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.
In a previous discussion on streaming I mentioned that a $70.00 a month cable internet package (or better) would be a appropriate option for “cord cutting”. As I always strive to provide accuracy in recommendations, I want to tell you that the current (stand alone) price for the Performance (60/5) internet package with Comcast is 74.99. I was within a Starbucks drink of the price. 🙂 Comcast does charge a bit more if you only have one product with them, but you do get that freedom of not being bound by a bundle or a contract. Also by being an Internet only customer with the cable company (or Internet / TV, no phone), you can save $13 per month by purchasing your own cable modem. I don’t want to leave out the phone company either. I recently reviewed Frontier’s pricing and it seems they are offering a 45/6 package for new customers for 24.99 and a faster package for 29.99 per month. In areas where they have true fiber to the home, the speeds will be even better. I have some clients that get by with less speed doing 1 stream at a time but I would like to err on the side of enough enough bandwidth. Fast phone company service with your own router — can work.
Established customers usually aren’t respected. Want to get new customer pricing? Cancel your services for a few days (few weeks when you go on vacation) and then have your spouse sign up as a new customer. . I can confirm this strategy worked with a family member, but YMMV (your mileage may vary).
For those of you in the West Hartford Center area and nearby neighborhoods — you actually have one more choice for internet — a true fiber optic provider that has moved into the area. The company is called Go Net Speed. I would strongly urge you to consider them. They offer a 150 MB/s connection for $50 a month and no junk fees. This may be your one chance to break free of the monopolies. https://gonetspeed.com/ . They hope to build out more areas soon. Fill out the form to request service in your neighborhood.
New Year – New You
What would you like to improve in your technology picture this year? How can I help you get more out of your devices and services? What would you like to learn? Some areas that clients have mentioned to me already include:
-Using a password manager (finally)
-Breaking free of cable TV
-Learning how to use streaming video services (ie. Netflix + Amazon Prime)
-Upgrading the 4 or 5 year old iPhone / iPad to a newer model
-Upgrading to a new Mac now that Apple has released new consumer level models for the first time in years
Please let me know how I can partner with you on this journey. I am ready and willing to be deployed.
Cord Cutting Intro – Wrap Up
We had some substantial discussions about cord cutting over the past two weeks as a result of my Parts 1 and 2 e-mails on this topic. Don’t hesitate to ask me about your situation. I think the cord cutting movement will experience major growth in 2019. One of our local talk radio shows, which usually has a political focus, devoted 3 hours to the idea of breaking free from these $200+ bills last week. The bottom line is, I think it is possible to get down to an Internet + cord cutting TV service combination for about $110 a month (approx $70 + $40). As for home phone — you may choose to go without, you can move it to a service like Magic Jack (as I have done $40 / year), or even move that number to the phone company. And just remember, if you are not ready to be a cord cutter yet — you can always be a streamer. Trying to drive a hard bargain and cutting features to save money on your existing cable package is another option. Contact me for a cord cutting assessment.
And on to this week’s feature —
The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying
You can buy your new smart phone from the Apple Store. You could go direct through Android device manufacturers like One Plus, Google, or Motorola. Buying an unlocked phone on Amazon may be an option too. Best Buy sells a handful of unlocked phones and also ones connected with carriers like Verizon and ATT. However, a significant percentage of customers (my clients included) go to one of their carrier’s stores. If you might want to change your plan or take advantage of carrier specific promotions, shopping at an ATT Store, Verizon store, or T Mobile store may be the way to go. I’m not telling you that you should or shouldn’t. One thing I can say in their favor is that the salesperson jobs there are career positions. These are not traditional retail (ie. Apple) or big box store jobs that pay at a level where the worker needs to work 2 or 3 jobs to possibly survive in the community where the store is located. The sales professionals in carrier stores are commissioned. You may have never known this, but if you purchase your phone there the salesperson will not make much of a commission unless you buy a few accessories with your phone. It seems weird to me, because the acquisition of a customer who will pay bills month after month has to have value to the company. However, this is the way compensation works. Very often, we do purchase accessories with our new phones. A case, car charger, and screen protector can be very helpful add-ons. On the other hand, you may be like me. You might be the type to buy your phone accessories from Amazon that they don’t have in carrier stores. That’s ok too. All I am saying is that this is food for thought. If you shop for phones in your carrier’s store, it is a good idea to consider buying your accessories there. You won’t have to wait for them either.
