How are you? Staying during this heat wave? I am open for business and look forward to my sessions with you this week whether in person or virtual. Did you know that you might have $43 in Junk Fees on your cable bill? Read on to find out…..
Clearing Out Those Computer Gremlins
Here is some good and simple advice for you. While it’s very convenient to let the computer go to sleep, so that you get all of the updates and can wake it up quickly — SHUT IT DOWN COMPLETELY — ONCE A WEEK. It can be for a few minutes. It can be overnight, your choice. But just completely shut it down. I think that will just help to clear all the cobwebs and gremlins out. It’s good therapy for the device. You can even do this with your smartphones and tablets. Give them a complete shut down, at least once a week.
Comcast B.S. Fees
(And by B.S. — I mean big secret). In is unbelievable what they are allowed to get away with. I was explaining this to a customer recently, but if you have 3 services with Comcast / Xfinity (or even just TV + internet) you are probably paying about $43 in extra fees that they never tell you about up front. Here is a breakdown of those fees:
1) there is a $14.95 broadcast TV fee (this is the fee they charge for re-transmitting local channels like local CBS, local NBC, local FOX (which is different than FOX NEWS which a paid cable channel), local ABC, local PBS (CPTV), and a few others. In the past local stations did not get paid by the cable company, but if my brain serves me correctly there was a legal / regulatory decision about 10+ years ago that made this possible.
2) Whether you watch sports or not (and if you do there will be baseball, basketball and hockey starting in about 1 week) — there is a Regional Sports fee of $8.75 per month. They have a few packages that don’t have sports but if you type in the channel # or say “ESPN” to the voice remote, and it comes up, you have the sports channels
3) for your Xfinity Gateway — that is your modem / router / phone adapter , the white box…they charge a monthly rental of about $14
4) They also now charge about $5 per month for your primary cable box. It used to be free. They also charge about $10 each for additional digital outlets (TV’s) but I am not factoring that in here. For now you can save on that fee by using a Roku as your cable box. They are not charging for that YET.
The only one of these fees you can truly avoid is #3. You can buy your own modem. A decent one like the Netgear CM700 is about $110 give or take plus a router.. However, if you have phone services with Xfinity, you will need a modem that supports this. Those modems cost more. Those could be $200-250 with wireless router functionality built in. Or $100 for a modem plus voice (current Best Buy price) + a router of your choosing. Decent single routers are usually $100 to $200. If you do the math on $14 per month, you would generally see that owning your own equipment pays for itself in 2 years or less. However, if you are prone to a lot of electrical surges and cable outages (which I do not experience) – it may be worth paying that $14 a month. Personally speaking, I have owned my own modem / router since 2012 and I have never looked back. I replaced the equipment with a new modem and router in 2018.
If you have a different cable or home telecom company — check your bill. How many B.S. fees do you have?
I had a little bit of a tense exchange with a Comcast employee over the retention / loyalty ( I want to lower my bill) department. This employee was outraged that I have gotten numerous deals for myself since 2014 and also helped clients do the same. If you missed what I shared on this topic before, I will say that at times, I have saved my clients $300 to $500 per year. I have usually provided this service in conjunction with other tasks I am performing during an appointment, but in other instances clients have found it worth it to pay me for an hour just to come out and make a deal for them. I also explained earlier this year that due to an internal company initiative known as “Vision 2020” that states they will not be giving deals to existing customers as in years past. (Yet, ironically right after I found out about this I saved a client $500 per year). I don’t want to give anyone false hopes. Usually, the biggest savings I net are for clients with A) old packages from years ago, B) clients paying above $200 per month, and C) clients willing to cut back to internet only or make other substantial cuts. So anyway, I stood my ground with this employee. I said that if customers weren’t supposed to call and ask for better deals — why was the retention department actively giving the deals between 2014 – 2019? Why did Comcast have reps helping customers on the popular discussion websites DSLReports-dot-com and Reddit-dot-com? Why does Comcast have reps on Twitter helping customers get better service than on the phone? I said — YOU created this system. You give new customers gimmick offers that expire. You have sky high ordinary prices for services, which you only publish once a year and include in an end of the year bill that nobody sees because they do paperless billing. And even then, you muddy the waters because the price of your offers are never a straight price because you add BROADCAST TV fees and SPORTS FEES and essentially a double sales tax (which is the state’s fault not theirs) and equipment rental fees that keep increasing. I told this employee that your anger is mis-directed at people like me who used the system I was given and taught my clients how to do the same thing. I told them, Comcast needs to be more like T-Mobile. Another employee got back to me and say — we are trying!
