CenturyLink Home Internet Review: A Fiber Deal Worth Your Attention

  • CenturyLink's customer satisfaction numbers
  • The bottom line and FAQs
  • Available in 37 states, CenturyLink Internet may best be known for its former Price for Life deal. But my first introduction to the company was in 2011 with CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. I thought CenturyLink was a bank or maybe even an insurance company. It turns out it's one of the country's largest internet service providers, available to over 49 million customers across the country, according to Federal Communications Commission data.

    In September 2020, CenturyLink (and the stadium it sponsors) rebranded itself to Lumen Technologies. The CenturyLink brand still exists as the name of its internet service offering, though. If you live in the Northwest (and are perhaps one of the 12s, as Seahawks fans are lovingly called), or in any of the other states where CenturyLink is available, it might be one of your top home internet options.

    6.7

    CenturyLink home internet

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    Like

    • Some of the most affordable fiber plans you can find with CenturyLink's Fiber internet
    • Unlimited data and no contracts required, so no worries about cancellation fees or overage charges

    Don't Like

    • DSL speeds can vary wildly based on address and sometimes fall below what the FCC deems as "broadband"
    • Overall plan selection is limited based on your address

    CenturyLink offers customers either a digital subscriber line or fiber-optic internet service. Ground-laid fiber-optic cable is a lot faster than phone line-based DSL connections, so your speeds will vary significantly depending on what's available at your address. Of the 37 states it services, CenturyLink provides its Fiber Internet to 25 of them, so not all of its customers will have access to those faster speeds. If you do, don't hesitate to dive in -- it's one of the most affordable fiber plans you can find across the country. But if DSL is your only option, you might find your internet experience lacking. 

    centurylink-coverage-map

    CenturyLink home internet service is available in 37 states. The company tells CNET that fiber plans are available at roughly 50% of serviceable addresses.

    FCC/Mapbox

    To start, here's where CenturyLink internet is available

    You can find CenturyLink home internet service in 36 states across the US. 

    Alabama Kansas New Mexico Texas
    Arkansas Louisiana North Carolina Utah
    Arizona Michigan North Dakota Virginia
    Colorado Minnesota Ohio Washington
    Florida Mississippi Oklahoma Wisconsin
    Georgia Missouri Oregon Wyoming
    Idaho Montana Pennsylvania

    Illinois Nebraska South Carolina

    Indiana Nevada South Dakota

    Iowa New Jersey Tennessee

    According to a spokesperson for Lumen, "Fiber is currently available in about 50% of our footprint, including Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Springfield, Missouri, with additional cities planned throughout 2021."

    div">>See at CenturyLink

    CenturyLink home internet plans and prices

    CenturyLink currently offers DSL internet plans, ranging up to 140Mbps, or a 100% fiber network featuring two available plans. A Lumen spokesperson told CNET the company is continuing to invest and expand its fiber footprint, so it's been unveiling its Fiber Internet to new markets this year.

    CenturyLink plans and pricing

    Plan

    Max speeds

    Monthly cost

    Equipment fees

    Data cap

    Simply Unlimited 20 20Mbps download, 2Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 40 40Mbps download, 5Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 60 60Mbps download, 7Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 80 80Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 100 100Mbps download, 12Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 120 120Mbps download, 30Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Simply Unlimited 140 140Mbps download, 40Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Fiber Internet 200 200Mbps download, 200Mbps upload $50 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None
    Fiber Gigabit 940Mbps download, 940Mbps upload $65 $15 for modem/router rental (optional) None

    CenturyLink offers just a handful of the above plans for many of its available addresses. In a few areas, you may have only one choice. That's unusual among ISPs, most of whom offer three to five different plan options at most addresses.

    As to the value of the plans offered by CenturyLink, the average cost per Mbps for the DSL plans is $1, which is a highly competitive rate for that particular connection type. By comparison, the average price per Mbps of the DSL plans offered by AT&T, Frontier and Verizon is $2.44. I should note that I'm comparing the regular rates, not promo costs, because CenturyLink doesn't do promo pricing. The price you get at the start is the price you'll have after your first year. 

    Over on the fiber side, the average cost per Mbps of the Fiber Gigabit plan is 7 cents, which is significantly less expensive than the cable gigabit offerings from Spectrum, Comcast and Cox (all between 12 and 14 cents) and the gigabit fiber plans from AT&T, Frontier and Verizon, which all hover around 9 cents. 

    It should be noted that as it currently stands, CenturyLink's fiber plans are some of the best values you'll find on home internet.

    Fiber speeds are fast, but DSL, not so much

    If the Fiber Internet plans are available in your area, CenturyLink's internet service is plenty fast. You'll find symmetrical download and upload speeds, which means better performance for work (no glitchy Zoom calls or frozen FaceTime frames) and play (less lag during online gaming and no issues streaming Squid Game in 4K).

    That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that CenturyLink fiber isn't available at every address in the footprint. Service is only available via DSL in many regions, which lags well behind fiber and cable in speeds and performance.

    For example, if you head to the speed-testing website Ookla, you'll find a Speed Score metric that tracks the fastest ISPs based on a combination of download and upload speeds. Its most recent scores, taken during the third quarter of 2021, list CenturyLink in sixth place behind Verizon, Cox, Xfinity, Spectrum and AT&T Internet. That might not seem so bad, but consider that the five providers above it averaged a score of approximately 157. CenturyLink rang in with an average score of just 59.80.

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    The gap isn't quite so vast when you look at Ookla's Consistency Score, which is a way of looking at how often a provider delivers broadband speeds to its customers. While CenturyLink again came in sixth place, it notched a 53.5% score to the other five's average of 86%. Similarly, not stellar, but not as stark a difference as the previous comparison.

