AT&T vs. Xfinity Internet Providers Compared

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images If you’re shopping for a home internet plan and your choice comes down to AT&T or Comcast Xfinity, I’d say you’re in pretty good shape. Between AT&T’s fiber footprint and Comcast’s cable empire, both providers offer access to high speeds across a significant portion of their coverage […]


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If you’re shopping for a home internet plan and your choice comes down to AT&T or Comcast Xfinity, I’d say you’re in pretty good shape. Between AT&T’s fiber footprint and Comcast’s cable empire, both providers offer access to high speeds across a significant portion of their coverage maps, and both rank relatively well for customer service, too. In 2020, each company finished with a top-three rating among major internet providers from both the American Customer Satisfaction Index and from J.D. Power and Associates.

Which of these two internet providers is the best fit for your home networking needs? Glad you asked — let’s take a close look at how they stack up and help you decide.

at-t-internet-vs-comcast-xfinity-coverage-map

FCC/Mapbox

Coverage maps compared

First, let’s take a look at where both providers offer service. A product of the nation’s largest cable provider, Xfinity Internet is available in select regions across 39 states and in Washington, DC, covering about one-third of the entire population of the US. Comcast splits that coverage map into three divisions — West, Central and Northeast. Each has its own set of speed tiers, prices and terms, which gets confusing. More on that in just a minute, after I get some coffee in me.

As for AT&T, the telecoms company offers home internet plans in 21 states, with service covering much of the South and Midwest, as well as the West Coast. In some parts of the country, including parts of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Miami and San Francisco, both providers may be available at your address.

Plans, speeds and what you’ll pay

I hope you like charts. I’ve got a bunch of ’em.

Blame Comcast. With several different speed tiers and separate sets of prices and terms for each of its three main regions of coverage, summing up the company’s internet offerings gets chart-drunk in a hurry. Just know that the price you pay will depend on what part of the country you live in (and if you live in the south, you’re lumped in with the Central division).

Xfinity internet plans (West division)

Lowest monthly starting price* Max download speeds Max upload speeds Term agreement Monthly starting price without contract*
Performance Starter Plus $20 50Mbps 3Mbps One year $50
Performance Select $35 100Mbps 5Mbps None required $55
Performance Pro Plus $50 200Mbps 5Mbps None required $70
Blast! Pro Plus $65 400Mbps 10Mbps None required $80
Extreme Pro Plus $75 600Mbps 15Mbps None required $90
Gigabit $85 1,000Mbps 35Mbps None required $100
Gigabit Pro $300 2,000Mbps 2,000Mbps Two years N/A

Xfinity internet plans (Central division)

Monthly starting price* Max download speeds Max upload speeds Term agreement Monthly starting price without contract*
Performance Starter $25 50Mbps 3Mbps One year $56
Performance $40 100Mbps 5Mbps One year $76
Blast! $50 200Mbps 5Mbps One year $86
Extreme $50 400Mbps 10Mbps One year $96
Extreme Pro $60 800Mbps 15Mbps Two years $106
Gigabit $70 1,200Mbps 35Mbps Two years $116
Gigabit Pro $300 2,000Mbps 2,000Mbps Two years N/A

Xfinity internet plans (Northeast division)

Monthly starting price* Max download speeds Max upload speeds Term agreement Monthly starting price without contract*
Performance Starter $65 50Mbps 3Mbps None required N/A
Performance $30 100Mbps 5Mbps None required N/A
Performance Pro $35 200Mbps 5Mbps None required $96
Blast! $60 400Mbps 10Mbps One year $101
Extreme Pro $70 800Mbps 15Mbps One year $106
Gigabit $80 1,200Mbps 35Mbps Two years $111
Gigabit Pro $300 2,000Mbps 2,000Mbps Two years N/A

The speed tiers themselves are quite similar across all three Xfinity regions. For example, no matter where you live, the entry-level Performance Starter plan nets you top download speeds of 50 megabits per second. Meanwhile, Comcast’s fastest plan, Gigabit Pro, cranks those downloads up to 2,000Mbps — that’s 2 gigabits per second — complete with upload speeds to match. In between those two are five other plans with speeds ranging from 100 to 1,200Mbps, though the 800 and 1,200Mbps plans get shaved down to 600 and 1,000Mbps in the company’s West division.

