I have to be honest. I nearly titled this review "Confusion in cable-land." Why? Because my eyes glazed as I pored over the differences in offerings for the six metro markets that Residential Communications Network covers. But that hardly matters for most of you, unless you're planning to relocate from one. What matters most is what Astound by RCN offers .
What RCN brings to the table are some of the most aggressively priced promo offers to be found for cable internet. Add in the fact that RCN doesn't enforce contracts, termination fees or data caps, and you're looking at a winning combination -- or an appealing one, at least.
- Low first-year pricing
- No data caps
- No contracts
- Limited availability to metro areas
- Sharp price increase in the second year of service
- Confusing equipment fees
What's the catch? RCN's monthly fees jump a considerable amount after your first year. I would typically ding it quite a bit for that escalation -- don't get me wrong, it's a sizable leap and you need to be aware of that extreme increase -- but it's not quite what we would term "trap pricing." The main reason is that RCN doesn't tie you into a term agreement, so when you run into that price hike, you are free to either bail or try tobefore paying those larger bills.
Let's dig in a bit and learn more about Astound Broadband powered by RCN.
RCN internet availability
RCN has been in business since 1993 and is currently owned by Astound Broadband, which additionally provides services under the Grande Communications and Wave Broadband regional brands among others. RCN offers home internet service to six different metro areas in the US. That's Boston, Chicago, the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania), New York City, Philadelphia (primarily Delaware County) and Washington, DC.
RCN internet plans and pricing
This is where I felt like I was wrangling cats. RCN does not offer the same plans and pricing across any of its six markets. We've listed below the plans available in its Philadelphia market, which sits almost squarely in the middle of the variety of options that RCN provides its customers throughout its service areas. The prices available to you will depend on where you live, but we'll discuss that further in a second.
RCN internet plans (Philadelphia market)
|Plan||Max speeds||Starting monthly price (first year)||Regular monthly rate||Monthly modem cost||Data cap||Contract|
|300Mbps Internet||300Mbps download, 20Mbps upload||$20||$148||$5 (skippable)||None||None|
|600Mbps Internet||600Mbps download, 20Mbps upload||$30||$152||$5 (skippable)||None||None|
|Gig Internet||940Mbps download, 20Mbps upload||$40||$160||$5 (skippable)||None||None|
How RCN compares with other ISPs on pricing
The monthly prices you see above are pretty representative of what you'll find across all the RCN markets, but I do want to point out some of the differences as well. Overall, across all RCN markets and plans, you will see an average cost of 14 cents per megabit per second for your first-year promo pricing. That is right near the top among all cable ISPs we've reviewed, including(13 cents), (15 cents), (17 cents), (21 cents), (25 cents), (28 cents) and (53 cents).
Even more impressive, customers in New York City will see even more competitive pricing. For example, New Yorkers can sign up for a promo rate of $35 a month for Gig Internet. That's an impressively affordable 4 cents per Mbps on introductory pricing for our friends in the Northeast.
That's the good news. The not-so-great side of the story is the price jump after your first year of service. Whereas the average cost per Mbps was 14 cents for the introductory pricing, RCN's regular rate, which kicks in after 12 months, holds an average price of 57 cents per Mbps. While that's not the highest we've seen among cable ISPs -- here's looking at you, Cox (80 cents per Mbps) -- it's undoubtedly one of the starkest differences we've seen between the promo rate and the regular rate.
What does that look like in real terms? Check out the table above and look again at the sticker shock awaiting Philly customers of the 300Mbps-to-940Mbps plans. All of those offerings have a monthly price that leaps by more than $100 after the first year, which is staggering compared with the average price jumps of cable competitors like Xfinity (average increase of $15 to $50 after 12 months), Cox (average increase of $15 to $26 after 12 months) and Spectrum (a flat increase of $25 for all plans after 12 months). Compared with those, an increase of $100 in the monthly cost of your home internet service is an extremely tough pill to swallow, especially if you're trying to keep your budget buttoned down.
When we asked RCN about that massive move in the second year of service, its spokesperson said, "It's important to note that first year promotions do not increase to the standard retail rates published on the rate card ... [which are] generally the maximum price that one may pay, and what is published for consumers to reference.
"Additionally, RCN customers are provided advanced notice that the promotion is coming to an end, along with their new monthly rate," they said. "This information is included in their billing statement the month before the promotion ends."
Either way, you're not tied down to RCN with a term agreement, so as you approach the end of your promo period, you can see what terms RCN offers or try researching other ISPs in your area. For example, Verizon Fios may be an option for customers in the Washington, DC, area and Chicagoans may have the option of switching to Xfinity. In each case, though, make sure to do your homework. If Verizon's DSL service is the only other option for you, RCN will still be cheaper, and those considering a jump to Xfinity will need to be aware that to receive the best rates you'll need to sign up for a term contract, which is not required of RCN customers.
