The Acronym (July 2006 Edition)
July 30, 2006
Dear Clients, Family, and Friends,
After a recent announcement, I’m beginning to wonder if Dell Computer read the May edition of THE ACRONYM. I had addressed the issue of “how much you should pay for a new computer.” I mentioned some ballpark figures you should keep in mind to ensure you are buying a system that will last a few years. Those price ranges I quoted reflect realistic dollar amounts and didn’t take into consideration “blue moon specials” or gimmick rebates. Nothing infuriates me more than gimmick rebates. During the week of 7/10, my prayers were answered. Dell announced that by the fall, they would virtually eliminate dishonest mail in rebates.
Often times you’d see what appears to be a great deal: a new desktop for $750, plus a $150 mail in rebate. However, your new computer didn’t include the rebate forms in the box. They had to be downloaded or requested over the phone. Then you had to mail the form with the receipt to an address far away. You were told to wait 6 to 8 weeks for your rebate. If you were lucky, you got a check in the mail. More often than not, you called to check the status of your rebate and they told you that the forms had been filled out improperly or never reached the intended destination. You were automatically disqualified from getting the rebate. So all of the steps you took to take advantage of this supposedly SUPER deal, ended up being a waste of time. What a nightmare!
Reality check: Dell or any other company that offers mail in rebates never intends for 100% of the people who are promised rebates to actually receive them. Some people will never send in the forms and others will lose out on a technicality. It is totally up to the 3rd party that handles the rebates to determine whether you have completed the paperwork according to their rules. There is no appeals or arbitration process. In a sense, the computer makers are engaged in false advertising. All of you will potentially benefit from Dell’s promise to eliminate this deception in the future. Most discounted models will be listed as “instant rebates” and I’m sure the reductions will be less, but at least you know what you are getting into up front.
Furthermore, they made another announcement that was equally impressive. Dell promised to price their systems, as fully featured computers and not stripped down “bait and switch” models. Potential buyers should have PC’s with sufficient RAM, software, hard drive space, and other resources presented up front. Most customers I deal with end up having to hunt and peck around their website to add these features in and they are really surprised why the price went up by $300 afterwards. When I have to explain that the price they saw on TV or the in Parade magazine was just a teaser price and that THEY REALLY NEED THESE FEATURES to have the computer run effectively, my customers usually understand.
The buying process with Dell, which prides itself on being America’s largest computer manufacturer, needs to be more straightforward. I can count the number of times Apple Computer has offered mail in rebates on new systems in the past 2 years and 3 months (the amount of time I’ve depended on a Mac for my primary computer) with two fingers: my thumb and pointer, pressed together at the tips ——–> BIG ZERO!!!
Even though they have broken other promises, I have a good feeling that Dell will keep this promise of drastically reducing their use of mail in rebates. I think they have made significant strides to upgrade their image and offer an interesting mix of products other than computers. For example their Axim line of PDA’s give Palm products a good run for the money. Dell kiosks and stores are popping up in malls across the country to prove to the buying public that they are not just a “plain Jane” computer company. I am optimistic that they can regain customers’ trust in an increasingly competitive marketplace. I still would not hesitate to recommend them, as a good mix of performance and price, depending on the other choices you are considering.
STRAIGHT TALK ON INTERNET PRICING
I’ve gotten complaints from family members and customers saying that the price of their AT&T (formerly SBC) DSL service increased significantly after their one year contract expired. Initial prices currently start at a deceivingly low 12.99 / mo for DSL Express and 17.99 / mo for DSL Pro. AT&T DSL Express can reach download speeds of up to 1.5 mbps and DSL Pro can reach speeds of up to 3.0 mbps. Your actual download speed is determined by how close you are to your phone company’s central hub. In Connecticut, for example more than 90% can get DSL Express service, but not everyone is close enough to a central office to get Pro. However, once you begin using your DSL service and you know how fast your connection is (simple tests can be done by running a free speed test at http://www.broadbandreports.com. Click on Tools tab) – you can reasonably expect to access the Internet at the same speed all of the time. Cable Internet operates on a “shared network” concept, meaning as more and more people in your geographic area use the network your download speeds decrease. Cable Internet providers have upgraded their bandwidth capacity significantly in recent years. The methodology they use to allocate their network does not make them better or worse than DSL, but it can be used to explain why cable providers advertise higher maximum speeds because they need to give themselves enough bandwidth capacity to fall back on in case there is a lot of network congestion at a particular time to ensure that customers still experience smooth travel on the information superhighway.
