Tom's Hardware's ISP review series continues with Comcast, one of the industry's largest cable Internet providers. It's time to see what our readers thought of Comcast's performance, price, reliability and support.
Last September, we launched a survey asking our readers to rate the price, performance, reliability and support of their Internet service provider (ISP). The response was massive, with more than 3,100 votes cast.
We have already shared the reader survey results for AT&T. The next ISP we are going to examine garnered the most responses in our survey, with 710 users rating the company's high-speed cable Internet service. We had our readers rate the company's prices, performance, reliability and support on a scale of one to five stars, with one being the least satisfied and five being the most. We averaged each category's total score and rounded the results to the nearest one-quarter star. We also provided the mathematical average, allowing us to compare scores later.
First called American Cable Systems, Comcast was founded in 1963 with the purchase of a 1200-subscriber cable television system in Tupelo, Mississippi. The business reincorporated as Comcast Corp. in 1969, and held its first public stock offering in 1972.
The company began to purchase other small communications entities, acquiring a larger customer base for its cable television services and increasing its market share. In 1997, Microsoft invested $1 billion in Comcast, allowing it to purchase larger companies like Prime Communications, Jones Intercable Inc. and Lenfest Communications Inc. These acquisitions netted Comcast another 2.3 million customers, further tightening its grip on the cable television market. Now a giant in the industry, the company even struck a deal with AT&T to acquire select cable systems in six different states in 2001, scoring almost another 600,000 subscribers.
In 2002, Comcast launched its HDTV service and what we now recognize as its high-speed Internet services; the company boasted of 3.3 million high-speed data customers that year. The remainder of the decade was spent acquiring more of its competition and creating services that we still enjoy today, such as digital voice, video mail, DVR and On Demand.
As cable Internet speeds began to increase, Comcast introduced its first 50 Mb/s subscriptions in 2009. And in 2010, the company rebranded its technology platforms, products and services as Xfinity, giving its Internet-based services a hip new name (and possibly stealing a line from Buzz Lightyear).
In 2011, Comcast, along with General Electric, joined NBC Universal (which came into being after NBC and Universal merged in 2004), solidifying its spot as one of the most powerful communications companies on the planet. Last year, Comcast approved yet another insane acquisition, this time with rival Time Warner for a whopping $45.2 billion. This deal would have given Comcast roughly 40 percent of the total U.S. cable market, but the plans were abruptly dropped last April when public opposition and FCC reservations forced Comcast to abandon the effort.
Today, Comcast offers its Xfinity High-Speed Internet service in virtually all regions of the country, with more than 22 million subscribers. It's no wonder that the company received the most responses in our reader survey.
Comcast offers high-speed Internet packages using coaxial broadband cable lines networked over a great distance. The signal is boosted via daisy-chained hubs, and unlike DSL technology, cable Internet customers typically don't experience performance degradation as they get farther away from the central hub. However, cable Internet subscribers use a shared hub to reach the Web, and can often experience reduced performance during peak times when many users are operating from the same hub.
Cable Internet can reach higher peak speeds than the alternative, but generally costs more per Mb/s. Here’s a full chart of Comcast's primary service plans, speeds, prices and serviceable regions:
|Speeds (In Mb/s)||Prices (Per Month, Non Promotional)||Primary Service Regions||Technology|
|3, 10, 25, 75, 150||$40, $50, $67, $77, $79||AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT VT, VA, WA, WV, WI||Coaxial Cable Internet|
Pricing: 2 Stars
It was easy to find pricing information for Comcast since I am within one of its serviceable regions. Like most of the other ISPs, Comcast requires potential customers to input a valid address before revealing plans and costs, and often will only show you what is available in your area. Luckily, my quiet corner of the country offers every primary Internet service tier except the recently launched Extreme 505 Mb/s service. We decided to exclude this offering from our review due to its low availability and seemingly business-class contract terms (a three-year minimum with additional line installation fees). Asking an outlandish $400 per month also seems a bit out of reach for standard residential users. Still, it's nice to dream of how many seats you could host at your next LAN party with that level of performance.
