Cutting the Cord (the Saga Ends)

Four weeks ago, we began the convoluted process of breaking away from Comcast, the cable TV giant that is one of America’s least admired companies. We had a package deal for television, internet and phone service with Comcast that wasn’t worth the monthly fee, especially since we weren’t watching much live television. With the arrival of Verizon’s fiber optic internet service in our neighborhood, it was a good time to consider alternatives.

First, I called Comcast to see if there was a way to lower our monthly bill. They told me that was impossible. Even if we completely eliminated our cable TV service, we wouldn’t save money (the combined price of Comcast’s internet and phone service bought separately would be almost as much as what we were paying for internet, phone and television as a bundle). 

Like Comcast, Verizon offers its best deals to new customers. Unfortunately, most of these deals weren’t as good as they first appeared. For example, to get TV through Verizon, you pay an additional fee for every television you hook up. That makes sense, except that Verizon assesses this additional fee even if you’ve only got one television! I believe this is known as “chutzpah”. (“Since you don’t actually have a television, you can get Verizon cable TV for the advertised price!”)

It turned out that even with an introductory offer, we’d pay Verizon almost as much as Comcast if we got Verizon’s phone and television services in addition to the internet. So our best option was to buy as little as possible from Verizon. That meant getting their internet service and nothing else. The good news was that Verizon offered a faster internet connection than Comcast for the same amount of money (and installation was free).

Not wanting to give up our current home phone number, we then signed up with Ooma, an internet phone company. Ooma doesn’t charge a monthly fee. You buy one of their boxes up front. You also pay a fee if you want to keep your old number. After that, you pay Ooma a few dollars each month (in our case, $4) to cover federal and state taxes. 

Finally, there was the television problem. Many people don’t realize you can still get a lot of channels free with an antenna connected to your TV, kind of like the old days. It’s called OTA (“Over The Air”) television now. The bad news is that the broadcast signals aren’t as strong as they used to be. I looked at a Federal Communications Commission website to see which channels are available where we live. There weren’t very many. even though we’re only 20 miles from a big city. A quick experiment with a borrowed antenna confirmed that we would need an expensive antenna up on the roof to get more than one or two channels. 

That led us to Roku, an internet streaming service. Like Ooma, our new phone company, you buy one of their boxes up front. If you stick with the free channels, there is no monthly fee. And the free channels could be sufficient, since Roku has more than 2,000 of them. The bad news is that maybe 1% of Roku’s free channels are worth watching. For example, about 1/3 of them are devoted to religious programming, and looking at their many “special interest” channels didn’t reveal anything interesting.

The Roku website isn’t very clear about it, but what you get free is easy access to loads and loads of videos that can be played whenever you want. Very few channels have live feeds. For instance, you can watch videos from PBS and the Smithsonian Channel. You can also watch video segments from the network news shows.

For live news, you have the BBC and Sky News (also British) and a strange collection of American stations (in case you want to watch the local news from Sacramento or Little Rock). If you want to watch much live television or so-called “premium” cable channels, Roku says “the service may require additional fees”. However, so far as I could see, the “may” in that sentence always means “does”. If you already subscribe to something like Netflix or Showtime, you can access those channels through the Roku device.

In conclusion, we’re happy so far. We may eventually spend a bit more to add some live television (some sports, in particular), but for now our total monthly payment is $90 less than before. Taking into account the Ooma and Roku boxes we bought, the Ooma phone number transfer fee, and some new internet security software (Verizon doesn’t include security software in its standard package like Comcast does), and then spreading those costs over two years, we’ll still be saving $75 every month.

One other note: I didn’t have to tell Comcast that we’re moving to Iceland in order to easily disconnect our account. Fortunately, once I told them we’d already switched to Verizon, there wasn’t much to talk about.

Cutting the Cord (Thanks to a Hard-Working Man)

The Verizon website said their technician would get to our house around 9:30 pm to do our installation. The anonymous dispatcher said it would really be around 8:15 (only three hours after the original 5 pm deadline).

So it was a pleasant surprise when the technician called at 6:30 to say he’d be at our house in fifteen minutes. He arrived as promised and quickly got to work.

Four hours later, he was done. Among other things, he’d had to string 350 feet of cable from our basement to a telephone pole two blocks away, working in the dark on a hot, humid night. It was an impressive performance.

When we thanked him and said good-night, we assumed he’d be dropping off his van at some Verizon garage and then get home by midnight or so. No, he’d actually be driving to Newark to do some work for another customer. He explained that Verizon is forcing their previously-unionized technicians to work 60 hours a week.

We didn’t ask what time he started work yesterday. But on a good day, if all goes well, he puts in 12 hours. That’s not 12 hours in an air-conditioned or heated office. That’s 12 hours of driving around, in good and bad weather, carrying equipment, going up and down stairs, climbing on roofs, drilling holes, stringing cable, attaching electronic gizmos to inside and outside walls, while also dealing with people like us. Sometimes in the dark. 

