CenturyLink home internet: Get a fiber price that's mighty nice - CNET
Available in 37 states, CenturyLink Internet may best be known for its former Price for Life deal. But my first introduction to the company was in 2011 with CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. I thought CenturyLink was a bank or maybe even an insurance company. It turns out it’s one of the country’s largest internet service providers, available to over 49 million customers across the country, according to Federal Communications Commission data.
In September 2020, CenturyLink (along with the stadium it sponsors) rebranded itself to Lumen Technologies. The CenturyLink brand still exists as the name of its internet service offering, though. If you live in the northwest (and are perhaps one of the 12s, as Seahawks fans are lovingly called), or in any of the other states where CenturyLink is available, it might be one of your top home internet options.
CenturyLink home internet
- Some of the most affordable fiber plans you can find with CenturyLink’s Quantum Fiber
- Unlimited data and no contracts required, so no worries about cancellation fees or overage charges
- DSL speeds can vary wildly based on address and sometimes fall below what the FCC deems as “broadband”
- Overall plan section is limited based on your address
CenturyLink offers customers either digital subscriber line or fiber-optic internet service. Ground-laid fiber-optic cable is a lot faster than phone line-based DSL connections, so your speeds will vary significantly depending on what’s available at your address. Of the 37 states it services, CenturyLink provides its Quantum Fiber to 25 of them, so not all of its customers will have access to those faster speeds. If you do, don’t hesitate to dive in — it’s one of the most affordable fiber plans you can find across the country. But if DSL is your only option, you might find your internet experience to be lacking.
To start, here’s where CenturyLink internet is available
You can find CenturyLink home internet service in 37 states across the US. The list includes Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
According to a spokesperson for Lumen, “Quantum Fiber is currently available in about 50% of our footprint, including Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Springfield, Missouri, with additional cities planned throughout 2021.”
CenturyLink home internet plans and prices
CenturyLink currently offers DSL internet plans, which can range up to 140Mbps, or a 100% fiber network featuring two available plans. A Lumen spokesperson told CNET the company is continuing to invest and expand its fiber footprint, so it’s been unveiling its new Quantum Fiber brand to its markets this year.
CenturyLink plans and pricing
For many of its serviceable addresses, CenturyLink offers just a handful of the above plans. In a few areas, you may have only one choice. That’s unusual among ISPs, most of which will typically offer three to five different plan options at most addresses.
As to the value of the plans offered by CenturyLink, the average cost per Mbps for the DSL plans is $1, which is an extremely competitive rate for that particular connection type. By comparison, the average cost per Mbps of the DSL plans offered by AT&T, Frontier and Verizon is $2.44. I should note that I’m comparing the regular rates, not promo costs, because CenturyLink doesn’t do promo pricing. The price you get at the start is the price you’ll have after your first year.
Over on the fiber side, the average cost per Mbps of the Quantum Fiber gigabit plan is 7 cents, which is significantly less expensive than the cable gigabit offerings from Spectrum, Comcast and Cox (all between 12 and 14 cents) and the gigabit fiber plans from AT&T, Frontier and Verizon, which all hover around 9 cents.
It should be noted that as it currently stands, CenturyLink’s fiber plans are some of the best values you’ll find in home internet.
Fiber speeds are fast, but DSL, not so much
If the Quantum Fiber or Fiber Gigabit plan is available in your area, CenturyLink internet service is plenty fast. You’ll find symmetrical download and upload speeds, which means better performance for work (no glitchy Zoom calls or frozen FaceTime frames) and play (less lag during online gaming and no issues streaming Loki in 4K).
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that CenturyLink fiber isn’t available at every address in the footprint. In many regions, service is only available via DSL, which lags well behind fiber and cable in terms of speeds and performance.
For example, if you head to the speed-testing website Ookla, you’ll find a Speed Score metric that tracks ISPs based on a combination of download and upload speeds. Its most recent scores, taken during the first quarter of 2021, list CenturyLink in sixth place behind Verizon, Cox, Xfinity, Spectrum and AT&T Internet. That might not seem so bad, but consider that the five providers above it averaged a score of just under 138. CenturyLink rang in with an average score of just 52.60.
