Tom’s Hardware's ISP round-up puts the power in the hands of our readers, who gave us their opinion of the nation's top Internet service providers. And now it's time to take a closer look at Time Warner Cable.
A few months ago, we launched a survey that asked our community to rate their internet service provider (ISP). Over 3100 readers from all over the country participated, and we picked the top four most-voted ISPs to focus on.
Our readers rated each ISP in terms of price, performance, reliability and support on a scale of one to five stars, with one being the worst possible score and five being the best. We averaged each category's total score, and rounded each result to the nearest one-quarter star. We also provided the mathematical average, so we can compare scores later (it's starting to look like we'll have a close race at the finish line).
The next ISP in our series is the second-largest cable Internet provider in the country, and therefore it's not a surprise the company also garnered the second-highest amount of feedback in our survey, with 372 participants giving their honest opinion of its services.
Time Warner Cable's roots can be traced back as far as 1968, when American Television and Communications (ATC) was founded. Five years later, newcomer Time Inc. acquired nine percent of the controlling stake of ATC. In 1973, Warner Communications formed Warner Cable. By 1978, Time Inc. had gained 100 percent control of ATC; Warner Cable and Time Inc. announced the merging of their respectively powerful companies in 1989. In 1992, Time Warner Cable was officially christened with the launch of NY1 News in New York City, operating under the Time Inc. umbrella.
In 1996, Time Warner Cable debuted its “Roadrunner” cable Internet service, becoming one of the first communications and cable television providers to offer high-speed connectivity. When cable television mainstay Adelphia was sold, Time Warner Cable gained additional systems and coverage in the northeast, further cementing its place on the ISP totem pole.
At that point, Time Warner Cable was still part of the massive Time Warner Inc. machine. However, after the company became a public entity in 2007, Time Warner Cable separated from its parent company in 2009 and began acquiring regional communications companies to become an even more dominant force in the cable television and high-speed Internet market. Those acquisitions included NewWave Communications in 2011, Insight Communications in 2012 and DukeNet Communications in 2013.
Today, Time Warner Cable boasts a total customer base of over 15.5 million people, with over 12.2 million high-speed data subscribers. In addition, the company employs over 50,000 people and services 29 different states across the nation.
Time Warner Cable offers its high-speed Internet services across coaxial broadband cable lines. These networks can span great distances, with no bandwidth degradation as your distance from the main hub increases. However, cable Internet is prone to sagging bandwidth during peak hours, since customers share throughput on a hub.
Cable Internet speeds are comparable to DSL, though cable can hit higher maximum bandwidth. Here’s a chart of Time Warner Cable’s service plans, speeds, price and available service regions:
|Speeds (In Mb/s)||Prices (Per Month, Non Promotional)||Primary Service Regions||Technology|
|3, 10, 50, 100, 200, 300||$15, $30, $35, $45, $55, $65||AL, AZ, CA, CO, HA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, ME, MA, MI, MS, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WV, WI||Coaxial Cable Internet|
Pricing: 2 ¼ Stars
Despite offering seemingly reasonable performance for a modest price (compared to similar services from different ISPs), our readers gave Time Warner Cable's pricing the lowest score of any category, at only 2 1/4 (2.36) stars out of five. A trend appears to be developing in our round-up where we see the lowest scores in the pricing category. Many of our readers are particularly sensitive to pricing; pricing was voted the second most-important factor when choosing an ISP by our surveyed Time Warner Cable participants. Despite our survey results, though, when you do the math, Time Warner Cable's rates have some of the best price-to-performance ratios in our series.
I was required to input a serviceable address into Time Warner Cable's website, and once I found a suitable location in Texas, I was shown the ISP's speed tiers. Similarly to other ISPs, TWC offers promotional rates for a year, after which regular rates apply. However, I could not find a set-in-stone contract term or price anywhere on the company's site, so I contacted support for help.
The representative I spoke to helped shed light on the subject, explaining that the promotional rates last 12 months, after which they can be renegotiated (by choosing another promotional rate) or the service can be cancelled with no penalty. Furthermore, I was told that normal pricing for each service tier is only $5 to $10 more expensive, or even cheaper after the first year. Time Warner Cable's Internet services don't technically come with a minimum term, so it appears that these prices are legitimate and you can cancel any time.
|TWC Internet Plan||Download Speed||Promotional Rate Term||Minimum Contract Term||Stand-Alone Price||Price to Performance|
|“Low Priced”||Up to 3 Mb/s||N/A||N/A||$15/month||$5.00 per Mb/s|
|Basic||Up to 10 Mb/s||12 Months||N/A||$30/month||$3.00 per Mb/s|
|Extreme||Up to 50 Mb/s||12 Months||N/A||$35/month||$0.70 per Mb/s|
|Ultimate 100||Up to 100 Mb/s||12 Months||N/A||$45/month||$ 0.45 per Mb/s|
|Ultimate 200||Up to 200 Mb/s||12 Months||N/A||$55/month||$0.28 per Mb/s|
|Ultimate 300||Up to 300 Mb/s||12 Months||N/A||$65/month||$0.22 per Mb/s|
Time Warner Cable offers the best price-to-performance ratio we've seen thus far. It also offers speeds higher than any previous entrant in our series. However, the survey score, as determined by our readers, appears to ignore this, resulting in a sub-par 2 1/4 stars out of five awarded to the second-largest cable Internet provider in the country.
