When a Deal is Not Really a Deal

Yesterday, my home phone rang and it was a number I didn't recognize (the Caller ID said "Jacksonville, FL"). I often don't answer the home phone if a non-descript Caller ID appears or if I don't know the number. I work at home and have a separate work line (I always answer the work line--that call could be my next freelance gig!). For some odd reason, I chose to answer the phone this time. On the other end was a friendly voice, a man who identified himself as Carl, who wanted to offer me a great deal on upgrading my Comcast-provided services.

As I've grown older and wiser in my years, I've come to learn that being rude to people--even telemarketers--doesn't do anyone any good; being polite and courteous not only makes for a more pleasant interaction, but is also just simply easier. So, I let him begin his spiel, as I started to formulate how I would maneuver the conversation to a quick and polite end.

But wouldn't you know it, he was actually making a compelling offer that could potentially save me a fair bit of money. I currently get my cable and broadband Internet service from Comcast, and pay just under $139 per month. On top of that, I also use Vonage for my home phone service, which I pay about $31 a month for. Carl, however, was telling me that I could upgrade to Comcast's Triple Play bundle--which includes HD cable, broadband Internet, and phone service--for just $99 per month! Not only that, but it would include HBO and HBO On Demand, the price includes the cost of the HD DVR rental for the first six months, and the price would stay locked in for 24 months. Sounded like a great deal! Sign me up!

Before I committed to this great-sounding deal, however, I had a few questions... My first thoughts--which I did not say out loud--were "what's the catch" and this "sounds too good to be true." It turns out that my suspicions were on target... I started lobbing questions Carl's way, trying to get a better bead on exactly how much this $99 per month package was really going to cost me.

For starters, the $99 fee does not include the cable modem rental, which is $3 per month. As this is a special combination cable modem and VoIP telephone adapter, my only available option would be to rent. Then it turns out that since I already have an HD DVR, I would not be eligible for waiving the rental fee for the first six months--this part of the offer is only available to existing Comcast customers who would be upgrading to an HD DVR for the first time. I currently pay almost $16 per month for my HD DVR.

Since the price would be locked in for 24-months, I assumed that this deal also came with an early-termination penalty. I was right. If I canceled or downgraded my service before the 24-month period was up, I would be subject to a $250 early-termination fee.

Then there were the installation fees. I would have to pay $29.95 for a tech to come install the new modem/telephone adapter (there was no self-installation option), as well as pay a one-time, $29.95 equipment fee.

Despite these additional fees that put the total cost well over $99 per month, it still seemed like a decent deal. By my calculations, I am paying almost $170 per month for cable TV, broadband Internet access, and telephone service. With this offer, I could lower my monthly bill to less than $135--a savings of more than $35 per month, which racks up to almost an $850 savings over 24 months.

The problem was, I knew that I would incur early termination fees from Vonage, and I wasn't sure what those would be. I wanted to do some additional research, as well as crunch the numbers before I committed. So I said "no" to Carl, but almost immediately started fantasizing about the money I could be saving.

My call to Vonage revealed that I would have to pay a $39.99 early termination fee as well as an additional $70 to cover the rebate I received on the Vonage telephone adapter as part of the special deal I got when I signed up. If I switched over to the new Comcast Triple Play package it would take about five months before I would break even and start seeing a savings. But taking into account all the fees, discounts, penalties, etc., at the end of two years I would still save about $635.

I discussed making this change with my wife, and we decided that as long as we could keep our existing home phone number (meaning that Vonage would need to transfer the number to Comcast), would go ahead to sign up.

I went back to the Caller ID and I called the number from which Carl had originally called me from. I got a recording that identified the company as "Evergreen." It turns out that Carl was calling from Evergreen Sales and Marketing--a telemarketing company that was doing marketing on Comcast's behalf. So my next call was to Comcast, and I was soon speaking with a woman named Jessica.

I explained to Jessica the deal that Carl had offered me and expressed my potential interest in getting the package. Jessica quickly advised me that I probably wouldn’t want that package. Why not? Jessica explained that the $99 per month package is the "HD Starter Triple Play" package, which only offers channels 2 through 99. My current package gives me channels 2 through 199, plus 200 through 240 in HD. Carl had assured me that I would get all those channels with the $99 per month package. I asked Jessica if it was possible that Carl had access to a promition that she didn't have access to, and she responded that she was "110% certain." Yikes… I really didn't want to give up those channels--not only did I not want to lose the major networks in HD, but as a cycling fan, I was loath to miss the opportunity to watch the Tour de France in HD. Some deal this turned out to be!

Jessica went on to inform me that if I was interested in the Triple Play package and wanted to not lose any of my existing services, I could get the HD Premier Triple Play package that costs $152 per month. This would add home phone service, give me HBO, Showtime, Starz!, and Cinemax, and even increase my broadband connection speeds. All nice, but the point of this exercise was to try to save money, not spend more. If I switched to the HD Premier Triple Play package, my total monthly expense for these services would increase by almost $18. Needless to say, I didn't make any changes to my Comcast service and I am right back where I started from.

Before I close out this article, I need to provide some full disclosure... Last year I applied for and interviewed for a corporate communications job at Comcast's Philadelphia headquarters. As I continued to vie for that position for a number of months I did my best to steer clear of writing about Comcast in my news posts--as I felt it would have been a conflict of interest. I didn't land the position and enough time has passed that I feel writing about Comcast no longer presents a conflict of interest for me. And lest you feel I am writing this article out of some bitter resentment from not being hired by Comcast, that couldn't be further from the truth--I hold no ill will or malice. The guy they eventually hired for the position was a much better fit than I would have been, and in all fairness he has been doing a great job ever since he started working there. The purpose of this article is meant to offer an example of how when offered a deal--no matter where it comes from--to make sure you know all the details, additional feels, caveats, etc., before you commit to it--especially if it seems to good to be true.

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