WOW home internet review: Cable internet done a bit better - CNET
In case you’re wondering — no, my caps lock didn’t get stuck. WideOpenWest, which prefers to go by WOW, is an internet service provider that operates in the southern and central portions of the US. According to the most recent Federal Communications Commission data, the service is available to just over 7 million customers across the country.
WOW offers customers a hybrid coax cable/fiber-optic internet connection with download speeds ranging from 100 megabits per second to 1 gigabit (1,000Mbps).
WOW home internet review
- No contracts, no fear about cancellation fees or being tied to an unwanted plan.
- 30-day money-back guarantee gives you the chance to try the service for a month and cancel without penalty if it’s not the right fit.
- No data caps, so no need to worry about overage fees.
- Despite competitive pricing, limited availability makes it a viable option for residents in just nine states.
- Service interruptions can be a bit too frequent, depending on your location.
If you’re located in one of the nine states where service is available, then it’s quite possible that WOW is the best option available at your address. First and foremost, the price is right: WOW is one of the more affordable cable providers in the US, with relatively well-priced plans that easily exceed broadband speeds. On top of that, WOW won’t lock you into a long-term service contract, and your connection even comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If a fiber connection is available at your address, that’s still the way to go, but otherwise there’s a lot to like about WOW home internet. Let’s explore a bit more.
Where can you get WOW home internet service?
You can currently find WOW home internet service in 19 markets among nine states across the US. The list of states includes Alabama (Auburn, Dothan, Huntsville and the Montgomery Valley), Florida (Panama City and Pinellas), Georgia (Augusta, Columbus and Fort Gordon), Illinois (Chicago and Chicagoland), Indiana (Evansville), Michigan (Detroit and Mid-Michigan), Ohio (Cleveland and Columbus), South Carolina (Charleston) and Tennessee (Knoxville).
However (insert needle scratch here), on June 30, 2021, WOW announced it was selling five of its markets to Atlantic Broadband and Astound Broadband. The two Ohio markets will be headed to Atlantic, and the markets in Illinois, Indiana and Anne Arundel, Maryland, will be switching to Astound. A WOW spokesperson told CNET that the transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2021. Until then, “customers should see no changes” to their internet plans.
“WOW remains dedicated to delivering exceptional broadband solutions,” the spokesperson added.
Check your address for WOW availability
WOW Internet plans and prices
WOW Internet features asymmetrical hybrid fiber-coaxial cable internet plans. The reliance on coaxial cable infrastructure means that your download speeds will be a lot higher than the upload speeds.
WOW Internet sits in a sweet spot, with a good variety of plans, but not so many that things get confusing. Even more importantly, the pricing of those plans — especially the regular rates that kick in after the first 12 months — is highly competitive. In fact, WOW’s plans are more affordable than comparable plans from larger cable providers like Xfinity, Spectrum and Cox, and they’re a better value than what you’ll get from AT&T, Verizon and Frontier, too.
Another strong point for WOW: Those prices aren’t designed to push you into a more expensive speed tier once the promo period ends. Your bill will increase after a year, yes, but it won’t shoot up by $25 or $30 like other competitors, and the increase won’t necessarily force you to upgrade to a faster plan’s promo rate to get a better value, which is a pretty common trick you’ll see from lots of other providers.
Speaking of speed…
As we mentioned above, you’ll find asymmetrical download and upload speeds with WOW Internet plans. In practical terms, that means that your connection won’t be as robust as a complete fiber-to-the-home connection for tasks that involve uploading lots of data to the web. That includes many common tasks important for the work-from-home or remote-schooling life — such as uploading large files, hopping on Zoom calls or FaceTiming with study buddies.
That said, WOW Internet features higher upload speeds than most cable internet providers. For example, its Internet 500 plan features upload speeds up to 50Mbps. Comparable plans from Cox, Spectrum and Xfinity max out their upload speeds at 10-20Mbps. The closest competition was from Optimum, which offered a plan with 500Mbps downloads and 35Mbps uploads — but as of July 12, 2001, new Optimum customers get max upload speeds of only 20Mbps.
Uploads aside, the additional good news is that the least expensive plan WOW offers comes with download speeds of up to 100Mbps, which is much faster than the introductory plan of most ISPs and well above the FCC’s broadband definition of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload.
Also, it’s worth noting that if you set aside the promo price and look at the regular rate, then for only an additional $5 per month, customers can double their speed with the Internet 200 plan. In fact, that seems to be what many customers are choosing to do in 2021.
WOW CEO Teresa Elder shared in an early May webcast that 88% of new customers in the first three months of 2021 were opting for the 200Mbps plan or higher, up from 51% during the comparable period in 2020.
Other aspects of WOW Internet you need to consider
No contracts, no data caps and the 30-day money-back guarantee all probably leap off the page when you first look at WOW’s internet offers. There’s more to think about, though — let’s take a closer look at some of the details.
Additional monthly fees
WOW Internet charges $14 a month for a modem rental. Like many other ISPs, you do have the option to avoid this recurring fee by using your own compatible device — though WOW “strongly recommends” you lease with it.
