Casting off Comcast: CenturyLink Prism

If you live in Southwest Florida, or other parts of the East Coast, you’re probably a Comcast customer. In some areas, they’re still the only option for digital television and broadband Internet. Here in Naples, that was basically the case until last year, when I started to notice commercial vans bearing CenturyLink’s insignia parked in front of homes every so often.

CenturyLink’s HD Guide blows Comcast’s away.

Not long ago, a CenturyLink rep, a¬†baby-faced college grad, was going door-to-door in our neighborhood, offering a free 30 day CenturyLink Prism trial. For $10 less per month than Comcast, he said we could get more HD channels, wireless set-top boxes, and more consistent and reliable broadband Internet. We figured, sure — it’s a free trial, why not? We signed up.

Knowing that our neighborhood did not yet have fiber, I was aware that we were buying an ADSL service, which is an older technology. On paper, it can’t even come close to the throughput of Comcasts’ fiber-backed coaxial cable network. As a full-time software engineer who works from home, I didn’t take this lightly. Reliable Internet service is critical for my work. It doesn’t have to be blazingly fast, but it has to work 99.9% of the time.

CenturyLink offered us a 25/1Mbps service with a professional installation (an $89 fee that we could elect to split over 6 billing cycles). The fee would be waived if we discontinued service after the 30 day trial. For us, the installation involved running a brand new CAT6 line from the street to our home, and then into our home where it was patched into the ADSL modem. The alternative would have been to use a 20 year old phone jack, guaranteeing only 10Mbps service.

CenturyLink’s compact, ergonomic remote illuminates when you press a button.

During our install, the technician did us a solid. Neither of our two televisions were reachable from the ADSL modem via CAT6 or coax that met CenturyLink’s standards. CenturyLink offers wireless set-top boxes, but every home is still required to have at least 1 wired box which serves as the mothership to the wireless ones. Rather than charging us for 3 boxes, he “ghosted” the wired DVR box in their system, so that we are not charged for its use. This was a tremendous help — no need to run any new wires in the home. In fact, with the wireless set-top boxes, we were actually able to eliminate a ton of bulky coax. Between the higher quality of service and the help in selecting and installing the right equipment, the professional installation was $89 well spent.

CenturyLink’s equipment itself is more modern and attractive than what Comcast is recycling throughout its customer base, too. The set-top boxes are small, roughly half the size of Comcast’s. They have more connectivity options, including ethernet, which is great for people who have CAT6 runs in their house. The remotes are more ergonomic and modern looking. And the ADSL modem is a quality¬†part, complete with a wireless chip that rivals our Apple Airport Extreme and a 4-port ethernet switch. All in all, their equipment feels 10 years newer than Comcast’s — probably because it is.

CenturyLink’s Cisco wireless set-top box, next to a 2nd generation AppleTV for size comparison.

As for the service, so far, we have no complaints. The television picture is clear — as good as Comcast’s. We picked up a few channels (BBC World News HD, thank you very much!). The built-in guide software is leaps and bounds more attractive and intuitive than Comcast’s. It packs more information on the screen without overwhelming you, while making navigation smooth and fast. Recording a show in one room and watching it in another works like a charm.

Totally adequate for 99% of use cases.

And as for the Internet, so far it’s been quite adequate and very solid. I’ve got the guaranteed 25/1Mbps via every time I’ve tested it, day or night. For typical use (searches, streaming video, social media and casual 3D FPS gaming), it’s not perceivably slower than Comcast. Downloading large files at 25Mbps, you’re not likely to see a difference with Comcast, either. Uploading large files is another story: this is probably the only use case where Comcast’s 10Mbps uplink leaves ADSL behind. For off-site backup and certain software development tasks, this is less than ideal, but it’s not a showstopper. Overall, I’m satisfied with the service; perhaps more than I thought I’d be.

So much so that yesterday, just 3 days into our 30 day trial, I called Comcast to cancel our service, and returned their dated, bulky equipment. We’re now CenturyLink customers.

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