Our Comcast Xfinity Review
Comcast Xfinity’s variety of plans — and its ability to deliver on those plans — makes it one of the best internet service providers (ISPs) in the US. Comcast is one of the most widespread cable internet providers, servicing 39 states and territories, and as a result is able to offer competitive pricing for its low and mid-speed plans (15 Mbps to 150 Mbps). This helps make up for Comcast’s traditionally low-ranking customer service.
That said, Comcast’s fastest plans (which include a 1,000 Mbps option and a 2,000 Mbps fiber option) are more expensive than other high-speed ISP’s plans. If you’re looking to purchase at this service level, you’ll save money (and almost always see better customer service) if you choose a different provider — that is, if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with multiple options.
Comcast claims that Xfinity Internet delivers the most reliable high-speed Internet and WiFi for all devices, all the time.
Is It True?
Almost. Looking at reliability alone — how well Comcast delivers on its advertised speeds and keep its customers online at all times — Comcast does well, even if it’s not technically the best. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s latest report found that Comcast reliably provided download speeds at least as fast as advertised, but so did most major ISPs. The FCC’s benchmark for reliability is what they call the 80/80: at least 80% of subscribers experienced at least 80% of their advertised speed rates during peak periods. Only satellite ISPs failed to meet this benchmark, so by the FCC’s standards, Comcast is as reliable as a dozen other cable ISPs.
If we raise this benchmark to 80/95 — that is, 80% of customers receive 95% of their advertised speed rates, the competition gets tougher. Only two companies meet this higher standard: Comcast and Optimum. Optimum has the highest overall score, so as of 2016 (the date of the report), it gets to claim the title for most reliable internet. However, Comcast’s second place title is nothing to sneeze at. It provides reliably fast internet for the majority of their customers, and it does so across 36 more states than Optimum.
Comcast comes close to being the most reliable ISP, but it’s also one of the speediest ISPs — both for the range of speeds offered and the average speeds it actually delivers. SpeedTest rated Xfinity as the fastest national provider in the first half of 2017 (the most recent data available), meaning its customers were receiving faster download rates than any other major ISP in the US in this time.
This in part because Comcast’s plans offer some of the highest speeds available — the more customers on higher plans, the higher Comcast’s average speed. Most customers get to choose between plans that range anywhere from 15 Mbps to 350 Mbps.
However, while Comcast has the fastest average national speed, it has a hard time competing with truly high-speed companies on a city-by-city basis. Of the 100 cities SpeedTest analyzed, Comcast was the fastest ISP in only 18 of them. Its average speed across all 18 cities was 68 Mbps. That’s fast enough to make Comcast a competitor in most cities, but not in cities where high speed internet — fiber — is available. Fiber internet is still extremely rare, but the thirteen fastest cities were largely won by companies specializing in the service. Comcast might not be winning fastest national ISP because it’s the best, but because it’s the most widespread in areas where there isn’t significant competition for speed.
To compete with fiber networks, Comcast is currently rolling out two “Gigabit” plans. These plans advertise download speeds up to 1,000 Mbps (through a standard cable connection) or 2,000 Mbps (if you connect directly into their fiber line). Currently, these Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) and Gigabit Pro (2,000 Mbps) plans are only available in a few cities — you’ll need to check to see if you qualify for these hyper-fast speeds.
A Closer Look at Features
|15 Mbps-1,000 Mbps|
|People looking for a reliable provider with a wide variety of plans and availability (almost) anywhere they go|
|People looking to get the most value for ultra-fast internet (1,000+ Mbps)|
|40.30% by Broadband Now|
|1 TB of data per month, unless you enroll in their Unlimited Data Option ($50 per month)|
Our Deep Dive
- Modem rental: Like most ISPs, Comcast rents a modem to you for $10 per month. If you choose to buy your own modem rather than rent, you’ll need to make sure that it meets Comcast’s qualifications. However, unlike most ISPs, renting Comcast’s XFi Gateway comes with some perks. The Gateway allows you to take advantage of Comcast’s Xfinity app, which can troubleshoot any network errors without calling in a technician, figure out where your dead zones are (and how to fix them), and set rules on your WiFi network. It’s an easy way to install and enforce parental controls on your network, as you can restrict what hours your kids are allowed to be online and the types of websites they can visit.
- WiFi Hotspots: Comcast also offers a hotspot program called Xfinity WiFi, which allows you to connect to thousands of Xfinity Wifi hotspots across the country for free. This is particularly useful if you’re trying to avoid draining your cellular data plan; download the app, find a hotspot, and connect to WiFi instead.
- Data Usage Plan: Comcast received a lot of criticism in its initial roll-out of a data usage plan — their preferred term for data caps imposed on internet service plans — which charged people for using more than 300 GB of data in a month. Most consumers are now upgraded to 1 TB of data per month, with a $10 charge for every 50 GB of overage (up to $200 per month). Comcast also offers an Unlimited Data Option for $50 a month, but it recommends monitoring your personal usage to see how much you actually use before springing for this upgrade. While we would prefer to have no data cap at all, we’ll admit that Comcast’s is a pretty high bar to hit; Comcast itself says that 1 TB is plenty for 99% of its customers. For context, even if you had two people playing online games nonstop (24 hours a day for a month straight), you’d still have enough data left over to watch all 629 episodes of The Simpsons in high-def. If you do accidentally cross over the 1 TB threshold, Comcast gives you two grace months before they start charging for the extra data use. If you consistently use more than 1 TB, they have an unlimited data option, too ($50 per month).