There were multiple bundles that brought the cost of certain Internet packages down to reasonable levels paired to television or broadband phone services. These plans offer promotional pricing for a contract term usually double the length of the discounted rate. For the sake of this review series, we only gathered data on stand-alone, non-promotional pricing.
Fortunately, Comcast offered flat-rate pricing on all but one of its performance tiers, which currently requires a two-year contract while offering a one-year promotional rate. Here's a list of Comcast's complete cable Internet service offerings, with unbundled prices and contract terms.
|Xfinity Internet Plan||Speed||Promotional Rate Term||Minimum Contract Term||Stand-Alone Price||Price to Performance|
|Economy Plus Internet||Up to 3 Mb/s||N/A||12 Months||$40/ month||$13.33 per Mb/s|
|Performance Starter Internet||Up to 10 Mb/s||N/A||12 Months||$50/ month||$5.00 per Mb/s|
|Performance Internet||Up to 25 Mb/s||12 Months (At $30/ month)||24 Months||$67/ month||$2.68 per Mb/s|
|Performance Pro Internet||Up to 75 Mb/s||N/A||12 Months||$77/ month||$1.02 per Mb/s|
|Blast! Internet||Up to 150 Mb/s||N/A||12 Months||$79/ month||$0.52 per Mb/s|
Our readers expressed overall dissatisfaction with Comcast's pricing, and after breaking down each plan's cost per Mb/s, it appears warranted that the company scored a sub-par two (2.11) stars on a scale of five. Some readers may have been influenced to give Comcast a low rating on pricing due to imposed data limits in certain regions.
Others were quick to address the staggering price-to-performance ratio, with Comcast generally charging more money per megabit than alternative DSL providers for roughly the same speeds. This isn't as prevalent when you approach the top of Comcast's residential service tier, but the company's service plans do not become cheaper than comparable DSL offerings until they rise above most providers' maximum throughput, with 150 Mb/s at 52 cents per Mb/s. However, even 150 Mb/s customers were generally unhappy with their pricing, despite heavily praising Comcast's performance and reliability.
"The price is too high, and will be even higher with the new data caps," said one reader, who scored Comcast above four stars in all areas except pricing.
Once again, this debacle seems to boil down to availability. Many of our readers indicated that Comcast was the only high-speed Internet option in their area, and that having no alternative meant dealing with the company's regional data caps and high price points.
Performance: 3 ½ Stars
Incidentally, few readers complained about performance, with the majority of our readers providing positive feedback for Comcast's speedy broadband Internet services. With a score of 3 1/2 (3.53) stars out of five, Comcast earns the highest score so far in the performance category.
Many readers praised Comcast's performance, with most rating it above three stars in our survey. Happy customers noted impressively fast speeds and often higher-than-advertised peak bandwidth. Some of our surveyed readers tied performance to pricing however, and even those who were pleased with performance still couldn't let that ratio slide.
"The speeds were very fast," said one reader who rated performance above four stars, "but the pricing was awful."
The few readers who did seem disappointed in Comcast's performance noted variable speeds, unstable connections and data caps as primary detractors. These community members mostly rated the company under three stars in this category.
It's also interesting to note that our surveyed Comcast users voted performance as the least important factor in choosing an ISP -- which could suggest that high performance is just expected from a cable Internet provider at this point in time. Comcast seems to slightly exceed that standard, with an impressive performance score of 3 1/2 stars out of five in our survey.
Reliability: 3 ¼ Stars
Comcast also scored well in the reliability category, with our readers rating it at an impressive 3 1/4 (3.34) stars out of five. The most recent FCC study on ISP service reliability, Measuring Broadband America, seems to echo our survey responses.
Data Rates From 2013)
|Actual Sustained |
|Up to 3 Mb/s||3.39 Mb/s||113%|
|Up to 20 Mb/s||21.07 Mb/s||105%|
|Up to 25 Mb/s||27.33 Mb/s||109%|
|Up to 50 Mb/s||53.21 Mb/s||106%|
Despite the fact that this dated study does not reflect current Comcast offerings, we can still use it as a foundation for comparison. Generally, Comcast customers seem to enjoy higher-than-advertised speeds, with many of our surveyed readers praising its performance, uptime and reliability as well.
