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Verizon FIOS vs. Cable – Jersey Joe Makes the Switch and Crowns the Winner [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

I finally did it. I pulled the plug on cable and made the change to Verizon FiOS. I had seen the zillions of commercials touting everybody’s service as superior. Well, I’m spilling the beans and telling exactly why I made the change, how the installation went, which is cheaper, and the pros and cons of both!

In my area of northern New Jersey, Comcast held the monopoly on cable television until Verizon began installing their FiOS service around town. Unless you wanted to switch to satellite television or back to an antenna, you were pretty much stuck with Comcast.

Verizon FiOS operates on fiber optics. The television, phone, and internet signals are sent via fiber optic lines installed both above and underground. Traditional cable television is sent via copper cables also strung both above and underground. Many of the original copper co-ax cables have been around since cable TV service came to this area in the 1980’s.

Before going digital, cable companies were only able to send a few dozen channels into the home.

Cable TV lines along with other utility lines hang from overhead poles on a foggy night.

As technology improved, cable companies began to offer more. Hundreds of channels, on-demand services, telephone, and internet are all being pushed through the lines.  With the advent of digital television, channels are now sent digitally as ones and zeros, with all sets in the home required to have a cable decoder box. Comcast switched to this format for me a couple of years ago.

There is only a certain amount of information that can be pushed along the single copper wire, which requires some cable companies to down convert their picture signals. This results in lower quality video on a vast majority of channels.  Certain channels such as HDNet and Discovery have clauses in their contracts that prevent the downgrading of their signals. Think of it as having to push more and more air into the narrow opening of a balloon.

I had subscribed to the Comcast basic TV and internet package. The cost finally ballooned to $135 per month. That included digital cable, but none of the premium channels. I called their customer service and asked what I could do to lower the price. By adding home phone service and going for a “triple play” package, it would lower my cost to $119 per month with tax. They said I would need new equipment for my phone service and they would have to install it.

I agreed and signed on for the plan in March 2011 and I was able to cancel at any time.

That following Saturday, a Comcast technician installed the new mega phone modem.  My phone jack in the wall would no longer work and instead, it would have to be plugged into the ugly, bulky modem. I was not happy to see on my next month’s bill that my modem rental charge went up with the new equipment, neither of which was disclosed beforehand.

Slowly but surely, my bill started going up again.  I wasn’t adding any new services or making long distance phone calls. The phone just sits there and answers calls from Telemarkers and debit collectors looking for people who had this phone number 6 years ago.

It seemed like every month I was getting another notice that my bill was going up, while we weren’t getting any new channels. In fact, my friends in South Jersey have more HD channels than I did, plus had premium channels, and paid less with Comcast. My patience was starting to come to an end.

The charges on my monthly bill were:

Triple play, TV Digital Preferred (package) and Video on Demand – $52.35
(including charges for: LTD Digital Service – $16, 1 Digital Converter – $2.75, and 1 Remote Control – 20¢)

High Speed Internet – $29.86

CDV Unlimited (Phone) – 27.78

Additional cost:

Universal Connectivity Charge – 84¢

And the taxes:

NJ Sales Tax 89¢

Local Franchise Fee 81¢

State Monthly Assessment 10¢

FCC Regulatory Fee 8¢

Internet State Monthly Assessment 5¢

Digital Voice Sales Tax $2.49

911 Fee 90¢

Grand Total of $132.40 per month

It gets better; I got a notice in the mail that my bill would balloon to $135.05 starting in January 2012.

I’ve had several friends who call the Comcast customer retention department on a regular basis and threaten to leave in order to get their bill lowered. After a while, Comcast will give in and lower those rates. That’s what I did when signing up for the triple play, but my bill was actually going higher than where I started.

Verizon FiOS on the other hand, has been pushing to sign on more customers in the New York City area. It’s no secret that NYC residents are very unhappy with their Time Warner Cable, especially after having the MSG (Madison Square Garden) sports channels yanked over a carriage dispute, just before the New York Knicks and Rangers seasons.

As part of their holiday promotion, FiOS began offering a deal for $89 per months for HDTV, 2 or 3 adapters, high speed internet, wireless router and phone service. Plus, free DVR service for as long as you stay at your current address. If you sign up online, you get another $10 off your bill per month.

It seemed like it might be too good to be true, so I began my research. I scoured the internet for reviews on the FiOS service and if it was available in my area. I discovered my entire city has not been wired up yet, but my address was!  However, residents just a few blocks away are currently out of luck.

The biggest pain for me in dealing with utility companies is usually service and repair. My bosses are not very enthusiastic about giving time off for TV repair. Fortunately as part of the holiday push, FiOS was doing Saturday installations on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

I did a double check with a customer service representative to see if these Saturday dates were truly available, since no other Saturday dates were. They were easy to find via a chat box on their site. He instructed me that these were special dates for the holidays and they usually don’t do Saturday installations.

