Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Best Deal For Comcast Customers

Computers are too damn complex. When my email stops working, I know how difficult it can be to narrow down the problem. Is it my broadband provider? My mail provider? My computer? My router? My toaster oven?

I have a more complex setup than most people - I use a 3rd party email provider. I accept the additional complexity of this but many people would not - they want the same provider for both email and broadband. They figure that broadband providers provide basic email service for free anyway. Plus, there's less fingerpointing when things break.

Wouldn't it be even better if we could simplify even further? Hey, broadband providers can! Internet service, video service, and phone service all from one company. One bill. One number to call for problems. Lately, I've been seeing the One Bill mantra played up more and more in advertisements. Not so much for the One Number For Problems though - I guess no one wants to focus on problems (especially when there are so many of them).

A Good Time Was Had By Almost All

I was reminded of the goal of simplification during the most recent meeting of the Montgomery County TAC (Telecommunications Advisory Committee) on May 18 2006. A good time was had by all. Well, all except the two Comcast representatives who gave a briefing to the committee. Admitting that things had not been going well in Montgomery County for some time, Angela Lee and Erin Pinkney attempted to put the right spin on it.

Angela, Comcast Senior Director of Government Affairs for MC and PG (and soon to include Frederick, thanks to the purchase of the Adelphia market but pending a lawsuit) described how complaints were now at a "very low level, lower probably than in years." Oooh, don't you just love unprovably vague assertions?!

Let's recast that in a different (but equally vague) way: Comcast's complaint levels have been so bad for so long, that anything has to be better. (See how this game is played?)

Attempting to shift the blame as much as possible, Angela noted that the number of problems (without giving an actual number, of course) due to Verizon construction was down significantly. (So Comcast replacing their area General Manager was just an everyday personnel change?)

Remind Me Why I'm Here

Erin Pinkney, Area Director of Marketing for Comcast, then had her turn. Apparently under a total misimpression as to her purpose for being at the meeting, she launched into a description of Comcast's latest products. Actually, a better phrase would be Comcast's latest marketing because that's all it was. Same products, different promos.

The committee politely listened to Erin go on about how customers want simplification (which she termed "lifestyle simplification" ) for about 15 minutes. Finally one committee member rudely interrupted and said: So my cable was cut for 3 weeks - no service - and only after I filed an official complaint with the county did I get a temporary drop. You promised me it would be replaced in 30 days but it's been 5 weeks - when are you going to fix it already?

At this point, the concept of simplification fell on the floor as committee members let loose with a barrage of questions and comments - paraphrased below. After each, I've shown Comcast's paraphrased response:

TAC: You're offering phone service? What are your reliability figures?
TAC: How can we be assured that your E911 is reliable?
TAC: I wouldn't trust my phone service to Comcast.
Erin: We have a new culture at Comcast!

TAC: How will you deal with phone outages? These are important!
TAC: How can I report outages if my Comcast phone is out?
Erin: Ask our Director of Technical Operations!

TAC: Why doesn't Comcast send out people who can fix the problem? I'm tired of getting people visit me who say "Oh, you need a line tech."
Erin: Miss Utility is causing severe delays!

TAC: Why can't we get Nats games?
Erin: We're negotiating!

TAC: Why is Comcast failing to provide us with FCC-required close-captioning statistics.
Erin: Write us a letter.
TAC: We did already!

TAC: We're still seeing Verizon-related construction problems.
Angela: Yes, but less so.

TAC: Channels are disappearing from the analog band, will we get price reductions?
Erin: No, but we'll give you a free month of digital!

TAC: Why are additional digital boxes so expensive?
Erin: ... completely non-responsive ...

As you can tell from the last answer, I got tired of writing down questions followed by non-responsive answers. Indeed, the only reason I wrote down as many as I did is because they were, quite simply, outrageously entertaining in their non-responsiveness. Ok, the answer to the Nats question was responsive ... albeit useless.

