Spectrum, RCN, or Fios? How to choose the right NYC cable and Internet provider

Austin Havens-Bowen
By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
October 25, 2019 - 9:00AM

When choosing your cable/Internet provider, you have to consider how many people, and how many devices, will be connected at the same time.


Before Spectrum bought out Time Warner, I paid $50 a month for speedy wifi. When Spectrum took over, my bill went up to $60 and then up to $70. That’s when I acted on my mom’s advice—that you can always call and threaten to disconnect service and take your business elsewhere to get a better deal—but Spectrum advised that I was getting promotional pricing from Time Warner and wouldn't budge. So much for my attempt to save money.

I started looking at different Internet providers, and quickly realized that since Fios was not currently available in our area, RCN was one of the only alternatives, which was a bit cheaper, but for a lower speed. A few months later, my boyfriend and I are still paying $70 for Spectrum wifi, which was the best we could get for the price at that time.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding which provider is best for you, and where you live can determine your options—Spectrum, Verizon Fios, and RCN dominate NYC, but there are several others like Xfinity and Optimum that may serve your neighborhood. 

Keep reading to see what questions are essential when you need to sign up with a cable/wifi provider in NYC.

How much does it cost?

You have to be smart about how you spend your money in NYC, and overpaying for cable/Internet is probably not how you want to spend your hard-earned cash. 

For new customers, most providers offer promotional pricing for the first year or two to draw you in. You have to pay attention to how much your bill will increase once that promotional period is over. Also, check if your bill will gradually increase or jump to a fixed-rate. It’s best to compare all providers in your neighborhood to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

You should also figure out if the cost of the modem/equipment is included in the bill. If you have your own modem, you can opt out of leasing one, which will save you some money on your monthly bill. Also, confirm whether the equipment includes a wifi router. Some providers offer free Internet modems, but you have to pay extra for a wifi router—but this fee is relatively low, around $5-$10 a month.

What packages/bundles are offered?

Packages, or bundles, are a way for providers to get you to sign up for all of their services, such as Internet, cable, and phone. Most of the time, these packages cost less than paying for them separately, so if you need all three services, deals like this may work for you. But, if you use cable-alternatives like Sling, or prefer to stick with Netflix, these packages cost more than it's worth. 

Be warned, many companies will attempt to coerce you into signing up for a package, like Spectrum did when I tried to have my bill lowered, but if you don’t have a landline phone or the need for cable in your apartment, it doesn’t make sense. Also, those packages are most likely being offered with promotional pricing, so be sure to check how much each individual service will jump in price once the promotional period ends.

What are the Internet speeds?  

These days, speed is everything because not only do our computers use Internet, so do our TVs, smartphones, and even smart-home devices like smart light bulbs and home hubs—so paying for the internet speed you really need is important.

All providers offer several tiers of Internet speed, and most explain how many devices can successfully operate with that speed at the same time. Obviously, the higher the number, the higher the speed—but don’t be fooled by a salesman trying to upsell you. Most households can get by with a couple of users on multiple devices running on 100 Mbps (megabyte per second for non-techies) or less, while pro-gamers or those regularly video-calling their family abroad may find better success with 200-500 Mbps.

On average, providers in NYC offer speeds as low as 25 Mbps and as high as 1,000 Mbps.  

Satellite, cable, or fiber?

While satellite providers may seem like a thing of the past, there are still a couple of providers that use satellite services in the city. However, you will experience the slowest of speeds because top bandwidth is 25 Mbps. But, if you need a cost-efficient option and don’t spend much time surfing the web, it may work for you.

Cable is the most common type of service, which is offered by Spectrum and RCN. Cable services are available in almost all neighborhoods in the city, and will offer you premium speeds when it comes to Internet connection.

For the speediest of Internet services, fiber-optic Internet is your answer. However, the service is more expensive than traditional cable Internet and it’s rare—both your neighborhood and building must be equipped. For instance, parts of my neighborhood, Rego Park, have Fios but my building does not. However, if you’re running a home-business or you’re a movie buff who prefers watching movies in 4K-quality, the extra cost may be worth it. Currently, Verizon Fios is the only provider in NYC exclusively offering fiber, while RCN uses the connection in some neighborhoods.

Are there any perks like integrated Netflix or hotspots?

Even if you do get a deal on your service, you’re still paying a considerable amount to equip your apartment with Internet, and even more if you add cable and/or phone services. Lucky for you, the top providers are competing for your business by offering perks to customers to set them apart. 

Common perks include integrated Netflix or Hulu, unlimited storage for your DVR, hotspots around the city, streaming apps that allow you to watch On Demand and live TV on your phone or streaming device, among others. Check out what perks are being offered, because it may allow you to cut costs elsewhere.

Do you have to sign a contract?

When looking for a cable/Internet provider, you’ll find that providers offer new deals and discounts frequently. That being said, it’s best to choose a provider that does not lock you into a contract, so you are able to switch providers when you find a better deal. 

For example, Spectrum explained to me that I was not bound to their services by a contract, so although they might be charging me more, I have the freedom to leave when I chose.

However, many providers require at least a one-year contract in order to get their promotional packages and/or pricing, so you may be stuck with a provider to get the best deal. The good news is that some providers, like Spectrum, offer contract buy-outs that allow you to leave one provider’s contract for them, without losing money.


Austin Havens-Bowen

Austin Havens-Bowen


Austin Havens-Bowen is a writer and reporter. He previously covered local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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