I know it’s very easy to rip Xfinity these days due to price increases (largely because of junk fees) and I rip them with the best of us, but I want to give praise where it is due. I got great service from them today.
I received very prompt support from @ ComcastCares on Twitter (direct message) and had a very informed discussion about my package and options. One thing that I got loud and clear that everyone else should take note of. When you have a contract or an offer and lets say you have services that are for example 79.99 per month and that price is good for 12 or 24 months. Taxes and Fees (like broadcast TV fee, sports fee) could make your monthly bill go up. They are not subject to the contract. I also found out about Super Bowl 4K viewing options (hint — for now the Fox Sports app is required. Xfinity is evaluating other options)
Secondly, I received great service in my local Xfinity Store. It was just remodeled and frankly looks better than my local Apple store but I really get the Apple vibe (all wood look, individual stations for service through out the store, A+ for design). Anyway I had an X1 box and remote that weren’t cooperating upstairs – 2nd box in the house. The rep was so friendly. He gave me the smallest X1 box possible (some call it a satellite box) and did not try to upsell me at all. And the box self configured, no call in on activation was needed.
The End of Deals?
I mentioned how I helped a client save over $500 annually on their Comcast bill last week. Unfortunately, that might be the last notch I can put in my “service savings belt” for a while. One thing I predict is that it is going to be harder to strike deals with them in the new year due to their “Vision 2020” campaign. This is an internal company framework which states that they are not going to give discounts to existing customers like they used to. The reason why I was able to save the aforementioned client so much was because she was paying for a pricing model that was out of date for the package she had. There were no contracts or promotions signed up for. Of course you can save money by cutting services, but when I bring that up not many have an appetite for doing so. Be flexible, consider competitors, especially those areas of West Hartford where Go Net Speed exists.
Cell Phone Market Is Changing – Part 2
I see real changes coming to the market toward the end of the year and going forward. Remember, back in the day, when Verizon was known for those “Can you hear me now?” commercials with Test Man Paul? (He works for Sprint now, go figure!) Their greatness was built on their CDMA digital calling network which launched in the mid 1990s. As analog was phased out in the early 2000s, that Verizon CDMA signal was known to penetrate everywhere — especially buildings. Starting in around 2014, Verizon, ATT and the other carriers began rolling out calling on their LTE data network. Some would argue that the calls are clearer, but I think the signal just doesn’t have the reach of the old CDMA and legacy calling networks. ATT shut down their GSM network a few years ago, but they still have 3G calling to fall back on along with LTE. Verizon’s CDMA calling network will be completely shut down by 01/01/21, after extending the deadline by a year in 2019.
Verizon says the CDMA shutdown is necessary to fully roll out LTE and 5G everywhere. This is a last call for all of the Verizon people out there. If you have an iPhone 5s or older, old Android phone (non LTE calling), or old flip phone — You will need a new device by the end of 2020. Verizon has no 3G calling network to fall back on. I really wonder if the improvements to the LTE calling network will make up for the elimination of CDMA. Furthermore, 5G will add new wavelengths and capacity that we can communicate on but 5G phones are cost prohibitive right now and owned by so few. Wait until Apple starts selling 5G phones, then you know it will be the right time to buy one. Then you will know that this new technology is ready for everyday use.
One score and one miss.
I will start with miss first. I know that some of you are likely looking for a quality laptop this year. You know how I rave about the Lenovo Thinkpad (IBM’s old line) and the Dell Latitude systems. In fact they are better than the current crop of Mac Books. For what seemed like this weekend only, Lenovo was offering an unbelievable $629 price on a fully decked out Thinkpad T480. It was brand new, even though the T480 was the 2018 model. I wish I could have gotten this information out to you sooner but I just wasn’t able to. By Monday morning, the price had jumped back to $2029. This 14 inch laptop is every bit as high quality as a 13 / 15 inch Mac Book Pro and in my opinion better.
