Optimum home internet review: Good when Altice wants it to be - CNET
At surface level Optimum appears to be, and by most accounts is, one of the greater NYC area’s better internet options for fast speeds, low pricing and high overall value. Add the fact that plans come with unlimited data, a low equipment fee and no required contracts, and choosing Optimum for your home internet service seems like a no-brainer.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you may find that what makes Optimum appealing — low pricing and fast speeds — can change abruptly. Unclear price increases and a recent move to lower upload speeds (for the worst possible reason) show that for Optimum and parent company Altice, the customer often comes second.
Optimum home internet
- High speeds with low introductory pricing
- No data caps, no contracts
- High-tech, low-priced Wi-Fi
- Fiber service available to 1 million homes
- Unpredictable price increase after 12 months
- Already low upload speeds drop lower for new customers
- Customer satisfaction numbers are on the decline
Optimum internet plans and service details
Most Optimum service areas will have three plan options, including a gigabit plan. Some locations, especially those farther outside the NYC area, may only have two plan options with no gigabit service. Additionally, speeds will vary by location. Like the gigabit plan, Optimum’s 100Mbps plan is not available in all areas, and some locations will only be eligible for 200Mbps instead of 300Mbps, or 400Mbps in place of the 500Mbps plan. Here’s a look at those plans.
Beware the arbitrary price increase
The introductory pricing is great, but what about down the road? Optimum imposes a price increase after 12 months of service like many ISPs. But unlike nearly all major ISPs, the company won’t commit to what the price increase will be.
An Optimum spokesperson tells CNET that prior to the introductory pricing’s expiration, customers will receive a notification with an anticipated change to their rates. How much that is, exactly, is “subject to change.” There’s no indication going in as to how much the price increase will be when that time comes, or if your increase will be the same as your neighbor’s.
Thankfully, Optimum doesn’t lock you into a contract and force you to decide between the mysterious standard price or an early termination fee. If the price increase is too much (or more than you’re willing to pay), you can cancel without penalty. Hopefully there will be another provider with more transparent pricing available in your area.
Upload speeds are competitively low
Cable internet upload speeds are going to be lower than the download speeds, that’s just the nature of a cable internet connection. Optimum internet is no different, but parent company Altice recently decided to take its upload speeds down a notch even further. Effective July 12, 2021, upload speeds on Optimum plans drop by 15-30Mbps, depending on the plan.
Current Optimum customers won’t have to worry about their upload speeds falling for the time being, that is unless they change their plan by upgrading or downgrading their speeds. New customers, however, are stuck with the slower upload speeds. It’s a bold move by Altice, and one that won’t do any favors for the millions of people who continue to work and learn from home, but surely the decision was made for good reason, right?
Altice claims that the speed decrease is not the result of limited network capabilities or difficulty keeping up with demand. Instead, the company voluntarily lowered upload speeds to ensure they “are in-line with other ISPs and aligned with the industry.” So basically, Altice lowered upload speeds on all Optimum plans for new customers and existing customers who change their plans so they would better match the slower upload speeds of other major cable internet providers.
That is absurd.
But hey, no data caps or contracts!
On the bright side, Optimum internet is free of data caps and contracts, regardless of the service type or plan. That’s a nice contrast to rival providers Cox and Xfinity, each of which charges overage fees up to $50 or higher for going over your data allowance. The no-contract requirement is another nice perk compared to Cox and Xfinity, both of which typically require a term agreement of at least one year to get the lowest pricing.
I should mention that Optimum internet isn’t completely unlimited. The Acceptable Use Policy states that “excessive use of bandwidth, that in Altice’s sole opinion, places an unusually large burden on the network or goes above normal usage” could lead to service disruptions. Most ISPs have a similar policy, and you’d really have to go out of your way to use that much bandwidth, especially on a consistent basis. If you’re using the internet for streaming, gaming, working and learning from home, and so on (i.e. the same as any other household), you shouldn’t have a problem.
Optimum Wi-Fi equipment and fees
At $10 per month, Optimum’s Wi-Fi equipment rental fee is a buck or few lower than many providers, including Verizon FiOS. The equipment you get isn’t half bad, either. While the model you get depends on the plan you choose and the network type (cable or fiber), select Optimum plans and those in fiber markets may come with a Wi-Fi 6 router, which can offer better Wi-Fi performance than older routers. Regardless of the Optimum Wi-Fi router that comes with your service, the equipment fee remains the same.
As for installation, standard installation is included at no extra cost when you order online. If you’d prefer professional installation, which includes Wi-Fi configuration on up to six devices and hardwiring on one device, it’ll add a modest $59 to your initial costs.
Using your own equipment
Optimum is one of the few providers that gives you the option to use your own equipment and skip the monthly equipment rental cost. Note that you’ll need to provide your own compatible modem and router (or modem/router combo device) at the time of installation, and using your own equipment will likely limit service upgrades and technical support down the road.
If you already own compatible equipment, using what you have could save you some money on your bill. On the other hand, if you’re considering purchasing your own equipment upfront, keep in mind that it may be many months before the $10-per-month savings makes up for the initial purchase cost.
Optimum home internet availability
Optimum covers much of the greater New York City area and just a stretch beyond. North to south, serviceability runs from the top of Dutchess County, New York down to Toms River, New Jersey. East to west, Optimum is available from the tip of Long Island and past Bridgeport, Connecticut, to a sliver of Pennsylvania along the New Jersey border to the west. There are some pockets in between, like much of Queens and Staten Island, that are not serviceable for Optimum internet.