- Flexible Data Option: If you’re on either the Economy Plus or the Performance Starter plan and consistently use less than 5 GB of data each month, you can opt into Comcast’s Flexible Data Option. In exchange for using less than 5 GB of data, you can earn a $5 credit towards your monthly bill. The catch: If you use more than 5 GB of data in a month, you’ll be charged $1 for each extra GB, up to $200 per month.
- Internet Essentials: When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required Comcast to launch a program offering low-cost internet service for qualifying families. Internet Essentials requires you to have a child currently enrolled in free or reduced price school lunches and offers reduced priced internet (starting around $10 per month) and computers (starting at $150). Similar offers from other internet providers can be found at EveryoneOn.org.
- Customer Service: ISPs are notorious for scoring poorly in customer service, and Comcast is particularly infamous for having terrible customer service, with long wait times and difficulty disconnecting services. Comcast is striving to make improvements by hiring more representatives and creating appointment slots to reduce hold times, but it’s clear that these are still ongoing. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, which conducts thousands of surveys annually to rate companies, has consistently rated Comcast as below average in this regard compared to competing cable ISPs, currently listing it as eighth best out of 12 providers. J.D. Power, another independent 3rd party, rated Comcast fourth best ISP (of five providers) in the North Central US and Eastern US for customer service.
- Gigabit Pro: For most people, the speeds offered by fiber are overkill, but for households with a lot of heavy internet users — or people who require nearly instantaneous internet connections — a fiber connection is worth its high price. Comcast’s fiber option is still in the early stages, only available in a few select cities. If you can get it, it offers the fastest speeds on the market at 2,000 Mbps, for a steep price $300 per month with a two-year contract. You’ll also be on the hook for a $500 installation fee and a $500 activation fee, and installation may take two months (or longer) to complete. If you’re in an area with Google Fiber, and can settle for half that speed, its pricing is competitive: the same 1,000 Mbps plan is $70 with Google and $90 with Comcast. However, if you truly need 2,000 Mbps and live in an area where it’s offered, Comcast is the only ISP currently promoting this level of speed.
What Others Are Saying
- PCMag highlights Comcast’s reputation for poor customer service — a trend among all ISPs. They point to fines levied against Comcast by the FCC in 2016 for allegations of overcharging customers, as well as citing low J.D. Power rankings. Comcast is making improvements on previous years by hiring additional customer service representatives, providing additional training, and setting up reservation times so you won’t have to wait on hold, but it’s going to take them a long time to recover from their poor reputation.
- MacWorld also points out an important security issue with Comcast’s Xfinity Wi-Fi roaming hotspots: Until you’ve opted out of the program, your network can be shared with people wandering nearby. Vice-versa, if you’re at home, you might be automatically connected to your neighbor’s Xfinity Wi-Fi if they happen to have a stronger signal at the time. It’s fairly straightforward to opt out of both these programs, but it’s a hassle to be forced to do so.
- Last fall, TechDirt discussed how lack of real internet competition in many areas of the US ramps up prices for sub-average speeds — and how not having enough competing ISPs in any one market can lead to “usage caps and overage fees.” In particular, they called out Comcast for suing Vermont. Vermont is attempting to impose regulations on Comcast, requiring them to improve their cable services in the state. This may seem like an overreach, but the closest thing to competition Comcast has in Vermont is Fairport Communication, which “struggles to offer 3 to 6 Mbps” — not enough competition to incentivize Comcast to improve its services.
- AT&T is our top pick for customer service, earning top marks in J. D. Power’s customer satisfaction awards. However, most of its options require bundling an internet plan with their DIRECTV service. Like all ISPs, plans and prices vary depending on your location, but Comcast is likely a little more bang for your buck: A sample $30 plan from AT&T caps at 50 Mbps, while a sample $30 plan from Comcast caps at 60 Mbps.
- Charter Spectrum has plans starting at 100 Mbps and tends to offer slightly reduced prices at these higher service tiers (between $5 and $20 less than Comcast). It also doesn’t impose data caps and will pay up to $500 to buy you out of your current plan. However, 100 Mbps is excessive for users who use the internet primarily to check email, stream video, and surf the web. Comcast’s plans start out at a more reasonable 15 Mbps for a $30 promotional price — compared to Charter’s lowest plan at $45 — so if you don’t need those higher speeds, you’ll save money by choosing Comcast’s lower tiers of service.
- Cox Communications does fairly well when it comes to customer service, winning best for customer service in the Western US by J.D. Power, but scores poorly for value. They offer a lower speed plan compared to Comcast, clocking in at 10 Mbps, but this will cost you a base price of $30 per month.
The Bottom Line
Your first step in choosing an ISP is to see which companies are available in your area, and to compare the plans available and the pricing for those plans in your area — ISPs vary their prices based on location and promotional offers. However, Comcast Xfinity is worth a look as you start your search, particularly if your internet needs run under 200 Mbps. With multiple speed options, decent value, and certified reliability, Comcast is a solid choice no matter where you live. While its low customer service rating is a sticking point for the company, all signs point toward a more positive experience for the future of Comcast.