Comcast vs. Verizon, The Tabula Rosa Edition

Dave Zatz —  July 8, 2012

My wife and I just can’t seem to kick this gypsy lifestyle and are on the move once again. While we’d initially contemplated moving closer in to DC or returning to Maryland, we’ve changed tack and will be venturing deeper into the Northern Virginia suburbs next month. And, as with our former home, we’re fortunate to have Verizon’s FiOS TV & Internet service as an alternative to the cableco. At the house we’ve vacated, it was a no-brainer to dump Cox Communications given their inability to sufficiently support the two SDV Tuning Adapters required to power our TiVo DVRs and Verizon’s superior CableCARD support. But, this time around, we’re starting with a blank slate and the decision will be a bit trickier… as Verizon’s CableCARD experience has diminished and Comcast hasn’t implemented SDV.

On the Internet front, I assume either provider would be sufficient. Verizon may offer insane new speeds over fiber, but Comcast’s offerings aren’t too shabby. And, honestly, for most there’s a point of diminishing returns — how much broadband do we really need on a regular basis? Yet, there is one area where Verizon trumps Comcast’s Xfinity. At least for now. And that’s the lack of data caps.

Regarding television services, we’re not prepared to cut the cord and one of these two will be providing “cable” TV. Verizon’s DVRs beat Comcast… unless Xcalibur/X1 is being deployed to our region. Not that it really matters as I’ve upgraded to a TiVo Premiere Elite XL4 and intend to distribute one or two TiVo IP-STBs around the house for a whole-home DVR experience. So what will be the differentiators? What comes to mind at the moment is that Comcast continues to block HBO GO over Roku — for reasons unknown, that obviously have nothing to do with providing a great customer experience. On the other hand, Comcast does offer the nice Xfinity TV iPad app with tons of On Demand content. And, speaking of On Demand, it’s started rolling out to TiVo Premieres.

Decisions, decisions.

46 responses to Comcast vs. Verizon, The Tabula Rosa Edition

  1. Some notes…

    This is new construction — it’s been wired for coax and Ethernet, but there’s not a phone jack in sight.

    Our upcoming neighbors to the left just moved in and wired the place for Verizon Internet, but opted for DirecTV as they’re football fanatics and need their Sunday Ticket.

    Also worth noting… many unpleasant interactions with Comcast in Maryland covering something like a ten year span. I’m probably still bitter over having to write the local franchising authority to get a CableCARD, that hole a Comcast installed accidentally drilled into my dresser, surly customer service, etc.

    Amongst the various projects, I do want to pick up at least one Nest thermostat and will probably need a few Sonos units. But we may prioritize a kitchen table and new office desk ahead of those non-necessities.

  2. I like the idea of iPad TV, but seriously, how often are you going to do that? We’ve got 3 tivos (2 series 3, one premiere XL) and the lack of on demand is annoying. We stuck with Verizon because they offered us a ridiculously good offer not too switch and because I don’t feel like relearning channel numbers after 4 years on FiOS. Can you get Verizon to make you an offer you can’t refuse?

  3. you deserve a beating for just asking this dumb question. never mind the time you wasted taking a video and typing such a ridiculous post.

    your constant, never ending nagging to comcast on twitter because of hbogo not on the roku should make this decision easy for you.

  4. Rich, Not sure on the offers yet. Verizon’s best offers usually come with a two year commitment, but wiring a home is different than a mobile and it probably wouldn’t bother me as much. Regarding iPad TV, before we moved we often watched live CNN and ESPN on the iPad and iMac in our kitchen/dining area and suspect we’d do the same in our new kitchen and office. I suspect the on demand would come in handy when on travel and might enable us to drop Hulu Plus. We’ll probably wait a few more weeks before calling either provider.

    Al, you’re probably right. But I do this as a public service. ;) It’s not too often you start with a complete blank slate — I wonder if anyone has split services, Comcast for video and Verizon for Internet. Based on my touring of the neighborhood, I think most have opted for Verizon across the board. (And the investment was minor – it’s an unedited 42 second iPhone video shot in one take while my wife was chit chatting with the lady next door.)

