“Hello, Rob.”

In our area, Comcast is the only serious player for Internet access. We have a plan that is 300mb/s download, 20mb/s up, at home. I was surprised on a recent trip to the United Kingdom at how much faster this is than what they enjoy, with the exception of fiber to the home, available in about two locations in the country. Most people have 40 to 80mb/s.

In Rockford, the competition offers about 4mb/s download, as they use ADSL 1.0. ADSL 2.1 is rolling out across Europe, maybe even across the US, but AT&T hasn’t implemented that locally, so people are stuck with 4mb/s and really slow latency or Comcast.

There’s a joke going around:

Question: How do you fix America’s drug problem?  
Answer: Make all drugs legal, but they’re only available through Comcast’s customer service line.  

Comcast has an issue with its reputation. It uses third-party companies to sign you up for new deals, but when you actually decide to sign up for those deals, the information seems to go missing. You end up paying for more than you understood you were supposed to, and it’s always your fault for “misunderstanding.”

I’ve discovered that the best place to actually change your plan is at the local office, where equipment can be dropped off. You won’t get any special rates, but you will know what you’re going to pay.

Here are some things that people don’t know they’re going to end up paying until they get the bill:

  • Equipment fees (DVR, cable modem/router, set-top box for all TVs — coming soon, every Roku that has the Xfinity app on it). 
  • Random fees, local TV access fees, sports network fees, etc.  (These are nonregulated, designed to collect more money from you, as local TV channels collect money from cable companies so those companies can rebroadcast local channels).

What can be done to lessen these fees?

Cancel your phone system. In the United States, it’s unlikely that you actually use a landline anymore. Almost everyone uses cellphones and has unlimited minutes on them. When you have phone service with Comcast, you’re locked into using their modem.  They will try to explain that it’s cheaper to keep their phone system, but it isn’t — it may only cost you $1 for the line, but then you have $15 in phone taxes and must use their equipment.

Replace Comcast’s modem/router. I never got on with this piece of equipment. In my experience, it randomly drops printers and reboots itself. For residential use, a Netgear cable modem will do nicely, and I really like the Google Wifi Mesh router. This will cost you around $400 but will earn itself back in less than two years. However, if it breaks, you’ll be responsible for buying a new one — so put it behind a surge protector.

If you want to keep TVyou can lower your package to the minimum (basic/local channels only) for around $9 plus the local channel fees. You will still need their equipment, unless you replace Comcast’s TV equipment with your own.

I recommend two ways to do this, both of which require a CableCARD. It’s about the size of a credit card and was mandated by the FCC when digital cable came into existence.  It allows your programming to be received on a non-Comcast device. The most well-known of these is the Tivo DVR. However, I’m a big fan of the HDHomeRun Cablecard. This device has three tuners in it and can stream your channels to any device on your local network. If none of your devices can do this automatically, then an Amazon Fire TV can be picked up for as little as $40. Cheap enough to buy one for all your TVs. Remember that you’ll only be able to watch three things at the same time, though.

SiliconDust, the makers of the HDHomeRun, also have some DVR software. This is reasonably easy to install but will require a network hard drive, or some computer knowledge, and will add DVR functionality to the setup. You can do things like stop the recording on one device and resume it on a second while not paying any equipment fees.

You can also add a rooftop antenna to the mix, then add an antenna network device from SiliconDust to allow multiple streams to record or be watched at the same time. The software will work out whether to record from the antenna or the cable channel automatically. 

Keep up to date with technology. Fifth-generation wireless service is likely to change how broadband works and is priced. 5G promises much faster internet access than even a cable connection, wirelessly. However, the main players are cellphone networks. They enjoy their low data caps and expensive charges. It will be interesting to see whether they decide to compete with Comcast or just offer this new service to smartphone users.

Argue your package. It’s public knowledge that new customers get better packages than existing customers. Arguing that you’re going to cut your package down to the minimum (ie, lowest-level internet) is normally enough incentive for the retention team to offer you the introductory package. For lowest-level TV (not local channels only, one level above), Boost Internet (300mb/s down in our area) offers an introductory package of around $99 a month; the full price is $119. I think this is a reasonable start for most people want to save money but don’t need premium channels. Be prepared to fully cut back if they won’t budge.

It’s possible to get unlimited 4G, whole-house internet solutions. However, these have low data caps; around 50GB a month. Comcast offers 1TB or 1,000GB a month, so if you’re an avid Netflix watcher, this is not going to work for you. I did see an unlimited plan from www.ubifi.net for $90 a month. It’s a reasonable alternative to Comcast, but it’s priced a bit higher. One advantage is that you can pick up the device and travel with it, so it’s probably better for people who escape to the South during the winter.

>Links
These are not necessarily the cheapest, but they will future-proof you for a while:

Modem

https://www.amazon.com/NETGEAR-XFINITY-Comcast-Charter-CM700-1AZNAS/dp/B07976SNVB

Router

https://www.amazon.com/Google-WiFi-system-3-Pack-replacement/dp/B01MAW2294

Cable TV

https://www.silicondust.com/product/hdhomerun-prime-6/

This is not out yet but will have 6 tuners. The 3-tuner version is discontinued but available on ebay secondhand; you may be able to get one refurbished.

https://www.ebay.com/p/Silicondust-HDHomerun-Prime-3-Tuners-HDHR3-CC-DLNA-network-tuner-CableCARD/2255305603

Once you have one, you need to get a cable card from Comcast. I would suggest taking your TV equipment to the local office to return it and ask for a CableCARD there. If they appear lost, use the word TiVo (they don’t know what an HDHomeRun is).

Fire TV Stick

https://www.amazon.com/Fire-TV-Stick-with-All-New-Alexa-Voice-Remote/dp/B0791TX5P5/

These are available at Walmart and Best Buy. Once set up, install the HDHomeRun app.

4K version

https://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Fire-TV-Stick-4K-with-All-New-Alexa-Voice-Remote/dp/B079QHML21/

Antenna TV

https://www.amazon.com/SiliconDust-HDHomeRun-Connect-HDHR5-4US-Multi-Directional/dp/B07CHFS3L1

I suggest getting a rooftop antenna.

DVR software

https://www.silicondust.com/dvr-service/

See their site for recommended network drives. If you get stuck installing, let me know.