Sparklight home internet service: Affordable cable with no crippling contracts – CNET

This broadband provider is available to nearly 5 million Americans in 21 states and offers service to many rural and suburban communities.
First things first: You may not have heard of Sparklight because it used to be called Cable One. The corporate parent company is still Cable One, but the residential internet service was rebranded as Sparklight in 2019. 
Sparklight features a hybrid fiber-coax cable internet connection and offers plans with download speeds up to 940 megabits per second. 
Two things stand out right away with Sparklight. First, its prices are competitive among internet service providers and easy to understand. There’s very little fine print surrounding the monthly cost. Second, there are no contracts, so you don’t have to fear a long-term commitment. There’s a lot to like. 
But — I mean, we are talking about an ISP here, so there’s always a but — Sparklight also includes data caps on all its plans. If you want unlimited data, you’ll have to pay extra. So, there’s that. But overall, Sparklight is a viable cable internet provider and an especially compelling option if you live in some of the more rural and suburban areas it services. 
Sparklight Internet is available in 21 different states across the country. The list includes: 
Among those states, the largest markets among Sparklight’s serviceable areas include Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Decatur, Illinois; Evansville, Indiana; Fargo, North Dakota; Fort Worth, Texas; Gulfport, Mississippi; Shreveport, Louisiana; Sioux City, Iowa and Springfield, Missouri.
Sparklight Internet boasts throughout its site about “fiber-rich” plans, but don’t be fooled. Much like other cable internet providers we’ve covered, their internet infrastructure is a hybrid fiber-coaxial cable connection, not a 100% fiber network. 
What does this mean in practical terms? It means your download speeds will be much higher than your upload speeds, just like with any other cable internet hookup. Most of us have long given this little thought, as download speeds cover most of our streaming and surfing needs. Once the pandemic hit and we needed to work or do our schooling from home, however, upload speeds — which are necessary for tasks like uploading large files or hopping on video classes and meetings — became more pertinent, as well. 
When comparing Sparklight Internet upload speeds to other cable ISPs, it fares better than most we’ve seen, with its uploads topping out at 50 megabits per second on the gigabit plan. The upload speeds on similar plans from Comcast, Cox, Spectrum and Optimum all max out at 35Mbps — only Mediacom and WideOpenWest match Sparklight with top upload speeds of 50Mbps.
Here’s the full chart of what you’ll find with Sparklight internet plans:
First of all, I was thrown off a bit when examining the Sparklight internet prices. It’s unusual to see an ISP with so few bells and whistles, promos and exceptions to decipher. So, for the most part, what you see now is what you’ll pay later. Sadly, that kind of clarity around your internet bill is usually hard to come by. 
Now, you could quibble that the one promo Sparklight does offer — a $10 discount on the Starter 100 Plus plan — lasts for just six months. Many of Sparklight’s cable competitors provide discounted rates that carry through for an entire year. This is true.
But when you look at the average cost per Mbps — which is 32 cents across all four plans — Sparklight is cheaper than Cox and Xfinity and more affordable than Mediacom’s, Optimum’s and Spectrum’s standard rates, too. Only WOW can boast lower standard rates across all plan tiers of the cable providers we’ve reviewed. That’s pretty good. However…
Data caps are not a necessary evil. While many ISPs have them — including HughesNet, Viasat and cable competitors Cox, Mediacom and Xfinity — others do not, including cable internet provider Spectrum. So it’s not a given that, just because you’re a cable internet provider, you have to have a data cap. 
That said, not all data caps are the same. As you can see in the plans and pricing chart, the 100Mbps plan features a 350GB data cap, which is a little tight. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average home used about 400GB of data per month in 2020, so customers on that plan might feel the crunch.
On the other hand, the 200Mbps offering doubles that data cap to 700GB, the 300Mbps plan bumps it up to 1.2 terabytes, and the gigabit plan has a data cap of 1.5TB. These are all much more reasonable based on that 400GB number and closer to what you’ll find with other cable internet providers. 
Customers can expect to be charged $10 for every 100GB of additional data used over the cap, up to a maximum of $50 per month or billing cycle. Also, tucked within the details of Sparklight’s data policy is mention that customers who exceed their data plan three or more times in a rolling 12-month period will be required to upgrade to a higher internet plan — and must maintain that new service for a minimum of three months.
