I hope it’s not a mundane Monday for you.
Going to the Movies – Thurs Apr 28 545 PM
For the first time in 2 years, I’m going to the movies. WOW. The great thing is that I don’t have to leave my home. There is going to be an in person premiere of “Keeper of Time” at the SVA Theater in NYC on Thursday. However, unlike typical theaters, viewers can watch virtually anywhere in the world at the same time. This 90 minute documentary looks at why we measure time and why we care. It also profiles four of the highest level watchmakers in the world. You can find out more and see a 2 minute preview at https://www.keeperoftimemovie.com/home#about . Tickets are $20 + $4 service fee. I’ve got my virtual ticket and will be watching on my computer. Hope to see you there. Feel free to text me during or after the film if you want to discuss.
Gems of Comcast Services
Continuing with the streaming theme…..
If you need help with any other kinds of streaming such as Amazon Prime, Apple TV Plus, especially for the baseball games, let me know. I’m finding that many of my clients that have Comcast / Xfinity for their cable TV provider are finding it especially easy to play services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and others. The Xfinity X1 remote has a microphone. Holding down the phone will easily allow you to bring up those services by name. If you give the cable box permission (which I think is fine), you can also allow it to display results from the streaming services within the results of other On Demand programming. My typical senior clients LOVE that microphone button on the remote. It opens up a whole world of possibilities and usability. It’s one of the gems of their increasingly expensive service. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Cox cable has a similar remote that you can talk to.
Roku Is the Best
If you don’t pay for TV or even if you do, having a separate streaming box might be a good idea. I tend to prefer the Roku. I have been a Roku user since 2011 or 2012. It connects to all the major streaming services. Modern Roku’s are also capable of Apple Air Play (direct beaming from iPhones, iPads, and Macs). And in a room, like my bedroom, with no cable outlet — I can use the Roku as a virtual cable box for Comcast / Xfinity.
Basket of Tips
1) I can’t stream? Can I? Do you think I am capable? Am I too old? I think you can!! If you can master these 5 or 6 basic buttons on a remote, you will be streaming like a pro in no time
* The Directional Arrows*
Up — Down — Left — Right
OK, Back, Exit, Home
>>>You’ve got this!!
2) There are TVs with the Roku platform actually built into it. As long as is a current year model or last year — it may be a good deal if you need a new TV. 3 years old would be terrible. I am a bit old school and I still like a separate Roku box or stick with my TV I am not a huge fan of built in Smart TV platforms but my wife uses built in You Tube all the time
3) By the way — if you watch You Tube all the time — you probably want You Tube Premium (which is not the same as You Tube TV). You Tube is getting more aggressive about showing ads. You either need an ad blocker on the computer or phone (which I use religiously) or sign up for You Tube Premium at $12.99 a month. No Ads!! It also gets you unlimited You Tube Music (formerly called Google Play Music.
Tips From Others — Tips 4 and 5 come from what I have learned out in the field
4) In an ongoing discrimination case involving a local police department one officer was asked if he had made a pact or an agreement with another party. He was ordered to turn over his phone. “No problem your honor — but I delete my text messages every night.” Wow!! As your digital privacy advocate — I love that!! If you are concerned about this type of thing, you have my permission to erase your tracks like this.
5) Want to prevent digital intruders or from that computer being ONLINE all night? You can turn off WiFi or put your device in Airplane Mode every once in a while. I don’t do this all the time. I wouldn’t recommend doing it every night as updates are important but I would be OK with doing this some of the time or most of the time as some of my clients do.
I remember having an open ticket with Xfinity support reps from late December 2019. After months and months, I did not hear back. I contacted @ Comcast Cares on Twitter and got prompt feedback. I know a lot of people have gripes with this company. The biggest thing I have to remind myself and others is — the days of big deals are over. Get real familiar with that price list that comes out twice a year (check your online billing if you don’t get a paper bill). Get familiar with THAT price for your service or services, add on the necessary fees (ugh) and that is what you should expect to pay. Promotions aren’t what they used to be. That era of deal making is fading. Consider other options if they exist. Slowly I am coming to a place of peace with it. I seriously think this company should go with a one price model like TMobile. I think that would help to alleviate a lot of the anger.
I hear that 80’s rock song that goes “we’re not gonna take it anymore” playing in the background. Where is the breaking point folks? What is your limit to how much you are willing to pay this company?
I could have written a book (or at least an e-book) about all of the deals I negotiated for myself and clients with Comcast / aka Xfinity between 2014 and 2019. I had the method down to a science. Just like LL Bean (a far more reputable company), Comcast has caught on to customers exploiting the system. 2020 has been the year of the crackdown. Most of you probably have electronic billing with them. However it’s really important to log onto my.xfinity.com with your email and password at least a few times a year because they will post the Price List at least once or twice. Get real familiar with those prices because once these promotions get completely eliminated, which is the direction they are going in, you will pay THAT price. Don’t forget to add in all of the JUNK FEES, like broadcast fee, sports fee, cable box fee and about 13% in taxes on the TV (not internet) portion of the bill.
