Saturday, February 16, 2013

Consumer Revolution - Dumping our Cable TV and Home Phone

The Last Straw

We have been paying $160 a month to Comcast for our cable, internet, home phone and fax line. That was after additional monthly discounts as a 'courtesy' for all the poor quality service and problems we have had in the past year with our phone, internet and cable connection.

Earlier this year, Comcast pulled a sneaky stunt. They started charging us for each of the digital adapters that they have never charged us for before. That was an additional $1.99 + tax for each adapter. Comcast sneaked in those extra charges without giving us any prior notice. We called Comcast to see what they can do for us to help lower our monthly bills and were told that we can downgrade our level of service, which would have saved us about $10 a month. Downgrade? But we were already getting very basic services. How much lower can we go?
  • We have lost internet and cable connections several times, sometimes for more than a day at a time.
  • Constantly had problems with our HD box and had it replaced more than twice (and having to fight them each time because they want to charge us to replace their defective devices).
  • Lost days of productive work waiting for technicians who either never showed up, showed up really late, or showed up without the proper equipment and had to come back the next day.
  • Would have cable freeze up, then we would call Comcast with the error code, they would ignore it and spend a half hour needlessly 'troubleshooting' the problem by having us turn the box off and on, and having it turn out that they should have just addressed the error code in the first place (yes, this happens every time we call).
  • We would try and watch our weekly shows on On Demand but find that they either take 2 weeks later to show up on the list or not show up at all. We made Comcast aware of this but all they could do is log the issue.

Charging us more money for what we were getting (or not getting) was the last straw. We have decided that we've really had enough with Comcast and with paying a lot of money each month for sub par service.

Can We Stop Throwing Away Money Now?

Yes.

First, we looked at what we have.
  1. internet
  2. cable
  3. home phone
  4. additional line for the fax machine (for my husband's business)
 Second, we looked at what we can do without.
  1. home phone. We actually don't even use our home phone since we have our cell phones.
  2. Maybe cable? We get free rentals from Redbox or we can sign up for Amazon Prime membership (about $84 for the year after taxes) and stream TV shows and movies from our computer. 
 Then, we looked at possible alternatives.
  1. internet - other service provider like Verizon, but is that really any better? 
  2. cable - video streaming such as Netflix or Hulu Plus
  3. fax line - a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service, like Vonage

Thankfully, we now have alternative options for cable that we did not have before. We found that all we really need is an internet connection and we can get phone and video streaming services for a lot less money. Unfortunately though, we did not totally get away from Comcast since we still needed internet service, but we are happy with paying about $50 less per month (that's $600 a year) by un-bundling our Comcast plan and using alternative services.

What We Ended Up Doing

Get a New Service Provider for the Fax Line

First, we signed up with Vonage for their basic plan which gives us unlimited incoming calls and 300 minutes of outgoing calls per month. This is all we needed for the fax line. The cost per month is about $18.64 after taxes. We were paying about $15 a month with Comcast for the additional line. Since we were getting rid of our home line, which was about $48 per month, the difference between the Vonage and additional line cost with Comcast was really not an issue.

We ported our fax number, which did not take long at all. We received our equipment from Vonage and had the fax line up and running in about 3 days. We needed to transfer our fax line first before cancelling the additional line with Comcast so that we can be sure to keep our fax number.


Set Up Streaming (our alternative to cable)

We purchased Roku HD boxes, which are digital media receivers to allow us to stream TV shows, music, and movies to our TVs. There are no monthly fees with using the Roku boxes, we own the boxes (no renting anything like with Comcast). We chose to only get two Roku boxes since we already have our Xbox 360 to use as a third streaming device. We were already using the Xbox (with Xbox Live Gold membership) as our second HD box that enabled us to access shows on On Demand on another TV with our Comcast service.

We signed up for a free trial with Hulu Plus so that we can see what movies and shows are available for us with media streaming (just in case it's not what we expected, before we get rid of cable). Roku itself also has a decent selection of shows and movies. Although generally, most people pay for an additional services like Hulu Plus (about $7.99 per month) or Netflix (about $7.99 per month) to get access to even more shows and movies.

Un-bundled Our Comcast Plan

Our Comcast bill would go down from $160 to $70 + tax per month if we un-bundle and just keep our internet connection. We could have saved more money with getting a lower speed internet connection, but we opted to keep the higher speed that we currently have since Vonage and Roku will be dependent on the internet connection quality.

Comcast was not happy with us choosing to give them less money per month and also wanted to start charging us $7 + tax more (on top of the $70 internet only connection plan) per month to use their internet router. Thanks, but no thanks, Comcast. We went to Staples and got our own router for $80.


Beyond Cable

Overall, we have been very happy with our new set up so far. Vonage is working well and we actually ended up using the line as both a home phone and fax line. The kids were off from school yesterday and they were able to use the home phones (since only my husband and I have cell phone plans). We still have a land line available at home for emergencies, which was one of our concerns with getting rid of the home phone.

The Roku boxes are working well and we just started our free month trial for Netflix. We already have a ton of shows on the Netflix viewing queue lined up for us to watch.

We recently heard about Roku from someone who have been using it with Netflix and Hulu Plus and have been very happy with being cable-free. We have been trying to look for alternatives to cable and phone/fax that would work for what we need. I am glad that there are options available out there and that we have found a solution. I would like to continue to share our experience and I will be posting additional blogs on the topic based on what we have learned from dumping cable and choosing alternative options.