To elaborate on a few:

Erin used the phrase new culture at Comcast several times in her answers. This came up yet again after one extended diatribe by a committee member who works for Geeks On Call. He frequently has to call Comcast on a customer's behalf - so he's got plenty of experience. He described typical interactions like this:

Comcast: Do you have your own router?
Customer: Yes.
Comcast: Then the problem must be in your router!

After describing how unhelpful the Comcast phone reps were, the same committee member asked directly: So what do you mean by "new culture at Comcast"?
Erin: I mean a new culture from a marketing perspective!

That certainly left everyone speechless! And in response to another question, Angela expanded: There is a focus on customer service! and she requested to Bear with us! Hmm, I've never seen that latter phrase in Comcast's advertisements!

Promos That Backfire

Speaking of ads, Angela and Erin went over a new promotion: the Comcast Triple Play. It works like this: If you don't already subscribe to all three of video, internet, and phone, you can do so at $33/month for each additional service for 12 months.

Who might find this attractive? I see the pricing targeted at 3 different groups:
  1. Comcast TV and HSI (internet) customers who don't like the high price Comcast is asking for phone service.
  2. Comcast TV customers who don't have Comcast HSI but are looking at (or already have) Verizon FIOS and traditional phone service.
  3. Comcast HSI customers who already have satellite TV and traditional phone service.
In each case, there are substantial discounts to be had. For example in case 1, Comcast's deal is a 17% discount off their nominal cost of phone service. In case 2, Comcast is undercutting their own internet price by 23% as well as Verizon FIOS by 8%.

There are some differences in the internet service between Comcast and Verizon and I'm not going to go any further into that. And I'm not going to try to compare Comcast TV with the satellite equivalents - because they're harder to compare.

But it is easy to find a better price for phone service than Comcast's deal (which quite frankly is absurdly overpriced). Indeed, Verizon's VoiceWing (unlimited nationwide) package is $24.95. And there are even cheaper deals out there.

But if you want lifestyle simplification (to use Erin's phrase), Verizon should be considered. For example, say you're the typical long-term Comcast customer considering Comcast's offer for their Triple Play. So you have Comcast HSI+TV and are paying $96.60 (before taxes and fees). Add on Comcast phone for the special $33 and you're up to $129.60. But if you wanted to get the same three comparable services from Verizon, it would be Verizon-DirecTV ($44.99) + VoiceWing ($24.95) + FIOS ($34.95) for a total of $104.95. That's significantly lower. And the disparity is even greater if you're a Comcast Digital TV customer.

So if you're a new customer, the Comcast deal looks good - $99 for all three services. That's $5.95 less than Verizon. But Comcast's deal doesn't look too good if you're an existing Comcast customer. For substantial savings, you're far better off switching to Verizon. (Plus you get significantly higher upload speeds.)

Ironic, isn't it? If this new Comcast promo makes anything clear, it is that the best deal for Comcast customers is to leave Comcast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

right on! thanks for explaining this, I'm a long time Comcast(HSI and regular cable TV)customer switching to Verizon FIOS - there is another benefit in that Verizon offers like 140 channels on the basic tv pkg, and one's I've been wanting to get like BBC America, National Geographic Channel, etc. - I tried asking Comcast about it and all they could offer was I'd have to get the extra premium pkg and a tv box for more channels which was free for a few months, then charge an extra $39 a month! So my monthly charge would have been about $140 (by next year) for comparable TV and internet, that's not even including phone! That made the FIOS decision for me. At the end of the day, the Comcast sales rep that came to my door had to agree with me! -- Comcast is becoming obsolete. Added to that, every time I did need someone to come out, Comcast said "it'll be a week before a service tech can come out there"! Indeed sometimes it was 3 days or 4 days, one time it was a week before I had internet again. Comcast has long had the monopoly in this area and overpriced and you had to beg for customer service! Let's hope Verizon service will be better and no big rate hikes in a year.