Pricing across the regions is much more varied. For instance, that entry-level 50Mbps Performance Starter plan will cost you $20 to $25 per month in the West and Central divisions, but the cost jumps all the way up to $65 per month if you live in the Northeast. That’s an availability quirk, as in most parts of the Northeast, it’ll be either the 100Mbps or 200Mbps Performance or Performance Pro plan that’s actually the cheapest one available. Each of those costs $30 to $35 per month, and availability depends upon your home address.

One constant? That Gigabit Pro plan. Across all three regions, the eye-popping multigig speeds come with an eye-popping price tag of $300 per month, plus a two-year service contract. 

Oh right — service contracts. Comcast requires them with many of its plans, but not all of them, and like the prices, those contract requirements differ from region to region. The contract locks you in as a customer, but it also shields you from higher costs. That means that once your contract is up, your monthly rate will go up — in some cases, by as much as $50 — but you’ll also be free to cancel service without penalty. If you don’t want a contract, you can just pay the higher, postcontract price from the start.

AT&T home internet plans

Plan Max download speeds Max upload speeds Monthly cost (first year) Monthly cost (after 12 months) Additional monthly fees
AT&T Fixed Wireless 10Mbps 1Mbps $70 $70 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 10 10Mbps 1Mbps $45 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 18 18Mbps 1Mbps $45 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 25 25Mbps 2Mbps $45 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 50 50Mbps 10Mbps $45 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 100 100Mbps 20Mbps $45 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 300 (fiber) 300Mbps 300Mbps $35 $55 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 500 (fiber) 500Mbps 500Mbps $45 $65 $10 equipment fee
AT&T Internet 1000 (fiber) 940Mbps 940Mbps $60 $80 $10 equipment fee

Meanwhile, AT&T’s plans are mercifully containable within a single chart, because they offer the same prices, speeds and terms regardless of what part of the country you live in. Per the Federal Communications Commission, the company’s three fiber plans — Internet 300, Internet 500 and Internet 1000 — are available to a little less than one-third of residential customers. As of now, AT&T pegs the number of households with access to fiber at 14 million, spanning 90 metro areas. The company tells CNET it plans to expand fiber access to an additional 3 million households by the end of 2021.

For the rest, there’s AT&T Fixed Wireless, which uses a satellite mounted at your home to receive a wireless signal, and the rest of the non-fiber AT&T Internet plans, all of which use copper cable connections in combination with the company’s fiber infrastructure to deliver service to people’s homes, albeit it at much slower speeds.

AT&T plans don’t come with service contracts, but your bill will go up after your first year of promotional pricing. None of the plans will jump by more than $20, though, so the increase isn’t quite as steep as you might see with Comcast Xfinity.

What about cellular internet? AT&T doesn’t currently offer cellular home internet plans like Verizon and T-Mobile do, but in March, the company’s executive vice president of technology operations, Chris Samba, told CNET that it plans to roll out its own AT&T cellular broadband offering later in 2021, and that when it gets here, it’ll use a combination of LTE and 5G technology. I’ll update this space when we learn more.

comcast-xfi-advanced-gateway-wi-fi-6-router

You’ll need to add $14 per month to your Comcast bill in order to use the company’s xFi Gateway — but you can skip that fee by using your own modem and router. AT&T’s equipment fee can’t be skipped at all.


Comcast

Fees, data caps and other sticking points

Let’s get back to the topic of your monthly bill, because there’s more to consider than the baseline cost. Both providers will tack on taxes and monthly fees each month, and in some cases, you’ll need to manage a data cap, as well.