  5. thomas allison July 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    I’m switching from comcast residential to comcast business class. No bandwidth caps, and all ports are open! you do have to make a multi-year commitment for best rates, but the costs are a push. I’ve no clue about your Rocku issue. My install is next week.

  6. “Decisions, decisions.”

    Play the two off against one another on price. And if you’re willing to go beyond the websites and spend an hour or two of phone negotiation, you can generally save you a grand or more on top of point ‘n’ click comparisons, spread over a couple of years. It’s a real benefit to having a 3rd party hardware infrastructure.

    Monthly fees add up. Makes hardware costs cheap in comparison.

    If things end up basically even, tie goes to FIOS cuz Comcast is evil. (Plus, dedicated bandwidth can occasionally be beneficial when Netflix prime-time sucks up community coax bandwidth.)

    —–

    “I like the idea of iPad TV, but seriously, how often are you going to do that?”

    Dave likes gadgets. But I agree that it’s hard to come up with a whole lot of real-world usage scenarios, as opposed to pipe dream usage scenarios…

  7. “I wonder if anyone has split services, Comcast for video and Verizon for Internet.”

    All MSO’s strive to avoid making that economical through bundle pricing.

  8. Not that this means anything in the long run, but Comcast has currently suspended their caps while they work on a new overages charge model, instead of the old one year ban model.

    I don’t have a choice between Xfinity and FIOS, but if I did I’m not sure who I’d pick. FIOS tends to be more expensive, but is a bit faster. Xfinity is fine for what I do, when it works. When problems crop up though, they take a long time to get fixed, even when going through the Twitter team.

    I guess it comes down to price.

  9. I say anyone but Comcast.

    If your thinking of splitting tv and Internet be careful. I have 2 separate comcast accounts, 1 for TV and 1 for Internet. Both are hooked up at the same address. I have to do this so my employer will pay for my Internet. Anyway, Comcast won’t let me do on demand on my Xbox because it requires tv and Internet service on the same account. I imagine you might hit the samething.

  10. 1. Ethernet can be used as a phone line. You should be able to just plug a phone cable in on both sides. One at switch in to an actual phone line. The other locally in to a phone.

    2. Comcast is aged. The biggest problem is the Internet slows down a lot during peak hours. Fios does not have this problem.

  11. Oh yeah, and if the house is wired for network with rj45 jacks, rj11 phone cables will work in those jacks.

  12. I would kill to have FiOS… and I am a SatelliteGuy. ;)

  13. Let’s see. I’m 48. Married. Lived in three different places my whole life. I get tired thinking about moving!

    Thankfully, here in MN, Comcast has been pretty decent. Working fine with my TiVo units and Cable Cards.

  14. Dave – I just had that decision and went with FIOS. A couple of compelling reasons.

    1. HBO Go on Roku.
    2. Dedicated wires = no slowdowns. And as more people start using OTT services like Netflix, those slowdowns may become more frequent and noticeable. FIOS is all new wires.
    3. A new HDTV is considerably cheaper than an iPad. If you like to watch TV in the kitchen, get a 27″ TV or monitor and hook up your laptop.

    4. By adding digital phone service, I somehow saved $40/month on my bill – and I didn’t really want a landline, but how could you say no that? It also forwards to my cell phone after a certain number of rings, so it’s almost like not having a land line. – but this is to Chucky’s point that they make it very expensive to split services. Hence the whole DOJ investigation.

    5. No caps.

    6. As a long-time customer, I was able to negotiate a good deal.

    The two downsides to FIOS are the abysmal iPad app and the equally abysmal FlexView VOD service, which has a whole lot of movies, but I dare you to find one that’s not on the “Featured” list. And the quality of the broadcasts is often terrible – literally call-for-a-refund unwatchable. Not sure how Comcast stacks up there.

