September 20th, 2014

Sweet Jesus!

Beating Comcast and Verizon at their own game

I've been meaning to write about this for a while now, but better late than never I guess.

Earlier this year, my two year "price agreement" with FiOS was up, and to my surprise my bill jumped to crazy new heights.  $150/mo for 50/25 internet and mid-tier TV service, with one HD Box rental and one cablecard?  I think it is already a well-established fact that the cable companies rip you a new one when it comes to equipment rental fees, but I was only renting a single box and a cable card.  Something had to give.  I called Verizon several times asking for them to give me a better deal.  The first offer was pretty crappy: $10 off the bill if I sign a new 2-year contract.  After several more calls and threats to cancel, I was finally forwarded to retention, who gave me a slightly better offer on a plan with less perks, once again contingent on signing a 2-year contract.  I protested, citing the ads that continually flow in through snail mail.  $79.99/mo, so say the ads, plus they include phone service, which I don't currently get.  "These are only for new customers," they always replied.  As if being a loyal customer means nothing.

This was the last straw.  I'd had enough, and my goal was clear.  How do I win the price war?  Not just the battle I'm fighting right now, but the war?  After some careful consideration, I figured it out.  The key is as simple as the answer to this question: why do the cable companies think they can keep getting away with this?

The answer is simple.  They figure we, as consumers, are either too dumb or lazy to switch.  And let's be honest, switching is a huge pain, right?  It doesn't have to be, if you follow these two simple steps.

1.  Get a line for both Comcast and FiOS run to your house, and have the incoming lines installed next to each other.  Unfortunately there is no way around sitting through the install process the first time around, but once the line has been run, you're free to switch between services whenever you want, and you don't even need to be around for the installer to come in your house!

2.  Own your own equipment.  The cable companies make HUGE profits renting them out to you, and when it comes time to switch, you have to go through the trouble of returning it, then getting new equipment from the new provider.  But you don't have to do this.  Let's go through each of the three services.

Internet:  With Comcast, you can buy your own modem at any electronics store.  I picked up a Motorola SB6141, one of the best options for cable modems available, for about $80.  But you can find modems for as cheap as $30 if you look around.  The other thing you need is a router, which again can be purchased from any electronics store.  If you're switching to Verizon FiOS, you only need a router, and any router will do.  Verizon will tell you that you need to use their router, but you don't.

TV: This one is tricky, but possible.  The first option is to purchase a Tivo for your living room, then extenders for the other rooms in your house.  This option is expensive: with lifetime service, the main Tivo unit will cost you $500-$600, and each of the extenders will be $150.  But keep in mind, the DVR box rental from the cable company is $20, and each HD box is $12, so you should make up the cost in 2-3 years max.  The other option is Windows Media Center, which requires an always-on PC in your house with some specialized hardware TV tuners.  Each additional TV can watch live or recorded TV with an Xbox 360.  Upfront cost on this solution is less, plus you'll have an Xbox 360 everywhere you watch TV regularly (a definite plus), but this solution is more difficult to configure and keep running.  With either the Tivo or WMC solution, you'll only need to rent a Cablecard from the cable company.  Verizon charges $4/mo for this, while Comcast will actually give you a discount if you use a Cablecard instead of renting a box.

Phone:  The first question to ask yourself is, do I still need a home phone?  Nearly everyone these days has a cell phone with unlimited minutes.  But if you feel like you still need home phone service, there is hope for you.  The first option is to use a Voice over IP provider, like Ooma or Magicjack.  Both can port your current number, and both will work anywhere that has an internet connection, leaving you free to switch internet providers at will.  The second option is to port your landline number over to Google Voice, then forward all your calls to your home phone.  This way, whatever your actual home phone number is (as it will change when you change providers), you can always set your pre-existing number to forward there, so you won't need to tell your friends and family your new number each time you switch providers.

And that's all there is to it.  Once you've completed these two steps, switching providers is as simple as calling the new provider and asking them to switch their service on, then calling the old provider and asking them to swich their service off.  Then you simply unplug the cable from your old service and plug it into your new service.  No need to wait around for an installer to come to your house, and now you can always take advantage of the new subscriber pricing.  So sit back, relax, and take comfort in the fact that you've won the cable pricing war.