That did it – I was sold. I set the installation appointment for early morning on New Year’s Eve.

The Verizon FiOS HD receiver hooked up in my living room.

When filling out the online forms to sign up, I had to undergo a soft credit check. FiOS uses this to determine if the customer would be a risk or not. You can choose not to do this, but you will be forced to pay a $250 equipment deposit (payable online via credit card). Doing the credit check bypasses that fee.

On the day of installation, I got a call at 8:30am from Alex the installation technician saying he would be here in 30 minutes and he was.

The Verizon FiOS battery backup box mounted on the wall.

He first had to run a line from the nearby utility pole to the building. Next, he drilled a hole right through the brick wall into my bedroom and installed a large white box on the inside and another on the outside. The inside box contains a battery backup and reset functions for the FiOS. The outside box is the optical data terminal.

Alex plugged my land line phone back into the jack on the wall. Thankfully, the telephone no longer has to sit near the modem.

He then quickly cut the cord to my cable and switched the boxes. It took a few minutes for the FiOS box to boot up and I was ready to go. Dispatch had forgotten to give him a non-HD box for my bedroom, so he had to find a fellow technician that was currently working in Hoboken who had an extra. Alex came back as fast as he could and everything was on.

The wireless router included with Verizon FiOS.

He installed some configuration software on my home computer that would give me access to Verizon customer service and for programming the wireless router.  While he was fiddling with the PC, I was busy exploring all the new functions on my TV.

First off, the picture is 1000% better. Yes, 1000%! The images are super crystal clear on every channel, especially the HD. The whole process was worth it for that fact, alone. I also learned that there are additional local channels in the area that I was not receiving with Comcast. My number of HD channels has more than doubled and I am not even subscribing to their top channel package.

By pressing the Widgets button on the remote, Verizon FiOS offers many smart phone app like features.

Alex introduced me to all the FiOS TV widgets. By pressing a button my remote, you get a ton of widgets (just like apps as you would on a smart phone). With these, I can check the local traffic cams, get restaurant reviews, and even have Facebook pop up on my TV. There’s no way I’m putting Facebook on my TV… that would just be too much.

Just like a smart phone, there are apps on everything from games to sports with a one time 99¢ fee. These are cool to have, but I find that I rarely use them.

The Verizon FiOS channel guide.

The interactive channel guide places stations in a much more logical order as my old Comcast guide did. On Comcast, my HD channels were in the 200s and more were in the 800’s. The local stations were unorganized requiring me to type in some random channel number. It was dumb how they were split apart, but FiOS has all the locals organized neatly in the 500’s.  If I want FOX 5 New York in HD – I type in 505, that didn’t happen for HD on Comcast.

My only criticism with the guide is the extra menu on the guide that shows only the channels I’m subscribed to. A few still pop up that I do not get. When you try to click through to one of those, an error message asking if you want to purchase pops up.

Happy with my new service, it was time to cancel my Comcast. Let the unpleasant sleigh ride begin…

When I called the following Monday to cancel, they just said “OK.”  They didn’t offer me a deal, they didn’t try to keep me as a customer, and they didn’t even ask why I was changing… nothing. I’m glad I was such a valuable customer.

She informed me that a technician would be there within the next few days to disconnect the cable from the pole. I got an automated message saying they would be there in two days from 8am to 8pm. If the tech ever came, I have no idea, I was at work.

The following Saturday, I took all my boxes, modem, and remotes to the Comcast customer service building in Jersey City.  Obviously, some bad things have gone down a this place over the years, as there is a security guard and mega thick bullet proof glass that surrounds the customer service representatives.

The long line for the lone customer service agent at the Comcast office in Jersey City, New Jersey.

I got there shortly before 10am and there was a huge line right out to the door. The security guard was letting people in one at a time to stand on line. That’s because the geniuses managing this place had only one woman working the teller counter. A manager was just walking around behind her and split a short time later. All while there were several dozen people in a line that snaked around the waiting room.

If Saturday is your big day at your customer service center, shouldn’t you have more people on staff working, Comcast?  Come on, really. My blood pressure was going up as was everyone else’s, but then I quickly became amused at the comedy show I was witnessing.

People were in there for all kinds of dumb reasons. One guy told the woman “I bought a big TV and the picture won’t get big.” He had no idea he needed an HD box and HDMI cables. Another guy said his remote wouldn’t work and when she inspected it, she found the batteries were dead. Others were there to pay parts of bills or return equipment.