I am pleased to report that I was successful in helping a client save big money on their Comcast bill. I was able to get them an annualized savings of $576, with monthly pricing going from $268 to $220. The name of the Comcast package was called Select Triple Play. The particulars that influenced this deal included a phone modem rented from Comcast ($14 – 15 approx.) 2 cable boxes, and HD service was included in the deal. The Select Triple Play includes the Digital Preferred cable TV package, one level higher than the “standard” TV package, and Blast internet (300 mbps). This deal is apparently an everyday price, no strings had to be pulled and no arms had to be twisted. Fees can go up in the future, as always. Please see my last update. In this scenario, the client could save the modem rental charge by buying their own telephone capable modem (approx $200) but it would take about 1.5 years for the cost savings to equal out. Given that this particular client’s house is known for lightning strikes and modems have been replaced in the past — renting is likely the best option.
If you are wondering about the Standard Triple Play, pricing will be a little less. If you can get a promotion guaranteed for 12 or 24 months, pricing will be even lower but you will have to sign a contract on those promos. What I can say is this, if you are getting all 3 services from Comcast not including any extra packages – $175 to $225 is very normal these days. As with the computers, promotional packages can be here one week and gone the next.
Preview: Cell Phone Market is Changing
I am going to get into this more in a future update. However, I see the cell phone market changing a lot as we move to the end of 2020 and beyond. Old networks are being shut down and the carriers are going to rely exclusively on advanced networks like LTE and 5G. There have been a ton of layoffs and I think this has put a lot of strain on delivering positive customer experiences.
Based on personal experiences and helping clients, I would say my ranking of best providers in terms of customer service are
1. Consumer Cellular (ATT Network)
3. Xfinity Mobile (there will be some changes coming Feb 1, however)
*Verizon has really fallen in my opinion. I also don’t have a lot of data to go off of with ATT directly, that is why I did not mention them. A provider can have great service on technical merits, but I think what my typical client (age 60+) cares so much about is the level of customer care provided. No one wants to wait on the phone for 2 or 3 hours to be heard.
Comcast Sticking It To Us
I don’t know if you noticed this with your December Comcast bill, but I wasn’t too pleased to see what they are doing effective 12/20/2019. Although I am under an existing contract for a guaranteed price for my internet and TV through May 2020 — my fees will be going up. I believe they can raise the fees portion of the bill even if you are in a contract. If you are not in a contract, your fees will definitely be going up. So here is the damage — Broadcast TV fee (designed to capture what local stations charge Comcast for transmitting their feeds to us) $10 to $14.95, TV box fee (charge for that 1st cable box) $2.50 to $4.60, and the remote fee is going up from $0.18 to $0.40. So this looks like an additional $7.27 if I did the math correctly. Are the retransmission fees that Comcast is charged by the local stations going up? I don’t know. I also know that prices of most internet packages are going up $3 per month, however, I don’t think this applies to me as I am in a bundled promotion. More and more people are cutting the cord and going with internet only. Comcast is looking to make up for their loss in subscribers one way or another. For a lot of customers in Connecticut, there isn’t much choice outside of areas where Frontier has fiber optic service. The non-Fiber frontier service is pathetic. There really is no alternative but Comcast. Some of you have the ability to choose Go Net Speed. They are available in limited parts of West Hartford and the New Haven area. Hopefully they will be rolling out beyond their existing footprint soon. A great choice for Internet only!
Best of 2019
I used to write this up in more of a newsletter format, but I just wanted to give you a brief sampling of some of the best products and services I worked with all year.
Best Premium Smartphone: iPhone 11 — Apple really got this one right and they lowered the starting price by $50. It’s an easy choice for iPhone owners
Best Mid-Range Smartphone: Google Pixel 3a — Google brought out these phones mid-year that were in the same spirit as their old Nexus phones. They are under $400 with a lot of premium features and they still have a headphone jack. I hope we see a Pixel 4a in 2020. We may also see an iPhone SE 2 or iPhone 9 sold in this price range next year.
Best Laptops: Unfortunately — I can’t say that any Apple laptops are among the best of 2019. However I really like 2 product lines the Lenovo Thinkpads and the Dell Latitudes. Specifically I am a fan of the Thinkpad T490, E490, and X1 Carbon 7. In terms of the Latitudes, I favor the 5000 and 7000 series. They are solid, have great keyboards, and are built for the long haul.
