Technology How we review internet service providers
Salesforce updates Service Cloud to meet post-pandemic consumer demands
As economic activity rebounds, Salesforce contends, consumers will need more help, both from customer service agents and field service agents. "I know our customers, especially in travel, transportation, hospitality, retail and restaurants -- and all the sectors that service those, like janitorial, food service, elevator repair -- it's all coming back online," Clara Shih, CEO of Service Cloud, told ZDNet. "People are hungry to go back to those things... All of these pieces that are service touchpoints, all of those have to come back online in a seamless way.
I've been reviewing tech for CNET for nearly eight years now, and I've never had an assignment quite like writing reviews of internet service providers.
From , and to , and , the common thread tying everything I've ever reviewed for CNET together is testing. Our team prides itself on finding smart, effective means of putting products to the test, uncovering the key data that separates the good options from the bad ones, and sharing those insights with our readers.
ISPs are an entirely different problem.
FCC to begin $50 broadband subsidy program May 12
Poor Americans will be able to apply for the COVID relief subsidy in less than two weeks, and internet providers are already lining up to offer it.The Federal Communication Commission said Thursday that households would be able to begin applying for the Emergency Broadband Benefit on May 12.
Your first problem is that internet providers are regional, so if you wanted to test a provider's quality of service, you'd need a home in whatever part of the country they cover. Even then, a single location wouldn't really cut it, because service offerings and available technologies vary wildly by address. On top of that, testing the quality of a given home's internet connection means accounting for all sorts of variables that are completely outside of your control, things like service disruptions, infrastructure failures, interference from nearby networks and more. Finding a way to test internet providers that's fair, repeatable, thorough and helpful to the reader is a logistical nightmare, to be frank with you.
With the help of David Anders and Trey Paul, two new additions to our team with years of experience writing about internet providers, we've been grappling with this challenge for months. Now, after lots of legwork, we're ready to give you a broad look at broadband, and we'll soon start publishing our full, scored reviews of all of the top ISPs in the country, from big-name providers like and to little guys like and . Here's how we're tackling that challenge, and what you can expect from us with every piece we write.
AT&T vs. Spectrum: Which is best for your home internet connection?
Both offer fast speeds and reasonable terms, but which provider you should go with really depends on which plans are available at your address.All told, each provider offers service to more than a third of the US population, so that means that there are an awful lot of us choosing between AT&T and Spectrum for our home's internet connection. If that sounds like you, and you're looking for a quick breakdown of how the two providers stack up, you're in the exact right place -- keep reading for a look at each company's coverage map, plans, prices, terms, fees, customer service track records and more.
OK, but seriously -- how are you testing them?
As I laid out in the intro, there's no good way for us to test internet providers in a way that's comprehensive, repeatable and applicable to the entire category. Yes, we can go hands-on with certain providers to offer readers our impression of a given service -- and we're doing that whenever it makes sense, , or like John Kim did . Both of those are great reports that offer a helpful glimpse at the practical realities of the respective provider's service -- but you can't build your reviews around tests like those. Rick's place is a totally different environment than John's, the sample size is much too small to represent a broader experience, and repeating the process for every provider on our list is an unrealistic goal.
Internet 2021: Here's what the year will (and won't) bring
Now more than ever we depend on the internet for work, school, and fun. Will the internet providers rise to the challenge? Probably not.(Image: Shutterstock)
So, how do you review something that you can't really test? The answer is to remember why you test in the first place -- to generate objective data to inform your subjective opinion. And, fortunately, there's already lots of data for our team to pick through and scrutinize. That's where we begin.
First up is the FCC. Providers are required to discloseevery few years -- that gives us a look at where each provider offers service, what their speeds are like, and how fast their technology seems to be improving. The data is (and as of writing this, it's also almost two years out of date), but it still sets the table with a good bird's-eye view of the category.
From there, we put each provider's slate of advertised speeds and plans under the microscope, digging into the fine print on all of their deals and offers to determine what you'll actually end up paying, and what you'll actually end up getting. It's a big job, and it makes up the bulk of what we've been working on these past few months. For instance, ISPs will often try and lock you into . Exposing practices like those and helping you to steer clear of them is one of our top priorities.
Quic gives the internet's data transmission foundation a needed speedup
It's been eight years since Google first announced the technology to replace the internet's seminal TCP standard.Earlier this week, the Internet Engineering Task Force, which sets many standards for the global network, published Quic as a standard. Web browsers and online services have been testing the technology for years, but the IETF's imprimatur is a sign the standard is mature enough to embrace fully.
There's also a lot we can learn from examining each provider's customer service track record with reputable organizations likeand the . On top of that, we're taking publicly available data on each provider's speeds and outage history into account, as well as industry efforts to improve access to broadband speeds. You can expect our approach to evolve as we continue seeking additional sources of data to inform our reviews.
