Cox Communications home internet review: High speed, but at what cost? - CNET
Cable internet is a tried-and-true means of delivering fast download speeds to people’s homes, and Cox Communications offers the service to more than 20 million of us here in the US. Billing itself as the largest private telecom provider in the country and boasting nearly $12 billion in annual revenue, Cox serves more than 6 million residential and business customers, and offers cable internet in 18 states and Washington, D.C.
If you live in that footprint and Cox is an option at your address, there’s a good chance you’ve at least considered it — especially if faster fiber plans from other providers aren’t available where you live. In cases like that, Cox’s cable speeds are likely the next best thing and certainly faster than what you’ll get from DSL, satellite or a fixed wireless connection.
Cox Communications home internet
- Gigabit speeds available across entire service area
- Reasonable data usage terms, no throttling
- Plans are pricier than other cable internet providers
- Steep price increases after first year
- Cox gateway device doubles as a public hotspot by default
- Unlimited data bundles are a bad value
That said, Cox plans skew toward the pricey side, with a higher cost per megabit than other cable providers (including Xfinity and Spectrum). What’s more, Cox’s pricing structure will try to push you into a more expensive plan each year. You’ll also need to contend with a monthly data cap — though, fortunately, Cox’s data usage policies are about as reasonable as you could hope for.
All of that makes Cox a middle-of-the-pack option for getting connected at home, and there’s a lot you should take into consideration before you sign up. Here’s a full rundown on everything from prices and plans to terms, fees and the company’s customer service track record.
Where does Cox Communications offer home internet service?
Along with the majority of Rhode Island, Cox’s network covers parts of 17 states and the District of Columbia, with service most prevalent in areas around the following cities:
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Gainesville, Florida
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Macon, Georgia
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Pensacola, Florida
- Phoenix, Arizona
- San Diego, California
- Santa Barbara, California
- Topeka, Kansas
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Wichita, Kansas
According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission, Cox’s home internet footprint reached just under 7% of the US population as of December 2019. That’s tens of millions of people, but it’s short of Comcast and Charter Spectrum, two larger cable internet providers that each offer service to roughly one-third of US households.
Cox’s more focused footprint also shows that it isn’t a top pick for rural customers, as most of the company’s cable infrastructure is located in dense urban areas. Other providers are much better positioned to offer service outside of America’s cities — if that’s what you’re looking for, be sure to check out our top rural internet recommendations.
How does cable internet stack up these days, anyway?
Pretty well, as a matter of fact. In addition to the fact that it’s easy to bundle cable internet with cable TV and other services, most cable providers are able to offer download speeds of up to 940 megabits per second or higher. That’s much better than what you’ll get with DSL, satellite internet or fixed wireless, and it’s competitive with a lot of the country’s top fiber providers.
That said, a good fiber connection will offer concurrent upload speeds just as fast as the downloads — and this is where cable internet falls short. Even with near-gigabit download speeds close to 1,000Mbps, you’ll likely be stuck with upload speeds in the double digits. For instance, with Cox, the fastest plan (940Mbps) comes with upload speeds of 35Mbps, while the four plans beneath it offer max uploads that range from 3Mbps to 10Mbps. That might cause a crunch if you’ve got multiple people in your house making Zoom calls, gaming online or doing anything else that requires you to upload lots of data to the cloud in short order.
And hey, speaking of those plans…
Cox offers a variety of plans with a variety of speeds at a variety of prices, and there are a lot of important ins and outs to consider. Let me start with one that’s so critical, I’m going to write it in big, bold letters for you.
Your bill will go up after Year 1, no matter what
Cox offers promotional rates on its plans, and as of writing this, those promo rates will each knock $10 off the price of your monthly bill for the first year. The catch is that you have to agree to sign a one-year service contract in order to get the discount. That’s fine: One-year contracts are typical in the ISP industry.
What’s less fine is that your bill will shoot up at the end of that year, in some cases by as much as $26. That’s not outrageous — Spectrum’s cable internet plans go up by $25 or $30 after the first year, and Xfinity cable internet plans come with an average increase of $40 in some regions — but keep in mind that Cox plans are more expensive than those competitors to begin with. And while Cox’s website doesn’t do a great job of making this clear, you’ll see that price increase regardless of whether you accept the promo rate.
So, let’s say you want to sign up for Cox’s Preferred 150 internet plan, which nets you download speeds of 150Mbps. You can sign up at the regular rate of $70 per month with no contract, or you can accept the one-year service contract and bring the monthly cost down to $60. Either way, when that first year is up, your bill will go up to $84.