Moving on from that little “speed” explanation, the teaser DSL rates you see in commercials are really just a tease. After one year, your DSL monthly rate can escalate to somewhere in the $30 range. This happens by default because you are out of contract. Most DSL providers that I have dealt with, are able to offer lower prices than cable Internet because you are encouraged to sign a 1 year contract. In the case of AT&T, you are charged a $150 cancellation fee if you cancel your service after the 30 day trial period. If you are really unhappy with your service after 30 days, there is not much you can do about it. If there are service outages, AT&T may try to make you feel better by crediting you with a few weeks worth of service but they will not let you out of your contract just because you are not satisfied. You can certainly sign up for month to month pricing with them. The rates are currently 34.99 for DSL Express and 39.99 for DSL Pro. The month to month price point on Pro competes directly with Comcast (cable) Internet at 42.95 / mo and Cox at 39.99 per month with download speeds approaching 6.0 mbps and 5.0 mbps respectively. If you hate contracts and have had poor experiences with another industry that relies heavily on contracts — cell phone service providers — then you should contact me for a personalized recommendation. I will give you an unbiased evaluation as to what works best in your situation. I am able to provide expert installations of either service for you and can sell you a cable or DSL modem that you OWN. Many customers don’t know that they can actually own their own modem, and not have to rent one from the cable company or purchase a contract subsidized, gimmick rebate priced DSL modem from their phone company. I am currently maintaining an advertised special rate for broadband Internet setup, modem configuration, and some basic user training at a rate of $75. This includes up to 2.5 hours of my time. New DSL and or cable modems can be purchased from me for $100 plus tax.
Most of my DSL customers are AT&T subscribers (the largest DSL provider nationwide) so I will address these customers specifically, but what I am about to say can really apply to anyone. It is pretty easy to get the advertised “special” rate on DSL service by ordering through their website http://www.att.com. They may even be willing to give you this price on the phone, although the reason for making this a web-only special is because it costs less for them to take orders via computer than over the phone. After all didn’t George Jetson say that there would be no human customer service reps in the future?? Yes, fellow political aficionados, I said George Jetson and not George Jepsen!!! Blah, blah, blah….. leaves fall, snow piles, up, flowers grow, and the summer heat arrives again. Wow, my DSL price went up!!! So you call up AT&T customer-no-service and ask them if there is anything you can do about the price of your DSL service. They will tell you something like, “hold on while I review your account.” FYI, they are reviewing your account, but what they are really doing is evaluating your level of business to determine if you are WORTHY enough to be granted discounted service in the future. While this may seem like a cold and heartless practice, businesses do it all the time without your knowing. I just want to be honest with you and let you know that it does really happen. AT&T is more likely to reward their most profitable customers than an unprofitable customers. Banks, cell phone service providers, etc. all do the same thing.
So they might tell you, “I’m sorry Mr. Smith but the best I can do for you is 29.99 on your DSL if you sign another 1 year contract. Hold on let me check with my supervisor to see if I can give you a better deal.” Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Lite 100.5 music is playing in the background. “Oh yes Mr. Smith, if you subscribe to an additional package on your home phone line, or create a bundle with one of our other services such as Cingular Wireless or DISH Network satellite TV — we’d be happy to lower that price even further.” A common phone package they will try to get your to sign up for is National Connections. AT&T’s All Distance Connections package is offered at 48.95 per month, and includes unlimited long distance anywhere in the USA along with all of the premium phone features they offer such as CALLER ID, TOTAL PHONE, SPEED DIAL AND VOICE MAIL. For someone who makes a lot of long distance calls, this is an EXCELLENT package. Subscribing to this package will get you a consistently lower DSL price. Frequent long distance dialers can easily spend hundreds on their monthly phone bill alone. There are still many people I come into contact with who never knew this package is offered and has been offered for several years. In reality, not everyone makes a lot of long distance calls. You could be one of those who enjoy the thrill of answering without having any prior identifying information. Ah, the randomness of life! A basic line is around $23.00 per month with taxes and fees, but aware that your initial DSL price may double after 1 year if you don’t have any additional services. For those of you who subscribe to a premium level of service with AT&T or are thinking of doing so, I have recently been able to negotiate DSL renewal rates of 14.99 for Express users and 24.99 for DSL Pro users when calling AT&T for fellow customers to do some “bargaining” for them. There may be single-price bundles of DSL and phone available as well. If your contract is nearing completion and you want to renew with AT&T DSL, I would be happy to make a call for you at our next appointment.
