WHAT ARE YOU BUYING WHEN YOU BUY A CABLE OR STREAMING TV PACKAGE?

How many people actually know what they are buying when they buy television services?

It used to be that you bought a television. What you got when you tuned in was whatever was broadcast from big towers on top of tall buildings — free. It usually came from the tower placed atop the tallest building or a mountain where you lived.

It cost nothing. You paid for the television and the broadcasting was for everyone, courtesy of the FCC.

That’s how it was supposed to be, anyway. What you actually got was something else. Unless you happened to be positioned perfectly to get clear pictures from the signal tower, you might or might not actually get the channel you wanted to watch. Or anything at all. Signals were weak, too. So you got “snow” and “rolling.”

If you had a big antenna on top of your house, that could help, but it was a lot of years before television had the kind of resolution we have come to accept as normal. “Free” signals have not kept up with the quality of reception we expect.

In fact, since the 1980s, we have mostly given up free television. Cable TV arrived. With a sigh, we exchanged free television for cable companies who could give us clear reception at a price — replacing all that snow, rolling, and rabbit ears. All we had to do was pay the bill.

With cable, you could see clearly — as long as the cable worked. You paid a price for this service. Initially, not a huge price, but it got bigger and eventually, huge. Ultimately, the price for cable television was bigger than the price for electricity, trash collection, and sometimes, heat.

They lured you in with “specials” for 3-months, 6-months or a year. And when the “special” ended, you got a bill so enormous, your heart nearly stopped.

Suddenly, along came streaming packages. Streaming — wi-fi — was the stuff that made our computers work. It turned out it could also power television.

Instead of trying to compete with wi-fi-based services, cable companies kept raising prices while customers said: “Screw this!” and dropped their cable packages. Despite all evidence to the contrary, cable companies are still convinced most users will hang onto cable because they are too stupid and/or lazy to make the change.

They are wrong. Of course, since they are still the only ones allowed to offer wi-fi, they can keep raising those prices too. I’m sure they’ll keep getting their piece of our asses forever.

Even old people like us refused to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior packages. Ironically, AFTER I dropped Charter (Spectrum — the absolutely worst cable company of them all) offered me a good package at a reasonable price. I said “NO” because I’m not playing their game anymore.

I know them. They’ll offer me a bargain and next year, raise the price by $50. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

So I bought YouTubeTV which is not only a moderately-priced platform but includes MLB and our local sports TV channel so we can watch all the baseball everywhere AND our own team (the Red Sox) too. What’s missing? HBO and Comedy Central. I miss HBO because of John Oliver — but it’s the only thing we watch on HBO and for $15/month, that a lot of money for one very good show. As for Comedy Central, we can watch it on the computer for free. I hate missing John Oliver, but it’s a small price to pay overall.

What are we buying? We are buying a platform that includes channels, just like when we bought a TV and got channels. The channels come in LIVE — just like “real” television. We can save shows (an unlimited number of them) but we can’t fast forward through them to skip commercials as we did on the DVR. That’s something we thought we’d miss but it turns out we don’t miss it much. Instead, we go to the bathroom, the kitchen, turn down the sound and actually talk to each other.

YouTubeTV is a platform, not a channel. It isn’t Netflix or Acorn. It’s more like cableTV than an individual channel.

Each channel is an individual channel that comes in over the platform. Live. You aren’t buying a “channel.” You are buying a live platform consisting of many signals.

What do you get? All of the networks for your area and a bunch of other channels, depending on your location. We are in the “Boston area” and get that package. We have friends in western Massachusetts who get a slightly different package.

Regardless, it’s a big package. A lot better than what we got from Charter including a lot less junk. More watchable channels. Lots of sports. TCM. Plenty of movies including Sundance, TBS. A variety of news channels. If you hate something (Fox news comes to mind) you can turn it off (we turned it off). A few kid things we turned off.

There’s also a connection to YouTube (regular) so you can watch some very old movies that you can’t find anywhere else via your computer, too. I’m really happy with it.

If Netflix gets any more expensive, I may decide to ditch it. It hasn’t gotten better — just more expensive.

You also get five family connections. We’ve only used three: me, Garry, and our granddaughter. Owen isn’t sure they watch enough TV to bother with it.

It has taken Garry a while to realize that TCM is not a separate channel but a channel that is part of the package that is YouTubeTV, that all those channels are part of one platform. That it’s like getting an entire cable package. For $40 a month. Including baseball.

Oh, happy day!

