The Family Experiment – part 3

cable modem

 

We’ve passed the 1-month mark of not having home internet service. As mentioned in previous posts, our family decided to cancel our service through the cable company. The cost had risen to $80 a month, and we’d used up all the limited discount rates, as well as the special deals I had persuaded the company to give us by going in and personally talking to a rep. So this was the challenge: could we get by using the 3GB of fast data each of us had our prepaid phones, for which we each paid $25 a month?

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/the-family-experiment/

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/the-family-experiment-part-2/

We go to our local library about once a week to check out books and DVDs. When I am there or other places that offer free wifi, I try to take advantage of it. The biggest change for all three of us has been a sharp decrease in the number of times a day that we go online. We had gotten into the habit of browsing without thinking. But habits can be altered. I was made much more aware of how often I was accessing the web when I had to plug my phone into the USB cable to make a tethered hotspot connection to my computer. (You can also connect wirelessly by bluetooth, but it’s less secure).

So how did we do on limiting ourselves to 3GB of internet? Well, not so good. One of us reached the limit half-way through the month, one went over the limit just before the month was up just to test how much the speed would be throttled (it went down to the speed of dial-up), and one of us ended at 2.9 GB. In our defense, it was our first month of trying it, and we had times that we forgot to use the wifi signal instead of the cellular data.

The conclusion: It can be done, but it’s harder than you think.

 

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A Few More Pictures Comparing Comcast TV to OTA TV

All of the pictures below are from high-definition channels, which look wonderful on our TV using an over-the-air roof antenna, while looking slightly fuzzy and red on the TV using the Comcast TV signal. Which would you rather look at?

TV compare 4

TV compare 1

TV compare 7

TV compare 8

TV compare 6

TV compare 9

TV compare 3

Comcast vs. Over-The-Air Television

TV compare 5

This week I stopped into my local Comcast office to try to negotiate a better price for our family internet service. For the past four years, I have been quite successful, talking the customer service rep into a much better deal (usually about half the price). This year’s negotiation did not go as well. I have apparently used up every advertised deal, as well as every individualized special deal. I was only able to bring our internet bill down by 25%. But we’ll have the same internet speed for the next 12 months, and we now have a small package of TV channels.

I have resisting their sales pitch for TV service for the past four years. We don’t need TV, I always told them. We just watch Netflix online. Who needs cable TV? But now we have it, about 40 channels, mostly channels that we were already getting OTA (over-the-air) with our wonderful outdoor Clearstream 4 roof antenna.

After my son set up the Comcast TV box, we fired up the TV. Hmm, not impressed. I hauled out the spare TV and set it next to the Comcast TV for comparison. We noticed three things:

1.Comcast TV lagged behind the OTA TV signal by about five seconds. That made it hard to compare the exact picture quality since the scene was always changing.

2.The Comcast TV channels were broadcasting in a lower resolution. High definition was now standard definition, and even standard definition was degraded.  In the picture above, Robert DeNiro is seen on the low-resolution channel Bounce, and he definitely looks sharper on the TV using the roof antenna.

3.The color on the Comcast channels was off, veering into red and purplish tones. The OTA TV needed no picture adjustment, as every color was perfect.

So there you have it. The free over-the-air TV looks way better than Comcast’s watered-down TV service. I imagine if we coughed up money for a high-definition TV box, the picture would look better, but we’re not doing that. We’ll just keep enjoying our high-speed internet and Netflix, watch over-the-air tv with our roof antenna, and occasionally turn on the Comcast TV. Oh well…

 

A Budget You Can Live With: Internet (2017)

One item on your home budget that straddles the line between a “want” and a “need” is internet. You can, in some situations, get by without it. Maybe you can use the computers at work for personal use during lunch or before/after your shift ends. Maybe you live a block from a public library, and you can get a free hour or two of internet. Or maybe you have a neighbor that gives you the password to their network and says they don’t mind if you use it. Given that internet service is easily $50 – $80 a month, you could save close to a thousand dollars a year by not having it.

Having said that, most of us need at least some internet access at home. Several days ago, I got a brochure in the mail from Comcast, listing the prices for internet/phone/tv service. Here’s a snapshot:

2017-01-26-comcast-xfinity-internet-prices

They advise you to save money by “bundling” – also buying TV and phone service through them, but generally after your initial 6-month good deal, the price quietly jumps up. My solution? Only subscribe to what you really need. In our case, we don’t need their phone or tv services, despite never-ending pleas from Comcast.

So once or twice a year, I walk into the local Comcast office and talk to a live person . First, I let them know that their internet service works well most of the time. Then I go on to tell them (politely) that we live simply, don’t need all the bells and whistles, and will not spend more than $40 a month on internet service, and what kind of deal can we make? Amazingly, this has worked for about four years now. The customer service rep looks through the special deals they have, and matches me up with something that we haven’t already used. If they can’t find any advertised deal, they shove a paper at me to sign saying I threatened to quit, so they are giving me a special price. It generally covers six to twelve months, at which time I return to them to talk again.

Then I ask them to print me a confirmation of the monthly price, and how long it will last. Yes, they have tried to up the price on me half-way through the agreed-upon time, at which time I walked in with my printed confirmation sheet, and they corrected it. We have Blast internet – listed at $79.95 a month – for $39.99 a month. Several years ago, I was actually able to negotiate the price down to $29.99 a month!

So that takes care of home internet. What about that data on your cell phone, a.k.a., internet on the go? Two suggestions: 1) have a cell phone that has unlimited calling and texting, but NO data, or 2) turn off the data manually on your phone, and only turn it on when you really need it. By doing this, I maintain a cell phone bill of about $22 a month. If I’m at the store and need to check a price online, I use the store’s free wifi signal instead of data. The majority of stores, doctor’s offices, hospital, and public buildings now have free wifi, so make use of it.

One more thought on internet service at home: don’t rent the equipment from Comcast or AT&T. As you can see from the price chart above, Comcast will charge you $10 a month for the modem, and $10 a month the wireless device, adding $20 a month to your bill. That’s $240 a year. We bought both devices at Best Buy years ago for less than $200, and avoid the rental equipment fee.

So take a close look at your internet bills – the home one and the cell phone one – and see if you can get buy on less internet, or negotiate a better deal. Talk to your service providers. The worst they can say is no, and they might just reduce your bill.