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!

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.

Cutting the Cord (the Saga Begins)

I didn’t think it would be possible via an online chat to give Comcast less money, but decided to start there anyway.

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Twenty minutes and one reconnect later:

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com 5com 6Well, I didn’t expect anything else. But sometimes it’s good to get confirmation.

In fact, I’m very familiar with everything you can do at this site: http://customer.comcast.com. For one thing, you can add services but you can’t cancel them….

Learning to Deal with the Modern World (you know, the www)

Many years ago I created a Yahoo email account with an alias. I thought that was the wise thing to do in order to protect my privacy (as I said, it was many years ago). I still use it for junk email. For example, I give it to websites that don’t seem to deserve a lasting relationship.

Last week, I tried to look at the account and couldn’t. I was sure I had the correct password but Yahoo didn’t agree.

Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me reset my password using any of the standard online methods. The reason given was that they thought my account might have been “compromised”.  Hence, I was told to contact Yahoo Customer Care.

Unfortunately again, the only contact information they provide is a phone number. If you have some time to kill, you can call it yourself (it’s 1-800-318-0612). The first recording you hear is the usual one about “heavy call volume”, but it goes on to say that the volume is so heavy that they may not be able to answer your call. Ever, I guess. 

If you choose to wait, you hear the usual announcements, including one that suggests that if you’re having a password problem, you might visit https://help.yahoo.com/identity, where you’ll be able to fix the problem and get on with your life. Being an optimist, I tried that, thinking it might be a special password handling page. The end result, of course, was that they told me to call 1-800-318-0612 (the “we may not be able to answer your call” number). This is the kind of thing you could do to a rat if you were a really mean psychologist and wanted to drive it crazy. 

What Yahoo means by “not being able to answer your call” is that after a while, if you haven’t hung up already, they hang up on you. 

But today I was invited to leave my phone number so they could call me back. They said there were 289 calls in front of me, but the average wait time was only 20 minutes and they’d keep my place in line. Since I’ve used the call-back feature with other companies and found it to be relatively pleasant, I gave it a try.

Unfortunately yet again, four hours passed and they didn’t call. I was beginning to think that Yahoo doesn’t really care about “Customer Care”.

Then I did what I should have done earlier: use Google (not Yahoo?) to search for “Yahoo email password problem”. It turns out they’ve had a few. But among the sad stories was a link to the famous Get Human site. Yet something else I should have done before! Why didn’t I remember to use Get Human?

Among Get Human’s helpful suggestions was to contact Yahoo via Facebook or Twitter. This is an option that hadn’t occurred to me at all. First, I went to Facebook. Although I didn’t try to get in touch with them that way, I did read some of the emotional messages people have left on Yahoo’s page. “I can’t get access to Yahoo email and we use it for our business and you don’t have an email address and never answer the phone!” and “I would use some other email but hundreds of sites already have my Yahoo address!” and “You should rot in hell!” (or words to that effect). One person even made the ultimate complaint: “Yahoo’s customer service is even worse than Comcast’s!”.

I then visited Twitter. Easily locating the official Yahoo Mail Team page (@yahoomail), I quickly fired off my own (brief) cry for help, being polite but not supplying any personal details, since I didn’t know where my tweet would appear.

Well, it was quite a surprise when someone on the Yahoo Mail Team responded within the hour. They sent a very nice message, inviting me to visit a certain link that would allow me to submit an incident report to their technical support group. Which I did.

Whether I ever hear from Yahoo or not, this experience wasn’t a total waste of time. First, I reminded myself to try Get Human as soon as things go bad this way. Second, I learned that big companies like Yahoo apparently pay more attention to the relative few who contact them by Facebook or Twitter than the hundreds of poor souls who call them up and then sit on hold listening to lame music, “Your call is very important to us” and, in Yahoo’s case, the occasional “Yahoo-oo-oo!” rebel yell. 

Lastly, I was reminded that our dependence on these massive companies for so much leaves us vulnerable. You can get an email address in a minute or two without spending a dime, build much of your life around it, and then have it disappear with no warning and for no apparent reason. Or keep lots of stuff on your hard drive or in the cloud and have that be “compromised” or become suddenly unavailable. People are working on better internet security methods, but there’s still a lot to be said for storing stuff the old-fashioned way, like on paper, and also for keeping your eggs in more than one basket.

Update: Ok, they sent an email with a temporary password to my main Yahoo account. I clicked on the link and tried to create a new password. They didn’t like it because they said it was too similar to my account name. In fact, it wasn’t similar at all, except for sharing a few letters of the alphabet that were arranged differently. So I get past that hurdle and create a new password and then discover that I’ve now changed the password for my main account, not the account I was having trouble with. So I logged off that account and went to the troubled account and repeated the process, starting with the temporary password. That was easy.