At this point, there’s a good chance you’ll call Cox to complain or to try and renegotiate. Cox does not have an incentive to lower your costs. Instead, there’s a good chance the clever salesperson will tell you that they can’t offer you the same promo rate again, but they can offer you the promo rate on a faster plan. After all, you want a better deal, right? As it just so happens, you could be getting speeds of up to 500Mbps for $80 per month — $4 less than you’re paying right now for 150Mbps. Doesn’t that sound good to you?
Here’s the thing. That’s another promo rate — a fresh bait-and-switch — and if you take it, the cycle starts all over again.
Look for yourself. It’s no coincidence that each of those Year 2 rates shoots up to a monthly fee that’s greater than or equal to the promo rate for the next most expensive plan. Like the nauseatingly busy carpets at a casino that nudge dizzy gamblers into stopping and sitting at a slot machine, the price structure is carefully constructed to confuse you into spending more money. Whenever someone with an expired promo rate calls to complain about their bill, it’s easy for Cox to guide them into an even more expensive speed tier at a new promo rate. Doing so locks them in as a customer for another 12 months, and it dooms their bill to increase even more after that.
If you don’t want to tumble down that slippery slope, then you’ll need to accept that Year 2 rate and stick with it. That’s a tall ask, given that Cox prices are on the high side. Take that 150Mbps Preferred plan, for instance, which costs $84 after Year 1. Cable competitor Xfinity offers a 200Mbps plan for $70 out of contract, and Spectrum offers a 200Mbps plan that costs $75 per month after the promo period expires. Both plans offer faster speeds for less per month than Cox.
What else do I need to know about Cox?
Cox’s lineup of home internet plans gets confusing fast, and not just because of the promo shenanigans. There’s other fine print to consider, including contract quirks, extra fees, data caps and more. Isn’t shopping for an internet plan fun?
Though Cox doesn’t specify the actual cost anywhere on its website that I could find, you’ll need to pay an installation fee of $100 if you want a technician to get your home’s internet connection up and running. You can skip this fee by ordering an Easy Connect self-install kit — it’s totally free, but you’ll need to plug everything in yourself.
Cox also charges an extra $12 each month if you use its Panoramic Wi-Fi modem/router device. Starter, Essential and Preferred customers get a Wi-Fi 5, DOCSIS 3.0 device, while Ultimate and Gigablast subscribers get a faster device that supports DOCSIS 3.1 and Wi-Fi 6. In either case, you can order plug-in range extender pods to pair with your Panoramic Wi-Fi modem and router at a one-time cost of $130 per pod. Cox also commits to keeping your system’s hardware and software up to date.
You can skip that $12 fee by using your own Cox-approved modem, along with a router of your own. I’ve also heard from Cox sales agents that it isn’t uncommon for the company to lower that rental fee upon request.
“I’ve seen rental fees of $5 and personally, I have added that promotion when I have offered that to current customers,” one agent told me in a recent chat. “So please feel free to ask for a discount on the modem if you rent it.”
The other fee to be aware of is Cox’s early termination fee. If you cancel your internet service at any point while under a one-year contract, you’ll be charged $120. Make that $240 if you’re under a two-year contract.
Panoramic Wi-Fi doubles as a public hotspot
One more important point of note here: If you use Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi system instead of your own modem and router, it’ll put out a second, separate network from your own home network that other Cox customers can use as part of the company’s web of over 3 million publicly accessible hotspots. It’s a separate stream from your home network, so it won’t affect your speeds or data usage, Cox says, but it’s something you should still be aware of — especially because the feature is on by default.
“Panoramic Wi-Fi devices are enabled as hotspots, expanding Wi-Fi access to eligible Cox Internet customers,” reads the fine print on Cox’s website. “These devices are automatically enabled as Cox Hotspots upon activation. To disable this functionality, go to Privacy Settings on cox.com/myprofile and sign in with your Cox User ID.”
I can think of plenty of people who wouldn’t want strangers to be able to connect to the internet using the networking hardware in their homes. It’s good to know that Cox customers can opt out, but it would be much better if the company sought their express permission before turning it on in the first place. If Cox is worried that too many people would say no, then maybe it can consider offering those customers a discount on their bill for participating.
The dish on data caps
Every Cox plan comes with a data cap — and if you use more data than it allows in a given month, you’ll start incurring extra charges. The cap used to be set at 1 terabyte per month (1,000 gigabytes), but when the pandemic hit and home internet usage soared, Cox did a nice thing and raised it by about 25% to 1.28TB (1,280GB).
That’s pretty reasonable as far as data caps go. Internet usage is still climbing, but Americans went through an average of just under 400GB of data per month in 2020, according to Statista. Then again, here at my place, we ended up using about 1.3TB (1,300GB) of data in the month of May. Just keep in mind that my roommate and I both work from home and use the internet pretty heavily (I test routers here, for Pete’s sake). Good thing our plan doesn’t come with a data cap — no such luck with Cox.
