No, your cable and mobile companies aren’t looking out for you (and why you should be)

Here’s the thing about recurring charges for ongoing services, like mobile telephone service, cable television service, internet service, and so on: The companies that provide those services are quite happy to keep charging existing customers more than they do for new customers, and keep providing lesser service than they do to new customers. Of course, I knew that on some level, which is why I periodically look go to my mobile carrier’s web site (AT&T) and click the convenient “change plan” link to see what I might pay, and for what, compared to my current plan. And considering that mobile carriers change their offerings constantly, I’ve often discovered I can save some money and get the same level of service (or better service in many cases over the years). You just have to check.

Well, I discovered today that I’ve been an idiot not to do the same with my internet provider.

When we lived more centrally, our ILEC (incumbent phone company), CenturyLink, provided very high speed DSL service that I was actually quite fond of. These days, in many parts of Denver, they even provide gigabit service. But where I now call home, their maximum speed is 80 Mbps — and quite candidly, it’s just not good enough. Not when Comcast (the local cable company) provides dramatically higher speeds at a price point that, while not great, is pretty tolerable.

Since moving-in four years ago, we’ve had Comcast internet, and it’s been pretty surprisingly reliable — largely thanks to the fact that all utility cables are underground here, and not susceptible to wind, storms, or squirrels chewing on them (been there, done that at the old house with its ancient above-ground cabling), etc.

At the time, we picked Comcast’s 105 Mbps service. The price has gone-up over time (of course), and these days, we’d been paying about $93 a month for the privilege, with (of course) a 1 TB data cap that the two of us use about half of each month. (That happens, I guess, when you work at home, and most of your television is delivered by streaming.)

Last night, after attempting to download a 40 Gig (yes, 40 Gig) file most of the evening, I got curious. Did Comcast offer higher speeds (I knew they did), and what price points was it offered at?

Comcast has improved their apps and web-based self-service tools over the years, and it was actually quite simple to log into my account, and see what my options were. Lo and behold, there was the sad truth in black and white: I was paying too much.

I could easily have changed to 150 Mbps service, about 50% faster, for $82 a month — an $11 savings. Or, I could commit to a year term, and get 250 Mbps service (almost 2.5 times, or 150% faster than the existing service) for $79 a month.

Duh.

Within seconds of confirming the order, my internet service went out — which I knew meant the cable modem needed a reboot, which in turn meant that the Linksys Velop system needed a kick in the pants as well. As is often the case, nothing worked the first time, so about 30 minutes of power cycling and waiting later, everything was back up and working, and indeed, speed tests revealed the throughput had markedly improved.

And we’ll save $14 a month. I can live with that.

And yes, I know. 365 days from today, I’ll see the tickler I put on my personal calendar to log into my Comcast account, and see what deals are available at that point to re-up. Otherwise, the bill will jump (based on today’s pricing, anyway) to about $3 higher than we were paying before to keep this speed.

In other words, had I not committed to another year, I could have upgraded from 105 Mbps service at $93 a month to 250 Mbps for $96 a month.

The moral of the story? Call your internet provider, or log into your account, and make sure you’re getting the most for your money. Could be you’re in good shape — or it could be, as I found, that you’re paying too much for too little.

Epilogue

I’ll switch gears for a moment for the real wrap-up to this story, one day later.

That 40 Gig download I mentioned above? It had failed the night before the service upgrade. Last night, after the upgrade, I resumed the failed download. And the file didn’t download any faster than it had before.

It goes without saying that transferring data across the internet has myriad points of engagement, and many points of failure:

  • The source of the data
  • The internet provider the source uses
  • Intermediate points along the way
  • Your internet provider
  • Equipment used at any point above
  • Other factors (like WiFi quality on your end, data throttling at any point in the transfer, impacts of shared connections, etc.)

Just because you have great internet service doesn’t mean any given data transfer goes any faster. Any element above can slow things down. Any element above can fail — fully, or intermittently. And any of that can result in a data transfer that crawls, just as I experienced last night.

In truth, aside from conducting a classic speed test, I (so far) cannot sense any improvements resulting from the 2.5x speed upgrade. It’s likely that some specific software download, software update, or so other activity will reveal some benefits. But I can get e-mail just like before. I can surf the web like before. I can stream media like before. I can update my iPhone apps like before.

So is the benefit purely psychological? For the most part, it seems, yes.

But, I will take the $14 a month savings just the same…