  15. Dave,

    Can’t you just use your contacts to get a good deal? :)

    As for the phone, if you’re getting a land line, just use any modern phones made after 1990, where you actually only plug one line in to a phone jack, and the rest are wireless. Or as others have said, you can use the rj45 jacks for your rj11 phone, just only waste one.

    Doesn’t Brambleton include cable service in your HOA dues? Or did they get rid of that?

  16. Dave, when i lived in VA, I had fios. I loved the channel line up, all the HD channels, and the new interactive media guide. I would recommend Fios hands down. Don’t go to xfinity.

    I now live in WV (moved about 4 months ago) and we now have comcast/xfinity (there’s no difference) and it’s just a poor experience. There are not enough HD channels, service is always cutting in/out, there are outages once a month, the interactive media guide is so old school it’s ridiculous. The only one benefit is the ipad/iphone apps.

    I don’t have fios out here where I moved to, so I’m switching to DirecTV after a relative gave me a demo of his setup. It’s much cheaper than cable and offers more HD channels, etc. Yes, I do get local channels even with 1 dish.

    Should you or anyone be thinking about switching to DirecTV, be sure to use my account ID (47017160) so you can save $10 a month for 10 months (total $100) with their referral program.

    Congrats on the new house!

    Evan

  17. Congratulations on the new house – I’m guessing if you were in Herndon/Reston earlier, you’re probably on your way out to Ashburn or thereabouts?

    For what it’s worth, there are a couple of reasons to go with FiOS over Comcast, in my experience:
    1. Caps. Comcast is already experimenting with them, and the current lack of them has been described as a suspension rather than a rollback. Chances are you’re not currently hitting the cap of 250GB anyway, but it won’t be long (2-3 years) before you do start to hit it routinely. Sooner if you’re into streaming and are moving to IP phones at home for any reason. One thing that I noticed about when we finally got FiOS installed and cancelled Cox (200GB cap) was that I stopped worrying about how much we were streaming and I stopped rationing my online play.

    2. FiOS’ network is newer and significantly overprovisioned; Comcast’s network is not. The former leads me to believe that you’re more likely to have a FiOS connection in the middle of the next derecho. The overprovisioning is great too – we’re years from hitting the capacity limit.

    3. You can always switch to Comcast later. I’m not sure how much longer Verizon will continue to build out FiOS. The start-stop nature of their buildout leads me to believe that you’re likely to get it now, and perhaps not later. Do it now, and you’re wired for life; do it later, and well … it’ll be a while.

    You already know the downsides of FiOS – the need for a dedicated battery backup amongst these – but don’t let these make you get Stockholm Syndrome for the cable companies.

    Anyway – how have you wired up your house? I’ve been thinking how to wire up my folks’ new place, and I think the idea is to switch to IP traffic as soon as possible, with a HDHR-6 in the network closet, and no Coax anywhere – just 2-3 ethernet sockets everywhere.

  18. Not sure if the new property is in former Adelphia territory or not, but if it is, the answer is Fios. :)

    Does the Stream interest you? It wouldn’t have Fios VOD support obviously, but that’s gotta be a serious option for iPad users.

  19. Chucky is right – I do like my gadgets.

    Interesting – didn’t know RJ45 could stand in for RJ11. So maybe the builder and population isn’t quite as progressive as I thought. ;) We haven’t had a land line since 2005, although at the home we sold we did have a Verizon phone that was never used – it seemed cheaper to do triple play and ignore their digital voice service.

    Jerry, I’m not sure the marketing/PR folks at Verizon or Comcast would even know all the various deal permutations out there… and if I were to be comped or take a substantial discount would folks trust my coverage? Not to mention disclosing that each and every post would be a bitch.

    Jerry, varun, Yes to Ashburn, no to Brambleton.