Cord Cutting Part 2: How Much Speed Do You Need?
Last week I covered what cord cutting was, some of the main providers (Hulu TV, You Tube TV, Sony Play Station VUE), and what you should expect to pay (around $40 per month for Hulu and You Tube).
You will need streaming video box to play your live TV replacement service. Costs range from the $40’s (Amazon Fire Stick + Roku player) to $200 (Apple TV box). Unless you have a compelling reason to go with the Apple TV, I think the Amazon Fire Stick or Roku would work out just fine for most of my clients. Keep in mind that Amazon and You Tube still are not getting along right now, so if you want to subscribe to You Tube TV, I would go with a Roku. With any of these services, you can watch live TV at any time on your computer, smartphone or iPad (I’m not going to say “tablet” because with the standard iPad being $329, its unwise to look elsewhere).
How Much Speed Do You Need?
If you are on a DSL internet package from 2003, that won’t work. However, most of you are likely capable of streaming HD video. With multiple concurrent internet users in my home at any one time, I would probably feel comfortable with of an internet speed of 40 mbps or more (which means 40 megabits per second in the download direction). I see cable internet speeds frequently advertised for 150 or 250 mbps, but if there are just two people at home, you really don’t need to pay for that much speed. You certainly can if you like. I have some cord cutting customers getting by on 22 mpbs from the phone company. It works! Cutting down to Internet only (or internet plus phone) should cost you about $45 to $60 with the phone company and $70 with the cable company for a serviceable option — for the Internet portion of the bill. (Extra savings: if you only get Internet from the cable company, you can save a ton by owning your own cable modem.) The streamers I am helping don’t have much concern about a home phone, but you can still have one as a cord cutter.
It is true that with the cable company or the phone company, the sun sets on some packages offered. I had a client tell me recently that she was told by her cable company that she could never get her package back if she changed. Another client, who is not a candidate for streaming, recently changed her package to get the Home and Garden channel. She was upset when she lost one of her favorite channels. In a subsequent conversation with Comcast she was told that there was no option of reverting. While they may be full of bloated bills and price gimmicks, the cable companies (like Verizon, for example) are not so evil that they proactively cancel customers on “grandfathered packages.” If you are in a contract, you may be getting a 12 month or 24 month discount for being on a given package. That discount expires, but there is a good chance you can keep your package, even if it is no longer offered to new sign ups. Keep in mind, your provider may make it difficult for you to stay on that package. The price could be jacked up or features could be removed, seemingly on a monthly basis. On the other hand, you may be able to ride along the easy road with it forever.
Truth be told, when you decide to be a cord cutter, multi-service packages from one provider don’t matter much. Internet is the only thing that matters. You will be getting your TV elsewhere.
Maybe you just want to try Amazon Prime Video (since you are paying for it already). Maybe Netflix is super appealing to you. You may just want to rent some movies from time to time. Be a streamer! Or you may be sick of the $200+ bills and want to take 100% control of your live channel subscription experience. A “free TV” antenna may be good enough if you don’t care about anything more than local channels. With a Roku box (and the like) you can get a really good traditional pay TV replacement service for about $40 a month. If you don’t like the menus and setup on Hulu Live TV, you can go to YouTube TV the next month, and so on. You are not locked down. You have choices. Welcome to 2019!
I deal with a very diverse buffet of client issues over the course of a month: residential consumer concerns, small business, non-profit, Mac, Windows, iPhone, (some) Android, buying and setting up new equipment, overhauling old computers (software + hardware), teaching clients new skills, helping organize one’s digital life, and so on. One topic of great client interest lately has been CORD CUTTING. When appropriate, I have become a big proponent of it. In a brief session, 1 to 2 hours usually, I can help WILLING clients (usually they approach me) gain a lot of peace of mind and major savings by cutting out traditional pay TV and moving to a streaming or free (yes free) strategy.
