Cox Communications home internet: What to know before signing up

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Tim Rue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cable internet is a tried-and-true means of delivering fast download speeds to people’s homes, and Cox Communications offers the service to more than 20 million of us here in the US. Billing itself as the largest private telecom provider in the country and boasting nearly $12 billion in annual revenue, Cox services more than 6 million residential and business customers, and offers cable internet in 19 states.

If you live in that footprint and Cox is an option at your address, there’s a good chance you’ve at least considered signing up for it. Here’s a full rundown on everything you should know before doing so, from prices and plans to terms, fees and customer service.

Cox’s home internet footprint is smaller than other cable providers, and concentrated in key cities and regions throughout the continental US.

FCC/Mapbox

Where does Cox Communications offer home internet service?

Along with the majority of Rhode Island, Cox’s network covers parts of 19 states, with service most prevalent in areas around the following cities:

  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Gainesville, Florida
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Macon, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Pensacola, Florida
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • San Diego, California
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Topeka, Kansas
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Wichita, Kansas

According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission, Cox’s home internet footprint reached just under 7% of the US population as of December 2019. That’s tens of millions of people, but it’s short of both Comcast and Charter Spectrum, two larger cable internet providers that each offer service to roughly one-third of US households.

Cox’s more focused footprint also shows that it isn’t a top pick for rural customers, as most of the company’s cable infrastructure is located in dense urban areas. Other providers are much better positioned to offer service outside of America’s cities — if that’s what you’re looking for, be sure to check out our top rural internet recommendations.

Check your address for Cox Communications internet availability

How does cable internet stack up these days, anyway?

Pretty well, as a matter of fact. In addition to the fact that it’s easy to bundle cable internet with cable TV and other services, most cable providers are able to offer download speeds of up to 940 megabits per second or higher. That’s much better than what you’ll get with DSL, satellite internet or fixed wireless, and it’s competitive with a lot of the country’s top fiber providers.

A good fiber connection will offer concurrent upload speeds that are just as fast as the downloads — and this is where cable internet falls short. Even with near-gigabit download speeds close to 1,000Mbps, you’ll likely be stuck with upload speeds in the double digits. For instance, with Cox, the fastest plan (940Mbps) comes with upload speeds of 35Mbps, while the four plans beneath it offer max uploads that range from 3 to 10Mbps. That might cause a crunch if you’ve got multiple people in your house making Zoom calls or gaming online, or doing anything else that requires you to upload lots of data to the cloud in short order.

And hey, speaking of those plans… 

Cox internet plans, prices and terms

Plan

Max. download speed

Max. upload speed

Equipment rental fee

Regular rate (no contract)

Promo rate (with contract)

Rate after one year

Monthly data cap

Starter 25

25Mbps

3Mbps

$12/month (skippable)

$40/month

$30/month (1 year)

$45/month

1.28TB

Essential 50

50Mbps

3Mbps

$12/month (skippable)

$50/month

$40/month (1 year)

$66/month

1.28TB

Preferred 150

150Mbps

10Mbps

$12/month (skippable)

$70/month

$60/month (1 year)

$84/month

1.28TB

Ultimate 500

500Mbps

10Mbps

$12/month (skippable)

$90/month

$80/month (1 year)

$100/month

1.28TB

Gigablast

940Mbps

35Mbps

$12/month (skippable)

$110/month

$100/month (1 year)

$120/month

1.28TB

Cox offers a variety of plans with a variety of speeds at a variety of prices, and there are a lot of important ins and outs to consider before signing up. Let me start with one that’s so critical, I’m going to write it in big, bold letters for you.

Your bill will go up after year one, no matter what

Cox offers promotional rates on its plans, and as of writing this, those promo rates will each knock $10 off the price of your bill each month for the first year. The catch is that you have to agree to sign a 1-year service contract in order to get the discount. That’s fine — 1-year contracts are pretty typical in the ISP industry.

What’s less fine is that your bill will shoot up at the end of that year — with some plans, by as much as $26. This is true regardless of whether or not you accept the promo rate.

So, let’s say you want to sign up for Cox’s Preferred 150 internet plan, which nets you download speeds of 150Mbps. You can sign up at the regular rate of $70 per month with no contract, or you can accept the one-year service contract and bring the monthly cost down to $60. Either way, when that first year is up, your bill goes up to $84. Bait, meet switch.