    Mike, yes I learned last night that it is a former Adelphia territory…

    Regarding the TiVo stream – yes, I’m very interested in using it around the house and assume it’ll be better than whatever app Verizon ultimately offers as it’d cover both live television and TiVo recordings. However, the “high speed” offloading for out of home viewing may not be high speed enough.

    varun, house is already wired with coax and RJ45 jacks. Not enough of either, unfortunately. Had we been involved earlier, it would have more and better placement. Now that I’ve got the Premiere Elite/XL4 and assuming I settle on Verizon, MoCA is an option. I’ve also had very good luck with wireless over the years, so I’ll definitely start there for many of my devices and see how the signal travels through the house.

  20. Re: Nest

    I really like the idea of the Nest but I can’t help but think:
    – my mechanical (mercury) thermostat won’t have errors
    – it’s easy enough to just adjust it as I leave/return.
    – If the Nest messes up then there’s the potential for it to run my HVAC 24/7 until I get home and realize it’s all hosed up.

    I really like the idea, though – I just can’t square it away in my head as to the practicality of it.

  21. Dave, I’m a FiOS guy here in Delaware…near the heart of Comcast Country. For the most part, couldn’t be happier with the service and the price.

    The only time I find myself jealous of someone with comcast is the CableWiFi pact. The pool I belong to is within one of their hotspots, and it would be nice to be able to use that while the kids swim.

  22. But are there any red boxes near your new house? ;)

  23. BradB, well my last few thermostats have been digital, so that part of the equation isn’t a factor for me. But I have wondered what happens if Nest pushes a buggy piece of software that keeps the AC running or fries the system. I’d say it’s more geek chic than practical.

    Kevin, well I’ve become a Redbox fan while in this temporary housing with unreliable Internet. I suspect once I’m back to faster and more stable broadband, I’ll resume more Amazon or iTunes movie rentals. Then again, Rebox is quite inexpensive and very convenient (especially since my wife returns the discs).

  24. A minor point, but if you disconnect a FIOS optical fibre cable from the ONT and stare directly into it, you’ll be able to watch all TV channels and websites simultaneously, leading you to involuntarily exclaim: “The thing’s hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God—it’s full of stars!”

    (On the other hand, disconnecting a working coax cable and staring directly into it will transform you into a Australopithecine with an implacable desire to locate a monolith.)

  25. “I’m switching from comcast residential to comcast business class.”

    FYI, as someone with Cox cable home TV and commercial internet, I cannot get any of their fancy “TV Everywhere” apps to work, and tech support (even elevated twitter support) say that they aren’t going to support this configuration, so I cant watch TV on my iPad or laptop.

  26. “…and tech support (even elevated twitter support)…”

    Good gravy. Please tell me that “elevated twitter support” is a good snarky joke and not a real thing. Please?

  27. No, Cox really has local twitter-based tech support. I complained about it on twitter after a tech support phone call, and one of their reps contacted me to elevate the issue.

  28. ?”…and tech support (even elevated twitter support)…”

    Good gravy. Please tell me that “elevated twitter support” is a good snarky joke and not a real thing. Please?”

    Ha. I have Fios and the team of people operating @verizonsupport have been super heroes compared to the scripted phone support. Oh yes, it’s happening, world! :)

  29. RJ45 jacks could always work for RJ11. We’ve always used RJ45 jacks at work for devices that had RJ11 lugs. An RJ11 lug only uses the middle pins of an RJ45 jack.

  30. re: Nest – forgot about that part.

    I got the Verizon Home Monitoring package and am digging it. Thermostat is similar to Nest – you can adjust it from your iPhone, though truthfully I rarely find the need to do so: it’s on a schedule that pretty closely adheres to my comings and goings.

    The “Energy Monitor” thing is sort of a crock – I mean it’s interesting and all, but there’s not a whole lot of actionable stuff you can do beyond turning off lights and running the heat/AC less frequently– it’s all stuff you already know.

    Biggest plus has been the electronic deadbolt – you operate it via a keypad and can set up special codes for contractors, in-laws, etc. as well as have someone call you when they are at the front door so you can hit the app and open the lock.

    So now I never have to worry about bringing a key with me or worry about the kids losing one.

