What Internet Should I Get?
June 1, 2022 1:39 PM   Subscribe

I am moving b/c of a divorce, and I am really overwhelmed with life decisions right now. My leasing company says I can get at&t, comcast, or astound internet (this last one might also be known as wave?). I do not work from home. I like watching streaming tv and I am a light internet browser. Which one should I get?

There theoretically could be other choices I guess, but those were the ones on the info sheet that I received. Thanks in advance for any help! Also, my ex husband said he will help me find a modem to purchase, so that should be taken care of.
posted by bookworm4125 to Technology (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you share what city/county/country you're in? My immediate thought is to say Comcast, because it's the simplest and likely the most reliable option, but a) you'll probably have to deal with them raising your rate in a couple of years, and b) one of the other options might have better customer service or reliability depending on where you are.
posted by curious nu at 1:44 PM on June 1, 2022

Response by poster: Oh sorry, I forgot to mention--I'm in San Francisco, in the Pacific Heights neighborhood.
posted by bookworm4125 at 1:45 PM on June 1, 2022

Unfortunately for purposes of answering this question, internet service quality can be very highly localized. Just because one of your friends has great service from CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet in the next neighborhood over, that doesn't mean their service in your area will be comparable - they may use significantly different equipment in their physical plant from place to place.

The good news is that the needs you have described - streaming tv and light internet browsing - should be achievable by just about any ISP these days.

Are you living in an apartment / multi-unit building or a single family home? Another thing to think about is whether your home has utility connections for a provider's service. For example, if your home has not previously had fiber provisioned to it, it might be quicker and easier to get service from a service that delivers signal over legacy coax connections already present. If you choose a new type of service the provider may have to do one or more of: pull new wires to your home, dig through the yard, install a box on the outside of the house.

If you live in an apartment building or condominium there may be restrictions in the lease or condo covenant about what providers you can choose.

I realize I'm not answering your question and may, in fact, be introducing more anxiety-inducing issues. Hopefully it will at least help you figure out what the stumbling blocks might be.

The easiest answer (not necessarily best, but easiest) is likely to be whatever the previous residents of your home used most recently. If your internet needs are modest and there is no clear difference between services based on price, you could choose on that basis.

Oh, and to throw one more issue in -- some national providers offer bundling with cell phone services. If you are already getting cell service through a provider it might be slightly cheaper to choose them. Or it might not -- you might wish to keep your internet service separate so you can play the "I'll switch to another service after their initial promotional rate expires" game.

In short: US internet service is messy and consumer-unfriendly.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:48 PM on June 1, 2022

Response by poster: @ nerd of the north thanks! Not to threadsit but to answer you, it is an Edwardian building with 5 units in it. There is a cable that was left and is sticking out of the wall (maybe a co-ax cable...it's white and probably a centimeter thick).
posted by bookworm4125 at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2022

(I added some further thoughts during edit which was probably not the right thing to do but the edit window is now closed. Perhaps re-read my previous response for more info.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2022

I switched from Comcast to AT&T several years ago. Comcast has reliable service but the bill will creep upwards bit by bit; for internet alone (no TV or phone packages) our bill started around $80/month and by the time we canceled it two years later was around $120/month for the exact same service. We've had some equipment issues with AT&T (the most hilarious was that squirrels ate the casing for the junction outside the alley box and the internet stopped every time the water that collected inside it froze, ha) that were fixed promptly but outside of that we pay the same amount every month with zero increases (where I am it's $70 for 1000 Mbps U-Verse fiber optic).

I believe Astound is the former RCN; we had their service before we moved to our current house, and they haven't expanded to this neighborhood yet. I remember them being reliable and not terribly expensive, but that was eight plus years ago and I don't think we were using streaming services yet.
posted by sencha at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

As was pointed out quality of service may depend on your exact set up / location. I'm in SF and have found Comcast to be a pain if you need service. A friend has AT&T and it works well for them. Sonic has been the best but they are not everywhere.
posted by oneear at 1:58 PM on June 1, 2022

Be aware that you will not need a greater speed than 50Mb/s. 4K streaming needs about 25Mb/s.
posted by Ferrari328 at 2:20 PM on June 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you want to optimize it, call them all to hear about monthly and installation costs, and ask neighbors whether their service is good. But since you are stressed I recommend just picking one at random; it will be fine and very unlikely to make any significant difference in the long run.
posted by metasarah at 2:30 PM on June 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you have the option for Sonic Fiber, go with them. They're a local company (in Santa Rosa) and their Fiber service is great.

I would not go for their DSL; it's too slow in comparison to the other options.
posted by kdar at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

We just did this.
The husband and I took a mail flyer to the local AT&T store. They checked high speed fiber in our area and good news! They finally have it available in our neighborhood.
The sales rep checked with her supervisor and we got the matching online deal.