So, if you think you might be bumping up against your data plan with any level of frequency, you might want to consider going with an unlimited data plan, which will cost an additional $40 per month. That’s $10 less than the max fee for going over any given data plan and keeps you away from any penalty that would require you to upgrade to a higher speed plan. 
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Oh, and I should mention there’s some small print here, too — if you have the unlimited option, you could still have your speed slowed… but only after you’ve hit 5TB of data usage within the month. To put that in perspective, you could stream 4K versions of all four Indiana Jones movies, watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, binge all Harry Potter flicks, download every Marvel Cinematic Universe entry and geek out to each Star Trek film (from William Shatner and Patrick Stewart to Chris Pine) and still be less than a quarter of the way to your limit. So, I’d say that’s pretty fair.
While the data caps aren’t a deal-breaker, it’s a bit of a bummer that Sparklight has them at all. Still, on the positive side, Sparklight breaks from some of its rivals by offering plans with no contracts or term limits. This means you’re under no obligation to stick with a plan that isn’t working for you, and you don’t have to fear any early termination fees if you decide to move elsewhere.
Another positive aspect that leaps off the page (and isn’t always common among ISPs) is Sparklight’s money-back guarantee, which covers the first 30 days of new service. If Sparklight isn’t right for your home, you can request a full refund, including money paid for the internet service and applicable taxes and fees. That’s even better than the 30-day guarantee offered by WOW, which doesn’t extend to taxes and fees. 
WiFi One whole-home coverage is available from Sparklight for $11 a month. This is slightly cheaper than the typical $14 to $15 a month most ISPs charge to rent their modems. Also, like many other providers, customers can use their own equipment and avoid this monthly charge altogether. The only requirement is that customers use a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and refer to Sparklight’s list of supported cable modems.
Self-installation is an option from Sparklight, too, but it’s not available in all service areas, and it depends upon a credit check. Customers may bypass the credit check if they wish, but Sparklight notes you may be charged a higher deposit and/or installation fee for skipping it. 
Finally, due to the enduring impact of COVID-19, some installation options may not be available in all areas. For the latest information on revised procedures, reference the Sparklight support page or contact customer service at 877-692-2253.
J.D. Power gave Sparklight better ratings in the South than it got last year, but it’s still a below-average score for the region.
When you look at the most recent J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, Sparklight shows up in two of the four regions the organization tracks. Over in the West, Sparklight received a score of 700 on a 1,000-point scale. That’s a drop from the 730 it earned in 2020 and also placed it below the regional average of 710.
On the flip side, Sparklight did better in the South region, earning a 716 score, which is an increase from last year. However, it was still below the South’s average score of 727 and is squarely in the middle of the pack among 11 ISPs in the area. 
The 2021 ISP report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index did not highlight Sparklight for an individual score among other organizations. But among Ookla’s stats for the second quarter of 2021, Sparklight was the fastest provider in New Mexico and North Dakota and the fastest ISP in Boise, Idaho, too.
Finally, Sparklight also fared well in PCMag’s 2021 Readers’ Choice awards. For overall satisfaction, Sparklight scored in seventh place among 24 listed providers and earned a score of 7.7, above the poll average of 7.1. 
Sparklight makes a compelling case for being included as one of the top cable internet providers in the country. Fiber will almost always trump cable connections, so for customers in markets like Fort Worth, Texas, for example, you might be able to find fiber plans more to your liking. But for customers in Ada, Oklahoma, to use a smaller market, you’ll find Sparklight competing with DSL and satellite plans — and those are simply no match for what Sparklight can offer for speed and price.
Yes. Cable One is the corporate parent company and was initially the name of the ISP as well. That changed in 2019 when Cable One announced it was rebranding its residential internet service — as well as TV and phone offerings — to Sparklight. 
Sparklight likes to talk about its “fiber-rich” broadband infrastructure, but most of its connections are hybrid fiber-coaxial cable. This means you’ll have asymmetrical download and upload speeds.
That said, a Sparklight spokesperson said that Sparklight is investing in all-fiber networks, including a June announcement that it will be building a symmetrical fiber broadband infrastructure for the Kilgore, Texas market. 
Yes. Sparklight is making the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program available to new and current internet customers. The EBB is a temporary initiative to help keep households connected during the pandemic. It includes a discount of up to $50 a month (and up to $75 in tribal lands) for eligible households.

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