Here’s how the promo trap works. You sign up for service and then your bill goes up after a year (orange arrows). You call to complain, and the “best value” offer is the promo rate for a more expensive plan (green arrows). The cycle repeats, and your bill keeps getting higher.

Ry Crist/CNET

At this point, there’s a good chance you’ll call Cox and complain, or try to renegotiate. Cox does not have an incentive to lower your costs. Instead, there’s a good chance the clever sales person will tell you that they can’t offer you the same promo rate again — but they can offer you the promo rate on a faster plan. After all, you want a better deal, right? As it just so happens, you could be getting speeds of up to 500Mbps for $80 per month — $4 less than you’re paying right now for 150Mbps. Doesn’t that sound good to you?

Here’s the thing. That’s another promo rate — a fresh bait-and-switch — and if you take it, the cycle starts all over again.

Look for yourself. It’s no coincidence that each of those Year 2 rates shoots up to a monthly fee that’s greater than or equal to the promo rate for the next most expensive plan. Like the nauseatingly busy carpets at a casino that nudge dizzy gamblers into stopping and sitting at a slot machine, the price structure is carefully constructed to confuse you into spending more money. It’s a slippery slope designed to make it so that, whenever someone with an expired promo rate calls to complain about their bill, it’s easy for Cox to guide them into an even more expensive speed tier at a new promo rate. Doing so locks them in as a customer for another 12 months, and it dooms their bill to increase even further after that

If you don’t want to tumble down that slippery slope, then you’ll need to accept that Year 2 rate and stick with it. That’s a tall ask, given that Cox prices are on the high side. Take that 150Mbps Preferred plan, for instance, which costs $84 after Year 1. Cable competitor Xfinity offers a 200Mbps plan for $70 out of contract, and Spectrum offers a 200Mbps plan for $75 after the promo period expires. Both plans offer faster speeds for less per month.

Contracts and fees and data caps — oh my!

Cox’s lineup of home internet plans gets confusing fast, and not just because of the promo shenanigans. There’s other fine print to consider, including contract quirks, extra fees, data caps and more. Isn’t shopping for an internet plan fun?

Additional fees

cox-panoramic-wi-fi-modem-and-router

You can use your own modem and router, or you can rent Cox’s modem and router gateway device for $12 a month.

Cox Communications

Though Cox doesn’t specify the actual cost anywhere on its website that I could find, you’ll need to pay an installation fee of $100 if you want a technician to get your home’s internet connection up and running. You can skip this fee by ordering an Panoramic Wi-Fi modem/router device. Starter, Essential and Preferred customers get a Wi-Fi 5, DOCSIS 3.0 device, while Ultimate and Gigablast subscribers get a faster device that supports DOCSIS 3.1 and Wi-Fi 6. In either case, you can order Cox-approved modem. I’ve also heard from Cox sales agents that it isn’t uncommon for the company to lower that rental fee upon request.

“I’ve seen rental fees of $5 and personally, I have added that promotion when I have offered that to current customers,” one agent told me in a recent chat. “So please feel free to ask for a discount on the modem if you rent it.”

The other fee to be aware of is Cox’s early termination fee. If you cancel your internet service at any point while under a one-year contract, you’ll be charged $120. Make that $240 if you’re under a two-year contract.

Panoramic Wi-Fi doubles as a public hotspot

One more important point of note here: If you use Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi system instead of your own modem and router, it’ll put out a second, separate network from your own home network that other Cox customers can use as part of pandemic hit and home internet usage soared, Cox did a nice thing and raised it by about 25%, to 1.28TB (1,280GB).

That’s pretty reasonable as far as data caps go. Internet usage is still climbing, but Americans went through an average of about 400GB of data per month in 2020, according to Statista. Then again, here at my place, we’re currently on pace to use about 1.3TB (1,300GB) of data in the month of May. Just keep in mind that my roommate and I both work from home and use the internet pretty heavily (I test routers here, for Pete’s sake).

At any rate, once you’ve exceeded that data cap, you’ll be charged $10 for each additional 50GB block of data that you use, up to a maximum charge of $100. One nice surprise here — if it’s your first month breaking the data cap, Cox will cut you a break, waive the charges, and let you off with a warning.