Install was four hours to a single family dwelling.
I made a quick run to Home Depot for four 100 foot rolls of blue PEX water line, then took back three. We had a roll of 3/4 inch white PEX to go from the new AT&T box on the telephone pole to the ground, which overlapped the 1/2 inch PEX that will be buried no more than four inches deep back to the house.
The local utilities have been notified to flag/mark the yard before we bury the internet line. No problem.

The husband had already worked on the route up the outside wall to the attic, over to the existing area used by the current internet, then down through the garage ceiling at the utility closet (water heater and furnace) where the various lines come through the living room wall. This is where the combo modem/router is normally found, beneath the living room TV .

Two technicians and the husband did the installation.
At the same time, a sales representative helped us get the app on a cell phone and walked us through troubleshooting issues (no more unplugging the modem line for 30 seconds after dropped service!)
The modem/router goes back to AT&T if/when we end service.
We only did internet. We are saving about $20 a month and getting faster service (AT&T Internet 500, 500 Mbps equal upload and download speeds).

Meanwhile, I texted our youngest daughter who works from home. She went online, got a better deal for the same plan, and had two technicians at her house doing the same installation two days before we did.
She let them do the whole thing following the previous internet route, staying out of their way. It took about five hours, including burying the line (no PEX water line was used).
She also had a third technician install a security system at the same time, which brought the cost up to what she had been paying for another internet carrier.

So far, no problems.
posted by TrishaU at 3:07 PM on June 1, 2022

Our experience with Comcast was constantly increasing prices and "deals" with expiration dates and lots of new fees tacked on. AT&T has charged us exactly $60/month for fiber for 4 years now and has never once even mentioned raising rates or tacking on fees.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:34 PM on June 1, 2022

I wouldn't recommend Comcast/Xfinity because they are simply very unpleasant to deal with. Their quoted prices change drastically when taxes/fees are added, they are always trying to upsell you on cable and mobile service, the prices change like the seasons, and they will give you a hard time when you try to cancel.

I don't know how true this is anymore, but my experience is that with Comcast your connection is shared with the neighborhood/area and when everyone turns on their internet at the same time, your speed plummets. Again, I don't know if this is true post-2020 or maybe even more impactful.

AT&T does not offer huge numbers like Comcast, but most people have no need for anything faster than 100 Mbps. If you want significantly faster, you have to start upgrading your hardware like your wireless access point and computers and then you also have to be in the same room as the wireless access point.
posted by meowzilla at 4:14 PM on June 1, 2022

Yeah don't go with Comcast, they are terrible. I had nothing but bad experiences with them and they ratchet up prices very quickly. They get away with high prices and poor customer service because so many places in the US have a Comcast monopoly. I was thrilled when we moved into our current house and could switch to another provider.

My parents have had AT&T Uverse fiber for several years and seem happy with it, very fast and reliable as far as I can tell. I don't know exactly how much they pay but I don't think they've had issues with price increases.
posted by photo guy at 4:59 PM on June 1, 2022

To summarize what others have said: if AT&T or Astound/Wave offers fiber, get the fiber. My experience with Wave in Seattle over Cable (like cable TV) was fine. Comcast's back end people are competent but their sales are sketchy to extremely sketchy and every time I used them the internet could get brutally slow at night when other people were using it (but that's been about a decade). There's still some DSL out there (I'd expect AT&T May be selling that) and that's mostly useless but good DSL May still be faintly less bad than Comcast between 7-11pm if they're set up badly.
posted by wotsac at 5:53 PM on June 1, 2022

I recently moved somewhere with no wired internet options, and ended up getting T-Mobile home internet. I've been pleasantly surprised about how fast it is, and at $50/month it's cheaper than any wired internet I've ever had. (And so far more reliable and faster than Comcast that I used to have closer to the middle of town...)

I work from home doing web dev and zooms all day and it's perfectly adequate.
posted by gregr at 6:31 PM on June 1, 2022

Monkey brains is also nice and at $35/month the price can't be beat. But their service area is limited and it requires roof access for the antenna.
posted by kdar at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't have local SF knowledge, but because of work (sigh) am generally familiar with key players' market performance and customer considerations.
In short, fiber (to the home, not just to the node) > cable >> DSL (old copper). Fiber can be a bit more reliable and faster than cable especially for upload speeds (symmetrical with download speeds), though that's not as important for you since you don't work from home.
A 100Mbps plan should be good enough for you; some providers' most basic plans now start even higher at around 300Mbps. Probably don't go down to 50Mbps or below especially since probably won't cost much (if at all) less to be worth it, and actual speeds are lower than advertised max especially over wifi.

So you'll have to see what's available at your specific address, not just neighborhood. Here's a suggested order of preference assuming similar competitive pricing for comparable speeds:

1) Sonic fiber (not DSL) - local; check availability here but less likely since they don't have as much service coverage
2) AT&T fiber - check availability here but a lot of their network is still DSL; if you have AT&T as your wireless provider, check bundles here
You don't need a modem for fiber.

