New year, new way

Well, we are further down the “cord cutting” path as of 12/31. Friday night I got my billing notification from Cox… over double the amount I had expected, and well over $400. There was an unexplained “equipment” charge of $122, and some other new stuff. Apparently when we ported the phone number to Ooma, they canceled the phone service… along with a bunch of “package discounts” that significantly increased the cable TV costs.

I spent half an hour Monday gathering up all the Cox equipment. One Contour TV box, two mini boxes, a CableCard, the phone modem box, and a “tuning resolver” of some sort that was connected to the HDHomeRun box that had the CableCard. Took it all up to the Cox store, and returned it all. I told the nice woman there that I wanted to drop everything except Internet. She did not seem surprised at all, and much to my surprise didn’t even try to talk me out of it. I suspect it’s pretty common now.

I’d been seeing a persistent nag box on the Cox web site for the past few weeks, telling me I could upgrade to “GigaBlast” 1 Gbps Internet service for $99.99 per month — for the first year, anyway, with no indication of the cost after that period. That’s what they have been charging me for 300 Mbps, but it requires a new DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem. I just bought a nice DOCSIS 3.0 less than two years ago, so I wasn’t wild about that since 300 Mbps is more than adequate for our needs. The GB service is normally $119.99, not that they disclose that anywhere I could find. I asked her what the next step down in Internet access would cost — she said 100 Mbps for $87.95. That’s not much of a discount for a 2/3 reduction in speed, so I passed. However, that caused her to look at my other options. She said we qualified for a special deal on GigaBlast. $65.99 for two years, $85.99 after that, AND a free new cable modem with wifi. Cox calls it “Panoramic Wifi” for some reason. How could I pass that up? Another $34 off my monthly bill? Sure, let’s do that.

I wasn’t expecting this new twist, so I hadn’t given any thought to how to make this new equipment work in our network. I spent an hour or two getting things set up. I thought I’d keep the existing wifi router, so I created a new wifi network. As it turns out I could have saved myself a lot of extra work, because I ended up just using the Cox router and unplugging the old Netgear box. I may use it to set up a guest network, I don’t know. Anyway, we now have fairly good wifi coverage and really good speeds. At some point I’ll drag coax up to the shelf on the main floor where the Netgear router lived, so we will have better coverage. Sure wish I’d thought of that when we did the remodel and it would have been easy. I’m just glad those two Ethernet runs aren’t stapled down to the studs; I’ll be able to use one as a pull line to pull the coax through.

The new hardware and service solutions are still not perfect, but we’re living with it. That’s a subject for another blog post. If you’re looking for a seamless transition or a totally trouble-free experience, we’re not there yet and may never be. Some of us remember when you could pick up a telephone and make a call to anyone, always know for sure you’re going to get a dial tone, calls virtually never got disconnected for no reason, and the voice quality — while not stellar — was always the same. With simplicity comes reliability, I guess. Now, I will grant that we are a little bit of an edge case. I could have gone out and bought a new TV for the family room and used its built-in Amazon/Hulu/whatever apps. That means it all gets power cycled at least once a day. I could have gone with a Fire TV Stick, same deal. I didn’t, because of our specific hardware limitations. After dealing with the Cube for a while, though, I’m going to try the 4K Stick and see if that works for us. Long story, but the Fire TV Stick (or anything else) would have required a second remote. Or so I thought. As it turns out, the newest remote does have an IR emitter to control the soundbar.

So here’s the score so far… our monthly Cox bill, back before our “special deal” ran out, was $210 per month for Internet, TV and phone. We weren’t paying anything extra for streaming services — no Netflix, Hulu, etc. We have Amazon Prime, but I treat that separately because it pays for itself between shipping and credit card discounts. That amount had been gradually creeping upward for over a year as little additions were made to fees and surcharges. After the special deal expired, we were paying $241 monthly. That did include HBO and Showtime — utterly worthless wastes of money, and I just hadn’t gotten around to canceling them both. That would have dropped the bill to roughly $215.

Our total monthly spend now works out as follows:

  • Ooma Premiere phone service $17.64/month
  • Hulu with Live TV $42.77 per month
  • GigaBlast Internet $65.99 per month

Total new monthly spend: $126.40. Total savings: Between $86 and $114 per month, depending on how you look at it. Is over $1K to nearly $1400 a year worth the incremental amount of button pushing to watch TV? I think yes.

Can we save more? I don’t know, but I rather doubt it. We’re paying Hulu quite a bit for the live TV portion. Can we cut that down? Not really. Apps for several networks we watch require a cable TV sign-on to use. Ooma Premiere is costing us about 1/3 what Cox was charging us, and for more and better features. Honestly I don’t know that we can do a lot better. I was paying more when I was running my own Asterisk VOIP PBX and connecting directly to a VOIP backbone provider. We pay about $11.50 per month for “enhanced” caller ID, and some call blocking features that have been moderately effective at reducing the number of robocalls and scammers ringing the house phones. Worth it.

Oh, and when I got home from the Cox store I received an email begging me to stay. They’d cut my rates by 40% if I came back, they said. For a while, anyway. Sorry, too little too late. If you wanted to keep me as a customer, then why were you screwing us by overcharging? If you’ll sell it to me for $144 per month, then why were we paying $240? I don’t want a vendor that I have to call every few months and threaten to leave, then re-negotiate our deal. I don’t enjoy doing it, and I don’t enjoy being taken for granted. We don’t hate Cox, but quite frankly they are pricing themselves out of the market.