It’s largely cable, with some FTTH mixed in
As mentioned above, Optimum primarily uses a cable or cable hybrid network to deliver service. Cable isn’t necessarily bad as it can offer gigabit download speeds, but the technology fails to compare to the speed and consistency you get with a fiber connection.
About a tenth of those in Optimum service areas can get fiber service, but the company is looking to change that. Altice acknowledges that fiber internet — specifically fiber-to-the-home service — is the immediate future of home internet, and has thus worked to build and expand a fiber network.
An Optimum spokesperson tells CNET that Optimum FTTH service is already available to more than one million homes, around a tenth of those serviceable for Optimum internet, with more to come as “fiber deployment continues at a rapid pace.” Fiber service comes at no extra cost compared to Optimum’s traditional cable internet and has symmetrical or near-symmetrical upload speeds. (Altice did not lower the upload speeds on its fiber service.)
Optimum vs. Verizon Fios
Optimum and Verizon Fios share much of the same service areas, so pricing, speeds and service terms stay fairly competitive between the two. Here’s a look at how the two compare:
Optimum has the advantage of lower plan pricing, at least for the first 12 months of service. The Optimum 300 plan is around $5 per month lower than Verizon’s lowest-priced plan, which offers max speeds of 200Mbps (300Mbps in New York City). Optimum’s gig service is also a bit cheaper, starting at $55 per month compared to $80 with Verizon. Additionally, Optimum’s equipment rental fees are $5 less per month than Verizon’s. After 12 months, Verizon Fios may be the cheaper option, but since Optimum doesn’t divulge standard pricing, I can’t say for sure.
While both providers have gig speeds, I’ve got to give the advantage to Verizon Fios here. Verizon Fios employs a 100% fiber network, which supports symmetrical or near symmetrical download and upload speeds. Optimum does have a fiber network, but not to the scale of Verizon. The majority of Optimum service areas are cable or fiber/cable hybrid, meaning drastically lower upload speeds compared to Verizon Fios.
Data caps, contracts, etc.
Neither provider enforces data caps or contracts. Call it a draw.
Verizon Fios leads all providers, including Optimum, in both ACSI ratings and J.D. Power’s rating in the East region.
All things considered, Optimum and Verizon Fios are closely matched. If introductory pricing drives your decision, Optimum is likely to be your better option, but if standard pricing, upload speeds and customer satisfaction are more of a concern, you may want to consider Verizon Fios.
Optimum vs. other cable providers and DSL internet
There is a little overlap between Optimum and cable providers Spectrum and Xfinity. For the most part, Optimum has lower introductory pricing than both, though Xfinity may have the absolute cheapest plan in some areas. Neither Spectrum nor Xfinity can come close to Optimum’s mid-tier and gig plan pricing, though.
Xfinity has faster max speeds than Optimum (and Spectrum) but you can get gigabit from any of the three. Optimum has a larger fiber footprint in the greater New York City area than Spectrum or Xfinity, so you’re likely to get faster upload speeds with Optimum.
I won’t dive much into Optimum versus DSL service from providers like CenturyLink or Frontier. Just know that if DSL is an option in your area along with Optimum, go with Optimum — it’s likely to be cheaper and will definitely be faster.
Customer satisfaction takes a bad turn
The American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Optimum a customer satisfaction score of 60 out of 100 in 2021, a five point drop over last year and the biggest decrease of any provider. The new score came in only slightly above Frontier Communications — a company notorious for poor customer satisfaction ratings — and Suddenlink, another Altice brand. It’s worth noting that Altice brands make up two of the bottom three spots, and share the bottom with a company that is currently being sued for misleading customers.
Optimum also did not fare well with J.D. Power, which placed the provider below the average for the East region with a score of 693 out of 1,000. Optimum customer satisfaction came in above Frontier (623) but fell just below Spectrum (696) and well below Cox (713), Xfinity (726) and Verizon Fios (769).
It’s unclear what exactly led to Optimum’s subpar customer satisfaction score with J.D. Power as the company evaluates customer feedback on a number of factors including service reliability, customer service experiences and billing, but I can make a guess. For starters, it’s unlikely that service reliability is a major concern among customers. The website Downdetector.com, which tracks user complaints about service outages, lists numerous Optimum outages so far in 2021 — but that’s true of most every provider, and with Optimum, almost none of these apparent outages appear to be widespread. Few have lasted longer than a few hours, and only a handful, including an apparent three-hour outage on May 7 that led to thousands of reports, have drawn more than 100 reports at their peak.
Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission found that Optimum consistently delivers actual speeds at or above advertised speeds (on speeds up to 200Mbps). If speed and service reliability aren’t major culprits bringing the score down, it’s plausible to assume that bad customer service experiences and billing issues — like the lack of pricing transparency — go a long way to affect customer satisfaction.
Up until last year, there wasn’t anything too alarming about Optimum’s scores that would push me one way or the other. The drastic five point drop year-over-year in ACSI ratings may be cause for concern, though, especially considering that no other provider saw a decrease of more than two points.
Optimum, in summary
If Optimum is available in your area, it’s likely to be one of your better internet options. Optimum offers a variety of download speeds from 100Mbps to 940Mbps for lower pricing than you’ll find from nearly any competitor with similar speed tiers. The lack of contracts or data caps adds to the overall value of the service, as does the relatively low equipment rental fee. Just watch out for that price increase after 12 months, and don’t expect upload speeds faster than you’d get from any other cable internet provider.