“If it’s your first month going over, you’ll get a one-time, courtesy credit for each $10 charge on your next bill,” Cox Complete Care, which offers enhanced technical support. Doing so will add $50 to your monthly bill during the first two years, when you’ll be under a mandatory contract, and $72 to your monthly bill after that.

On their own, the modem rental typically costs $12 a month, while Cox Complete Care costs $10 per month. So, what Cox is essentially doing here is pricing unlimited data at an extra $28 per month with a two-year contract, and then an extra $50 per month after that — and the company forces you to add in the full-priced modem rental and Cox Complete Care fees in order to get it. That’s not a great deal, as you could incur a couple of overage charges on a standard plan each month and still be paying less. Make that several overages each month if you don’t care about Cox’s modem, or about Cox Complete Care.

isp-customer-satisfaction-2020

Cox finished with a below-average customer satisfaction score from the ACSI in 2020.

American Customer Satisfaction Index

How does Cox rank on customer service?

Internet providers are far from popular to begin with, and Cox is a little bit below average in terms of its customer satisfaction track record. In 2020, the American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Cox a score of 61 out of 100, which was only a point better than the year before, and worse than rival cable providers Xfinity (66), Optimum (65) and Spectrum (63), as well as the overall ISP average of 65.

Cox’s strongest customer service rating came from the US West region, where JD Power scored it just above the category average.

JD Power

Meanwhile, J.D. Power took its own look at ISP customer satisfaction in 2020, too. Cox was included in three of the four regions surveyed — it did slightly better here overall than it did with the ACSI, but still ended with scores that were slightly below the overall average for the internet providers surveyed in two of those three regions. 

We’ll start in the East, where Cox finished with a score of 713 out of 1,000 — slightly below the overall region average of 727, and behind Xfinity (726), but ahead of cable rivals Spectrum (696) and Optimum (693). Cox was closer to average in the South region with a score of 734, trailing the overall category score of 738 and, again, Xfinity (748). Still, it was a good enough finish to beat out a couple of other cable internet providers, namely Spectrum (732), Sparklight (711) and Suddenlink (667).

Cox’s best finish came in the West region, where its score of 721 sits just above the regional average of 718. Among cable internet providers, both Sparklight (730) and Xfinity (724) did a little bit better, but Cox still finished ahead of Spectrum (714) and Mediacom (670).

To sum it up

If fiber internet is available in your area, then you’ll likely be better off going with that, as you can expect faster speeds (particularly uploads) and better value, too. If not, then a cable provider like Cox is probably your next best option, with faster speeds than you’ll get by going with DSL, satellite internet or with a fixed wireless connection.

I can’t say that you’ll be getting a great value, though, especially given that other major cable providers like Xfinity and Spectrum offer faster plans for less per month. Then again, if you’re living in an area with limited options for high-speed internet, you might not have many other options. 

As for Cox’s data caps, they might seem off-putting, but the terms surrounding them are about as reasonable as you’ll find from an internet provider — enough so that the company’s unlimited data bundles probably aren’t worth it for most subscribers.

All of that makes Cox worthy of consideration for high-speed internet at home. Just remember to stay wary of those price hikes.

Cox home internet FAQs

Can I bundle Cox home internet with other services?

Yes, you can. Like with most cable providers, Cox offers a variety of TV and internet bundles, along with bundles that include home phone service, security monitoring, and home automation.

Are there any perks or other features available to Cox subscribers?

In addition to the network of hotspots mentioned earlier, Cox also offers a feature called Elite Gamer, which promises to reduce lag by up to 32% while gaming online. Elite Gamer comes at no additional charge if you’re using Cox’s Panoramic Wi-Fi modem or router. If you’re using your own modem, Elite Gamer costs $7 a month.

Does Cox offer any discounts for low-income customers?

Yes. Cox offers a 50Mbps, $10-a-month plan for low- or fixed-income families called Connect2Compete. Homes with children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches should qualify — you can learn more or check eligibility here.

Cox is also participating in the government’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, which offers a $50 home internet discount for those who qualify. That program began accepting applications on May 12.

Originally published May 20, 2021

Update, May 21: Adjusted text to reflect that the monthly price for Cox internet service goes up after a year regardless of whether or not you accept the promo rate.

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