Readers who rated pricing below three stars didn't generally score other categories as low, with many actually praising the service in all areas except its price tag.
"TWC is a little pricey, but I've had no issues with them and they [don't have a] bandwidth cap," said one reader who rated every category above three stars (even pricing). Unlike other ISPs we've reviewed so far, a data limit is seemingly not a factor. Many readers with ISPs that do impose limits note that overage charge-incurring policies negatively affect their opinions in this category.
"While they provide generally adequate service, it's very much overpriced for the service provided," said another participant who rated all other categories at or below three stars, with pricing pegged at just one star out of five.
One of our readers simply commented "it is overpriced because it is the only ISP in town," perhaps pinpointing the reason so many of our respondents gave Time Warner (and most other ISPs) a poor pricing score. Some regions simply have no competition for high-speed broadband cable Internet, and when there's a lack of competition, the perception is that prices are automatically too high (or at least higher than some people are comfortable paying).
These lower-than-average results may come from a lack of knowledge of what other companies charge. At the end of the day, I simply cannot account for the disappointing score that Time Warner Cable's Internet services received, since each service tier offers more speed at a better price per Mb/s than any other ISP we've reviewed, and without a data cap.
Performance: 3 ¼ Stars
Time Warner's performance was judged much more favorably by our readers, earning 3 1/4 (3.17) stars out of five. This is still a somewhat surprising score, mainly because it's lower than what cable Internet providers with slower advertised speeds are earning.
Perhaps performance is a given for cable Internet subscribers, since surveyed readers using TWC voted the category their least important factor when deciding on an ISP. This is similar to how Comcast users voted in our survey, implying that cable Internet customers simply expect high performance from their coaxial cable connections.
Many readers related pricing to performance as well, with the minority who rated Time Warner Cable below three stars noting "poor performance, high prices and highly fluctuating upload/download speeds."
In addition, many who were dissatisfied with performance believed that they should be getting more bandwidth for their dollar (again, confusing given Time Warner Cable's impressive speeds and best-in-survey price-to-performance ratio). Other respondents had legitimate performance gripes. "I have a laggy connection and lots of downtime," said one particularly dissatisfied reader, who gave every category less than a two-star rating.
Time Warner Cable still garnered a respectable 3 1/4 star rating in the performance category, with users who rated it three stars or higher complimenting the broadband service's impressive download speeds. "Time Warner's Internet service is consistently fast and very reliable," said one satisfied reader. Another summed up their high performance score with "reliable speeds, usually low ping, and no data cap."
Reliability: 3 ½ Stars
The reliability category was rated the highest by our readers, with Time Warner Cable earning 3 1/2 (3.37) stars out of five. Many folks praised the company's reliability. The majority who scored it three stars or higher noted better-than-advertised bandwidth and minimal downtime as primary factors for their high rating.
"I've seldom had problems, and when I [had problems] they were resolved promptly," said one of our participants who rated performance, reliability and support at four stars, yet scored pricing at three. "I have very reliable Internet service, and if I see two minutes of downtime a month, I am surprised," said another who gave reliability five stars.
Despite the mostly-positive feedback from our community in the reliability category, a 2014 study called Measuring Broadband America showed Time Warner Cable skimping out on maximum bandwidth.
|Advertised Speeds (Available Time Warner Data Rates From 2013)||Actual Sustained Download Speed||Actual Speed/Advertised Speed Percentage|
|Up to 3 Mb/s||3.03 Mb/s||101%|
|Up to 15 Mb/s||14.63 Mb/s||98%|
|Up to 20Mb/s||18.88 Mb/s||94%|
|Up to 30 Mb/s||29.41 Mb/s||98%|
|Up to 50 Mb/s||48.69 Mb/s||97%|
It is probable that the information (derived from data collected in 2013) is a poor reflection of current Time Warner Cable services, and therefore not a great comparison for current reliability and performance experiences. However, this data supports claims of lower-than-advertised speeds, especially if Time Warner Cable hasn’t improved since then.