  31. I’d go with Comcast myself, because:
    – You’ll almost certainly get OnDemand, and I don’t see it happening with FiOS
    – TiVo & Verizon are fighting over patents and I’m on TiVo’s side
    – The solution Comcast is working on with Boxee looks real interesting and I’m hoping it is extended to other devices.
    – FiOS is steadily moving toward IPTV and I wouldn’t trust that they’d remain CableCARD compatible for TiVo use – and certainly not for new content.

    Basically Comcast is far more TiVo-friendly than FiOS, and that’s the major factor for me.

    Oh, as for the RJ45/RJ11 thing. Note a standard 8-wire CatX cable has four pair – 1&2,3&6,4&5,7&8. Note how the middle two are a pair, then the two just outside of them, and each outer two are a pair. In old wiring the middle two (4&5) were ‘line 1′ for the phone, while 3&6 would be ‘line 2′.

    Ethernet was originally setup to be able to share the same Cat3 wire as a phone line. And it used 1&2 and 3&6 as the four wires, leaving 4&5 for the phone – and 7&8 unused.

    Fast Ethernet (100baseTX) kept the same setup on Cat5 cabling, but to get to 100Mbps on Cat3 all four pairs were used. GigE uses all four pair and requires Cat5 or better (5e or better recommended).

    So you can’t run GigE and POTS over the same cable, but you could still run Fast Ethernet & POTS at the same time. ;-)

  32. Well, compare real prices. Consider the channels you’re really going to get. In my area Comcast charges $19.99/month for HBO for example, but its different all over the country. In your area there could be a difference between Comcast and Verizon’s pricing. Ditto sports packages and so forth. Do you watch the Tennis Channel that Comcast requires you to get a special sports tier to watch? Does Verizon offer it for less?

    In my area Comcast charges $8/month for every TiVo after the first, minus a $2.50/month discount for ‘customer owned equipment’. If you’re only going to have one TiVo with a cable card in it, the Elite, and the other boxes are going to be IP streamers, then maybe none of this matters. Check the pricing on both for your actual configuration though.

    I’ve been using the Comcast On Demand stuff a reasonable amount actually now that I have access to it on my TiVo in the SF Bay Area. Its worth something for sure.

    The TiVo/iPad app is nice, but its not worth considering as a deciding factor really.

    How about the channel lineups? Are there HD channels that one has that the other does not? I know in my area I still don’t get BBC America in HD, which still pisses me off a little. But most everything else that I care about is in HD. Looking at VZ’s lineup in your area though, it doesn’t look like they have BBC America in HD either. Huh.

    Taking a deeper look at VZ’s offerings, it looks like they have similar HD offerings EXCEPT that there are a lot more premium variants in HD. Comcast in my area anyway has only say two HBO channels in HD, and two Showtime channels in HD while it looks like VZ has more like 8-10 of each. With a TiVo this isn’t as important, but hey, more channels is more channels.

    I care about the cap, but really, are you going to go anywhere near 250GB or 300GB per month? Probably not. More of a political issue than an actual one for the moment.

    I’ve never had trouble with my Comcast internet really. Just always works. No significant slowdowns at any time of day either. But my brother-in-law outside Boston would have trouble streaming Netflix on Comcast at various times of day. YMMV. Ask a neighbour.

    I like varun’s argument–get FiOS installed now since you may not be able to get it later. You can always switch. Comcast isn’t going anywhere.

  33. Alan, Verizon’s reached out to me a few times on their home automation and monitoring stuff for coverage. But I obviously haven’t followed up. Is your door lock battery powered or does it require electrical wiring?

    MZ, it’s not a lifetime decision. I could see doing a two year contract with Verizon and not losing CableCARD support anytime soon. But On Demand is compelling… still waiting on a better Verizon iPad app – maybe they’d serve it to me in that manner (and AirPlay).

