Cord Cutting: The Next Chapter

Our family dumped DirecTV almost 18 months ago in favor of TiVo and over-the-air (OTA) television. We continued our Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions and added Hulu. After the first year, TiVo charges $149.99 annually ($12.50 per month). Thus we are saving about $90 per month from what we were spending previously.

Last month we set our sights on a new target, Frontier Communications (formerly known as Citizens Communications). For the last ten years, we have been paying Frontier about $85 monthly for a landline telephone and Internet service. (By the way, $15 of that amount was taxes.) Our phone number once belonged to my wife’s grandparents and we figure that they’ve had that number since the 1960’s.

Our attachment to the phone number was both sentimental and contractual. Sentimental since it had been in the wife’s family for her entire life and contractual because many years ago Frontier offered us a ten dollar a month discount on our Internet if we agreed to a two year contract. Once the two years was up, Frontier raised their rates back up and as an added bonus, they had us locked into a contract that automatically renewed annually.

Yeah, in case you didn’t know that, auto renewing contracts are legal in California. Without any affirmation on your part, once you enter into a contract, the contract continues to renew unless you take extraordinary steps to terminate it. Frontier threatened early termination fees of up to $400. I have been meaning to stop the auto renewal for several years but they moved the renewal date on me once and then last year, I didn’t attempt it until I was within the 30 day termination window. This clause said that you can’t terminate the contract within 30 days of the renewal date. Talk about insuring corporate cash flow!

However, this year, I called in January to stop the auto renewal. I recorded the date and time of the call and even got a confirmation number for the request. Then if they gave me grief later on, I would take the “this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes” and ram it down their bureaucratic throats if said that I never called.

Just to make sure, in early May, I called Frontier and asked that my service—both telephone and Internet—be terminated on June 12th (the auto renewal date). I called more than 30 days before the renewal just so I wouldn’t have to refer to the January call. I figured that that gave me over a month to switch to another provider and get all the kinks worked out before my Internet was cut off.

I know at this point that some might be wondering why I was with an obscure company like Frontier in the first place? A fair question and one that I will shed light on now before continuing.

You see back in the heyday of Ma Bell, when there was only one phone company, there were certain areas of the country where it was not cost effective for Ma Bell to service. These orphaned areas of the country—and by country I mean rural areas of the United States—were eventually pooled into Citizens Communications. (If you are thinking Roosevelt, Great Depression, and Rural Electrification Administration, then you are on the right track. I’m sure Wikipedia could give you the whole story if you were curious.)

Anyway, flash forward the better part of a century and some of these rural areas are now developed areas with lots of people. Elk Grove—where I live—is such a place. West of highway 99 you have many choices for Internet and telephone including fiber optic cable because this area was once serviced by Pacific Bell; however, east of highway 99 you will find a different dynamic. Your options where I live are Frontier or Comcast, period. There is nothing else and by law there never will be. Two choices and both with a coper cable as its backbone.

With Frontier, they were happy to provide us a blazing (insert sarcasm here) 5.5 Mb per second. I have 11 to 20 devices in my home competing for bandwidth. Frontier’s Internet went down daily—especially the Wi-Fi. We were incapable of doing anything simultaneously on the Internet; even reading books on the Kindle app was a problem. Only when I called to terminate their service did they ever try to offer me more bandwidth.

Note to Frontier: give me your best offer because I’m a good customer; don’t wait until I’m so fed up with you that I decided to leave. If you had voluntarily raised my speed, I probably would still be with you. ‘Service” and “Customer” should be used together not opposite columns in the balance sheet. I talked with several neighbors about your company and found no one willing to praise you. If your Soviet era monopoly ever ends then so will you.

Anyway, after consulting the neighborhood, I reluctantly opted to try Comcast again. We had Comcast when I was first married. Their Internet went down constantly and their television picture—especially HD—was terrible. Only when we went to DirecTV did our TV picture look like it did at Circuit City. At the time, Frontier’s Internet was better. Over the years, Comcast invested in their equipment and Frontier rested on their laurels. Now Comcast offers speeds over 100 MB per second where I live for about the same price Frontier will sell me 5.5. Same price and twenty times the speed!

Anyway, Friday, May 12th was a memorable one. You see, when we got up in the morning both our phone and Internet were shutoff. I asked multiple people at Frontier to terminate our service on June 12. I spoke with both the customer service person that took my call and the “closer” that tried to get me to change my mind and told both people June 12. Again, no customer service.

Meanwhile, I had attempted to prepare for the switch to Comcast. I went on the Internet and set up an account on the Comcast website and ordered a do-it-yourself installation kit. (Note to readers: you likely don’t need the installation kit.) I bought a modem recommended by Comcast’s website from Amazon and tried hooking it up. After re-running the cable thru my attic, and connecting the modem, I found that the cable to my house was literally unhooked at the street. Trying to connect at the street didn’t result in any signal to the modem. All this had happened prior to being cut-off by Frontier.

Meanwhile back to May 12. After getting settled in at work, I tried a live chat on the Comcast website but after 45 minutes, I never got a response. (I think the dreaded firewall blocked the port so I couldn’t connect.) Next, I tried the option for a callback. Amazingly, I was contacted by a Comcast person in less than a minute. The lady I spoke with confirmed that we were not connected at the street and set up a service call to do that. She said we did not need to be there since the cable was just being connected at the street. She also said that she would call on the following Monday to see if everything was OK.

When I got home, the Amazon purchased modem would not connect. Per diagnostic lights, it had a failure. I tried resetting but with no luck. I decided to send it back and try my luck at Fry’s. On Saturday on the way to Fry’s I dropped the modem off at the nearby Staples. Within an hour of taking the Amazon return to Staples, I had a complete refund from Amazon in my checking account. Sadly, the modem purchased at Fry’s would connect but at very slow speeds; not anywhere near those promised by Comcast.

On Monday, true to her word, the lady from Comcast called. I told her the connection was not working like it should. She sent a service tech to my home at no charge. Per our discussion, the tech called me at work and I met him at the house. He crimped new connectors on the cable at each junction point from the street to my modem and used a signal tester on the line. Inside the house, he used his own modem which test at 250 Mb per second and then attached mine. After a reboot, it connected at just over 100 MB per second.

Subsequent, to installation, I’ve had to reboot the modem once to get my Android phone to connect. I also found that the slow connection to the back of my house was due to a faulty cable from the modem to the Cat 6 cable going to my hub. (Proof that not all store bought cables are to be trusted.)

Oh, Comcast is charging me $39.99 for the first year with no extra taxes attached. So far, it’s a much better deal than Frontier. Lastly, on my final bill from Frontier, they are showing a credit even after shutting me down a month early; so much for early termination.