Additional RCN internet fees
While all markets charge a one-time activation fee of $10, the modem rental fee is a bit different from city to city. For instance, the modem cost for Philly customers is $5 a month, while New York gigabit customers will pay $10 a month, which, to be fair, is still a bit less than many providers charge. But then you go over to the Washington market and you'll be charged $12 to $13 a month for your modem, while those of you in Chicago get RCN's highest modem fee at $16 a month.
As for your router, this is included for free in almost all plans. There are a few exceptions, but we'll talk a bit more about that in just a bit.
You can avoid the monthly rental charge
RCN does give you the option to skip the modem and router fees altogether by using your own equipment. RCN will allow you to use your own modem and router, so long as they're compatible with RCN's network. As you're about to see, this may be the easiest way to navigate RCN's web of potential add-ons.
RCN has more options, but also potentially more fees
Although RCN gives you the chance to skip the equipment fee, it also makes several supplemental items available that could help provide your home networking hardware a boost while bumping up your bill in the process.
For example, while a standard Wi-Fi router is included in most plans, RCN gives you the option to add enhanced Wi-Fi for your home. For the Boston, New York and Philly markets, this is supplied via the, which my CNET colleague Ry Crist gave high marks when he put it through its paces late in 2020. RCN will charge you $10 a month to lease it, with the first month free. But it should also be noted that customers in the Chicago, Lehigh Valley and Washington, DC, areas will get the for the same rental price.
RCN also taps on the shoulders of gamers by offering a chance to upgrade to a. Customers on a 250Mbps plan or higher can opt to rent the Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 for $13 a month on top of your monthly modem charge. Similar to the Eero Pro 6 deal, the first month's rental is free.
RCN also features other opportunities to upgrade your broadband experience, giving you the option to add a Sonos smart home speaker ($6 a month) orsoundbar ($13 a month) as well.
Yes, all of these options will ultimately increase your bill -- and if you plan on using them for longer than a year or two, it probably makes more sense to buy them outright rather than renting them. Still, these might provide some significant value to your service, especially if you can foresee using them for those initial 12 months when your broadband bill is at its lowest. You might also find it helpful to try a mesh network out in your home to see if it makes a meaningful difference. If it does, you could consider purchasing one for yourself outright. If not, you're only out a single month's rental fee.
RCN deals and promotions to further catch your eye
RCN offers a few intriguing deals to try to sway your attention. At present, it has a handful of limited-time offers available, including free installation (in all markets) if you order online, an $80 value.
Also, customers with plans over 200Mbps in all markets can add afor free for 12 months (and $6 a month after that) to their broadband package.
Lastly, new RCN gigabit customers in New York City will receive a $250 gift card.
RCN's customer satisfaction numbers are solid
RCN doesn't appear on either the J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study or the 2021 ISP report from the American Customer Satisfaction index. We've used these two industry benchmarks to track how broadband providers measure up with American consumers. This has become especially important as more and more of us lean upon our home internet for work and school, not just binging Netflix.
Over at PCMag's 2021 Readers' Choice awards, RCN did very well. It scored an 8.0 in overall customer satisfaction, which put it in the top five listed internet providers. It also scored well above the average industry score, which was 7.1.
Lastly, Ookla's speed test stats for the fourth quarter of 2021 show that RCN was the fastest broadband provider in Chicago. On the other hand, Verizon took that prize in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia.
The bottom line on RCN internet service
Astound Broadband powered by RCN is at the top of the class when it comes to cable internet providers. It gives you many different options to customize your service and its first-year pricing is second to none. Yes, that significant change in monthly price after 12 months is substantial -- but to an extent, that is mitigated by the lack of contracts binding you to those hefty charges. With no early termination fees looming, the power is in your hands to try to negotiate with RCN or seek services elsewhere after your first year.
RCN home internet FAQs
What does RCN stand for?
RCN began as Residential Communications Network back in 1993. Although it is now owned by parent company Astound Broadband, RCN still has its headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey.
How do I contact RCN customer service?
Much of what you need can be found online at the RCN Customer Center and using the MyRCN Mobile App. RCN also has a US-based customer support staff available by phone every day, all hours at 800-746-4726. Lastly, you can also connect to RCN on Twitter -- @RCNConnects -- and Facebook.
What is RCN's Internet First program?
RCN began the Internet First program in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's an affordable internet service offered to low-income families participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. Qualifying households will have access to max download speeds up to 50Mbps for $10 a month. There are no activation or installation fees, no contract is required and participants receive free service for the first 60 days.