THE MAN’S CORNER
To break up the monotony of rather serious technical subjects, take a moment to enjoy the lighter side of life…..
After many years of using Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren, I was in the market for a new cologne. I didn’t know where to start. I had tried all of the usual suspects over the years. Polo (green bottle), Eternity, Bvlgari, Lagerfeld, and Aramis. My favorite fragrances over the years were those produced under the Royall brand name. Royall Fragrances, Ltd. is a Bermuda based company manufacturing some of the most unique scents on the market today. Colognes such as Royall Bay Rhum, Royall Lime, and Royall Muske were once sold locally at stores such as Brooks Brothers and Luttgens (old Hartford Civic Center Mall – dead but not forgotten), but these fine imports are getting harder and harder to find. They are readily available online by going a Google search.
I was perusing the aisles of a local mega-pharmacy and I was surprised to see that they had a cabinet full of the $50 + per bottle designer colognes I had been so used to. However, I knew times had changed. Right now it costs almost $50 to fill up my little 1989 Nissan with gas. I began looking for a special scent that was more economical. Being a big fan of the disco era, the Halston Z-14 caught my eye.
Roy Halston Frowick was one of the first international superstar fashion designers. His name was mentioned in the song “He’s The Greatest Dancer” by Sister Sledge – cementing him as a cultural icon of the 70’s. He was a regular at Studio 54, the trendiest dance club of that time period.
For about $14 plus tax, I bought a bottle figuring I couldn’t go wrong. It was a wise choice. Halston Z-14 instantly reminded me of the outdoors with a hint of spice. Honestly, it made me think of Lagerfeld and Eternity by Calvin Klein but I haven’t used them for years. I may have to get my nose checked. My only complaint: Halston Z-14 is not a long lasting fragrance so it has to be reapplied CONSTANTLY (ha, ha) or it should only be used for casual situations.
A movie about the life of Halston is currently in production and scheduled to be released in 2007. “Simply Halston” casts Brendan Fraser in the lead role. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) and The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) were used as sources for this column.
WHAT’S IN THE STABLE?
Kevin’s Current Computers and Gadgets
1) Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop.
2) Dell Optiplex GX400 desktop.
3) Apple iBook. 12 inch. R.I.P. 7/12/06. (Currently looking for a new Mac.)
1) Nokia 2128i (www.nokiausa.com)
1) HP OfficeJet G85
2) HP PSC 1510
1) Tivoli Model Two (www.tivoliaudio.com)
THIRD CHOICE IS A CHARM
If you read this newsletter so far and are suffering from the broadband blues, never fear – Kevin is here with a plausible solution. Financial experts always say that competition works best when there at least 3 choices in any industry. I am proud to announce that in Connecticut, we have a viable 3rd choice for broadband Internet service. If you’re an Internet user of the mindset who wants to have a broadband connection that is reasonably fast but do not want to pay nearly $45 for high speed cable access or deal with the hassle of re-justifying your level of business with AT&T on a regular basis —>>>> you need to know about NETPLEX.
Netplex, Inc. is a Hartford based company that has served Connecticut’s Internet needs since 1995. They have provided networking services and high speed Internet connections for organizations such as the Farmington Public Schools, New Britain’s Museum of American Art, and the Hartford Public Library. Netplex has been a trusted provider of dial-up and DSL connections to Connecticut residents for the past decade. The Netplex offering I would like tell you about is their DSL Primary service at 24.95 per month. I believe it is a serious alternative to AT&T’s DSL and other cable Internet offerings that is worth your consideration. This service offers download speeds of up to 1.5 mbps and upload speeds up to 384 kbps, comparable to AT&T’s DSL Express. There are a couple of very positive aspects to Netplex service:
1) They are LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL! Often there is no greater feeling than dealing with a company that is literally right down the road. Netplex is located on Lorraine St. in Hartford, CT. If you need help with any facet of your account from billing, to sales, to tech support — a representative working locally is able to help you. I’ve wondered if one of the reasons why AT&T can seemly be so much cheaper is because they outsource nearly 100% of their technical support to foreign countries. I have gotten feedback from customers and had first hand experiences which attest to the fact that while their tech support team speaks English clearly, they are often lacking in their computer expertise. My customers have ended conversations with AT&T DSL feeling like they found a solution to their problem, but that it was an very long winded, 60 minute exercise.