The company now offers up to 100, 200 and 300 Mb/s Internet connections, and our readers expressed overall satisfaction with the service's reliability and performance. Ultimately, these two categories were the highest-scoring, yet least important factors as rated by our community.
The few participants who rated reliability lower than three stars cited lower-than-advertised speeds, connection issues and slow remediation as primary detractors. "I have constant slowdowns and DNS issues," said a reader who rated reliability at just one star.
Let the score show that Time Warner Cable earned a respectable 3 1/2 stars for its reliability, with the company taking the lead in our ISP survey review series. Most readers seem to be under the belief that TWC offers above-average reliability with better-than-advertised speeds and solid up-time.
Service & Support: 2 ½ Stars
It appears that Time Warner Cable drops the ball when its high-scoring reliability fails, with a very average 2 1/2 (2.56) out of five-star rating in the support category. While this isn't the worst support score in our ISP review, our readers are particularly critical when it comes to this subject, likely because it was voted the most important factor when choosing an ISP. Similarly to Comcast, our readers were generally not satisfied with their customer service experience.
"Customer service is terrible. I'm not sure they realize paying customers are why they have a business," said one reader, who rated support at just one star (with other categories at or above three stars). Another was more scathing in critiquing the company's support. "Time Warner has a flagrant disregard for their customers, and customer service with this company is as bad as any other poor service I have ever received."
Other issues mentioned by our readers included poor response and remediation times, uncaring attitudes and a lack of expertise. "[TWC] customer service is terrible. It's hard getting anyone that knows what they're doing," said one such surveyed reader.
Even respondents who were satisfied with other aspects of Time Warner Cable's Internet service seemed to be disappointed with customer support. "I get pretty reliable service, but if you need technical support, good luck," said one reader who rated all categories except support above three stars.
The vote seemed to be split solidly down the middle, with just as many readers rating Time Warner Cable's support at three stars or higher. Satisfied readers noted friendly customer service, quick response and remediation, easy billing and relatively disruption-free service.
"Customer service is just amazing," said a satisfied reader. "TWC's customer service has been friendly," echoed another.
Overall, the scoreboard for Time Warner Cable's support reflects an average score in our survey, with no single ISP we've looked at breaching a three-star rating. Time Warner Cable isn't the best, but also isn't the worst according to our readers, who pinpointed many of the same negative factors other ISPs seem to suffer from when rating the company's support.
Overall: 2 ¾ Stars
Generally speaking, cable Internet providers score high marks in the performance and reliability categories, and then receive disappointing ratings in the price and support department. Not coincidentally, the two lowest-scoring categories were the most important factors when choosing an ISP, according to our readers. The overall score of 2 3/4 (2.80) stars out of five seems to reflect a weighted average when accounting for what matters most to our surveyed participants: pricing and support.
The performance and reliability marks for Time Warner are average for cable Internet providers overall; Comcast garnered similar scores. These categories also achieved the highest ratings, yet were less important factors when choosing an ISP, according to the Time Warner Cable subscribers who participated in our survey.
"The service, speed and reliability are the things that have me hooked," said one participant who rated everything but pricing at or above three stars. “Customer support and pricing (which is offered at a reasonable rate and [then] climbs over time) are both hugely frustrating,” stated another, who otherwise provided high marks for Time Warner Cable.
The overall score doesn't reflect a true average of the combined criteria, but this is likely due to the weight the poorly-scored categories carry with our readers.
Despite serving up the best price-to performance ratio in our review series so far, our readers rated Time Warner Cable's pricing at a modest 2 1/4 stars. We've seen overall dissatisfaction with pricing for each ISP we've examined, but TWC's score is surprisingly a top contender in our review series so far.
Performance and reliability seems to be the bread and butter of Time Warner Cable, with greater than three-star ratings for each of those categories. However, these impressive scores do not seem to influence our reader's overwhelmingly sub-par analysis of the company's pricing and support; each category consistently garners below three star ratings. It should also be noted that Time Warner Cable is in contention for the top score in each category so far.
Here's our full results from our Time Warner Cable ISP survey results:
|Price (2)||Performance (4)||Reliability (3)||Support (1)||Overall|
|★★ ¼ (2.36) Stars||★★★ ¼ (3.17) Stars||★★★ ½ (3.37) Stars||★★ ½ (2.56) Stars||★★ ¾ (2.80) Stars|
Each category is labeled with the results of the most- and least-important factors when deciding on an ISP, and each score is tallied with its one- to five-star rounded and mathematical average. These scores are so closely in line with other ISPs that we can tell it’s going to be a very close race for first place in each category.
Tom's Hardware's ISP round-up is nearing its end. Thanks goes out to our dedicated community for providing their opinions. In our final ISP evaluation, we will examine another DSL and fiber optic service provider: Verizon.
Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.