Gathering all of that information and putting everything into context gives us a thorough look at each provider, and it lets us start to make comparisons. From there, we supplement our research with whatever hands-on testing we're able to complete, whether that's a CNET editor reporting on their experience with a new provider, a rundown of the modem and router each provider offers its customers, or even an investigative look at which providers send potential customers the most spam messages. Reports like those are in the works, they'll continue to be a point of focus for us, and they'll inform our reviews whenever they provide data we can draw comparisons from.
That's also a way of saying that we'll be working hard to keep these reviews current. Internet technology is continuing to evolve and deals come and go, but no matter what, we want you to be able to trust that you're getting information that's accurate and up-to-date.
AT&T vs. Cox Communications: Two top internet providers duke it out
Trying to choose between AT&T and Cox Communications for your home internet service? Here's how to pick the right provider.OK, OK, so maybe this isn't quite as dramatic as a literal fight to the death, but there's still a lot to consider if you're comparing the two ISPs -- especially if you're choosing between them for your home's internet connection.
Building that trust takes transparency, so let me also explain how these reviews will make money for CNET. This site is free and doesn't charge subscription fees -- to keep it that way, CNET sells ads on the page, and it also uses affiliate links, which means that CNET earns a small share of revenue if you buy a product or subscribe to a service using the links on our site. Those efforts are strictly separate from the work we do as reviewers, and have no impact whatsoever on how we score or evaluate the providers we write about.
How do you score internet providers?
Specifically, we score providers for speed, value and customer care. Here's how we approach each metric:
It's what you're paying for, after all, so the first thing we consider is whether or not the provider offers a reasonably fast internet connection. It's a question that depends on context -- if you live in a city with access to fiber, then a slower, laggier satellite internet connection would seem like a big step down. If you're in a rural area and your only other option is a 10Mbps fixed wireless plan, then satellite might seem like a godsend.
Our job is to make that context clear for you no matter what your situation is. To get there, we ask the following questions:
- Does the provider offer a good quality of speeds relative to other providers who use the same technology?
- What's the quality of speeds relative to all providers?
- How strong are the upload speeds?
- Are fast speeds available across a majority of the provider's footprint?
- Does the provider offer a decent variety of speeds relative to other providers?
Internet plans are notorious for obfuscating their true costs using hidden fees and promotional trap rates that lure you in with a temporary deal. only to jack your bill up a year later. We aim to take all of that into account, make it easy for you to understand the terms before you sign up, and find the plan in your area that offers the most bang for your buck.
FCC commissioner pushes for Big Tech to pay to close digital divide
Brendan Carr wants companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to contribute to a federal subsidy program to help get more Americans online.In an op-ed published in Newsweek last week, Carr outlined a new approach for funding the FCC's Universal Service Fund, which provides money the federal government uses to help subsidize the build-out of broadband in rural areas, phone and broadband service for low-income Americans, and internet access for schools and libraries.
Specifically, we consider the following criteria for each provider we write about:
- Including fees, how competitive are the typical monthly costs?
- How does the cost per megabit compare to similar plans and providers?
- Do customers get any meaningful additional benefits for subscribing?
- Does the provider offer bundles at an appropriate discount, or are the bundles designed to get customers to pay for more than they need?
- What sort of assistance does the provider offer for low-income customers or underserved communities?
The biggest chunk of each provider's score comes from customer care, and it's the category that raises the most questions. The last one here is really the key: Is there anything about the way this provider does business that we need to warn readers about? If so, we'll tell you all about it.
- What does the provider's customer service track record look like?
- Are the provider's plans and prices clear and easy to understand before signing up?
- Are the provider's fees reasonable? Are the equipment fees skippable?
- Does the provider offer contract-free pricing? If not, are the contracts reasonable?
- Does the provider enforce data caps, and if so, are the terms reasonable?
- Does the provider ever throttle customer data speeds?
- How does the provider's history of outages compare to the competition?
- How transparent is the provider about policies, rate changes, fees, etc.?
- Is there anything else about the provider's plans or terms that we need to warn readers about?
Our aim is to answer each and every one of these questions to the best of our ability whenever we review an internet provider on CNET. You deserve a full understanding of the good, the bad and the ugly before you sign a contract for internet service, so that's what we'll strive to provide.
Our first reviews will be live on CNET in the coming days, with many more set to follow in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. We'll also continue following , and publishing relevant , , and . Got questions? , look me up , or let me know in the comments below.
Electricity transformed rural America nearly a century ago. Now, millions of people on farms and in small towns desperately need broadband. .
The true scope of the broadband access problem is unknown because federal data is widely known to underestimate coverage gaps.Becker shuts off the engine of her powder blue Toyota Prius and reaches for her laptop computer. Her two children, Maple and Ted, peer over her shoulder from the back seat.