Consumer Reports rates bundled telecom services of Verizon, Bright House Networks
Bottom line? We here in the Tampa Bay area should feel lucky. There is a vigorous competition (more on this here) between primary providers Bright House Networks and Verizon with some secondary, regional jousting by Knology and other providers. We've written at length about how Bright House and Verizon spar relentlessly, each hyping their own unique services meant to differentiate and sway consumers.
Bright House has Bay News 9, a TV news service devoted to this region while Verizon does not have an equivalent. Verizon is spreading its FiOS fiber optic cable across the region (though it remains unavailable in parts of lower PInellas County, for example), and claims its technology is superior to traditional cable. Bright House prides itself on customer service and years of J.D. Power awards (here) backing up its claim, while Verizon acknowledges its own service history is spotty and is trying to improve it. (Verizon is doing well in some J.D. Power categories.) Verizon, a giant corporation, also offers the leading Verizon Wireless cell phone service and -- this may be a gamechanger -- we will soon see such cell phone services added as an option to its existing TV-landline phone-Internet bundles. Bright House lacks a cell phone option though it claims to be exploring partnerships.
The point is that competition has made both Bright House and Verizon better for Tampa Bay customers. That conclusion is reinforced by the new Consumer Reports survey in its February issue. The national survey is broad and does not account for regional distinctions, but here are the highlights:
* Fiber-optic service is tops overall. Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse received top scores for Internet and TV service and were among the better phone providers, too.
* Cable service is "mostly middling," the survey found. The major cable companies typically got average scores at best for Internet, phone, and TV service. But a few cable companies including Bright House got scores that rivaled those of the fiber companies.
* Satellite TV had strong points. While DirecTV and Dish Network scored below fiber and the best cable services for TV service overall, they were on a par with those top providers for channel selection and picture and sound quality.
* Internet phone comes on strong. The best Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, which came from providers of all types, rivaled fiber in offering the best phone service.
* Bundling has satisfied many. Overall, 85 percent of Consumer Reports readers who get all three services from one provider said they'd probably (50 percent) or definitely (35 percent) do it again with the same company.
Here's my favorite slice of the Consumer Reports package. It can pay to negotiate. Savings aren't assured, even if you bargain, but enough readers of the Consumer Reports Electronics blog reported success in their efforts that the magazine recommends calling carriers before signing up for or renewing service. And.... drum roll... the magazine even provides a script for would-be renewers to follow. Happy haggling.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist