In a battle of medium-sized cable companies in the United States, two of the most common options are cable and Internet from Cox, and Spectrum service. Both companies have grown dynamically in recent years, with Spectrum being formed from Charter's recent merger with Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable. In light of these major industry shifts, the competitive calculation when choosing between the two companies has evolved a bit. Spectrum is now a much larger company than Cox Communications, which gives it a few advantages in the marketplace. Even so, Cox isn't going down without a fight. The company has a few tricks, and value-added features, up its sleeve.
Internet Speed: A Battle of Equals, But Cox Comes Out Ahead
It's hardly a surprise that most cable customers are looking for the best Internet speed, first and foremost, when choosing a new cable provider. Luckily, the prospects for real, fast Internet service have improved over the past two years or so. Both Spectrum and Cox were once known as the slowest "top-tier" cable providers in the nation. Each company lacked a commitment to consistent speed upgrades and, as a result, lost customers to competitors in markets where a second option existed.
Now, both companies offer plenty of speed. Spectrum offers customers a choice between 60 Mbps service and 100 Mbps service, which should satisfy even the most prolific streamers and downloaders. At Cox, however, things are even better: In addition to a highly affordable, 5 Mbps "Starter" tier, the company offers speed tiers of 15 Mbps, 50 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 1 Gig. These tiers also come in at a slightly more affordable price than what Spectrum offers, largely due to the greater number of speed tiers overall.
Channels and Packages: A Win for Spectrum Packages
There are many similarities between Spectrum and Cox when it comes to channel lineups and packages. Both companies offer a virtually identical list of channels, though the edge goes to Spectrum in terms of the raw number of digital channels offered. Each company offers a basic cable plan, where only the broadcast networks are offered to customers in exchange for a minimal monthly fee. Where Spectrum wins, however, is on price.
Cox TV packages are more expensive than the packages offered by the Spectrum brand. At Spectrum, just three packages are offered and each one has more channels, more premium inclusions, and a lower price, than what is offered by Cox. This could be due to Spectrum's larger nationwide footprint and bargaining position, but it still helps the company come out on top in this matchup.
On Features, Cox Comes Out a Bit Ahead of Spectrum
Charter Spectrum and Cox have both undertaken efforts in recent years to overhaul the customer experience, both online and via the set top box that most customers require in order to watch their favorite channels. In this area, Cox comes out ahead in a decisive battle with rival Spectrum. First and foremost, Cox has licensed the "Comcast X1" set top operating system from XFINITY from Comcast. Developed in-house by Comcast engineers, the set top box features voice control, Netflix, and a completely redesigned interface that rethinks how people should, and do, watch television. Charter's set top box, in comparison, is developed by Arris in a "limited partnership" and looks just as stale as other Arris-developed boxes.
Another clear area of differentiation between the companies is that of broadband download caps. The United States has historically been one of the few nations in the world without caps on how much customers can use their landline broadband service, but that has changed in recent years. While Comcast's XFINITY service is most strongly associated with broadband caps, Cox also caps users' download usage each month and charges extra if customers exceed this level. Spectrum is openly, even proudly, against the implementation of caps on broadband usage. This greatly reduces its cost each month, and even reduces how much stress customers feel as they browse, stream, and interact on major social media sites.
Customer Support Isn't a Bright Spot for Either Company
When it comes to the customer experience, cable companies have almost cornered the market on offering a terrible customer support operation. Cox, Spectrum, Comcast, and other major cable companies, all rank at or near the bottom on major surveys of customer satisfaction and customer support. That continues to be true even now, though Cox and Spectrum have both made some improvements to their rankings in recent years. Cox, in particular, has confessed to making its customer experience dramatically better within the decade. To that end, Cox offers domestic phone support, an overhauled installation experience, and in-home troubleshooting via its set top boxes that can fix many issues.
Spectrum has also sought to improve its customer experience, as noted in recent filings during its attempted acquisition of major cable competitors. The operator hasn't had as long to make these changes, however, and it continues to suffer from a poor reputation among customers as a result. In this area, the companies are essentially tied. Customers of both Cox and Spectrum prefer not to call customer support, or deal with in-home agents, and that's a problem.
Price: Evaluate Each Company on a Case-By-Case Basis
Cable prices have risen faster than the rate of inflation for the past decade or so, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to find a great value from Cox or Spectrum. In fact, in markets where the companies compete with each other or another player, prices are relatively stable and affordable. In markets where no competition exists, however, customers often pay more and get less.
Customers will need to do their research before committing to any company, making sure that they're getting the best combination of price and features for their particular zip code. Luckily, both companies offer well-designed websites that make price and feature comparison relatively easy to accomplish. With a strong comparison in advance, customers can lock in the best deal for their browsing and viewing needs.
Though neither Spectrum nor Cox are the largest cable company in the country, both companies have grown significantly in recent years. At Cox, growth has been driven by a renewed commitment to broadband speeds and customer service experiences. Charter, on the other hand, has focused its energy on the purchase of smaller cable operators in an effort to gain a larger national footprint and a better bargaining position with the major cable companies and broadcast networks. The result for each company has been improving customer satisfaction and, for Spectrum, improved service offerings in each of its "triple play" categories.
When it comes to a head-to-head matchup, however, Spectrum pulls ahead of Cox in several areas. The company's services are more affordable, especially for TV watchers, and its lack of broadband download caps makes it far more customer-friendly than Cox. Even so, these are two growing companies that customers should keep an eye on as they compare plans, features, price, and value over the long-term.
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