After waiting in a baking hot line for 45 minutes, I finally go to the front. It was then that they opened a second window and she took me right away. I told her that I was returning my equipment and just cancelled my service. Again, no attempt to keep me. She only told me I had to remove my one receiver from its cardboard box and place everything inside this giant glass cube that she swung back around into her area. When shots break out here, she’s safe – I die! She handed me a receipt and I was thankfully on my way as the line behind me was even longer.

Three weeks later on January 26th – I get a bill in the mail from Comcast wanting the now $135.05 for the next month’s service! I got on the phone and they had no idea that I had cancelled my service. She was able to track down when I called and corrected my account for the error. I was to get a refund for the remaining days I had left from the previous month and to ignore the bill.

On January 31, I got another bill my account was -$66.74 and that would be my refund.  It took them over a month to mail me a check, which I finally received on March 7th.  Can I charge them a late fee?

My additional SD Verizon FiOS cable box for the old bedroom TV.

In the days since, I have really enjoyed my FiOS service, with the exception of one major problem.

A couple of times my TV, internet, and phone all locked up. Everything goes dead. One night, I was watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and the internet died and the screen went to black. I called the 800 service line and she was getting numerous error messages.

She instructed me to reset the box on my bedroom wall. I had to unplug it, remove the battery, and plug everything back in. As soon as I did, everything came back online within seconds. After failing four other times, a technician was sent on a Saturday and replaced the outside data box. I’ve had no trouble since and they actually called back to check up.

With my new Verizon FiOS service, I am saving a ton of money each month.  My new bill breaks down like this:

Triple Play        $94.98
(contains Digital Voice $30, FiOS ExtremeHD $54.99, and FiOS internet 15/5 $30)

NJ Sales Tax $1.17

911 Emergency Response Fee 90¢

Federal Universal Service Fee $1.74

Video Franchise Fee $1.28

CATV Universal Access Fund 18¢

Federal Regulatory Recovery Fee $5.35

And a whole bunch of discounts:

24 month FiOS Digital Voice Discount -$5

24 month FiOS bundle credit -$10

Another 24 month bundle credit -$5

Yet another 24 month bundle credit – $5

Holiday Bundle Credit -$10

24 Month Contract Discount -$5

The holiday bundle credit was a year end special they were running and is no longer available.  Also two of the $5 discounts were for signing up online.

New Grand Total monthly bill – $80.34

Another benefit of signing up online is they will also wave all of the activation fees, which start at $49.99.

As a requirement of a two year contract, after 30 days, you are subject to a $250 cancellation fee that goes down $10 every month.

THE 411

Name: Verizon FiOS

What:  fiber optic cable service alternative

Website: www.verizon.com/getfios

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:

So far, I am very happy with the service and the monthly savings of $54.71 make it worth it.

The Verizon FiOS reboot screen.

The HDTV – while I don’t have the top tier package, I have more channels than I did with Comcast and a free DVR. The picture quality is substantially better and the guide is better organized and graphically more attractive. The drawback is when the boxes malfunction; it can take a few minutes to boot everything back up.

The Internet – while I am paying for the lowest end 15/5 internet speed, it seems to be faster than Comcast. I got tired of seeing all the commercials from Time Warner, Comcast, FiOS, and others using some vague testing advertising how their internet was the fastest. In my user opinion, FiOS wins. I also like the slim wireless router that I am not paying a monthly rental charge for. There is no need for a cable modem as that information is stored at the FiOS head end. I was scared at first after having a very bad experience with Verizon DSL a decade ago, but everything has been great for the most part, sans the outdoor box replacement issue I described earlier.

The phone – while I don’t use a land line that much, it is nice to be able to plug into a wall jack with FiOS. Comcast requires you to plug your phone into the back of the large, bulky modem and that was something they didn’t disclose ahead of time. The audio quality is also clearer. At times, Comcast’s quality would sometimes sound like streaming video from the Internet.

I have been a subscriber of Direct TV and Dish Network satellite services in the past and my parents are a current Dish customer.  The FiOS picture seems to be a bit superior to both and the addition of the on-demand features is a bonus.  FiOS beats both DirectTV and Dish Network in terms of cost as well.

So, that’s my story. I’ll keep you updated on any new issues I have. I did get a notice in the mail, that they are dropping two lower rated channels, Bridges TV and FUNimation. I love new technology and am glad FiOS is available for me to give a try.

I don’t work for Verizon, nor do I get anything for doing this. My blogumn is about making life fun and easier and saving $50 a month certainly helps! I know some people have had complaints and are upset over the loss of certain channels, but I’m just reporting my experience. If I ever start to have problems, or issues with pricing, you can bet I will report on that. I always update my blogumns as new information warrants.

If you do decide to give this a go make sure to sign up online – that’s the best way to get big discounts off of your bill!

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