At any rate, once you’ve exceeded Cox’s data cap, you’ll be charged $10 for each additional 50GB block of data that you use, up to a maximum charge of $100. One nice surprise here — if it’s your first month breaking the cap, Cox will cut you a break, waive the charges and let you off with a warning.
“If it’s your first month going over, you’ll get a one-time, courtesy credit for each $10 charge on your next bill,” the Cox website reads.
That’s pretty generous of Cox — especially since you won’t see any such first-month mulligan from Comcast Xfinity, the other major cable provider that enforces a data cap. On top of that, Cox says that you don’t need to worry about speed reductions once you’ve broken the cap.
“We don’t throttle service [or] reduce speeds if customers exceed their usage plan,” says a Cox spokesperson. “We simply work with them to get them on the best usage plan to meet their needs.”
So, does Cox offer any plans with unlimited data? The answer is yes, but only if you also bundle in Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi modem and router rental and Cox Complete Care, which offers enhanced technical support. Doing so will add $50 to your monthly bill during the first two years, when you’ll be under a mandatory contract, and $72 to your monthly bill after that.
On their own, the modem rental typically costs $12 a month, while Cox Complete Care costs $10 per month. So, what Cox is essentially doing here is pricing unlimited data at an extra $28 per month with a two-year contract, and then an extra $50 per month after that — and the company forces you to add in the full-priced modem rental and Cox Complete Care fees in order to get it. That’s not a great deal, as you could incur a couple of overage charges on a standard plan each month and still be paying less. Make that several overages each month if you don’t care about Cox’s modem or Cox Complete Care.
For instance, let’s say you’ve subscribed to Cox’s cheapest plan, Starter 25. It’s already been a year, so your rate has gone up to $45 per month. You can keep paying $45 a month and face the ongoing threat of overage charges, or you can pay $80 per month to get unlimited data, plus the Panoramic Wifi router and Cox Complete Care. After two years of that, the bill would go up to $117 — more than twice what were originally paying.
The unlimited data is the bait on the hook here, and Cox is using it to reel you into paying for additional services you might not have even wanted in the first place. Unless you’re going to incur at least three overage charges per month, on average, you should skip the unlimited data bundles and just stomach the occasional penalties.
How does Cox rank on customer service?
Internet providers are far from popular to begin with, and Cox is a little bit below average in terms of its customer satisfaction track record. In 2021, the American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Cox a score of 63 out of 100, which was two points better than the year before, and worse than the overall ISP average of 65. Still, Cox’s score tied it with Spectrum for second place among cable providers, and ahead of Windstream (61), Mediacom (60), Optimum (60) and Suddenlink (55). The only cable provider that outscored Cox in 2021 was Xfinity, which finished with a score of 67.
Meanwhile, J.D. Power also takes its own look at ISP customer satisfaction each year. Cox was included in three of the four regions surveyed in 2020 — it did slightly better here overall than it did with the ACSI, but still ended with scores that were slightly below the overall average for the internet providers surveyed in two of those three regions.
We’ll start in the East, where Cox finished with a score of 713 out of 1,000 — slightly below the overall region average of 727, and behind Xfinity (726), but ahead of cable rivals Spectrum (696) and Optimum (693). Cox was closer to average in the South region with a score of 734, trailing the overall category score of 738 and, again, Xfinity (748). Still, it was a good enough finish to beat out a couple of other cable internet providers, namely Spectrum (732), Sparklight (711) and Suddenlink (667).
Cox’s best finish came in the West region, where its score of 721 sits just above the regional average of 718. Among cable internet providers, both Sparklight (730) and Xfinity (724) did a little bit better, but Cox still finished ahead of Spectrum (714) and Mediacom (670).
To sum it up
If fiber internet is available in your area, then you’ll likely be better off going with that, as you can expect faster speeds (particularly uploads) and better value, too. If not, then a cable provider like Cox is probably your next best option, with faster speeds than you’ll get by going with DSL, satellite internet or with a fixed wireless connection.
I can’t say that you’ll be getting a great value with Cox, though, especially given that other major cable providers like Xfinity and Spectrum offer faster plans for less per month. Then again, if you’re living in an area with limited options for high-speed internet, you might not have many other options.
As for Cox’s data caps, they might seem off-putting, but the terms surrounding them are about as reasonable as you’ll find from an internet provider — enough so that the company’s over-inflated unlimited data bundles probably aren’t worth it for most subscribers.
All of that makes Cox worthy of consideration for high-speed internet at home. Just remember to stay wary of those price hikes.
Cox home internet FAQs
Originally published May 20, 2021Update, May 21: Adjusted text to reflect that the monthly price for Cox internet service goes up after a year regardless of whether or not you accept the promo rate.