Category: ISP

Using A VPN–Privacy and Security Factors

I have previously written generally about why VPNs are important, even for consumers and small business owners.   Here I am going to get specific, covering two many reasons for use (privacy and security) and the scenarios where they come into play.

Rewind:  If I were to rewind just a step, a VPN is an application you run on your computer, smartphone and tablet to give you a private tunnel out to the internet.  I’m not going to endorse one over the others — but the three I like are Express VPN, Windscribe, and Private Internet Access (PIA).  Costs range from $2 to $10 per month.   I have explored Mozilla VPN (put out by the Firefox people) with some clients and it lacks a key feature at the moment so I am not going to put it on the same level as the other three. 

So today I am talking about “John the consumer” and “Jane the plumber.”   John uses computers and other devices at home.  Jane owns a plumbing company and has an office on Main Street that she controls.  (I’m going to leave working in an office under some big corporation out of the discussion because they often tell you what you can and can’t do with your computer).    John and Jane have two factors to consider when using a VPN — Privacy and Security depending on where they are using the internet

1.  At home or their office — Here the reason to use a VPN is PRIVACY.  John and Jane have routers with up to date firmware, computers with antivirus software, and computers and smartphones with the proper security updates.  Their internet connections are secure.   Speaking for myself, my home / home office Internet is totally secure even if I never use a VPN.  If you meet all of these parameters I laid out — there is like a 99% chance no one is going to infiltrate your internet connection.  John, Jane, and I use a VPN in the confines of our homes and offices because we don’t want our internet providers to know every website we visit.  We don’t want news or other shopping or informational websites recording our IP address (which ultimately links back to us).  It’s an issue of principle and privacy — not primarily for security. 

2. On Public WiFi –  I’m talking about the mall, the library, the hotel,and the coffee shop now.  People are going out a lot more and traveling.  You do not have control over these public internet connections.  It should not be presumed to be secure as in #1.   This is a different ballgame.   Here John and Jane use their VPNs for security.  Even though you are on that public WiFi connection, you are doing so through your VPN tunnel.  You will be protected from bad actors on that network.  Snoops on that network are not going to be able to do harm to your devices.   You are still getting that private connection,  but the security of the VPN is the biggest factor here. 

2a.  I should add this section here to say — I have found limited situations over the years where public WiFi connections refuse to play nicely with a VPN even after the settings are adjusted.   In these scenarios, if I am just using my smartphone, I turn WiFi off and just use the cellular connection.  At least I have a secure connection.  If I needed to use a laptop and couldn’t use a VPN, I would set up my smartphone as a hotspot. 

When Not To Use A VPN

– With Express VPN, Windscribe, and PIA — a split tunnel can be set up to allow certain apps to bypass the VPN.   Some bank websites do not work properly with a VPN on.  John, Jane, and I set up one browser to split off from our VPNs so that we can access any website that does not play nicely with the VPN.  This split tunnel feature does not work on iPhones.  It may work on some Android phones.

– When downloading operating system updates:  These happen outside of any browser and are typically very large files.  As long as John and Jane are on a secure connection in the home or the office, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to turn the VPN off solely for the purposes of the updates.

In conclusion, after digesting these two installments I’ve sent you, you may decide a VPN is not for you or it is right up your alley.  The choice is yours.  VPN use in on the rise among people like John and Jane.  They keep theirs on automatically, whenever their devices are in use.  Surfing the internet through a VPN tunnel is a pathway to freedom.

Bogus Comcast Email Warning

Just wanted to send this out to you my Comcast / Xfinity clients:

I have gotten a couple of reports of an email making the rounds telling my clients that they need to update their Comcast email from version 9 to version 12 or something like that.

It is totally fake!  This isn’t AOL from 2001.  Comcast does not publicize a version number of their email system.

Remember the things I always taught you about examining fake emails.  Look at the sender.  In this case — the sender was using a Gmail address.   Would real Comcast do that?   No way!

Secondly check out the link they want to send you to.   Just point to it, don’t click it.  In this case it was a mysterious foreign website — not a Comcast(dot)net or xfinity(dot)com or anything like that.   

I don’t want you to make an expensive mistake.

Dealing With Comcast Anger

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.

Comcast Hammering Us In A Pandemic

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!”

How to check for suspicious logins to Comcast Xfinity email account

I have now had 2 clients in the past year who’ve had their Comcast email accounts broken into.  Scams were attempted and some damage was done. 

They have now put out a tool so you can see all of the login attempts on your Comcast account with the past 30 days.  If you suspect anything or are just curious — you should sign into this website with your Comcast e-mail address and password.


https://security-console.identity.xfinity.com/

It worked very well for me with a client yesterday.  We determined that her account was hacked by someone accessing the internet through a server in Seattle, WA. 

One more tip — make sure that your Comcast email password is not the same as ANY OTHER password you use.

Clearing Out Those Computer Gremlins

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?

Comcast Clapback–Going For A Knockout

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!

Savings In A Crisis

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.

Praise for Xfinity Today – 2x

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 and The End of CDMA

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.