About six weeks ago, I read about Playstation Vue. I’m not a console gamer, so I don’t typically follow anything with the word, “Playstation” in it. However, Playstation Vue is an Internet cable service. You stream cable channels. Sling TV works the same way. The prices are cheap at around $25-30 a month.
I dismissed Sling because it doesn’t have DVR. Other than football, I watch everything on DVR. However, Playstation Vue solved that with a $30 package of every cable channel that I care about with DVR. I’m paying Cox Communications $85/mo. for some extra channels that I don’t care about. Saving $55/mo. is $660 a year. That’s worth looking into, right?[Note: I couldn’t Playstation Vue’s $30 plan on their website today. I think they are hiding it. For proof of it’s existence (at least in the past), I present CNET’s comparison of Playstation Vue and Sling. Also, I’ve read that Sling will be getting DVR at some point soon.]
Today there’s a new option to look into, DirecTV Now from AT&T. It’s Internet TV like Sling/Playstation Vue with no cable boxes or dishes to install. It’s $35 for 100 channels and only $5 to add HBO if you get in on the promotional price (which I think you can keep forever). However, they don’t have DVR, and they are missing CBS (there goes my football) from the channel line-up. It’s not a good fit for me yet, but for some people, it’s got some potential. The Verge gives a great review of the pro/cons of DirecTV Now. I’m still wrapping head around whether I’d get live NBC, ABC, and Fox as I thought all those channels were run by affiliates.
And to complicate matters even more, Cox has their own discount service, Contour Flex Economy, with 110 channels at $35.
Between Playstation Vue and Cox’s own cheaper service I should be able to save somewhere between $45-55 a month…
… then I remembered that dealing with Cox logically or reasonably has been a waste of time (such as in this article or this one.)
I figure, let’s give them one more try. I call up and explain that I’m dissatisfied at paying $85 a month for cable television when my needs are met by their cheaper $35 plan or Playstation Vue. They have their “specialist” review my bill and I wait on hold. She comes back tells me almost exactly what The Verge said in their review of DirecTV Now above. Here’s what the Verge said:
“Will it save money compared to what you’re paying Comcast or whoever now? Yes for some, no for others. Internet bills have a way of suddenly increasing when you call the cable company and cancel half of their precious double play.”
My Internet price is $65, but it would go up to $80 if I switched to a lower tier TV service (or out of it completely). This effectively raises the price of any competing service by $15. If I’m playing $150 ($65/internet, $85/television), then a move to $80 Internet means that my savings on another $30 television plan is only $40/mo ($150 – ($80 + $30)).
Once again saving $40/mo. isn’t bad. So I go forward with that. Unfortunately, that’s a dead end too.
I’d also lose my $50/mo. promotional bundle savings as part of not having the appropriate levels to qualify triple play (or Cox’s nomenclature for it) of television, internet, and phone. As I wrote over a year ago, I keep Cox’s phone in my basement for that discount. The $50/mo. promotional bundle is really worth only $20/mo. to me, because the phone costs another $30/mo. I explained that I feel the phone bundle is a Trojan Horse waiting to add another $30 to my bill if I forget to call up and get a new promotional bundle every 6 months.
With the promotional bundle being worth another $20 (after the telephone shenanigans), my switch to another television service (forfeiting this bundle “discount”) would make my savings probably closer to $15 or $20 a month.
To put it simply, I’m paying $129.97 for the two services I use (television and internet) and any change puts me at $80 for a internet, plus the cost of the of the other service. The other services have their drawbacks such as no DVR or limited time DVR, possibly limited local channels, limited sports packages (no NESN for me I think). For me, that’s a lot to give up to save $15 or $20 a month.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Unfortunately there’s really no place to go. There’s no competition for Internet services in my area. After Cox the fastest internet available is DSL that seems to top out at 3Mbps download. That’s only 12% of the FTC considers to be a broadband connection. It’s actually quite common as telecom companies appear to split up territory to avoid competition.
I talked to an advanced representative from Cox who called back about my concerns (kudos to them for that). She explained that they bumped up the download rates from 25Mbps to 50Mbps at no cost. I said that’s great, but it’s like offering to give me 50 gallons of gas and watch it 25 of them spill on the ground. I’d rather have the amount of product I use at half-price. Of course that’s not an option on the table and I understand Cox’s reason for it. They want to get the most money from each customer. If they made a $40 tier providing 25Mbps of service, I could easily get Playstation Vue. It would be a total of $70 for what I’d want with Cox getting $40 from me. Instead they’ll get $130 from me.
I’m envious of Justin of Root of Good who is paying $34 for his 50Mbs service. That’s not part of a bundle or a promotional price (as far as I can tell). As we discussed in the comments, there’s actual competition in his area with Google Fiber coming and 1Gbps service. The same service is $80 for me. Cox, that isn’t cool… and you can’t take the high road and say that you doubled the speed because he’s getting the same speed.
How Can This Be Legal?
I wish I had an answer to that question. I simply don’t know. I’m not a law expert, but it feels like this is like Microsoft antitrust case. In that case, it is my understanding than an alleged monopoly (Microsoft) used it to undercut the competition’s (Netscape/browser) industry. I don’t see how this really is any different.
