Comcast: Lions, modems and bears (Don’t let them bite you)

I talk about Comcast a lot because they are the #1 ( by customer base) Internet provider in the country and the service most of my customers subscribe to. The Internet is the lifeblood of our technology experience. (Before I get into the critique and my advice, I want to say that Cox Cable is a wonderful company. They are one of the top 5 providers and hold the rights to service some towns in Connecticut like Newington and Wethersfield. Given all of the companies I have had to contact on behalf of my customers over the years, I can say that few have been more pleasant than Cox’s Internet support. Comcast should hire Cox for training.)

Given all of the potential frustrations with Comcast / Xfinity (the same company, think of Xfinity as the brand name), I still like dealing with them for internet more than the local phone company here in Connecticut — Frontier. Frontier completed their purchase of ATT in Connecticut last year. Let’s just be honest — Comcast makes a lot of money in rental fees. Truth be told, the one good thing about renting a cable box or modem is that you can swap it out for a new one with them at any time. Cable boxes are not the important thing to discuss here. With rare exceptions (TiVO being the only one) you cannot buy your cable box. So you are going to be stuck paying $10 for that HD cable box each month no matter what. Modems fall into my wheelhouse and the benefits of renting are not so clear cut.

You can purchase a decent cable modem for under $100 and use it with your Comcast account; unlike with the TV boxes they openly allow this. I have rarely encountered a situation when the modem did not last 2 to 3 years. $10 a month rental? Even after 1 year the purchased modem (from Best Buy, Amazon, etc.) pays for itself.

Over the past couple of years, I have frequently gotten involved in setting up these cable modems for my customers. Comcast has been trying to push modems on customers that are also routers with WiFi and a phone adapter as well (for those who have Comcast for home phone). However, most of my customers already have wireless routers that they paid good money for. The customer’s routers are typically MUCH better than Comcast’s device. Comcast claims that the router functions can be turned off, but unfortunately it seems like this more theory than actual practice.

Here are my take away points

1. Bundled services are NOT always better. Getting that low price on combined phone, internet and TV can bring nightmares that never go away. You may be saving to get a lot of headaches in return. If you have Comcast (or any cable company) for TV and Internet and the local phone company for your phone line — YOU MAY WANT TO KEEP IT THAT WAY. I am all for the benefits of modern technology. I personally use an internet based phone system that is even more "futuristic" than Comcast’s, but that’s because I don’t care about home phone. We make 5 minutes of home calls a month. If you are over 65 and or have health problems, I suggest keeping the local phone company for your home phone AND / OR keeping your cell phone plugged in by your bedside. The second part especially applies if you use Comcast’s home phone. Remember, Comcast’s home phone is internet based. When cable goes down in your neighborhood, you have no phone.

2. About 2 years ago, Comcast sent out a bunch of notices saying that you needed to update to a DOCSIS 3.0 compatible cable modem. This was absolutely the case. I helped many of you upgrade your modems. These new modems provided a much more stable connection and also allowed you to access faster speeds.

2a. Unfortunately, Comcast is once again sending out bulk letters (inappropriately targeted this time around) telling customers they need to upgrade their modems again to take advantage of faster speeds. While it is true that Comcast has increased their speeds in Connecticut — at no additional cost — I think they are trying to gin up more rental revenues for themselves. The standard Comcast internet package — called Performance is 50 mbps (megabits per second). The Blast package is now at 105 mbps. All of my customers, family, and myself included have one of these 2 packages. The existing DOCSIS 3.0 modems all support up to about 150 mbps. I just bought mine in January. I took the time to look at the manual and it actually supports up to 173. Even if Comcast offered me more Internet than my modem could handle, THE INTERNET WOULD NOT STOP WORKING. I just wouldn’t get all of the speed.

2b. I am getting two years out of my modem. Unless it goes bad (as in the box becomes defective), you should look to get at least the same out of your modems. As long as you have a DOCSIS 3.0 (the standard, not a brand name) compatible modem and it is working — you do not need to get a new modem. Ignore any "special notices" you get urging you to a website to order your new modem. NOT NECESSARY. Sadly, one of my customers was send a shiny new modem with all of these extra bells and whistles, without any input on his part. Unless your cable modem is 5 years old. Send it back. Ask me for clarification. In some cases maybe you really do need the modem, but I think those are rare situations.

3. If I have set you up with a separate modem for internet and you have a separate "modem" / box for your Comcast phone – keep it that way. Let’s let internet be internet and phone be phone. ( I have nothing against Comcast phone. However, if you were a family member with a heart condition or a monitored medical device and you were not going to sleep with the cell phone by your bed I would want you on a telco landline.) A self-purchased modem and router allows you to be in total control of your internet experience. Ideally, keep phone and internet separated in terms of the equipment — even if they are both Comcast.

This concludes your Monday morning briefing.