While many of my clients have incomes that are not necessarily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, investments have been drastically affected. I know that some of you are still working or are volunteering for organizations that are feeling some serious pressure right now. There is a natural inclination to want to save on costs. I have just a couple of ideas for you. T-Mobile, ATT, and Cricket (a subsidiary of ATT) are all offering plans that are $15 / mo for unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of data. I would say 70% of my clients use less than this much data in a month. Sick of paying $200 – $300 a month for a cable bill? If you are not a big TV watcher (so depressing these days, right?) why not consider going Internet only. In West Hartford, Go Netspeed is an awesome fiber optic option for $50 / month. If you can get solid speeds with the phone company (like 25 mbps or greater), you can usually get service for about $50 a month. Finally, you could go Internet only with a service like Comcast, you can get a plan for about $75 a month (and possibly less with a promo). If you are going to do Cable internet only, purchase your own modem and save the $15 / mo rental.
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.
I wanted to issue a clarifying statement on the topic of “Mesh Routers” because someone had questioned whether I was against mesh routers and that I might want to reconsider my position.
Mesh routers are 2 and 3 unit + router systems that can help to bridge the gaps for WiFI in large homes or homes that may have trouble getting a signal in specific areas. Well known mesh router brands are Netgear Orbi and Eero. Xfinity also providers their own mesh solution called XFI pods, make for them by a company called Plume.
For the record, I am not nor have I ever been against mesh routers. I have been setting up mesh router systems for clients since 2017. I have worked with a precursor to the modern day mesh systems (ie. Netgear Powerline) for over 10 years. In my experience, the mesh systems work in some instances and do not work in others. If you are in a WiFi challenged situation, it may be worth it to buy a mesh system from a vendor with a good return policy (like Amazon) to try out. If they don’t work out, you can always go back to your old router system.
Also, keep in mind the cost. While a good single router is going to cost you approximately $200, a mesh system will cost you $300 to $400 for the Eero or Orbi. The Xfinity XFI pods are $119 for 3 pods and $199 for 6 pods, depending on the size of the house. You need to be renting a “modern” modem from them (approx $15 per month) to use these specific pods.
Be flexible. Be willing to try out a couple of solutions to find what works best for you.
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.
$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.