Thursday, July 3, 2014

The $531 grudge

It's now been a year since we made the decision to dump Verizon as our phone provider and ended up with cable TV as part of the bargain. Basically, it turned out that for the first year, at least, we could get a special deal on "triple play" service—Internet, VOIP, and TV—that would make it cheaper than paying for phone and Internet separately. So we figured we'd just drop the TV service after one year and switch to phone and Internet only, which we assumed would be cheaper at that point.

Well, turns out that assumption was a bit hasty. Yesterday we got a letter from Optimum saying that our current one-year promotion was running out, but they could "automatically place us in a new twelve month promotion that's well below our regular rates." Under the new 12-month deal, our TV and Internet service would stay the same price, but our phone service would jump up by $15, raising the total cost of all three services to around $95.25. Hmm. Was this a better deal than phone and Internet separately? Would we save more money by keeping the TV service or dropping it?

I tried to answer this question by searching through the pricing plans on Optimum's website, but it turns out there's no straight answer there to the question, "What do you charge?" Their special promotional prices are splashed all over the site—$79.99 a month for Triple Play service, $49.90 for Internet and phone—but these rates, if you read the fine print, are available only to new customers and are good for only one year. And even in the fine print, all it says about what happens at the end of that year is that your price per month will go up to "the regular rate." What that rate is, they simply won't tell you.

So, to get a straight answer to my question, I had to contact customer service. Fortunately, I was able to do this via online chat rather than a phone call, so I wasn't subjected to hold music while waiting. After getting through to the billing department, I put my question to them: What would it cost us to drop our TV service and go to just Internet and phone? Based on our experience when we first signed up for service, Brian had predicted that at this point, they would come up with a better deal in an effort to persuade us to keep the TV service. But apparently, the better deal was the one they'd already offered us in their letter, because the rep promptly came back with, "That would then void the promotion pricing - so it would be $94.90 (before tax)." In other words, we'd have to pay slightly more each month to drop our TV service than we would to keep it.

At this point, it looked like the $95-a-month deal was the best we could get. But just for the sake of comparison, I went to Verizon's website to find out how much they it would cost us to go back to them. I quickly determined that switching just the phone back to Verizon would make no sense at all; we'd pay $60 a month for their standard phone service, plus another $60 a month to Optimum for the Internet service. However, if we were willing to switch both phone and Internet over to Verizon, it would actually cost us less than we'd pay for the phone alone. After punching in a few numbers and tweaking a few options, I came up with a final price of $51 a month for the first year. Which means that sticking with Optimum would cost us $44.25 a month, or $531 a year. Was our grudge against Verizon really worth that much to us?

I put this question to Brian, and he pointed out to me that while Verizon might say they could give us phone and Internet service for $51 a month, our past experience proved that this just wasn't true. No matter what promises they might make, we know for a fact that they simply don't have the infrastructure in place to follow through on them. As Brian put it, "I'll listen to Verizon the day I see them stringing new cable on our street.  Maybe.  Until then, any promotion they offer us is a lie."

So, for the foreseeable future, at least, it looks like we'll be sticking with Optimum. The only other alternative is Verizon, and Verizon, as we've seen, is no alternative at all. It may seem like we're paying an extra $531 a year just to hold a grudge, but really, that's just the difference in price between a phone and Internet connection that work and ones that might work or might not.
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