- Choosing between Cable One and CenturyLink is tricky since they have so much in common. Both offer high-speed Internet, TV, and phone service. As an added bonus, both offer “gigabit” Internet in select areas.
- As with most tie-breaker reviews, the devil is in the details. I’d love to say “just pick CenturyLink” since they’re a stronger value overall… but in many areas, Cable One has the upper hand — especially in midwest suburban markets.
- The big catch with Cable One is that they have strict data caps in many areas. If available, CenturyLink is the better choice for “cord cutters” who prefer streaming Netflix to a traditional cable TV subscription.
Sparklight (formerly Cable One): Recommended For Family Homes, Sports Fans & TV Fans
- family homes
- sports fans
- tv fans
Cable One’s traditional cable service offers good value at a reasonable price point. They also offer gigabit download speeds in some areas. (Although even on these plans their upload speeds max out around 50 Mbps.) The channel variety, fast speeds, and friendly customer service make them perfect for family homes.
Their TV options are the real value-add for Cable one, making them a better choice for customers who want a robust, full-featured Internet/TV bundle plan.
CenturyLink: Recommended For Cord Cutters, Home Offices & Techies
- cord cutters
- home offices
CenturyLink is our top pick for customers in urban areas, or for those who have access to their fiber “gigabit” plans. CenturyLink is also a good option for rural customers without cable access.
Overall, CenturyLink offers decent-to-excellent speeds for budget-friendly prices. Their fiber plans offer gigabit upload and download speeds at a similar price point as other leading fiber providers like Google Fiber and Verizon Fios.
|Statistic||Sparklight (formerly Cable One)||CenturyLink|
|Price Range||$39.00 - $125.00/mo+||$49.00 - $65.00/mo+|
|Connection Type(s)||Cable & Fiber||DSL, Fiber, Fixed Wireless & Copper|
|Customer Recommendation Rating on BroadbandNow.com||49.9%||35.3%|
|ACSI Customer Service Rating||0/100||63/100|
Again, speed details vary from address to address. Here’s the overall national speed test data to give you some grounding:
Cable-ONE average download speeds
CenturyLink average download speeds
|City||Cable-ONE Speed||CenturyLink Speed|
|Blackfoot||216.4 Mbps||54.89 Mbps|
|Boise||197.33 Mbps||38.66 Mbps|
|Caldwell||195.64 Mbps||41.11 Mbps|
|Cottonwood||150.96 Mbps||37.16 Mbps|
|Eagle||212.68 Mbps||37.92 Mbps|
|Fargo||163.82 Mbps||24.49 Mbps|
|Idaho Falls||205.14 Mbps||113.91 Mbps|
|Kimberly||225.26 Mbps||14.74 Mbps|
|Kuna||184.2 Mbps||65.64 Mbps|
|Meridian||211.16 Mbps||49.14 Mbps|
|Middleton||221.03 Mbps||11.69 Mbps|
|Nampa||209.34 Mbps||77.12 Mbps|
|Norfolk||213.77 Mbps||10.28 Mbps|
|Ontario||170.2 Mbps||72.73 Mbps|
|Rigby||107.23 Mbps||41.69 Mbps|
|Rio Rancho||277.46 Mbps||30.23 Mbps|
|Safford||312.13 Mbps||17.14 Mbps|
|Shelley||101.21 Mbps||49.17 Mbps|
|West Fargo||220.86 Mbps||30.6 Mbps|
The main difference between Cable One and CenturyLink is network technology.
Cable One started as a cable TV provider, and delivers Internet over the same coaxial cable network that delivers TV channels.
CenturyLink, on the other hand, was a phone service provider — and their Internet service usually comes over the same DSL copper wires (AKA phone lines) that deliver landline phone service.
Coaxial cable is generally better than DSL when it comes to reliability. For that reason, Cable One is great for customers who are choosing between cable and DSL.
The game changer here is CenturyLink’s fiber network. Fiber networks, unlike cable or DSL, are designed for digital data. This allows CenturyLink to deliver incredible speeds in the gigabit range — close to 1,000 Mbps upload and download. To put that in perspective, it’s about 10x the average for traditional cable and DSL. It also comes at a reasonable $85/month.