Best Desktops: I still like the 2018 Mac Mini and hope Apple keeps it updated for years to come. I am also partial to Dell’s Optiplex and Lenovo’s Think Centre desktops, properly equipped of course.
Best Backup Service: Keep in mind that iCloud, Dropbox, or One Drive are not true backup services. They are online file synchronization services. This means that if you delete a file it will be deleted in other places. You should have an opportunity to restore the deleted file within a period of time. I still love all of those services but they are not true backups. If you have a lot of data that you can’t afford to lose, I highly recommend Backblaze or Carbonite. Either service is $6 / month for personal use.
Streaming Video Specialist
I just wanted to remind you or make you aware that I am your streaming video specialist. You may be looking to looking to cut the cord — cancel traditional pay TV and use a live channel replacement service like You Tube TV or Hulu TV or piece together streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV + or others in lieu of channels. You may be looking just to supplement your traditional TV subscription with those streaming services. I can help. I can also set you up so you can watch all of your Comcast / Xfinity live channels on your computer, smartphone or tablet. I can set you up with streaming players like the Apple TV, Roku player, Amazon Fire Stick, or the software baked into your Smart TV (which usually isn’t as good). I always prefer one of the streaming players that gets added to the TV. They can be as low as $50 or less. Of course you will pay monthly for the streaming services you want to use (with the exception of plain You Tube or rentals). Amazon Prime Video is included with your Prime membership. I have helped clients open up new dimensions to their video viewing. You know who to call.
I do support some out of state clients through “screen sharing” software that allows me to view and in some cases control (with permission of course) their computer. I have also been receiving referrals to Connecticut clients outside the Hartford area. I am very appreciative. I do charge more for example on a job “east of the river” or “down by the shore” but I will still gladly help those clients. I will disclose rates to a client before beginning work so there are no surprises. A basic statement of rates is found on my website — westhartfordtechsupport.com . I also have a 1 page complete statement of billing policies, which can be provided to you at any time upon request.
iOS 13 Frustrations Continued
You should all have iOS 13 (known as iPad OS 13 on the iPad) on your Apple mobile devices by now. Last week an important update, 13.2, came out. A client brought a concern to me — that saving pictures from a text message / iMessage has changed in iOS 13. I looked into it and found that there may be just one method available for older iPhones. Previously, you could press and hold on the picture and press SAVE or you could tap to “open” the photo and then press the share button (the square with the upward arrow). While both methods still work for me (iPhone 11), on the client’s iPhone 8 only the press and hold method worked. Please be aware of this.
iOS 13 Lessons
Given that there are these changes that seem a bit jarring in iOS 13, I want to offer the opportunity of having a few lessons with me in the new operating environment so that you can function at your full potential. One thing I did with clients 2 years ago, when iOS 11 came out, was work through a “field guide” together. The current version of the e-book we used is called “Take Control of iOS 13 and iPad OS 13”. Even if you did not want to work through a few chapters with me to improve competency, I would highly recommend the $15 e-book. https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/ios-13-ipados-13/
I was thinking about how far we have come with technology. These days we are using pocket sized phones and tablets as the computers we spend the most time on. Everything is so digital. A few nights ago I felt like I was being forced to file an insurance claim online. I just wanted to talk to a live person. Finally, I was able to. I began reflecting on how far I have evolved in the area of phone technology. Going back to my earliest days with the computer, I would dial into the internet on the home phone line (tying it up so no other calls could get through). Talk about a way to cut down on scam sales calls! Later on as I was starting my first business, and about 2 years before my first cell phone, I had the need to make cheap long distance calls. I subscribed to a quarterly billed phone called “Phone Tel” — not to be confused with other companies with the same name. I think I was a customer until about the year 2000. Working in healthcare, my father was a regular pager or “beeper” user. I got one when I turned 18 but ultimately didn’t find it that useful. AOL Instant Messenger or AIM and AOL e-Mail were my messaging tools of choice for several years. My first cell phone was a Motorola Star TAC. This was the phone to have 20 years ago. If you don’t remember it — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_StarTAC
4K TV Is Coming
Most of the TV’s you have bought over the past 2 years have been 4K TV’s. However, there hasn’t been much 4K live TV content. Netflix and Amazon Prime offer 4K video as does You Tube. I just saw the ad tonight — Comcast will be offering Notre Dame Football games this year on NBC in 4K. To make this happen with Comcast / Xfinity — you need 2 key components: 1) a 4K TV and 2) a cable box that supports 4K.