Over this week and next, I am going to share with you about cord cutting. Even if you think you would never cut back on your cable / satellite pay TV services, I think you will learn something over these next 2 updates. You may develop an interest in trying streaming video because you are probably an Amazon Prime member. Your eyes may be opened to the power of the internet connection. Finally, you may find these e-mails valuable for a friend or family member.
There may be some different definitions of this concept out there, but for me it boils down to 3 possibilities.
A. Cutting traditional pay TV services entirely and switching to a streaming, channel based live-TV replacement
B. Cutting back on traditional pay TV services and augmenting with a streaming video service like Amazon Prime or Netflix
C. Cutting traditional pay TV services and relying on free over the air TV for local networks (and possibly adding Prime or Netflix too)
*Let me just stop right there and say, if all you care about is local channels like ABC, CBS, local FOX, PBS, etc — there is a good chance you can pick up 10-15 free channels in the Hartford area with a simple indoor antenna. To boot, as long as you get a good signal, the picture will be BETTER than you would get from cable for those local channels.
Channel Based Live TV Streaming Services
There are about services that come to mind: Hulu TV, You Tube TV (a real TV service, not the same as regular You Tube videos), Sling TV, Sony VUE, and Direct TV now. The cost is about $40 a month. Dozens of channels are included, even locals, and sports. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime can be added for an extra charge.
Real Life Examples
The clients I have worked with have all canceled their cable / satellite TV service. A good internet package was maintained (either with the phone or cable company). They may or may not have kept home phone service. While sort of a separate topic, if home phone is of little importance to you but you want to keep the number, I can get you on a $40 a year (not month, year) plan. All clients are over 70 and in some cases over 80 years old. They chose Hulu TV (but you should choose You Tube TV if you want the Red Sox channel). They get their local stations included for $40 a month.
Become A Streamer
After getting this intro, you may be in this camp: I don’t want to change my TV package but I want to watch Amazon Prime Video and or Netflix on the TV. Great I can help with that too.
Next Week: Cord Cutting Part 2
I will incorporate topics such as — How Much Speed Do You Need?, equipment required, and your questions. Please ask so that I can make this as complete as possible.
If you are ready, my “scissors” are ready. Let’s cut.
Still Falling for Tech Support Scams
I think I do an exceptional job at educating my clients about consumer issues as they relate to technology. It still blows my mind that some of my clients continue to fall for “tech support scams.” Some of these scams may be outright fraud — money for the taking with no intention of services ever being provided or the intentional infection of the computer and subsequent (hallelujah) we’ve fixed your computer ma’am. Others may employ unethical business practices, actually coming to you through a pop-up ad or a phone call with the intention of providing tech support services. They will typically imply that you have a corrupted computer and they can fix it. You may be asked to pay a one time charge of $300 for the incident or be offered a “deal” of $800 or more for “lifetime” support. I am calling scam on both types of schemes. They could ask to get paid by credit card, but their favorite method is the CHECKING ACCOUNT NUMBER. Do you know that anyone with even limited technology / payment processing skills can run an ACH on you as long as they have your routing number and checking account number found at the bottom of your check. This is really scary. A recent customer was told by a scammer to put their filled out check on the scanner and let them remotely scan it for payment purposes. Before I even helped her, I had her go to her bank and close the account. In the future, this is how I will handle it. We can always take care of the computer later, you must take care of your identity first. In this most recent example in my consultancy, the tech support scam incident was likely triggered by a malicious pop up ad telling them that their computer was out of date and in trouble.
If you really want to block ads from even getting a breath of internet on your computer – let me know. Most of you have browser based ad blockers. I am not talking about that. I have something better in mind, on a per computer basis, that prevents the ad servers from seeing the light of day.
Microsoft or Apple or Google are not going to mysteriously pop up on your computer with a phone number (or call you) telling you that you have a problem and that you need support.
^^^ Please copy this sentence to your memory. Read it several times. Then, copy it and paste it into Word or your word processing program. Make the print really big! Print it out. Tape it to your wall or your desk. This is a $1000 tip offered completely FREE! Merry Christmas!