Cable One also offers “gigabit” Internet, but with a major caveat — the download speeds are comparable with Google Fiber or CenturyLink, but their upload speeds are only around 50 Mbps. Not to mention, it costs about twice as much at a whopping $175/month.
In many of the areas where they overlap, only one or the other will offer advanced speeds. DSL service from CenturyLink can be spotty depending on your exact address, since DSL Internet slows down the further you get from the local ISP office.
If possible, compare speed tests from friends and neighbors. If not, don’t be scared to try out one option and cancel within the 30 day grace period if it doesn’t live up to their speed promises.
CenturyLink Coverage & Availability Map
Sparklight (formerly Cable One) Coverage & Availability Map
Customer service is important if you’re going to be dealing with a provider for the long haul. Particularly for customers who aren’t “tech-savy,” being able to call for help when things aren’t working is critical.
Cable One is the winner in this department. They do a good job of keeping that “small business” feel when you talk to their local offices and technicians.
If I was choosing an Internet provider for my Grandma, Cable One would be my selection for this reason. She doesn’t need gig upload speeds or a ton of data — she just needs to check email and Facebook and stream Netflix once in awhile. Most importantly… she needs to be able to call and talk to a real person if the router needs to be reset.rge for it.[/card]
Installation Considerations and Fees
CenturyLink is pretty flexible with installation and will allow most customers to self-install if they so choose. (Just budget an hour or so to follow the instructions in their self-install kit.)
Professional installation by a technician is also available for CenturyLink, but be aware that it adds a fee to your first monthly bill. (Some customers have reported success arguing their way out of it over the phone when signing up for a multi-year contract.) If you’re signing up for their fiber service, you probably won’t be able to get around the technician fee.
Equipment and InstallationCenturyLink is easy to install yourself, so long as you have the time and patience. Cable One requires an appointment with a technician, but doesn’t cha
Cable One actually doesn’t allow self-installation at all, which is highly unusual among cable providers. However, they do provide installation for free, which is a huge bonus for non-techie customers.
Most cable providers charge for installation, and will only waive the fee if you agree to a long contract or get lucky with a customer service rep on the phone. So while waiting for a technician to show up is no fun, we give Cable One points for making installation a fee-free experience.
[card title="Modem and Router Leasing Fees"]Cable One and CenturyLink both charge leasing fees for a modem/router. Both allow you to buy your own third-party modem/router setup.
CenturyLink’s fiber plans are a bit more complicated, and for most users it’s worth just spending the $10/month to rent their router “gateway” equipment. If you want to use your own router and save the money, instructions are available here. Be forewarned: it’s a bit complex, and only recommended for techies.
Cable One has the better options when it comes to bundle plans, particularly for TV watchers. You’ll get plenty of channels, including local options (count varies by location) at a reasonable price. Enter your address here to see local options.
CenturyLink’s bundle plans come in two flavors: Prism TV and DIRECTV.
Prism TV is digital and is only available to customers who are also served by their 100% fiber network offerings. For the lucky few who fall in that category, it’s a pretty good value with customizable channel options and a zippy, app-like interface.
DirecTV bundles are actually accomplished through a partnership with DirecTV, and essentially requires you to agree to long-term service from both companies. That said, DirecTV has some of the best service rankings in the country, so it’s a good deal if you watch a lot of TV, have room for a satellite dish on your property, and like the channels DirecTV offers.
Key Insight: Data Caps are the Deal Breaker
I’ll spare you some frustration here: if you like streaming Netflix, get CenturyLink.
Cable One’s data caps vary from area to area, but overall they’re surprisingly low. I’d only recommend their Internet plans for customers who want to bundle dedicated cable TV service alongside it. Otherwise, you’ll blow through those caps before you can blink. (Unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t watch TV, in which case, congratulations.)
CenturyLink doesn’t always score well on local speeds, but they offer those speeds with unlimited data. That’s a big deal for cord cutters.
Overall, CenturyLink is the better option for the average customer. Their speeds are decent, they come at a good price, and there’s no data cap to worry about for cord cutters and streamers.
If you can get CenturyLink’s fiber service, we recommend it. If not, just keep a close eye on the fine print and don’t be scared to switch providers if the one you choose doesn’t live up to your expectations.
References and Footnotes
Jessica Sims is a technology blogger and broadband industry veteran. Her background as an administrator and customer support employee for a major ISP informs her passion for helping consumers understand their service options.