2) We have survived 10+ years of telecommunications deregulation. By this point there should be more competition in the marketplace, but the ability of Netplex to offer such a product is proof that deregulation is working and that monopolistic corporate behavior has no place in today’s economy. The local phone company must play nice and share the local phone lines. While they typically maintain the lines, they cannot bend smaller companies over a barrel by charging exorbitant fees to access these lines, a public utility. Initially, Netplex couldn’t offer DSL at 24.95 / mo. However, they have fought hard to be innovative and competitive. Although you must have a basic AT&T home phone line to use Netplex DSL, your Internet price is not dependent on what level of services you subscribe to with the phone company. Netplex service is priced and provided independently. The connection runs from your telephone wires through the public telephone wires to Netplex’s servers, not AT&T’s servers. Netplex has a direct connection to our local Internet backbone, just like AT&T. I recently conducted a telephone interview with them to get a feel for their services. The technical support rep said they can usually switch a customer from another DSL provider to Netplex in about 5 business days and establish new service in 10 to 14 days. If you have gotten frustrated by AT&T DSL’s pricing fluctuations and sub par telephone support, Netplex may be for you. In most cases, you can use the same DSL modem you had previously with AT&T or other DSL provider. Netplex will provide instructions, at no charge, on how to configure the modem for their service.
3) It’s hard to compare apples and oranges. Thus it is hard to compare AT&T and Netplex side by side without looking below the surface. The DSL Primary service offered by Netplex is technologically superior to AT&T’s entry level DSL Express. The speeds offered by the two services are theoretically identical, however Netplex uses a more advanced technology called DHCP (the same as cable Internet providers) while AT&T and most phone company based DSL providers use PPPoE. Even though PPPoE based DSL is high speed Internet, you still have to “log on” to surf the web. For most of you this is done automatically because your ID and Password are programmed into your DSL modem, but still it is not ALWAYS ON and prone to disconnects. Since AT&T made an inspired push to sign up new DSL customers over the past year, they have not upgraded their email servers’ capacity sufficiently. It is now very common for customers’ email connections to become disconnected temporarily until they click “Get Mail” again. Although the problem is easily solved, it is a point of contention for customers accustomed to keeping their email program on and having their new messages download automatically for them. This little nuisance plagues my good friend, Mr. Bear, everyday. With Netplex DSL or cable Internet, this is not really a problem. In conclusion AT&T’s DSL Express with PPPoE connection at ________________ (fill in the gimmick price) does not compare to Netplex DSL Primary with static DHCP connection at 24.95 per month. A call to AT&T or a visit to their website reveals that they charge 49.95 per month for comparable service. They don’t advertise it boldly on their website like they do the gimmick prices. If you just did the math, you have realized that Netplex DSL Primary is 1/2 the price of a truly comparable AT&T DSL offering. This is purely speculation. One thing is for certain. The DSL technology that AT&T is promoting to their customers at gimmick prices is outdated and needs to be updated. In marketing terms, companies like Netplex are at the “DSL 2.0” level and ma-bells like AT&T are stuck at “DSL 1.0.”
PLEASE CONTACT ME for a personalized review of your Internet service options if you are unhappy with your current provider. I can make the perfect solution work for you and will not rest until you are completely satisfied. I always seek to find the product or service that works best for YOU. It doesn’t matter what Internet service, model of computer, etc. I personally use. A particular Internet service provider may work better for someone than another. It is entirely possible that I would recommend one choice for a family that owns three PC’s frequently used by their children for Internet-based multimedia activities and a different choice for a single retiree who does email and light web browsing only. Based on those customers’ needs and budgets, it is entirely possible that I set them up with the same service too. This does not represent a lack of consistency on my part, but a time-tested truth that everyone’s needs are different. You call me problem after problem and purchase after purchase because I provide a much more personalized, thorough, and cost efficient service than the tech support staff that operates out of the big box electronics stores. I am happy you have chosen my business to serve your needs. I value our relationship and look forward to providing valuable years of service to you in the future.
Published continuously since 1999
Look for our next issue: September 2006.
The Acronym is distributed to approximately 75 readers by mail per issue throughout Connecticut and the USA. It is available on the Internet 24/7. Our reader demographic primarily consists of well-educated, professional, affluent, and computer literate individuals ranging in ages from 25 to 85. If you would be interested in advertising in a future edition of The Acronym please contact Kevin. Various sizes available. Endorsements for your product, service, or cause can also be arranged. Barter of goods and services can be accepted as payment for advertising.