A Note on Saving on Services
Numerous clients have contacted me since last week’s update about saving money on home telecommunications services. With some I have been able to help save on services – in a big league way – and in one case I was not. I don’t think I oversold this idea. If you shoot me a private e-mail, I would be glad to let you look over my Comcast bill and see that I pay $112.xx indeed for TV + a very fast internet package, with three TV’s and owning my own Internet equipment. I have been asked about saving money on the cable modem, which runs about $11 / mo. A good one — Arris or Netgear brand — will cost you $100 and easily last 3 years, short of “Acts of God”, etc. The math works in your favor. However, if you have phone service from Comcast, you will have to pay about the same $11 a month for a combined modem / router device. These cost more than a standalone modem in the store — and may not be worth it to buy outright. The reason why I have always advocated for a separate cable modem (rented or not) and router (owned by you) – is because it is SUPERIOR ON TECHNICAL MERITS. It’s not a matter of cost. And since I have been asked this recently — well Mr. Computer — do you use a separate cable modem and router? Yes I do. I have a Netgear modem and a Synology router.
With that out of the way, there are basically three ways that you are going to save in the BATTLE FOR COST CUTTING — 1) hoping you qualify for a package discount on like services because its been a while (and by that I mean like a year or two) since you qualified for such a promotion, 2) MAKING SACRIFICES, or 3) Cutting down to Internet only and then subscribing to a service like Hulu Live TV at $40 which will give you most of the channels you want. If you insist on the “24 hour cattle ranching channel” (or pick your niche channel) that is the highest cable tier, I don’t know how successful you will be at cost savings. I could easily be paying $200+ a month. I got it to where it is, consistently, by making sacrifices. If you want to save, please let me know your circumstances. We should look at the cell phone bill also!
Most “Mac-like” Windows Laptops
I had this conversation with a client lately. We were trying to come up with Windows based alternatives to the Mac Book Air. While there may be others worth of mention, here is my list, in no particular order.
Microsoft Surface 2 Laptop (currently available at a bargain holiday price)
And if you want an alternative to the $2700 15 inch Mac Book Pro, check out the Dell XPS 15 ($1500-ish models are worthy alternatives).
Saving on Services
For a couple of years, I’ve told you that it is possible to save big on your home communications package (ie. with the cable company) if you know how to do it. If you just have one service with them or signed a new agreement 2 months ago — there is not much hope I can offer you at the moment. However, I have been at peace with my cable company (Comcast) since 2014 by making some sacrifices and making 2 year agreements. The package I have with Comcast is called Internet Pro Plus. I get a very fast Internet package, digital economy TV (which includes all local channels, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, CNBC, Bloomberg, A+E, USA, History channel, Food Network, and others), plus HBO. My TV package does not include regional sports networks, ESPN or Fox Sports. Home phone does not matter in my household, although we do pay for that with a separate provider at $40 per year (WOW!!!). I do not pay a modem rental fee with Comcast. I have my own modem and router. With 3 TV’s, I pay a total, including taxes of $112.xx per month. If only 1 or 2 TV’s were involved, the price would be less. If your bill makes smoke come out of your ears, there may be something you can do about it.
I have a real client example of serious savings. I recently met with a client who was receiving TV, phone, and Internet from Cox (generally a fine company in my opinion). However, their bill almost made me fall over. It was about $323 a month. Unbelievable!! That’s a car payment. While my best success has always been negotiating with Comcast, I suggest we give it a try. I was able to get them savings of $36 per month. That comes out to about $432 per year. They were thrilled.
If you think I may be able to help you in this area, let me know about your current package.
Avon Ct Customer Fed Up With AT&T U-verse After Four Unexpected Price Increases In Less Than A Year | Connecticut Consumer Advocate Protector Watchdog | Ct Consumer Complaints |Ct consumer Protection | Ct Advocate | Ct Consumer.
We are not too thrilled with AT&T U-verse pricing either. Monthly discounts via rebate cards mailed to you after the fact? I don’t think so.