Service providers FiOS and AT&T
U-verse were top recommendations for bundled telecom services, based on a survey of 70,000 Consumer Reports readers.
The next best choice for many households for bundled services is a highly rated cable company including Cox, Cablevision, or Bright House Networks if they are in your area. If television service is a priority and Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse aren't available in your area, satellite providers DirecTV or Dish Network received above average survey scores. Their TV service is offered in hybrid bundles with DSL and phone service from some telephone providers
The issue also features tips on how to cut your telecom bills. The full story appears in the May issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale April 5th. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org
The survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, revealed that most major providers scored about the same in satisfaction as in recent years—ho hum compared with other services the magazine rates. Once again, the most satisfying telecom providers were a few small, regional cable companies, and Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse, the high-speed phone-company offerings.
The trouble is, according to Consumer Reports, most consumers have limited choice. All but a few markets are served by only one cable provider. Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse are available in only one-third of the U.S., and almost nowhere are they both available. Though almost all homes can receive satellite TV, satellite companies—unlike the other types of providers—don't offer their own internet and phone service.
But there are bright spots. Some newer alternatives received favorable marks in CR's survey, including the Ooma phone service, which offers free domestic calling, and dirt-cheap international rates.
Phone service from a major carrier makes sense for many households, especially if it's bundled with Internet and TV service at a nice discount. But changing or eliminating such home-phone service can be a practical way to slash telecom bills. If you drop home phone services from a major carrier and use one of the options below, you could save $20 a month or more.
- Consider low-cost VoIP services. Many homes already have VoIP phone service from their cable company, Verizon FiOS, or AT&T U-verse. Costs usually run about $30 a month as part of a bundle or about $50 a la carte, including a long-distance plan.
- Alternative VoIP services including Ooma, Vonage, Magic jack and Skype cost less, from nothing to about $25 a month for unlimited domestic calls, plus an upfront cost for equipment.
TV still represents the biggest chunk of the home telecom bill for most households. More than 90 percent of the respondents to the survey still had a pay-TV provider of some sort. There has been a lot of talk about consumers cutting the cord to their TV service providers. But only 1.4 percent of CR readers have canceled their pay-TV service in the past two years, and another 7 percent of those who now have a paid service are thinking about dropping it.
- Drop premium channels. Premium channels, notably HBO and Showtime, increasingly offer original programming, not just movies that have run elsewhere first. If you don't mind playing catch-up, you can watch past seasons of some premium shows as part of an unlimited subscription from a streaming service, or borrow DVDs or Blu-ray discs free from your library. Also ask your carrier about getting premium channels free as part of a limited-time promotion.
- Cut the cord to your provider. If you mostly watch broadcast networks and rent movies, get your TV free over-the-air via an antenna and use an all-you-can watch online streaming service. You'll need an Internet-enabled TV, Blu-ray player, set-top box, or game console and a subscription to a service such as Netflix, which has streaming plans starting at $8 a month.
The small cable operator WOW was top rated across the board for Internet service, significantly ahead of highly rated providers such as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse for overall satisfaction.
- Don't pay for speed you don't need. If your Internet service provider pitches you a "blazing fast" speed—25 Mbps or faster— at an extra cost, don't bite. A consistent download speed of at least 5 Mbps, which is standard from the better cable companies and high-speed phone services, should be fine even for streaming high definition videos.
- Use Wi-Fi hot spots. Rather than paying $30 to $60 a month for a cellular data service, use free Wi-Fi in public areas, at cafés, and at hot spots that may be provided by your cable company. Wi-Fi is often faster than 3G and 4G, but you can't venture beyond the hot-spot area.