The Xfinity/FiOS Showdown

Mari Silbey —  May 30, 2011

Comcast Xfinity Verizon FiOS

I am on the verge of a move to Takoma Park Maryland, and being the cable geek that I am, one of the things I cataloged closely during the house hunting process was the variety of set-tops in living rooms around the region. Not that cable services were a factor in choosing a place to live (they weren’t, I swear!), but it was still worth a note to see what broadband provider might soon be receiving a portion of my monthly paycheck.

As it turns out, both Comcast Xfinity and Verizon FiOS are available in Takoma Park. Currently I’m a Comcast customer, and there are certain advantages to sticking with my existing provider, but the prospect of switching to a fiber-to-the-home service is just too tantalizing. Here’s my personal list of top pros and cons for the two megaliths of broadband service. Keep in mind this is far from a comprehensive list of features, but it’s the stuff I care about most.

Comcast

Pros:

Cons:

  • Internet speeds are fine, but sometimes degraded – standard tier (“Performance”) is 12 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up
  • Price is high as a current customer (no new-customer deals)

Verizon

Pros:

  • No contract required for bundled TV and Internet service
  • Standard tier is 15 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up, with a promise of greater consistency
  • IMG 1.9 guide update is on its way (see advantages here)
  • Widgets!
  • Access to the WatchESPN iPad app for live sports
  • Verizon has a lot of IP-based goodies on the way, and a track record of aggressive innovation in the TV space

Cons:

  • I can’t choose my own router
  • No Wi-Fi hotspots in the area

Interestingly, from an industry perspective, I see a lot of good things on the horizon for Comcast. Whether or not you agree with their business methods, the company has proven very savvy in a market that’s changed radically in the last five years. And by embracing IP, Comcast is creating interesting opportunities for the future.  I want a chance to try out FiOS, but that doesn’t meant I won’t continue to keep an eye on Xfinity.

15 responses to The Xfinity/FiOS Showdown

  1. It is possible to use your own router and configure your FiOS router to act as a bridge. Doing that will cut off your STBs from internet access (which would make them unusable, i think) so there is also instructions to allow you to configure a ‘double-bridge’ that gives the STBs access again.
    http://www.dslreports.com/faq/verizonfios/3.0_Networking#16077

    I also didn’t have much of a problem with comcast, though as soon as FiOS was available in my area I made the switch because I kept bumping up against the 250GB data cap. Internet speeds have also been better with FiOS. With a quality torrent, I can average over 2MB/s, which exceeds their advertised 15Mbps speed. My 15Mbps comcast connection would top out at about 1.7MB/s.

  2. I’m about to switch from DirecTV to Comcast, giving up my NFL Sunday Ticket for 2 reasons…
    * The ability to set up an HTPC as my Set-Top Box, using the new Silicon Dust HD HomeRun Prime networked cablecard tuner. I’ll be able to watch and record shows on any Windows PC in the home, using Windows Media Center. I’ll also be able to have terabytes of storage for recordings.
    * Faster Internet vs Verizon DSL (I live in Silicon Valley, where FiOS is not available).

    I used to have FiOS Internet (when I lived in NJ), and it was fantastic. In my experience the availability, reliability and bandwidth was consistently better.

    Note that Comcast’s maximum quoted speeds are based on their “PowerBoost” feature, which allows a higher speed for the first 10 MB of a download, or 5 MB of upload. After that, you’ll be throttled back to 6 Mbps download.

  3. I bemoan the lack of competitiveness in the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes the Silicon Valley). I only have Comcast for cable internet because I don’t think there’s any competition at the speeds they provide.

    I have stayed with DirecTV despite a few horrible things they’ve done over the years (like taking away my HD Tivo about two years after I bought it because of the MPEG-4 transition). The main reason: way cheaper. I’ve checked the pricing a couple of times and it just doesn’t make sense for me to buy more services from Comcast: they just cost $30 a month or so more.

    Congrats on moving someplace with good competition!

  4. I’m pretty happy with my Comcast service, surprisingly happy with the phone service. However, I wish they would share some of their newfound love with their customers out here in flyover country (Minneapolis).

    It seems like the legacy customer base out east gets the new fangled tech and Comcast gets positive publicity for it while those of us who were part of the acquisition binge ten years ago languish.

  5. I haven’t used it in awhile, but I do get free wifi hotspots at a variety of places (definitely starbucks) by being a fios customer. I think there was a program to install and it only worked on PCs, but again its been over a year since I checked it out.

