Category: Consumers

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

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. 

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Cord Cutting Part 2

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).

Equipment Required

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. 

Packages

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.

Conclusion

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!

Snip, snip.

ATT E-Mail Account Support Scam

I’ve dealt with this a couple of times now so I wanted to bring it to your attention again. 

The AT&T support “scam” is not new to me. I am going to use quotation marks around that word because I can’t say whether it was true fraud or just deceptive business practices. The story goes something like this. A local internet customer (either with Frontier or now the cable company) has an old @att.net, @sbcglobal.net, or @snet.net e-mail address. They have problems with the account. These e-mails were provided through a partnership of ATT and Yahoo in the past. Frontier did not take over the e-mail accounts and legitimately, they are not servicing them. So, the customer such as calls ATT for support after searching for the phone number on the internet.  I have to stop right there and say that they may not have truly reached ATT.  Therefore, “ATT” doesn’t really want to deal with it so they recommend an outside firm that charges anywhere from $200 to $800 for support with the ATT e-mail account and perhaps other computer issues. In my opinion, the ATT employee that made this referral may have been doing this unofficially, without the blessing of ATT. Either way, it is shady to me. The calls may be routed to India. The customer gives them access to their computer.

If it were me, I would want a professional to examine my computer to see if there were any traces of access that “ATT” or the other firm still had to my computer. I would back up my data and then I would do a “clean install” of Windows or mac OS for security purposes to truly eliminate all threats. This procedure takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Cord Cutting Part 1: Introduction

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.

Cord Cutting

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.

Honesty Is Job 1

I learned a lot recently about customer service and through the car buying process. It provided a time of great reflection.  My experiences made me think about how I run my business. While I have never marketed honesty as one of my leading qualities, I am going to really put it out there going forward because my industry along with so many others are filled with thieves.  No one ever has to question what I charge.  It is posted publicly on my website westhartfordtechsupport.com/rates .  If it ever changes, I’ll let you know.  My rate for all new customers after 1/1/18 covers any portion of the first hour and billing by the half hour after that.  If I have to come and just plug something in or fix a quick item, I charge for one hour. If we cover 5 things in 60 minutes, I will charge for one hour.  (Clients that were part of the VIP family prior to 1/1/18, pay a slightly discounted rate for time beyond 1 hour).  For major jobs that might span 8 to 10 hours in a day or turn into multi-day or week-long jobs, I will give you a “job rate.”  I am not known for ordering products and reselling them. I do not want to get involved in the tax issue or the implied warranty. I regularly order products and new computers for customers, either through direct payment or reimbursement for actual cost of expenses. I provide services in setting them up. I will charge for time spent shopping and researching products. I am a service provider.  While I can’t steal this line because it has been trademarked, in addition to consumers, I am in business to serve small business and small non-profits.  Honesty is job #1 with me. You’ll always know where you stand. 

Christmas Eve 2018 – $1000 Present For You

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!

Useful Smartphone Utilities

Holiday Help

For years, I have been a Hanukkah and Christmas helper for my clients.   If its within the realm of electronics and computers, let me know how I can help you.  Perhaps you need help selecting, setting up, and putting back in the box.  I’ll be there for you.  I have also helped clients with creating cards that can be printed out and mailed to your loved ones.  It’s not too late.  Photo cards speak 1000’s of words. 

2 Numbers on One Phone

This is really cool! Maybe you have business and personal lines.  Perhaps you always wanted to make your home phone a cell phone number in addition to your regular cell, but dread carrying two phones.  Right now — this option has arrived.   The 2018 iPhone models (Xs, Xs Max, and XR) offer eSIM technology.  This means you could have two numbers on one iPhone.  This capability just became possible with the iOS 12.1.1 update that came out last week.   Verizon, AT&T and other carriers worldwide are on board.  Let me know if you have questions about the power of eSIM. 

WiFi Calling

Some of my clients live in a cellular dead zone.  It’s a brutal existence when you can’t make cell phone calls from you own home, especially when they are work related or there are medical issues involved.  Over the past few years, ATT, Verizon, and TMobile have rolled out WiFi Calling for smartphones.  It’s that simple.  You can make and receive cellular calls over your home WiFi connection even when there is no cellular signal.  It has been a godsend to several clients.  Many smartphones 2 to 3 years old and newer support this feature.  However, if this feature means something to you, you’ll want to buy your phone through “official” channels.  By official, I am talking about your carrier or Apple.  The market for independently purchased phones, such as purchases made through Amazon or direct from the manufacturer (ie. some Motorola models, Nokia [they’re back], and One Plus), is growing.  Unfortunately, I have witnessed that AT&T likes to play games in making WiFi calling an exclusive feature.  If you are their customer, buy your smartphone from them or from Apple.  Note:  visual notification of voicemails will still be a problem in a low cell / no cell signal area. 

Awesome Utilities for Archiving Phone Data

Archiving data like text messages and call logs may be a legal issue, a business issue, or even a personal issue for you.   Here are some tools for your tool box.  With your iPhone, you need to make a full backup to your computer (Windows or Mac) via iTunes.  We have probably done this before, but you will want to get in the habit if this sort of record keeping means something.  While there are many utilities that can parse this data, I prefer iMazing.  It is amazing!.   https://imazing.com   It is $45 and worth every penny.

On the Android side,  I recommend SMS Backup + and SMS Backup and Restore.  The second app has some paid features, but I haven’t found the need for them.  SMS Backup+ actually takes your texts and makes them into a searchable folder in your Gmail account (WOW).  SMS Backup and Restore — exports call logs and text into 2 files on your phone or Google Drive.  They can be downloaded onto your computer or the app itself for your viewing pleasure.  They can also be restored back to a different Android phone.