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Peter Vogel

Viewers tread a minefield of confusing TV alternatives

Voices Mar 14, 2017

Over the past several years, I’ve written numerous columns on the changing landscape of television viewing in Canada. Among the more popular columns have been those on cord cutting, streaming options, and the introduction of “skinny” TV packages.

A recent column on TV streaming devices, which also mentioned over-the-air (OTA) antenna TV reception, has sparked some reader attention and some backchannel discussion on various options under consideration.

The specific antenna referred to in that column is available from Amazon.com for around US$35 (70% of reviews rate it as 4 or 5 stars). We will take a closer look at this antenna in a future column.

In the Vancouver area, this antenna: https://goo.gl/U6U2Ki should be able to pull in half a dozen or so digital channels, the exact number and breakdown being highly location-dependent. Don’t believe the advertising claim about a 150-mile (almost 250 km) range!

One reader, Brian Powell, notes in his particular area of the Lower Mainland, competition for home TV and Internet service is not as aggressive as elsewhere. This reader is considering cutting his TV service altogether. His concerns, quoted below, may parallel ones you have.

“Before cutting the cord, I’ll be trying out an OTA (antenna) just to make sure I can get some of the local channels. My other concern about cord cutting is getting the sports that I like to watch. I may buy the antenna and Android TV box just to see what I (can) get.

“I’m currently with Telus for Internet and TV. Unlimited DSL at 15 Mbps, $80 per month, which I find is too much money. I live in South Delta, and so am limited to which Internet resellers can service me. I wanted somebody that also did TV; many only do Internet and phone. Long story short, I’m switching to AEBC for their Internet. I’ll be getting unlimited 25 Mbps DSL for about $45 per month. No contract, month to month only. Free modem if you sign up for 6 months and prepay 3 months.

“I currently have basic Telus Optik TV and a couple of simple packages for $51 per month. AEBC will give me the same for $30 per month. So if I switch both I’ll cut my costs from $150 to $75 per month. The downside is AEBC doesn’t have a PVR and you have to buy their digital TV box for $200 per TV.”

The reader notes his area, unlike most of the Lower Mainland, is not serviced by Shaw Communications, which has limited his access to competitive pricing that occurred elsewhere since August, when Shaw introduced its Internet 150 service at $80 a month.

Vancouver’s Metro daily paper has recently been running back-page ads featuring former hockey enforcer Tie Domi promoting Comwave’s high-speed Internet and home phone package at $50/month (plus taxes and a $1.45 911 fee). The fine print mentions an activation fee of $60 and there is a vague reference to shipping fees.

A further check of the fine print shows the so-called “high-speed” Internet has a download speed of 6 Mbps and an upload speed of 800 Kbps. Both figures are prefixed with the catch-all term “up to.”

Those numbers might be OK for very pedestrian use but these really are low-end figures. Even the Canadian government has said everyone should have access to broadband Internet access at a level of 50 Mbps.

On this two-service plan, the data cap is 75 GB, with a 25 cents per GB overage rate. But the smiling Domi visage is pointing at an offer of $10 for unlimited data. In other words, let’s set the effective rate at $60/month, as 75 GB is really going to be insufficient for many users.

Even then, more fine print says “Unlimited Data Usage” is governed by a “Fair Usage” policy, the details for which require some online lookup.

Need another incentive? Comwave says you’ll get six months of free home phone when you transfer in your number on a three-year term. Coupled with free installation and equipment rental, that is supposed to represent $240 in savings. The advertisement doesn’t spell out exactly how that might be calculated.

Three-year terms are something to be wary of in the telecom sector. They’ve been eliminated from the mobility (cell phone) market. Given the very low data speeds being offered here by Comwave, there is every reason to be skeptical of such a lengthy term.

Still interested? Check out the Comwave offer at comwave.net.

TV, home phone, and Internet service delivery remains a bit of a minefield of confusing and continuously varying offers and options. It’s no wonder some want to be done with one or two of these completely by cancelling home phone service and using self-controlled TV delivery, be it over the air with an antenna, or through some form of streaming device.

As if to underscore that confusion, reader Brian Powell sent an update on his situation just as this column went to press. “I switched over to AEBC as my Internet provider and my Telus bill dropped by $85, but I can’t get 25 Mbps from AEBC. Apparently the infrastructure in Ladner can’t handle anything over 15 Mbps for now.”

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pvogel@outlook.com