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AT&T ISP Review & Reader Survey Results

Reliability: 3 ¼ Stars

Some of our readers were once again harsh with AT&T for its reliability, citing frequent outages and less-than-advertised speeds. However, at 3 ¼ (3.17) stars out of five, reliability was the company’s highest-rated category from our survey.

Overall, the latest FCC study on ISP reliability shows that the majority of DSL service providers fall a little short of advertised download speeds, with AT&T performing as low as 79 percent of advertised speeds on its lowest plan. However, this improves as the bandwidth goes up, and even shows that customers on the Max Plus (18 Mb/s) plan enjoyed slightly higher speeds than advertised. Here's what the 2014 report, titled "Measuring Broadband America," found:

AT&T DSL PlanAdvertised SpeedActual Sustained Download SpeedActual Speed/Advertised Speed Percentage
Express Internet1.5 Mb/s1.18 Mb/s79%
Pro Internet3 Mb/s2.52 Mb/s84%
Elite Internet6 Mb/s5.56 Mb/s93%
Max Internet12 Mb/s11.63 Mb/s97%
Max Plus Internet18 Mb/s19.25 Mb/s107%
Max Turbo Internet24 Mb/s23.20 Mb/s97%

This study is slightly dated, with the information collected in September 2013 and not published until October 2014, so it isn't necessarily indicative of current performance levels. However, it does provide a base data set to compare with, and it illustrates a slight peak bandwidth loss for the majority of plans and speeds (except for the 18 Mb/s option). DSL may occasionally suffer from these kinds of bandwidth losses depending on your distance from the central office, as we noted in our ISP review launch.

Downtimes don't appear to be a measurable statistic for ISPs (at least not from reputable sources we can cite), with the Federal Communications Commission ambiguously leaving out any data of that nature in its report. However, this shouldn't be a surprise because there isn't really a way to fairly judge an ISP's dependability based on downtime and uptime.

Downtimes are caused by a variety of factors, and are often isolated to either individual homes or areas, making it difficult to gather data on the frequency, length and reach of such outages. Furthermore, how would user error (we all know a guy that blamed the ISP for weeks about a modem he mistakenly plugged into the wrong port) be fairly applied to data of this nature? Without a truly unbiased way to measure outages, it would be difficult to put a grade on it.

That's not to say this isn't an important factor; at one point or another we've all watched that blinking LED, wondering when our connection would spring back to life. Some of our readers certainly were not shy in their disapproval for AT&T's downtime, with one commenting that "overall service is spotty at best, with frequent line drops," and another stating "I can't remember ever thinking 'what a fast, reliable connection I have.' In fact, as I was doing this, my Internet dropped for a few moments."

However, the majority of our surveyed readers rated the reliability offered by AT&T as quite high, with one reader noting its dependability. "AT&T is consistent, and that is ultimately what I demand for my day-to-day life." Others were not fans of the pricing or performance, but had to admit that reliability was exceptional. "It’s reliable, but I don't like the price or the speed." Some just had an overall great experience. "[The service is] always on, the modem never needs to be rebooted, and can consistently max the bandwidth and it always exceeds what I'm paying for." An overall score above three stars in our survey makes a strong case that AT&T has better-than-average reliability.

Derek Forrest is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes hardware news and reviews gaming desktops and laptops.
  • jasonelmore
    I wish you guys would do ratings for the Other 3 DSL companies like Windstream and CenturyLink..

    Those 2 companies are the absolute worst broadband companies in the world. All DSL plans in my area are restricted to 1 Mbps because of over selling, and no upgrades are planned to ever increase these speeds.
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    I don't understand why the article states that it's impossible to measure downtime. My modem is pinged a couple of times a minute from multiple locations, all located on major backbones. This data, compiled, gives an excellent real-world representation of overall connection uptime and performance.

    Of course, it's overkill when first-hop pings exceed 300ms with 3% or more packet loss every night from 6PM to midnight or whenever demand goes up. The Windstream DSL service simply isn't engineered to support its users simultaneously.
    Reply
  • cohetedor
    Your pricing unbundled is way off on 6mbps DSL. I'm in MI and have to pay $57 a month. And Uverse starts as slow as 768k, I know because they tried to cut my regular DSL off last January and 768k was the fastest they could offer me.
    Reply
  • Kridian
    16986855 said:
    I'm in MI and have to pay $57 a month. And Uverse starts as slow as 768k, I know because they tried to cut my regular DSL off last January and 768k was the fastest they could offer me.
    Dear lord! My condolences.

    Reply
  • dorsai
    There is no better argument for municipal broadband projects in my opinion...these survey's make one thing clear...unless they are pushed by competition ISP's will not improve their service. Any speed below 15mbps in this day and age does not even qualify to be called "broadband". States should be pushing all of the companies offering anything below 15mbps speeds to upgrade their networks since they are suffering negative economic impacts by allowing the status quo...
    Reply
  • 10tacle
    I participated in this survey last month, so I'm glad to see the results. My two biggest complaints were outages (while relatively quick, still a PITA, especially when gaming online and recording on the DVR) and lower than what my speed should be that I'm paying for. The good news is that my city is one of the markets that will get ATT's gigabit fiber. I had Comcast in my previous home and while it was more expensive and the customer service was horrid, it was also faster for the same price tier and there were next to zero outages.
    Reply
  • dstarr3
    It's strange how this varies so wildly from my experience. I have had ZERO downtime in the past two years, I'm paying for 12mbps and I'm getting 15, and customer service has always been friendly and helpful. My bill went up after a year, and literally all I had to do was call and ask "Can you give me a discount?" and then my price went back down to normal. I'm very satisfied with U-Verse.
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    All DSL plans in my area are restricted to 1 Mbps because of over selling, and no upgrades are planned to ever increase these speeds.
    It's worse here. My neighbor, further from the DSLAM than I am, pays less for 6mb/s than I pay for 1mb/s and because his CO pin is hooked up to a less congested set of tspans than mine, his service is better. Meanwhile, I can't even get them to make a QOS filter setup so that my low-bandwidth, latency sensitive functions (eg, ssh and telnet to work) can function.

    I won't even be able to load bandwidth-heavy webpages (like Amazon, which is about 3MB/24mb per load and will give 404 blank pages if any of the connections stall) to shop from home during Black Friday/Cyber Monday until after midnight.
    Reply
  • Teamchaos
    I had AT&T DSL 18Mb/s for a few years. I never got more than 10-12Mb/s. Eventually I switched to Charter and now I enjoy 100Mb/s bandwidth that consistently exceeds what I'm paying for (typically 102Mb/s). AT&T may be reliable, but it's sloooow. My house is near the end of their line in my neighborhood and I'm sure that was a factor, but still shouldn't have had to pay for more than I received.
    Reply
  • ummduh
    I had the 45Mbps plan here in Napa, CA. I was usually able to get the rated speeds, but VERY often I could not stream anything more than 240 in youtube, and often Netflix wouldn't load in HD. Also, the pings were pretty bad, in the 60-90MS range. (speedtest.net tests) I'm talking literally every weekday after 3pm, and every weekend you couldn't use youtube. Netflix was more hit and miss.

    We ditched cable/tv service all together and switched to comcast 150Mbps service against my own will. Pings in the 10-16MS range (plus speedtests out to 18xMbps regularly), and haven't had any problems with youtube/netflix bufferings or loading in their highest resolutions and bitrates.
    Reply