"I get a lot more Mb/s than I pay for," said one surveyed Comcast customer, who rated the ISP at less than three stars in every category, despite this admission. Another commented, "Comcast's speeds and reliability are exceptional in my area, and my speeds have always been higher than advertised."
The few Comcast users who rated the company's reliability at lower than three stars reported frequent and recurring outages, lower-than-advertised speeds and peak-time congestion as the primary factors.
"It's fast most of the time, but reliability is an issue," said one of our readers. "It usually goes down at least multiple times a week, usually between 6pm and 11pm."
For the most part, it seems Comcast offers a decently reliable Internet service for its customers, especially since it's the company's second-highest score in our survey.
Service & Support: 2 Stars
It's no secret that Comcast has a bad reputation for customer service, which our readers typically describe as "nonexistent" (or with other colorful adjectives that can't be repeated). This resulted in a score of two (2.13) stars out of five, which is on the low end of the spectrum in our survey.
Many Comcast customers who participated seemed disappointed with customer support. One reader said, "when you do not have to deal with customer service, it is fantastic."
Furthermore, JD Power's most recent customer service satisfaction study rated Comcast with three stars (out of five) or less in almost every regional market, placing the company among the lowest-ranked ISPs in customer satisfaction.
Readers who were satisfied with customer support noted the company's friendly service, prompt remediation and effective tech support. "They have pretty good tech support and resolved the few issues I have had over the years quickly," said one reader, who seemed pleased on all levels. "High speeds. Good service. Great customer support," said another.
Since the most important factor among readers considering an ISP is customer service, it cannot be a good sign that Comcast has received the least satisfactory score in this area.
Overall, it cannot be a good sign that the most important factor among readers considering an ISP see Comcast with the least satisfactory score. Along with pricing, support was more important to our readers than performance or reliability, and not coincidentally, Comcast's scores are split straight down the middle. By that logic, Comcast's final grade in our ISP survey seems fitting.
Overall: 2 ¾ Stars
It should come as no surprise that Comcast's overall score was a slightly above average 2 3/4 (2.74) stars out of five. Despite more-than-respectable marks in performance and reliability, our readers could not forgive unsatisfactory pricing and support, which our surveyed Comcast users considered the two most important factors when choosing an ISP. Dropping the ball in two out of four categories obviously hurts the overall average.
Judging by our survey, it seems that one of the largest issues facing Comcast is its perceived unapologetic attitude toward pricing policies and support. Offering bundled Internet packages with term lengths longer than the promotion rate is a sneaky thing to do (even though it's all in the fine print), and facing no competition in certain regions makes some users feel as though there's no choice but to pay higher prices.
Comcast's high-speed Xfinity Internet services received a very typical response in our reader survey, with participants giving almost identical testimony. According to many of our readers, the company's pricing and support are unsatisfactory, and despite its strong showing in performance and reliability, customers are less-than-thrilled with the two factors they consider most important. As a result, the company's overall score is low.
Comcast's strengths lie in the very technology that brought it to the table: cable Internet service, which offers higher speeds than competing DSL providers. Readers seemed to think that Comcast's high speed and reliability weren't good trade-offs for its poorly structured pricing and customer support. Meanwhile, many who gave the ISP a higher-than-average score had the same issues as those who rated Comcast lower. The difference seems to be that the readers who gave Comcast a higher rating seemed complacent about its negatives, accepting them as "the cost of doing business."
Here's a full rundown of our survey results for Comcast. Each category is labeled from one to four, with one being most important and four being the least when deciding on an ISP, according to the surveyed readers:
|Price (2)||Performance (4)||Reliability (3)||Support (1)||Overall|
|★★ Stars (2.11) ||★★★½ Stars (3.53)||★★★¼ Stars (3.34)||★★ Stars (2.13)||★★¾ Stars (2.74) |
Thank you, readers, for participating in our survey, and for following along so far. Let us know what you think by leaving your comments below. Next time, we'll examine Comcast's almost-partner in the cable Internet industry, with a sizable consumer base and fast access speeds: Time Warner Cable.
Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware and Tom's IT Pro.