If we are to believe The Verge article (which I do considering the authors and source of the article and my experience) the internet access business is a monopoly seemingly divided among different competitors. And while I can’t feel too bad about Sony (PlayStation Vue) or AT&T (DirecTV Now) for not making a few extra dollars, the monopoly bundling makes their product pricing not very competitive.
If such bundling didn’t take place and/or if I could price-match Root of Good’s $34 Internet-only service, the pricing of PlayStation Vue is extremely competitive. It’s not Playstation Vue’s fault that Internet bundling harms its television service and I’m not sure what they do about it. (They can’t really charge less, because they need to pay the networks too.)
When I’ve written about this kind of thing I’ve gotten quite a few comments supporting it. I wonder if our representatives in the government are listening. I think they should be. However Gizmodo wrote in 2011 Why the Government Won’t Protect You from Getting Screwed by Your Cable Company. They tried to start a campaign to change things then. Five years later, it’s hard to say that much progress has been made.
Mr. Trump, I know there are a lot of things you want to fix. Many of them, such as the Affordable Care Act get to be real thorny. There are others that the people are very, very divided on. I think almost everyone can get behind $34/mo. broadband internet and the choice of $30-$40 cable package that works for them, right? This is easy, low-lying fruit that will have a very visible impact on the people.
I know it’s early to think about getting re-elected, but take a minute to think how easy it would be to say, “The average person has saved more than $500 a year on their telecom bills because I made real change.” I have to think voters, regardless of their political affiliation would say, “He’s got a great point.”
I’ve had similar frustrations recently with the TW sale to Spectrum. This happened right as my yearly 12 month “special” with TW expired, so my price went up. I called to see if I could get a better deal(a yearly dance I do) and for the first time was told no. But apparently because of my call they migrated my account from TW to Spectrum, without telling me, which caused me to lose my whole house DVR(Spectrum doesn’t have that) and my digital converter boxes no longer worked. I called to complain, nicely, and go boxes to replace the converters for free, instead of the $4/mo I was paying TW, and a $20 oops fee. So I end up paying about the same, but I lost the whole house DVR, but gained full HBO. Jury is still out if I like the trade.
I remember replying to one of your other articles about this situation, but it still drives me nuts that I have to use Cox because of where I live rather than my preference (sounds like something a politician would bring up about race). I have had the absolute worst experiences with Cox and their incessant need to grind every last penny out of me for any particular features involving their service.
My last wonderful call to them was to get Red Zone, because my office has a football pool and I’m in two fantasy football leagues. There was nothing worse than waking up on Football Sunday and only getting to see one of the eight games showing, especially if it was a game I really didn’t want to see (the final straw was a Steelers vs. Dolphins game).
I ended up getting a nice lady on the phone after about 10 minutes of playing push the numbers on the phone until the robot goes away followed by listen to the same 1 minute music track over and over. I asked her how much it would be for Red Zone, and she said there was a “Red Zone Package” for $7.50 which is loaded with junk channels I will never watch, AND I have to sign up for the entire year instead of getting it when Red Zone is actually valuable. Thank goodness I got every single ESPN and THE FISHING NETWORK WOOHOO! The total length of the call to activate the package was close to 45 minutes, and I was extremely close to cancelling the whole service.
I’m so sick of the Cox nonsense at this point, but I’m literally screwed if I want any form of cable entertainment. I have the same AT&T 3 MB DSL disaster as you if I try to switch, and they will charge me an arm and a leg for each service individually.
I do have one brighter side to the story. I got an Amazon fire stick and it has Kodi on it (another jail break program), which allows me to watch just about everything. The problem is, I have to have internet, which is not the worst since it costs $0.00 a month to have the Kodi. The other problem is the quality and functionality. There are about 30 applications, and each one of them has different programs that work…it’s mind numbingly frustrating sitting there for 10 minutes trying to find a program you want to watch, and sometimes none of them work. They clearly have not pursued making this as effective as cable, because it would absolutely ruin their business, but it is a decent start and a worthy protest against Cox.
I just went through this exact same thing with fios! My bundle is $84.99 which turns into an f’n bill of $155/mo after taxes and rental fees! It is so frustrating. So I asked how much for just internet and phone (phone is needed for business) and it was $129! So that ~$30 is the cost Direct TV Now. So frustrating.
It is amazing how backwards the US can be in some things. First things to come to mind are the two topics you mention here, internet and healthcare.
I don’t watch much tv and most of the local channels can be watched online for free or for a small fee if you pay them directly. I paid about 25 euros for 200 mb/s download with the modem and everything included. Now I decided to add the tv option, knocked the internet speed down to 100 mb/s and a basic set of channels and am paying 29 euros per month(taxes included). In most of Europe I think these prices are about the average and in some places it will be even less.
Also, if I wanted to change something about my services I could just log in to their homepage, change whatever I want online and the the changes would be done instantly without any need to call anyone or go anywhere.
Lazy Man says
Yeah, I think it has to do with “protecting the business model” rather than “what’s best for customers.” One of the best examples might be that if you want “downgrade” services, you have to call someone. If you want to add a service, you can easily do it online. That’s reason enough for me to not want to deal with them, but there’s no alternative.