WORLD WITHOUT WI-FI? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Wi-Fi

Although we have managed to remove cable television from our lives, you just can’t do without wi-fi. As a result, Charter/Spectrum’s wi-fi now cost more than their entire cable package used to cost. $76 for a $10 telephone and the rest, wi-fi.

For the moment. I’m sure it will cost more soon enough.

Considering that wi-fi is no longer a luxury for most people, maybe it’s time to set some controls on how much it costs? It used to cost $30, then $40, $50 and now, $65. Next year, the sky is probably the limit. I bet before we hit 2020, I’ll be paying more for JUST the wi-fi than I was paying for the whole cable package. And we only have ONE source here. We can pick Spectrum (Charter) or nothing. When you live in a small town, you don’t get lots of choices.

There are at least some regulations on electricity and other basic utilities. How about some kind of regulation for wi-fi?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I’m going to be (again) at UMass today. Transthoracic Echocardiogram. I hope I’m in and out quickly, but you never know. It depends on what they see. I would much prefer they see everything ticking along like the proverbial clock.

It’s all “ultrasonic transducer.” At least something works without wi-fi! If they let me look at the pictures, I’ll be happy. I like it when I can see what they are seeing.

ON THE INTERCONNECTNESS OF THINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

The late great Douglas Adams (who shared my birthday, March 11th — I’m sure that means something, but I have no idea what) created a character that I dearly love. Dirk Gently (also known by a number of other names, including Svlad Cjelli), was the owner/operator of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

It operated based on the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” I believe in Douglas Adams and Dirk Gently. We all operate, knowingly or not, on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. More than half the posts I write — including this — are born while commenting on someone else’s post.

We are intricately and intimately linked. I wonder if we take for granted how bound to others we are in this strange cyber world we have created. I have read and heard much talk about the isolation of each person, alone and lonely with their computer. It has been put out there as a metaphor for the estrangement of people from each other, the symbolic isolation of individuals in the technological world.

I don’t think it’s true.

For me and for many friends isolation would be life without the Internet. Without computers. Without cell phones. For anyone who suffers a chronic illness, for those of us getting on in years who can’t get out as much as we used to — and whose friends have died or moved far away — and for young people whose studies, work, happenstance or life choices have settled them long distances — continents and oceans — distant from old friends and family, electronic communications are a godsend.

Super moon

If we cannot share a hug, we can share face time. Electronic communications are fast or instant and let us share in ways that were science fiction a few years ago.

Without my computers, I would be truly isolated. The fibromyalgia, arthritis and heart condition make getting around difficult. Without electronic connections, I would be a squirrel up a tree without fellow squirrels to hang with.

Bonnie guarding my computer

This post was originally inspired by Dawn Hoskings on whose post I was commenting when I realized how lucky I am to be living in a world that lets me enjoy virtual travel and participate in a larger world. I’m proud to be part of a community of bloggers, a community of friends around the world.

And grateful.

How about you?

AT&T’S “WHY DID YOU CANCEL” SURVEY – Marilyn Armstrong

They all do it. They sent me a survey to find out “why I had canceled my AT&T subscription.”

Lists of reason, 1 to 10 … and a LOT of them. Usually, I don’t bother to do these surveys, but I was seriously pissed with them, so this gave me one more chance to tell them how pissed I really am.

The sent me a new bill for $71. For leaving. I upgraded my package by resigning. Canceling.

She said it was for the month of January. I asked why it was $20 higher than my standard bill. Because I upgraded my package.

By canceling.

So the survey asked what (precisely) I hated the MOST about AT&T. Hard call.


I had 100 points to use for up to five selections, of which four were strongly in the running:

a — Bad customer service

b — Too expensive

c — Failure to have a plan that I need

d — Limited ability to actually get their signal. 


It was a difficult choice on every level. I really wanted to give whole hundred points (each) to a & b and another 200 points to “too expensive.” Maybe 75 for “lousy connection.” It would be more, but we so rarely used the telephone, the crappy signal hardly mattered.

That was too many points. Painful. I needed many, many more points.  And no matter how I did it, I would need a few extra points for barely usable service and an old phone that we couldn’t afford to upgrade. And a simple, elderly plan because we barely use the phone. We have 5 computers (maybe 6 or possibly 7 if you count a Kindle as a computer) and a landline. We virtually never go anywhere, so for what do I need cell phone except for the occasional emergency in the car or our more typically “We are completely lost. How do we find you”?

I got it down to three: bad customer service, too expensive, and lousy signal. I put 50-points on “Too expensive,” 40-points on “Bad customer service,” and 10-points on “Lousy signal strength.”

