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Compare and Contrast Two of New England’s Most Popular Internet Providers
Optimum Online, with their budget-friendly entry options, lack of data caps, and impressive upload-to-download speed ratios, is a great middle-tier pick for the average family home or small apartment. We’d recommend their service for anybody who does a lot of streaming, such as cord cutters and gamers.
They also win points for ease of setup and friendly customer support compared to their larger, more corporate competitors.
Cox Communications wins on speed and flexibility, making them a good pick for power users who need blazing download speeds as well as occasional users just looking for the cheapest decent Internet/TV plan. They’re particularly well suited for cable TV fans, and have a wide variety of sports packages.
They also offer much wider coverage across the US than Optimum, making them a good choice if you want to transfer service down the road.
Optimum Online services a relatively small area in New England, while Cox is one of the largest providers in the country and has availability across most of the US.
Because of this, they only overlap in select parts of the Tri-State area.
Optimum and Cox both have their origins as cable TV companies. Currently, they deliver Internet and digital phone service over the same hybrid fiber-coaxial networks originally installed to pipe cable channels into your TV.
Cable is a big step up from DSL in terms of speed and reliability, but not as ideal as 100% fiber networks like Fios designed primarily for digital data.
The main advantage cable has over fiber is that it’s often more affordable, and easy to set up since your house is probably already wired for it.
Speed is one of the main areas where Optimum and Cox compete. On the surface, it looks like Cox is winning — but the real situation is a bit more complicated.
To really understand which is “better” for you, you need to understand the difference between upload and download speed.
Home Internet connections from cable providers are almost always “asymmetrical,” meaning that the download speed is much faster than the upload speed. When you see an Internet plan advertised as “150 Mbps,” they’re talking about download speeds. The upload speed on the “150 Mbps” plan is likely a fraction of that, somewhere in the 5–35 Mbps range.
This generally works fine because most of the things we do on the Internet involve downloading large files — buffering Netflix, downloading games, requesting web apps, etc. But if you do anything like video conferencing, gaming, or torrenting, the upload speed can become much more important.
For the average user, the difference between 50 Mbps downloads and 150 Mbps downloads probably won’t matter very much. A super low upload speed (less than 5 Mbps) might be something they notice, though, when it comes time to use Skype or upload a YouTube video.
This is why we recommend plans in the 100Mbps download/30 Mbps upload range for the average household.
For budget shoppers, both Cox and Optimum offer baseline options that can work for small households. Just keep in mind that the minimum download speed for streaming Netflix in 3–5 Mbps.
Optimum and Cox both get mixed reviews when it comes to customer service. For better or worse, your experience will likely vary depending on your service area.
Optimum wins points for keeping the small-business feeling alive, and in our experience, their small size is reflected in the customer service experience.
Both providers make themselves available via phone at local offices, so customers don’t have to navigate a national-scale call center if they need help.
When it comes to in-person customer service, Optimum and Cox both perform well. Installation fees, however, are not equal: Optimum will install some basic services for free, but Cox charges $100 for a typical installation. Both brands make self-installation relatively painless.
Cox follows the same pricing strategy as most Internet providers, providing a modem/router “gateway” device that you can lease for a monthly cost. In their defense, their leasing fee is lower than the industry average.Optimum, meanwhile, offers a dedicated modem for lease with their plans, and bundles in a router for free. Again, you’ll save money by buying your own modem, but the extra hassle and up-front cost might not be worth it to you.
For customers who want to use their own hardware, Cox makes it a bit easier to understand your options, clearly listing specific recommendations for Cox-compatible modems with their various Internet plan levels.Optimum, on the other hand, makes finding an Optimum-friendly modem a bit more complicated. They also strongly push customers to use the “free” router provided with service, which has created controversy since the device doubles as a hotspot for their public Wi-Fi network. This has created privacy concerns for some security-conscious customers, although Optimum states that the hotspot functionality is separated from your private network.
Optimum and Cox both offer pretty impressive and customizable bundled TV/Internet/phone plans. In general, we found the combo TV/Internet “double play” bundles to be the best options for both providers.
One area that Optimum distinguishes itself here is with incredible pricing on a month-to-month basis. Most providers charge a premium for “a la carte” service, but Optimum matches or beats industry-standard rates for high-speed Internet without an annual contract.
So far as TV, Cox offers a bit more flexibility within a budget on building up channel selections, but you’ll have to compare Cox’s channel listings to Optimum’s channel listings to see how your viewing habits fit in.
Either way, be sure to compare the double play rate to other options in your area, particularly DISH and DirecTV, both of which offer near-universal coverage and hard to beat entertainment packages. Cable TV can look cheaper on the surface, but the add-on fees for specific channels (and seasonal sports in particular) can double your monthly bill before you blink.
Because Optimum and Cox are so similar, customers who live long-term in a shared coverage area might want to try both services for one-to-two year periods.
Having two options for broadband Internet is rare in the US, and gives you special bargaining power if you’re unhappy with your service. Customers with both Optimum and Cox have reported getting unique retention offers and even special TV services by calling and asking for a reason not to cancel.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask. (Just remember to be polite! Life is hard for customer service reps.)
Overall, Cox wins for TV lovers with basic-to-extreme Internet speed needs.
Optimum tips the scales for the mid-tier crowd and cord-cutters, providing reliable Internet plans that get the job done without a data cap.
Whichever you decide on, just remember you can always cancel for free within 30 days. Don’t hesitate to take them up on it if they can’t deliver the service you need!
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