California may be the heart of the internet economy, but the state is also at the center of some of the biggest issues facing broadband deployment in the US. As of 2021, 2.3 million California residents live in single-provider monopolies. While there are 137 residential internet providers in the state, most homes only have access to 1–2 options above 25 Mbps.
California accounts for 12% of the US population, with 87% of California residents living in major urban centers like Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco. The greater Los Angeles area alone has an equivalent GDP to the country of Turkey.
In spite of this, California often struggles to keep up when it comes to internet infrastructure. Only around half of Los Angeles can get fiber internet service, with many neighborhoods and apartment buildings limited to a single monoply provider.
|City||Fiber coverage reported||Local population with fiber access reported|
While there are 183 ISPs in California, the vast majority of service is provided by just a handful of major cable and copper wired telecom providers. Spectrum and Comcast alone account for 85% of cable coverage in California as measured by population within footprint. AT&T's DSL footprint, meanwhile, covers 71% of the state.
Accounting for residential, business, and enterprise companies across all technology types (excluding satellite internet and some municipal providers), 137 offer residential service, while 162 offer business services. 116 offer both residential and business service.
Rural internet in California is generally as question of DSL vs satellite internet, or fixed wireless. As of 2021, Elon Musk's Starlink project is still being tested — if successful, it's expected to bring the speed and price of rural broadband more in line with suburban options, or at least reduce the high cost of satellite service through market competition.
Spectrum internet from Charter Communications has a cable coverage area comprising just over 50% of all households in the state. Their coverage is primarily in Southern California, including Los Angeles. They have 230,228 census blocks registered for residential cable service within California.
Spectrum has 3 plan tiers: Standard, Ultra, and GIG. Their pricing strategy includes tiered pricing and WiFi leasing fees, meaning that consumer bills commonly increase 31% or more after the first 12 months of service. Spectrum cancellation is managed by phone or in-person. Spectrum deals for existing customers, seniors, and veterans are scarce. The cheapest Spectrum plans start at $49.99, while pricing for Spectrum sports packages starts at $89.98.
Xfinity is the second-largest cable internet provider in California, with coverage reaching a reported almost 34% of households within the state, primarily serving Northern California, including the Bay Area. They reported coverage in 139,236 census blocks with the FCC in 2020.
Xfinity offers a variety of plans, including a Gigabit plan. Like most cable companies, they do not extend promotions for existing customers, and do not have a dedicated senior discount. Xfinity pricing is variable compared with Spectrum, includes WiFi equipment fees, and can differ widely based on location. Pricing is tiered and increases after 12 months for most plans. The cheapest Xfinity plans start at $29.99.
Comcast's largest markets outside San Francisco are San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno.
Cox is the third-largest cable internet provider in California by coverage area, reaching approximately 9% of state households according to FCC filings. They registered 38,743 census blocks with the FCC in their most recent 2020 coverage dataset.
Cox offers several promotional plans for new customers, including a gigabit download coaxial offering advertised as Gigablast. Existing customers can access promotional rates, which increase after 12 months. Customers can lower their Cox bill by cord-cutting, removing WiFi fees, or annual negotiation calls with their cancellation department. Due to competition from Google Fiber and AT&T Fiber, Cox is keen to retain existing cable subscribers, especially if they have a TV bundle. The cheapest Cox plans start at $20 per month, with no military or senior discounts.
Cox's coverage area is primarily around Orange County and San Diego.
AT&T has the single largest broadband footprint in California, with their DSL network alone comprising 71% of state broadband access. Their growing Fiber-to-the-Home footprint extends to 17% of California households, and has been growing into 2021.
AT&T internet pricing is broken into fiber and DSL consumer service areas, with the DSL area commonly advertised as IPBB service. There are no AT&T senior discounts or veteran & military discounts among their cheapest deals, but they do offer low-income plans with age-related qualifications. As of 2021, the company does not prorate bills when customers cancel AT&T internet service. They have folded most of their TV offerings other than DirecTV into a streaming service called DIRECTV STREAM. The company primarily competes with AT&T alternatives from cable companies like Spectrum and Xfinity.
AT&T's largest coverage areas outside Los Angeles are in San Diego, San Jose, and Sacramento.
Sonic is the largest competative local exchange carrier serving consumers with wired broadband in California, with their service mostly centered around San Francisco and the Bay Area. Their FCC filings show 2% Fiber-to-the-Home coverage in California, however due to delays in processing and expansion efforts we believe the actual footprint size is closer to 3–6%, as measured by population in footprint.
Sonic has a growing fiber footprint in the Bay Area, which is extending into Oakland in 2021. They also offer IPBB service resold on the AT&T network, including in the LA area.
Frontier is the second-largest copper and consumer fiber provider in California, having purchased Verizon's Fios network in the area back in 2015. Their DSL network covers an estimated 24% of California households, with a fiber network extending to 13% of the state.
Frontier has been undergoing a bankruptcy process starting in 2020 and going into 2021, resulting in a large network sale of their footprint to Ziply Fiber in the Pacific Northwest region. It's not clear if Frontier will retain, sell, or be forced to sell their California network in the coming year. Frontier cancellation is only possible by phone. Existing Frontier customers may lower their bills by calling to request discount extensions.
|Provider||Service Type||Percent of CA households covered|
|Ultimate Internet Access, Inc.||Fixed Wireless||33%|
|Etheric Networks, Inc.||Fixed Wireless||18%|
|Frontier Communications Corporation||Fiber||13%|
|unWired Broadband Inc||Fixed Wireless||9%|
|Cruzio Internet||Fixed Wireless||8%|
|Starry, Inc.||Fixed Wireless||4%|
While California has hundreds of individual ISPs, the average household only has one or two wired internet options that's capable of delivering service above 100 Mbps download. This is because outside areas where fiber has been built out, service is delivered over telephone and cable TV lines — both businesses that historically hold franchises or exclusive rights to regions, with the result on only one TV line and one telephone line per building.
Most homes in California have a choice between decent but crowded cable lines, telephone lines limited to 25 Mbps download or less, or — if they're lucky — fiber from a telephone company or via an overbuilder like Sonic or Google Fiber.
The following are the most common provider choices within the California region:
|Network technology||Population covered||Coverage percent|
The table above shows percent coverage of each major network type in California according to the latest FCC Form 477 data release (2020).
Note that due to over-reporting by providers, coverage at the building level is not as robust as this data presents. Fixed wireless service from providers like Starry Internet, in particular, has much lower coverage than it appears based on FCC data sources — which are currently the only public source of national broadband data.
We publish practical guides to help regular California residents navigate the internet safely and effectively.