Many consumers subscribe to cable providers for Internet, television, and phone services. Some consumers are unhappy with the high prices and poor customer support by their cable providers. If you are unhappy, the May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine provides ratings and resources to lower your monthly bills or find alternate providers.
Over he past few decades, cable providers have raised their prices. The magazine found that the price of "expanded basic cable service" has risen faster than inflation since 1998, and:
"According to a recent report by the Mintel Group, the average cost of home communication services is $154. In the course of a year, that works out to $1,848 -- more than the average household spends on clothing, furniture, or electricity."
For consumers (especially people who subscribe all three services: TV, Internet, and phone) that want to lower their monthly cable bills, the magazine included a section explaining which fees are unavoidable, negotiable, reprehensible, and cut-able. Another section described five negotiation tactics you can use. It pays to negotiate:
"Among the hagglers, 46 percent said their provider dropped the price by as much as $50 per month, 31 percent got a new promotional rate..."
However, the magazine also warned:
"... the high times for hagglers might be coming to an end. Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan has publicly stated that his company will stop offering repeat promotional discounts to subscribers. "The customer that has been bouncing from one company to another on promotional discounts has hit a dead end with us..."
So, consumers must be willing to fire their cable providers. What I liked most about the Consumer Reports article was its ratings and bundle suggestions for replacement services. The magazine provides ratings of more than two-dozen service providers in the following categories:
- Telecom bundles
- TV Service
- Internet service
- Phone service
Ratings included value, reliability, satisfaction, billing, support, call quality (phone), speed (Internet), and picture (television). I found the ratings informative and helpful. Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon seem to consistently rank near the bottom. Wise consumers already know that USA residents don't get good value because our Internet speeds are slower and cost more than in other countries.
I also liked the magazine's suggestions of replacement services that consumers can use to create their own custom bundles. The bundle you create depends upon where you live, the combination of services (e.g., Internet, phone, television) you use to currently, and your television habits (e.g., basic, expanded basic, premium, pay-per-view). Sports fans will probably create different bundles than movie lovers. The magazine's analysis mentioned providers I hadn't heard of before (e.g., WOW, Ooma for phone service, SuddenLink, Bright House), the usual suspects (e.g., Roku, Hulu, Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, DirecTV, Vonage), and others.
You'll have to read the magazine to learn about the specific bundles it recommended. The magazine also provided a mini-review of Google Fiber:
"Broadband speeds in the U.S. are pretty slow -- averaging 9.8 megabits per second... a few cities have hit the jackpot thanks to Google's venture... Kansas City... Provo, Utah... Austin, Texas... Initial setup was quick and easy, but it took three additional visits by Google technicians to fix some bugs. The service promised up to 200 Mbps, although Vidmar's tests using Ookla Speedtest show that he's been averaging 50 Mbps..."
My home is now cable-free. We fired Comcast several months ago after decades with basic cable service. The monthly bill for that service had almost tripled since the mid 1990s. When Comcast encrypted its television transmission, I ordered the free adapters it provided. The problem: Comcast sent low definition adapters and failed to notify me that high-definition adapters were also available. The low-definition adapters (instead of a cable box) provided a degraded television viewing experience. We now use a bundle with Mohu Leaf digital antennas for free over-the-air television, Netflix, and the public library. Our savings paid for the digital antennas in a couple months.
Recently, Pew Research reported that two-thirds of Americans are actively engaged with, use, and value public libraries. So, my library usage is consistent with other's usage.
The bundles you create will vary, as everyone has slightly different television viewing habits. I was never a fan of premium cable channels. I prefer to spend my money on travle rather than television services. People who know me have heard me talk in terms of "cruise units" -- the price of a typical seven-night Caribbean cruise ship vacation. Using the above $154 average monthly cable bill, in five months I've paid for a cruise -- and if I plan ahead, that could include airfare, too.
Of course, consumers' custom bundle creations will change if Congress and the FCC fail to restore net neutrality. Without net Neutrality rules, experts predict several changes to your Internet access including higher prices and degraded service. In that scenario, I expect Internet bills to become as complicated, convoluted, and fee heavy as your current cable television bills. I described in this blog post one provider's Internet prices without net neurtrality.
What custom bundles have you created to replace your cable provider?