  34. Dave, looking at VZ’s site, it must be battery operated. “In most cases, a screwdriver is the only tool needed for installation; no additional holes need to be drilled into the door.”

    https://shop.verizon.com/buy/Home-Control/Verizon-Home-Monitoring-and-Control/Entry-Accessory-Offer/Entry-Accessory-Offer/sku160012

    I wouldn’t mind adding some more home automation to go with my wifi tstats, but I don’t want to be dependent to VZ, that and I don’t want to pay them a monthly fee for it.

    How come everyone thinks you won’t be able to get FiOS later? I could understand if the fiber wasn’t already in your neighborhood or to your house, but the fiber is already run to your house.

  35. Ugh, MoCA is a pricey mess. I mean, as long as you have a single RJ45, you could easily buy a few switches and come out ahead on bandwidth and cost. I vaguely remember someone even producing a junction box with a built in switch – it looked a little funny to have a wall plate with a power lead going out of it, but very compact.

  36. Jerry, most of the home automation stuff you can roll your own without the ongoing fees. My buddy Kevin Tofel (GigaOm) has been doing a bunch that way – think he’s got a garage door sensor/opener module to install next. I’m not sure how motivated I am to go down that path beyond the WiFi thermostats and maybe a few IR remote control recessed lights.

    varun, eh I don’t see it as 100% one thing or another. I’ll be a hybrid of Ethernet and WiFi, with maybe a bit of a MoCA for good measure. (And I already possess two or three wireless routers, with additional RJ45 jacks, and a few hubs/switches plus a MoCA router – so I’m pretty well supplied.)

  37. Dave – it’s battery powered. That said, I paid for the installation service because there was no way I was going to be able to install a deadbolt where none had previously existed or a thermostat myself. Installer was very good.

    There is another way to go – the company that makes all VZWs equipment actually sells direct to the public. Their locks are more sophisticated – you can lock the door remotely (the VZW one requires you to have someone there to physically lock the door.

    The Verizon set also has IFTTT functionality, so you can say, have a lamp turn on every time you enter your secret code into the door

  38. How come none of you pointed out I had spelled Comcast wrong in the headline?! I expect better editing… ;)

  39. This is kind of unrelated, but I just found out that Cox has been offering the Whole Home DVR for months in northern va, which is odd, cause there has been no ads for it, and you can’t find any info about it. It’s nice, since it will let me hold off on fios until there is a good deal and I can see what Tivo actually brings to the table with streamer box..

  40. Nice, when you get it installed invite me over for a photo shoot. :)

  41. To the guys doing the Verizon home automation. It’s an insane rip off. The door locks they are using are schlage link locks you can get at homedepot or lowes. The thermostats are tranes you can buy online or at HD. Get yourself a zwave compatible controller (basically a wireless router) like the micasaverde Vera and roll your own for no monthly fee.
    On the cable front. Just switched from FIOS to rcn after 4 great years with FIOS. Best I could do with FIOS was 160 a month. Shaved $35 a month off with rcn and their TiVo whole home bundle is great! I looked at the price of buying a TiVo xl4 and lifetime. Math doesn’t add up. Rcn gave me the same TiVo and a stream box for free.

  42. Sure thing!

  43. Related to Fios, when do you think that whole home server (http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2011-12/verizon-preps-fios-tv-media-server/) will actually come to market? If this thing works with the 360 App (and perhaps gets on Apple TV or Google TV as Well) , then it’s a real game changer, though not hearing anything about since December is a little annoying. I would probably wait until this came out to get Fios so I don’t get boned with a second truck roll fee when it cames up just to get better hardware…

  44. What do you guys suggest for basic services (just low level internet and tv): Fios or Xfinity? Looks like Fios might be a little cheaper, but is it up to par?

  45. Stay away from Comcast. I had FiOS for three years with great reception throughout my large house eith zero dropped signals. I’ve now had comcast xfini for three months and the modem drops the signal multiple times a day. Have great non-Comcast routers-the problem is in the modem and Comcast is helpless in resolving the issue.

    Read more: http://www.moneycrashers.com/comcast-xfinity-vs-verizon-fios/#ixzz2HAezF5uK