The Perils of Buying Used Smartphones
The following write up originally started as an e-mail to a client last week concerning a used smart phone issue we were dealing with. I polished it up a bit and realized it was good to share with all of you.
Used smartphones, especially iPhones and high-end Android devices can be a nightmare unless you know who you are getting them from. Take these 2 lessons to heart
1) Ideally they should be UNLOCKED. Locking is a nasty trick that carriers use on their phones to keep you on their service. After the phone is paid off or a contract is fulfilled –they are not automatically unlocked. A customer has to call up and ask for the unlock code and then go through some motions after the fact which are usually pretty easy. People can buy unlocked phones directly from Apple and that does happen in some instances. ** Verizon has always been the one exception with carrier financed phones, since about 2011 they have not locked their smartphones because they had to make a deal with the FCC. As of July 1 that policy changed with Verizon now locking smartphones for 60 days (to prevent theft they say). They have no power to go back and retroactively lock existing phones. Buying a carrier locked smartphone, with no ability to go back and contact the seller to get in unlocked, could mean that you are unable to use it with the carrier of your choice. FYI, Apple says that most iPhone models purchased through their physical stores or apple.com (with the exception of some ATT models) are unlocked.
2) The second concept I want to introduce to you is the idea of “financial locking” or blacklisting. Most customers finance their iPhones and expensive smartphones these days. On Craigslist, Offer Up, or other known sites for peer to peer sales — there will be many deals for “great phones” that seem way too good to be true. Think of an iPhone XS for $200. It is a totally fake deal. I have a good friend who got burned on the buying end of this a few years back. Let’s say the $900 phone has a couple scuffs on the back but is otherwise very operable. He sells it for $200. The buyer thinks they are the luckiest dude on earth!! The seller had insurance on the phone and puts in a claim for a STOLEN phone. The insurance company has the authority to blacklist the phone with all carriers — basically worldwide. The seller is shipped a new phone and the original is blacklisted — it is rendered in operable and cannot be activated. Maybe just maybe it could be used on WiFi only. Another version of the scam goes like this. A young kid (18+ of course) buys a $1000 phone. A maxed out iPhone 11 Pro Max with monthly payments is about $55 to $60 a month. He decides — Oops I’m over my head can’t make the payments. He does not go through the proper channel of having a buyer legally assume the contract on the phone. He sells it for a steal of a price — $200. The buyer is in heaven or so they think. Wow. 2 months later when the seller’s cellular account gets cancelled for non payment — the phone gets blacklisted under the same process. It is a paperweight.
Oh – the perils of buying used smartphones!
$2500 Savings a Year??
As you know, I have been able to save several customers money on their Comcast bills. I don’t really have a lot of experience negotiating with Frontier because most of my clients have Comcast. One time, I was able to help a client save $500 a year with Cox Cable. While I will make a call to Comcast in the course of a normal appointment with you, given the potential for savings it is often worth it ( I will let you know in advance) to have me come out at the 1 hour rate simply to make a deal for you.
Recently, I really hit a grand slam for a client. He had been taken advantage of by a tech support scam where he was hit up for $300 for printer support. I was able to get $200 of that back. The client was also paying $25 per month for supposedly legit tech support but hadn’t make contact with the outfit in years. I have been his tech support for the past 2.5 years. I got that knocked off by contesting it with his credit card. That is a savings of $300 a year.
I didn’t want to stop while I was on a roll. I said — let me look at your Comcast bill. I think I can save you some serious money. Boy, did I ever!
My client was a serious and very profitable customer for Comcast. He had many educational / documentary / music packages added to his Comcast bill. In fact, there were packages that I didn’t even know existed. The client is a man with a very scholarly reputation. Not all learners can get to a classroom due to age and mobility, so he treats his TV as the classroom. Fine by me. Nonetheless, the Comcast bill is about $400 a month with some movie rentals (package price was $375 including taxes and fees). [You can pick your jaw up off the floor now].