  6. Comcast has a 250GB cap. Verizon doesn’t.

    I assume Comcast is more expensive.

    Verizon has better HD quality. Visibly better.

    Comcast has ESPN 3D. Verizon doesn’t.

    Comcast has a history of throttling their Internet customers. Verizon doesn’t.

    Comcast tags premium channels as “do not copy” so you can’t share them via TiVo. Verizon doesn’t.

    HBO Go doesn’t work with either right now I think.

    Comcast has Xfinity on PCs. And good iPhone and ipad support. I don’t think VZ does.

  7. Ron Pendleton May 31, 2011 at 12:44 am

    HBO Go definitely works with FIOS as I am watching it right now. Also COMCAST is an option as a Provider when I log into HBO TOGO, now that I cannot guarantee as working of course.

    I never thouight that the 250 CAP was going to be a concern. Well I was wrong, when I had COMCAST I was at least 50 GB over every month. Now I do not recall any throttling down, and I did not receieve a warning or threating kletter either. I just found better alternatives then paying COMCAST. As avvy user with Internet Access, does not need a PAY TV Service these days.

  8. Mari,
    Welcome to Maryland!
    Did you know that Takoma Park is a “nuclear free” zone?

    I just shaved $50 off my Comcast bill without dropping any features or signing any extended contracts.
    I have had nothing but woe with Verizon’s billing dept. over the past years.

    Bob

  9. Michael Burstin May 31, 2011 at 8:11 am

    @Glenn: Comcast does have HBO-GO, its just called XFinity instead of Comcast. Stupid re-branding.

    I have Comcast right now and it isn’t as bad as people say – other than price (my 2 year deal just ended – I need to try to redo my pricing). Their channel selection is pretty good, and while maybe not as fast as FIOS, internet speeds are good, especially in DOCSIS 3 areas (Boston suburb).

  10. Its a cosmetic thing, but I definitely appreciate the faster responsiveness of Fios channel surfing. With Comcast the lag time in waiting for the channel to appear can feel forever once you’ve tried Fios and go back to a Comcast house.

    You can use your own router with Fios- technically, if you disable the WiFi radio, and use it to connect it to the wireless router you like to use via Ethernet cable.

    RCN is also available in TP, and they just suck, its Comcast but worse no perks, or innovation, I don’t know how they exist.

  11. From my experience, at least three of your Comcast “pros” also apply to Fios

    I haven’t had a single Internet or pay-TV outage (in PA) in six years of service
    There’s a huge VOD catalog, including lots of free TV
    There’s more web-based TV – live and on-demand – on the way

    And from what I have seen and heard, Fios IMG 1.9 is pretty nice looking.

  12. Comcast performance can vary dramatically depending on where you live, and whether the network has been upgraded in recent years. For both Comcast and Verizon, your own customer service experience is entirely dependent on the people you happen to deal with. I had one very bad experience with Comcast about ten years ago when we first signed up, but have had no real issues since. And my parents had some difficulties with Verizon when they first signed up for FiOS, but that got sorted too. It’s all in the service rep you get.

  13. @Mari,

    Yup, Comcast varies wildly. Here in Northern California, my Comcast internet is actually pretty great. However, my brother in law who has Comcast in a Boston suburb can’t even watch low-rez YouTube videos without buffering. Really really awful. YMMV.

    I also think Comcast’s channel lineup, and their progressive moves on iPad and working with Tivo are good things. The channel lineup isn’t DirectTV or anything, but its decent. Most of what you want is in HD. The big ding is the price. Almost unacceptable.

    BTW, Xfinity != HBO Go. Certainly the available content isn’t the same. And HBO Go works over 3G while Xfinity does not.

    My experience with Comcast thru CHAT on their web site is actually quite good (mostly).

    Its certainly not the worst choice. I’d probably switch to FioS if given the option though…

  14. Check out http://my.verizon.com/central/portlets/broadbandWiFi/hotSpotSearch.jsp for the free Verizon Wi-Fi. I have FIOS since I wanted 35/35 since I run my server out of my house. I know it isn’t throttled or capped since I ran a live HD webcam (of birds) for almost a month maxing out my line lots of times. The best part of the TV (for now) is no limitation on cable card. If you want a TiVo or MCE you can do anything with any channel. Doesn’t matter if it is HBO or whatever. The same can’t be said of Comcast.

  15. You didn’t mention the Tivo Comcast deal that may be available on your Premiere in 2011.