There’s also a charge of $10 per month if you want to add “Whole-Home Wi-Fi” to your plan via mesh router rental. Specifically, this includes two of Amazon’s Eero mesh devices. Any additional Eero devices will add another $6 a month per device to your bill. That’s only so-so as far as value is concerned — a two-piece Eero system costs $199, so you’d be better off just buying the router for yourself if you plan on keeping your connection longer than a year and a half. What’s more, there are other mesh routers we like better.
The exception here is WOW’s gigabit plan — if you subscribe to it, then the two-piece Eero system is included at no additional charge.
30-day money-back guarantee
This is a customer-friendly option that WOW Internet provides, especially when you consider that the company doesn’t hold you to a contract and the ominous threat of heavy cancellation fees that comes with it.
As you might imagine, there are a few small-print details to this guarantee. It does not extend to taxes and fees paid, nor to any equipment charges you incur. Also, to claim the money-back guarantee, you cannot reestablish service with WOW Internet within 180 days.
Incentive deals for new customers
Currently, WOW offers a Visa Prepaid Reward Card of $200 for new customers that sign up for speed tiers of 200Mbps or higher. This offer is valid through August 3, 2021, and customers must have the service for a minimum of 90 days to qualify for the gift card.
No data caps, for the most part
For several years, WOW Internet has made a point of touting its data-cap-free internet plans. It spoke of a “better internet experience without limitations” and that its customers could use the internet “how they want it, when they want it, with no limit.”
As you might imagine, there was some consternation when in April, the company sent out an email to some customers notifying them that “we’re introducing a monthly data usage plan for your Internet service on June 1, 2021.” What gives?
A WOW spokesperson told CNET this new data plan is currently only being rolled out in Chicago. That’s somewhat reassuring to a majority of the company’s 823,000 or so broadband customers.
Also, considering that Chicago will no longer be part of the WOW footprint by the end of this year, you might be tempted to toss this move aside. But when we asked if this implementation could be on its way to other markets, we didn’t get a denial.
A WOW spokesperson told CNET that customers in other markets “will be communicated with in the event that this plan is implemented in their area in the future.”
So, if the data cap does get rolled out to any other markets, what should customers expect? If you do some digging in the terms and conditions, you’ll see the new data cap for Chicagoland will be 1.5 terabytes for the Internet 100 and 200 plans, 2.5TB for Internet 500 plan and 3TB for the gigabit plan. Customers with the Gig plan will also have the option of getting an unlimited data plan for an additional $30 per month.
The first time you go over your data plan, the overage fee will be automatically waived. But after that point, customers can expect to be charged $10 per 50GB of additional data they use over the cap, up to a maximum of $50 per calendar month. Unused data will not roll over into the next month.
All of that is pretty reasonable as far as data caps are concerned. For instance, Comcast Xfinity won’t give you a mulligan the first time you break your data cap, and the monthly maximum overage penalty is $100, not $50. On top of that, 1.5TB of data is more than enough for most households, and more than three times as much data as the average home used in a month at the peak of 2020.
WOW nabs decent customer satisfaction ratings, with some caveats
The 2021 American Customer Satisfaction Index for ISPs does not single out WOW Internet for an individual score. Our ACSI contact confirmed its inclusion in the total numbers but said there’s “too little market share to be measured by name.” Overall, as an industry, we know that ISPs tend to be among the lowest-ranked in the ACSI ratings — ranking only above subscription television services. So, overall scores being in line with the previous year doesn’t really tell us much.
If you do a Google search on WOW customer satisfaction rankings, you’ll likely come across mentions of frequent service interruptions. There were outages in the Detroit area in March of this year and then a repeat of interruptions a month later for many of those same Michigan customers. The website DownDetector.com tracks outages like these, and you’ll find plenty of them in WOW’s history. Most are minor, lasting a few hours at most and rarely drawing more than 250 reports at their peak, but their are others that seem more significant. Most recently, an apparent outage on June 24 lasted several hours and drew more than 1,100 reports at its peak.
That said, WOW also shows up on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to customer experience. In PCMag’s 2020 Reader’s Choice awards, WOW Internet notched an impressive sixth place among 20 ISPs with a 7.9/10 score. That put it above more familiar providers — like Xfinity, AT&T, Spectrum and Cox — and well above the ISP average of 6.9/10.
In a press release from late 2020, newly hired Vice President of Customer Success Rose Jerez acknowledged WOW’s commitment to getting better. “It’s undeniable that customer success is part of WOW’s culture and I look forward to helping improve the customer experience in this role.”
To sum up
WOW offers some of the most affordable broadband plans you can find from a cable internet provider in the US. It also features some admirable customer-first features, including no contracts, money-back guarantees and unlimited data. But its reach isn’t far and wide — and at some point later in 2021, its footprint will cover just 14 markets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina and Tennessee. That makes it a little guy in the world of cable internet, but WOW still merits strong consideration for the attractive prices and terms if it’s available at your address.