    Lastly, according to the FCC's most recent January report on fixed broadband performance, roughly 40% of CenturyLink customers experienced download speeds greater than 95% of the advertised speed, while another 40% or so reported speeds that fell between 80 and 95% of the advertised number. That leaves over 20% of the customer base reporting speeds less than 80% as fast as advertised. 

    That's in harsh contrast to cable and fiber providers such as Cox, Mediacom, Verizon and Xfinity, for whom 93-99% of customers found their performance equal to or better than 95% of the advertised download speed. To be fair, the FCC numbers only tested CenturyLink DSL plans and none of the fiber plans, so the numbers are skewed towards the lowest speed tiers that CenturyLink offers.

    Other aspects of CenturyLink internet you need to know

    To offer you its competitive prices and no-term agreements, CenturyLink does require monthly prepayment. But this also means no credit checks. Here are a few more details to consider when evaluating CenturyLink's internet service.

    Additional monthly fees

    Like many other ISPs -- including Spectrum, Verizon and Xfinity -- CenturyLink gives you the option to avoid a modem or router rental by using your own device. You can check the list of CenturyLink compatible devices, but if you decide to go with your own gear, you won't be eligible for CenturyLink's free 24/7 tech support.

    Going with CenturyLink's equipment will add $15 a month to your bill. One thing to note from the small print -- the monthly equipment fee does not fall under the previous Price for Life deal, so it's possible that portion of your bill could increase during your time of service.

    One-time fees

    While there's no charge for self-installation, not all addresses are eligible for that option. If that's the case at your place, CenturyLink will charge $99 for professional installation. In some instances, that fee may go up to $125. Additionally, you can expect a one-time broadband activation fee of $20 when you begin service. 

    If you wanted to avoid paying the additional monthly equipment fee, you could opt to buy the CenturyLink modem for a one-time fee of up to $200. 

    Lastly, CenturyLink currently has an online offer for new gigabit customers -- free installation as well as no charge for the CenturyLink modem. That's a solid value of $299.

    No data caps on any plans

    In previous years, CenturyLink reserved its unlimited data for DSL plans only. Now, as part of the rollout of its Fiber Internet plans, CenturyLink includes unlimited data with all fiber plans, too. That's a significant change and one that means you won't need to keep an eye on your data usage or worry about gobbling up too many gigabytes before your billing cycle is over.

    isp-customer-satisfaction-2020
    American Customer Satisfaction Index

    CenturyLink's customer satisfaction numbers are middle of the road

    Although CenturyLink saw a significant 7% increase in its 2020 American Customer Satisfaction Index score by earning 63 out of a possible 100 points, it took a small step back by notching a 62 in the 2021 results. That's still the second-highest score the company has earned with the ACSI since 2016. The company also fared better than other providers that operate in similar suburban and rural areas, including Frontier, Mediacom, Suddenlink and Kinetic by Windstream. That said, CenturyLink is still three points below the overall industry average of 65/100 for all ISPs, so there's room for additional improvement.

    For the 2021 J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, CenturyLink earned a score of 674 on a 1,000-point scale in the South region and 708 in the West. Those scores are below the industry average for those regions and below what CenturyLink scored last year. On the plus side, J.D. Power positioned CenturyLink above Sparklight, Cox, Mediacom and Frontier in the West region. Like the ACSI data, it suggests that CenturyLink is a solid but unspectacular, middle-of-the-pack performer in terms of customer satisfaction.

    The bottom line

    CenturyLink scores top points for its affordable, high-speed Fiber Internet product. It's available in more states than any other provider's fiber packages and you'll be hard-pressed to find better rates. Once you add on the unlimited data for all speeds, you've got a compelling product.

    But some of that enthusiasm is dulled once you realize that more than half of customers will only see CenturyLink's DSL plans -- and in some cases, those speeds are barely above the broadband minimum of 25Mbps download. As you'll often hear from us, the true worth of a service will depend significantly on your address and which provider plans are available in your area, and CenturyLink is no exception.

    CenturyLink internet FAQs

    What is CenturyLink Price for Life internet?

    The CenturyLink Price for Life internet deal covered all plans up to 140Mbps. It's no longer available to new customers, as CenturyLink now has unlimited data for all plans and speed tiers. Customers who signed the Price for Life deal still have it, but be aware that any change to your account -- including switching speed tiers, moving to a different address, etc. -- will nullify your previous agreement. 

    How do I get in touch with CenturyLink customer service?

    CenturyLink customer service can be reached in several ways. You can find assistance online at the CenturyLink Customer Support Center or you can use the CenturyLink chat function. Also, you can do it the old-fashioned way and give it a call at 866-642-0444.

    Does CenturyLink internet offer any deals or promotions?

    CenturyLink isn't big on running short-term promotions and deals. Customers are able to get additional savings by ordering online -- including, in some cases, free modem purchase and tech install -- and by choosing paperless billing and prepay options.

    Some CenturyLink markets currently offer fiber internet, up to 100Mbps, for $30 a month for 12 months. Others feature a deal where new gigabit customers will receive a $200 Visa Prepaid Card and six months of Sling TV for free.

    Is there a CenturyLink data cap?

    For the most part, no. CenturyLink used to reserve unlimited data for its DSL plans, but since unveiling its Fiber Internet brand, the unlimited data cap also extends to the fiber network. That said, the deal is available for new customers only. Existing customers may still be tethered to previous data cap limitations. 

    What is Lumen Technologies and did CenturyLink buy it?

    Lumen Technologies was not an acquisition but is a rebranding of CenturyLink that occurred in September of last year. Many home internet customers will still see the CenturyLink brand for their services, while others will begin to see the Quantum Fiber name later in 2021.

    Source : https://www.cnet.com/home/internet/centurylink-internet-review/

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