Additional fees

First, the fees. Like most providers, both AT&T and Comcast Xfinity will charge you a bit extra each month if you don’t enroll in autopay or paperless billing, but those fees are easy enough to dodge. Just, you know, enroll in autopay and paperless billing. Problem solved.

The equipment fees are another story. With AT&T, you’ll need to pay an extra $10 per month in order to use AT&T’s Wi-Fi gateway, and you can’t get rid of that fee by using your own modem and router. With Comcast Xfinity, the fee to rent the xFi Gateway is $14 per month — but unlike AT&T, you can bypass it by using your own equipment, provided it’s approved to work with Comcast and you’re OK with the fact that Comcast will no longer be able to offer device-specific technical support.

Data caps

As for data caps, AT&T doesn’t use them with any of its fiber plans, so give it back a little bit of the credit lost with the unskippable equipment fee. There is, however, a data cap for AT&T’s non-fiber plans, which is why I said just a little bit of credit.

The cap kicks in once you’ve used 1 terabyte of data (1,000GB) in a given month of service. At that point, you’ll start getting charged $10 for every additional 50GB of data that your home uses. That additional charge gets capped at $100, so once you’ve eaten up at least 500GB of extra data, AT&T just throws its hands up and says “see you next month.” If you think you need unlimited data, you can upgrade your plan for an extra $30 per month to sidestep the data cap altogether, and you can also ditch the data cap by bundling your home internet with AT&T TV.

One other point of note: the data cap with AT&T Fixed Wireless is much lower, kicking in at 350GB. You’ll still get charged $10 for each additional 50GB of data that you use, but AT&T caps the charge at $200 instead of $100. Be mindful of falling asleep during a Netflix binge, AT&T Fixed Wireless customers.

Xfinity, meanwhile, enforces the same data cap with every plan it offers. Specifically, you’ll need to keep your monthly Xfinity internet usage under 1.2TB of data (1,200GB). If you don’t, you’ll be charged $10 for every 50GB of excess data use, capped at $100.

In fairness, 1.2TB is a lot of data, but it’s not unreasonable to think that a busy household would occasionally need more. For example, on my own network, where I work from home, stream plenty of movies in 4K, and live with a roommate who’s just as online as I am, we’ve gone through about 320GB of data here in the first nine days of April. That puts us on pace to use just over 1TB by the end of the month. 

If you live with, say, two roommates — or with a whole family of internet users — then data caps like those might be something you’d want to steer clear of if you could.

Installation costs

AT&T charges $99 for professional, in-home installation, but self-installation kits are available in some cases, too. Check with the company to see if that’s an option for you — if not, asking the salesperson if they’ll waive the installation fee is probably worth the attempt, as AT&T often waives it during seasonal promos.

With Xfinity, professional installation costs less at $40, and you don’t have to “qualify” for the self-installation option, like you do with AT&T. Point Comcast.

isp-customer-satisfaction-2020

Both AT&T and Comcast Xfinity rank highly for customer satisfaction with internet providers.


American Customer Satisfaction Index

Customer service compared

Everyone loves to hate their internet provider, so it’s no surprise that customer satisfaction scores for the ISP industry aren’t anything impressive. Still, AT&T and Comcast Xfinity are relatively strong performers here. Each finished with an above-average score from the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2020, good enough to place both in the top three among all ISPs surveyed.

With a score of 68, AT&T finished two points higher than Comcast did last year, and three points ahead of the overall category average — but that score was actually a percentage point lower than it rated in 2019. Comcast, on the other hand, saw its score jump up 8% from 2019 to 2020, a potential sign of positive momentum. We’ll see if the trend holds when the 2021 report comes out.

Meanwhile, AT&T grabbed the top spot in the North Central, South and West regions during JD Power’s US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study in 2020. The overall average score of 751 out of 1,000 was good enough for second place overall, trailing only Verizon’s 769 (and it’s worth noting that Verizon only competed in one region, the East, where AT&T didn’t compete at all). Xfinity wasn’t far behind, competing in all four regions and finishing with an overall average of 731, slightly better than the overall category average of 726.

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