no viable competition for AT&T to be honest. The whole telecommunications industry is a trust, frankly, but there’s no willpower to change much of anything about it. AT&T Fiber is about the best that our current system is going to deliver, at least for the time being.
And while I do think the gigabit service may not necessarily be the best value, they also offer 100, 300, and 500 megabit speeds. The 100 megabit speed competes with the cheapest offering you’ll get from a cable company at this point. And while the top and bottom offerings usually don’t offer the best value, the mid-tier offerings are better than anything the cable company will give you, and likely at a competitive price.