There was a desire not to cut services from the bill. Comcast did not fail us. They were able to reduce the bill by $42 per month with the price guaranteed for 2 years. That is a savings of $504 per year.
The savings blitz did not stop there. My client then told me he was paying for a 2nd Comcast bill. Hmmm…. A second residence somewhere? He thought he had been paying this bill for about 6 or 7 months. It was a Comcast business account for TV (6 cable boxes) and internet. $164 per month. To make matters even more confusing, the bill clearly said it was for the RECREATION AREAS of the apartment building. I was pretty sure that my client was not a commercial landlord. This one took about 24 hours to straighten out but it turns out that this was all in error. What an error!! No Gold Glove for Comcast here (baseball joke). Credit will be given for past payments.
If I never brought up the Comcast bills, this would have gone on and on with no end in sight. The elimination of this bill represented an annualized savings of $1,968 (the last year a pitcher won 30 games in the big leagues).
Unbelievable right? It really happened. $2500 a year in Comcast savings. We lived to tell.
I just want to add this disclaimer. I have many clients that pay $250 or more on their Comcast bills because they have not negotiated in years. There is a good chance I can save you some $$$. If you are paying $200 or less, I can possibly save you some money if you are willing to cut back on service. If you just negotiated a deal recently, now is probably not the time to negotiate a new one. I own my modem and router. I believe it on a technical principle, not necessarily a cost principle. However, even though they cost me $260, if they last 3 years (and I think they will), I will still save money versus the Comcast modem / router which is $468 over the same 3 year period. I used to say that if you had phone service with Comcast it is hard to own your own modem but you can still own your own router. Best Buy has made that a little simpler. They now have a cable modem with voice, with a not so great router built in, for a cost of $200. If you have a large house or a house with WiFI challenges (unique shape perhaps), you need your own router regardless of whether you rent a modem from them.
A lot of things right now might not be as good as they used to be — perhaps it’s taxes due, the cost of a trip to the Red Sox game, or the tolls going over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. This sad tale also extends to the technology services and products we use.
The starting price of an iPhone is now $749. It used to be $649 not that long ago. The starting price of the Mac Book Air is $1199, but used to be $999 for the 2017 model. Verizon and ATT are charging more for cell phone service, but they are giving you “unlimited,” right? Are prices going up because there are fewer sales or is the technology incorporated simply better, justifying an increase in cost? It may be a little of both.
Most of my clients are Comcast / Xfinity customers. One thing is for sure — the deals they are offering are not as good as they used to be. They are feeling the crunch by having more and more of us cancel services and go with Internet only. However they want to keep ARPU (average revenue per user) the same. Therefore, the price of Internet only has increased (as a standard price — new customer offers are still low) and the cable company is clinging for dear life for those who have 2 or 3 services. Once the $10 broadcast TV fee (local channels) and $8 sports channel fee (for those of you who have them) are tacked on — it becomes a losing battle. The phone company can be good in certain areas where they have fiber or VDSL internet, but you can be certain that they aren’t eager to maintain the old copper lines anymore. Watch out! Some experiences I have had with Frontier, on behalf of clients lately, have been “teeth pulling” ordeals. Overseas “customer service”? I don’t even want to get started with that today.
Another thing that won’t be as good as it used to be is Uconn Women’s Basketball. A new deal between their conference, the AAC, and ESPN was signed recently. As of the start of the 2020 season, you will not be able to watch the games on the SNY channel anymore. And if you have Frontier TV, you wont even be able to watch the Mets or Uconn on SNY effective right now (4/16, per Hartford Courant). Frontier said they don’t want to carry the channel anymore. Content is too expensive. I hope it gets resolved. Starting with the 2020 season, many of the Uconn women’s games will be on the ESPN + app. It’s a reasonable $5 per month, but you will need some help to set it up. I am ready when you are ready. You will be able to watch the games on a computer or iPad, but the best way to watch them will be via a streaming box hooked up to your TV (Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV). I tend to prefer the Roku because it’s cheap. Once you get get the hang of it, it will be easy to switch between your streaming box and regular TV. However, you will have to learn something new.
And I know something from working with a lot of individuals in the 65+ age bracket — seniors don’t always like change.
It’s not as good as it used to be.