3) Astound/Wave - cable, decent customer service; check deals here
(A private equity firm bought regional cable providers including Wave on the West Coast, RCN on the East Coast, and a few others in different areas and rolled them up into a larger company. It's a common investment play in the telecom industry.)
4) Comcast Xfinity - cable, bad customer service, price hikes after first year or two, big near-monopoly, previous resident likely had so might be slightly easier to set up, potentially some okay offers including mobile bundle discount, depending on how long you might be planning to stay; check deals here
You need a modem for cable. Astound might throw it in for free, but if your ex helps you purchase one, then you can just install with that and avoid any customer premise equipment rental fees.

You need a wifi router for any option, fiber or cable, but probably nothing too fancy; you can usually rent from the provider, but might as well buy to keep, if not too overwhelming.

But you know, no need to spend hours and hours on research. At the end of the day, if you for example just go with Comcast standard default with modem rental included for now if it's the easiest option, that's perfectly fine. Then if you want to look for something better once you have a bit more time/energy, you can always switch later (no term commitment locking you into a contract, though you'll probably have to call to cancel). The internet will be adequate for your needs, shouldn't be exorbitantly breaking the bank, and is not something you need to fully optimize right away compared to other life decisions. (You could even ask a neighbor in the building for an opinion?! Really depends on the dynamic and your preferences, of course.) Good luck with the move and everything else!
posted by eyeball at 10:48 PM on June 1, 2022

With some exceptions for large-ish multiunit buildings, residential Internet in San Francisco is delivered in one of four ways:

- copper pair (DSL) - AT&T and Sonic in places without fiber.
- coax (cable) - Comcast and Wave.
- fiber - AT&T and Sonic.
- wireless - Monkeybrains, Tmobile, Verizon.

In a 5 unit building as a renter, Monkeybrains is probably not an option. It requires a roof-mounted antenna that a landlord or a condo board will generally reject.

The T-Mobile and Verizon options are a little bit under the radar. They are basically a plugged-in hotspot -- it connects to the 5g network and gives you a wifi network. Performance is highly dependent on how strong a signal your location has with a nearby tower. If you're only going to use 2-3 devices at home and you can get a good signal, this is not a bad option for $50/month.

If Fiber is available from Sonic.net, get it -- this is by far the best internet option in San Francisco, but it's not available everywhere. If fiber is not available from Sonic, but is available from AT&T (available in fewer, but different places in SF), get it.

If fiber isn't available, your best option is going to be coax. In San Francisco, the coax that sticks out of your wall is almost certainly attached to Comcast's network. Astound/Wave leases coax from Comcast in most of SF. Internet/TV service is similar between Comcast and Astound. Customer service is not. Comcast customer support is awful, and if you're going with coax and have the ability to use Astound, you should.

DSL over copper should be a last resort. It was a good broadband solution 25 years ago, but it's slow by 2022's standards.
posted by toxic at 8:25 AM on June 2, 2022

5G fixed wireless options are indeed getting more interesting in recent years, but one issue is that the connection can be less reliable due to weather and physical barriers to the signal. I’d probably choose cable/coax (particularly Astound) over wireless, especially if not a huge price difference. I might choose wireless over copper/DSL but usually would just have cable available to choose in that case anyway.
posted by eyeball at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2022

Response by poster: AT&T offers 18 mbps for $55 a month. Does this seem good?
posted by bookworm4125 at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2022

No, that doesn’t seem good. 18Mbps is DSL and slower than what is considered high-speed broadband (25Mbps). I would check the other options; even cable would be much better than that at probably a comparable price.
posted by eyeball at 8:38 PM on June 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

We had a roll of 3/4 inch white PEX to go from the new AT&T box on the telephone pole to the ground, which overlapped the 1/2 inch PEX that will be buried no more than four inches deep back to the house....

Sorry for the mix-up -- The box was added to the side of the house at eye level, with about 20 feet of 3/4 inch white PEX covering the wire back to the 1/2 inch blue PEX. It's fragile wiring, so don't step on it.
The exposed wire goes up the pole at the other end.

Our mail flyer for AT&T fiber/Hyper-Gig Speeds was Internet 300/$55 per month, Internet 500/$65 per month, and 1GIG Internet/$80 per month.
Check online for AT&T deals in your area, but do talk to a sales rep in person and see if they will match the deal. My daughter in now having issues with the security installation over Memorial Day weekend, which was also purchased online. Bringing a second person is a good idea to troubleshoot any glossed-over details.
posted by TrishaU at 10:33 PM on June 3, 2022

Response by poster: I got Sonic! Thanks for all your help.
posted by bookworm4125 at 8:20 AM on June 7, 2022

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