Do you think it would be a good idea for Verizon to hire and train more technicians, so their employees wouldn’t have to work 12 hours a day (or more), five days a week? We all know the corporate business model is to get as much work as possible out of workers while providing as little compensation as possible, but there are lots of Americans who could use a decent job. It would be good for the country and even good for the corporations if they’d spread some of the wealth around.

Cutting the Cord (the Saga Continues and Continues)

how-about-never

Verizon told us they’d be at our house between 11 am and 2 pm to install our new fiber optic connection (good-bye, Comcast!). The installation was supposed to take three hours and might require work on the outside of our house.

After a while, I checked our order status on the Verizon website. A note had been added. The technician will arrive between 1 pm and 5 pm. Ok, whatever.

The afternoon wore on. No technician. No word from Verizon. No email, no phone call.

But another visit to their website reveals an updated note: the technician will arrive between 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm. Really? To do a three-hour job that might involve working outside? In the dark?

Ok, let’s contact Verizon. First, a brief online chat. Second, a phone call to “customer service”. Third, another phone call to “customer service” after the first call disconnects.

The Verizon representative is surprised to hear that Verizon technicians do installations at night. So am I. I ask her to confirm that this is actually going to happen. Or will the technician actually show up tomorrow morning? Or never?

She contacts the dispatcher, who confirms that the technician will be arriving tonight. I’m not convinced.

Meanwhile, the website has a new note: the technician will arrive between 9 pm and 10 pm:

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I find this new promise even less believable than “between 7:45 and 8:45”. Our technician will be working past midnight to finish this job? I express my skepticism and repeat my request for confirmation.

Yes, the dispatcher still says the technician will arrive between 7:45 and 8:45 pm, even though the website disagrees. I express an opinion or two to “customer service” and we say good-bye.

Comcast, I already miss you and you haven’t gone away!

In the Meantime

Our official cord cutting is only two days away. Good-bye, Comcast (the “triple play” people)! Hello, Verizon (the fiber optic people) and Ooma (the telephone people)! 

Assuming we can still communicate with the outside world at that point, I might finally be ready to post what I’ve been intermittently working on for the past two weeks: a more detailed account of what it means to have a perspective.

Or maybe I’ll treat our rupture with Comcast as a deadline. Deadlines provide motivation and there are so few of them when you’re retired (of course, there’s always the Final Deadline all flesh is heir to). I don’t want my most recent thoughts on perspective to be lost to the world just because Verizon isn’t able to safely transmit my packets of data hither, thither and yon! Comcast has been able to do that most of the time (I give them that).

In the meantime, here’s some musical entertainment from Neil Young. His voice rubs some people the wrong way, but he’s made some wonderful music, especially when he plays loud, like he usually does with the three guys in Crazy Horse. “Like a Hurricane” is one of his best songs. This is the studio version from 1977 and an energetic live version from 1986. They’re both eight minutes long, so this should hold you until Wednesday.

 

Cutting the Cord (the Saga Continues)

A couple days ago, I went to the Comcast website to ask about eliminating our cable television service (the two online chats that resulted are recorded in an earlier post).

The two “analysts” with whom I chatted, Kaye and Marites, said the same thing: If I wanted to save money by canceling cable TV while keeping our phone and internet service (as part of a so-called “Double Play” package), I’d simply need to get in touch with some other Comcast employee:

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Having gathered my strength for almost 48 hours, I called 888-739-1379 today.

As the pessimistic (i.e. realistic) part of my mind expected, it wasn’t quite as easy as Kaye or Marites promised. In fact, Matthew explained that it would not be possible to get a “Double Play” discount by speaking to him or anyone else on the phone.

According to Matthew, my only option would be to visit the Comcast website, because, in his words (and the words of Marites too!): “they have more options for promotions”. Unfortunately, the best Matthew could do was offer me the “standard” arrangement for phone and Internet service. That would reduce my basic bill by – to quote from that earlier chat with Kaye – hardly anything at all:

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It never occurred to me before that one of the benefits of a huge monopolistic corporation providing support to its customers by phone and also by website is that (1) employees who answer the phone can tell customers to use the website and (2) employees who chat on the website can tell customers to use the phone.

It really is an elegant solution to the Customer Service Problem.

Next stop: Investigate getting phone service from one of the smaller companies that do that these days, as preparation for finally cutting the cable television cord. 

By the way, I know I should tell Comcast I want to cancel everything in order to get a better deal, but I’d prefer to end our relationship completely (even though Verizon isn’t a wonderful alternative). And I know that when the time comes for us to go our separate ways, I need to tell them I’m moving to Iceland. Or that I’m dead. According to this interesting article, Comcast doesn’t have answers for situations like that:

Save Attempt is Not Applicable in the Following Scenarios:
1) Customer is moving in with an existing Comcast customer (CAE [i.e. Comcast Retention Specialist] must verify Comcast services active at new address)
2) Customer is moving to a non-Comcast area (CAE must verify by looking up zip code)
3) Account holder is deceased / incapacitated
4) Temporary / seasonal disconnect and Seasonal Suspend Plan is not available in their area
5) Natural disaster
6) Customer doesn’t know what address they’re moving to.