There are two key points that I want to make here, one that is reflected on the price list and one that isn’t. 1) Effective 1/1, Comcast is imposing a “data cap” for its New England customers for the first time. They have had these caps for the internet across the country for years. You can also look at this as — you will not get truly Unlimited internet for the price you were promised. Comcast claims this will only impact the 5% heaviest internet users (by data use, not your weight on the scale LOL). I don’t know if I believe them. The cap is going to be set at 1.2 TB (terabytes) or 1200 GB a month. That is a lot of data. However for a family of four that is Zooming all day during the work day, streaming TV / Netflix / Amazon Prime in their free time, and playing online video games – it is an easy threshold to exceed. If you are by yourself and just do basic internet and email most of the time, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. However, you will probably want to check your data usage and it can easily be done by going to this page, https://customer.xfinity.com/#/services/internet and scroll down to the bottom. In my household, we consistently use about 450 GB of data per month or 0.45 TB. We should be all set, but I have seen many reports of Comcast rigging the meter against customers when the data caps are in place. What is their end game? Well, they are going to charge big overage charges for violators. However, they will gladly allow you to remedy the problem BY PAYING MORE. How kind of them. If other markets are any indicator, you can now get “truly unlimited” internet by paying $30 more. However if you rent a (lousy) modem from them, you can beat the caps for about $25 (modem rental plus $10 upcharge). It’s a money grab…… because they can.
2) This one really got to me yesterday. I received an email with a link to a price list saying that my bill would be going up effective 12/20/2020. Since my bill came out on the 18th, the increases will take effect on my next bill. If you are Internet only (and not under a contract), you may be seeing a price increase of $3 per month. Sadly, TV customers are in for the real gouge! Broadcast TV Fee (what they collect to offset what local stations charge them to transmit the channels) is going up by $5. Regional Sports channel fee? Going up by $2. (Again, Comcast would say that they are simply collecting more to reflect the increase in costs of what they pay out to these networks). The cost of your cable box will also be going up by more than $2. So that is $9 increases right there. However, if you have a 2nd (or 3rd) cable box in the house, that charge is dropping by $2, so the box charges may even out. These companies can charge whatever they want, but the same fees just went up 2 years ago. Now they are hitting us again.
What I think is so wrong is that Comcast thinks they have the right to increase the fees on customers ALREADY UNDER CONTRACT. I agreed to a contract that expires in June 2021. I am bound to it. There are penalties if I cancel early. Yet they think they can change the price. Comcast would say — that fees can always be increased and they are not part of the contract. This is my biggest gripe. In January, I talked to a lawyer from Comcast about big picture issues and legislative concerns. He gave me his personal cell phone number and said I could call him any time. Perhaps I should do this. Some of you are lawyers, you might be married to a lawyer, or you may just be ticked off like I am.
How much is too much for cable services? In areas where the phone company has fiber optic service or there is an independent fiber choice, you may have an alternative. Call the lawyers, call Executive Relations, and call the Retentions department.
Give them that line that Dee Snider sang so well “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”
Small Biz Spotlight
(Unsolicited) If you don’t believe in Chiropractors, you have my permission to skip this section. I realize that some in the profession have made dubious claims. However, many of us out there feel that chiropractic care helps us feel better and move our joints more freely. If this is how you feel, please let me introduce you to Dr. Rick Araya of West Hartford, CT. Dr. Rick is a straight shooter. He doesn’t try to rope you into some $5000 treatment plan with a bunch of gimmicks. He runs his business like I run mine. If you want to pay by the visit – you can pay $45 per visit (even less if you are 65 and older). He doesn’t waste your time by doing massage, lighting candles, or any of that stuff. Most follow up visits are 5 to 10 minutes – in and out. As an advocate for senior consumers, I can’t think of a better chiropractor — if that’s your thing. To learn more – http://goodchiro.net and if you go let Dr. Rick know I sent you.
Another Apple Event
Apple is really hitting it out of the park this year. Last week there was a report of record Mac sales — powered by all models but especially the Mac Book Pro. According to Bloomberg, Apple will be holding their 3rd big event in as many months next week. They are expected to release new Mac Books this time with their own CPUs (just like the iPhone and iPad). This will be the 3rd processor transition in the Mac’s history. In 1995, they went to IBM Power PC chips and in 2006 Apple migrated to the current Intel architecture (just like PC’s). Apple feels that they can deliver a better Mac when they control the entire manufacturing process and that is just what they are doing. Are your Intel Macs junk now? Of course not. Even if you are buying a new Mac before early – mid next year you may still want to get an Intel Mac. However, Macs with Apple silicon inside will be with us soon and are here to stay. Rumor has it that Apple will continue to support current Intel Macs with updates for about 5 years from a certain date (to be announced). I don’t think this will be a painful transition.
Black Friday – Holiday Shopping
Black Friday is coming early this year. Traditional stores and online sellers are slow rolling their deals. While the discounts on Apple products may be in the low hundreds of dollars, there are bound to be terrific deals on other items. Just today I helped some clients order Thinkpad X1 and T laptops ( every bit as good as a Mac) that are normally about $2000 plus, for $999. Those deals are going to be gone by the time you read this. I will be your scout for other bargains. Keep in mind, as long as there is no wall mounting required I can help you set up most TV’s as well. For as rotten as the cable company can be, there is nothing quite like a new TV with an X1 cable box and voice remote from Xfinity. You can speak and have it take to you any channel or available movie.
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.