The gap isn’t quite so vast when you look at Ookla’s Consistency Score, which is a way of looking at how often a provider delivers broadband speeds to its customers. While CenturyLink again came in sixth place, it notched a 51.1% score to the other five’s average of 84.2%. Again, not stellar, but not as stark a difference as the previous comparison.
Lastly, according to the FCC’s most recent, January report on fixed broadband performance, roughly 40% of CenturyLink customers experienced download speeds greater than 95% of the advertised speed, while another 40% or so reported speeds that fell between 80 and 95% of the advertised number. That leaves a little over 20% of the customer base reporting speeds that were less than 80% as fast as advertised.
That’s in harsh contrast to cable and fiber providers such as Cox, Mediacom, Verizon and Xfinity, for whom 93-99% of customers found their performance to be equal or better than 95% of the advertised download speed. To be fair, the FCC numbers only tested CenturyLink DSL plans and none of the fiber plans, so the numbers are skewed towards the lowest speed tiers that CenturyLink offers.
Other aspects of CenturyLink internet you need to know
To offer you its competitive prices and no-term agreements, CenturyLink does require monthly prepayment. But this also means no credit checks. Here are a few more details to consider when evaluating CenturyLink’s internet service.
Additional monthly fees
Like many other ISPs — including Spectrum, Verizon and Xfinity — CenturyLink gives you the option to avoid a modem or router rental by using your own device. You can check the list of CenturyLink compatible devices, but if you decide to go with your own gear, you won’t be eligible for CenturyLink’s free 24/7 tech support.
Going with CenturyLink’s equipment will add an additional $15 a month to your bill. One thing to note from the small print — the monthly equipment fee does not fall under the Price for Life deal, so it’s possible that part of your bill could increase during your time of service.
While there’s no charge for self-installation, not all addresses are eligible for that option. If that’s the case at your place, CenturyLink will charge $99 for professional installation. In some instances, that fee may go up to $125. Additionally, you can expect a one-time broadband activation fee of $20 when you begin service.
Lastly, if you wanted to avoid paying the additional monthly equipment fee that we just described above, you could opt to buy the CenturyLink modem for a one-time fee of up to $200.
No data caps on any plans
In previous years, CenturyLink reserved its unlimited data for DSL plans only. Now, as part of the rollout of its Quantum Fiber plans, CenturyLink includes unlimited data with all fiber plans, too. That’s a great change and one that means you won’t need to keep an eye on your data usage or worry about gobbling up too many gigabytes before your billing cycle is over.
CenturyLink’s customer satisfaction numbers are middle of the road
Although CenturyLink saw a significant 7% increase in its 2020 American Customer Satisfaction Index score by earning 63 out of a possible 100 points, it took a small step back by notching a 62 in the 2021 results. That’s still the second-highest score the company has earned with the ACSI since 2016, and the company also fared better than other providers that operate in similar suburban and rural areas, including Frontier, Mediacom, Suddenlink and Windstream. That said, CenturyLink is still three points below the overall industry average of 65/100 for all ISPs, so there’s room for additional improvement.
For the 2020 J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, CenturyLink earned a score of 704 on a 1,000-point scale in the South region and 716 in the West — and, again, both scores are below the industry average for the region. On the plus side, J.D. Power did position CenturyLink above Frontier, HughesNet, Mediacom, Suddenlink and Windstream in both the West and South regions, and above Spectrum in the West. Like the ACSI data, that suggests that CenturyLink is a solid but unspectacular, middle-of-the-pack performer in terms of customer satisfaction.
The bottom line
CenturyLink scores top points for its affordable, high-speed product, Quantum Fiber. It’s available in more states than any other provider’s fiber packages and you’ll be hard-pressed to find better rates. Once you add on the unlimited data for all speeds, you’ve got a compelling product.
But some of that enthusiasm is dulled once you realize that more than half of customers will only see CenturyLink’s DSL plans — and in some cases, those speeds are barely above the broadband minimum of 25Mbps download. As you’ll often hear from us, the true worth of a service will depend greatly on your address and which provider plans are available in your area, and CenturyLink is no exception.