I would never use a mobile telephone for any financial purpose, so all the phone needed to do was make an occasional phone call or receive a text. In theory, I can also send texts but I don’t know how.

Personally, I think people who live on their phones are being awfully casual about security. With all the hacking and thieving via cell phones, people just keep adding more and more apps. How many of those apps are really worms? You folks who use phones for everything could be in for a rude surprise.

Meanwhile, one of the final question they asked if I would ever recommend the services of AT&T to a friend.  So let me be clear about this:

AND THEN, THERE’S AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

I swear that I’m at that point with AT&T where I’d rather chip half an inch of ice off the car than talk to anyone at AT&T.

Yesterday, they delivered the telephone that goes with the plan. Whatever plan that turned out to be. I actually had no idea what the plan was. Each time I talked to someone, they had no idea what I was talking about. I kept getting computer-generated emails telling me I had to pay $80 or $90 next month and $50 or $60 thereafter. I signed up for their 300-minute plan that comes with a free flip phone.

Yes, they still make flip phones. They are just like the old ones. In fact, I these really might be the same flip phones we used 20 years ago. They sure look the same, although they have a calendar and a camera. I’m not expecting much of a camera and for reasons that are obscure to me, it didn’t import my Google contact, but apparently, it will accept the information if I can figure out how to enter my email address and password into the flip phone.

Right now, I can’t actually turn it on and off successfully. It’s one button that turns it on and turns it off, but you hold it longer to turn it off. If you hold it too long, it starts up again. Meanwhile, the on/off button on the side doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. I wonder if this thing will ever work. I despair as I try to read what they humorously call “the user guide.”

I went to the site where they are supposed to tell me how to set up the phone and they never heard of it, but the setup site never heard of the phone. I was forced to (gods of olden days please protect me) call AT&T.

I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the phone on or move the cursor. She did turn the SIM on, but it didn’t have any information on it. But, it turns out, there IS a manual for the telephone. Not a good manual, but a “better than nothing” manual. I’m sure you know what I mean. Written by a software program, no humans involved.

“Why,” I asked, “Didn’t they include the manual with the phone? Is there some law against giving basic instructions to users?”

“This is the packaging for this phone, and it doesn’t include the manual,” she explained.

“Lady, I used to write manuals. You ALWAYS include the manual with the device. That’s the point of having the manual. When you get the device, you can make it work and you don’t have to spend three days on the telephone with AT&T.”

She said she was sorry, but she could give me a link to the manual online. I said “FINE. Let’s do that.”

But it wouldn’t come up so we had to clear my browser data and NOT sign me into AT&T and then figure out what phone it was because the only thing it said was AT&T. My home phones are also AT&T, but they don’t actually make them. I think they might be Unidyne ripoffs, but I’m not sure. They work and that’s all that matters.

In this case, she had no idea who made the phone, so I pried open the back and said: “The battery is an Alcatel, so I’m betting that’s who actually made the phone.”

And sure enough, Alcatel made the phone. Got the manual. Downloaded it. Saved it in two places — desktop and on Google — and then she asked me if I need any more help. I said: “No, I’ve had enough of AT&T to last me the rest of my life. I’m going to eat dinner, watch some television and try to never think about AT&T again as long as I live.”

Long pause.

“Thank you for your patience in letting me assist you.”

“If you’d included the manual, you wouldn’t have had to assist me.”

“Well, thank you for being a loyal customer.”

“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to eat my dinner.” And I hung up before she could say anything more. I couldn’t cope with another thank you for being a loyal customer because being a loyal AT&T customer doesn’t feel like a great thing at the moment.

Oh, and by the way, after a lot of conversation yesterday on the phone — I’ve had three days of dealing with AT&T, not to mention half a dozen computer-generated NOT the real bill — I am paying $29.99 a month plus local taxes. The phone cost $3.78 for shipping. That’s it. I am saving about $20 a month … and I nearly lost my mind in the process.

The phone still doesn’t really work, but I can turn it on, turn it off, and enter a phone number and probably, it will call the number. Pretty sure.

I did eventually get it to accept my wi-fi, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, right?

EVEN TERRORISTS NEED TECH SUPPORT AND OTHER THINGS – BY TOM CURLEY

Whenever I get a goofy idea for a post, I try to write it down as quick as I can because if I don’t, I forget it. After about, oh, 10 or 15 seconds. As usual most of my ideas fall under roughly three categories.

1 – What was I thinking?
2 – Good God, what was I thinking?
 3  – Wow, I was really stoned.

With that in mind, I took a look at some of my recent “Notes.”

Here’s one.

“The ISIS IT tech support hotline.”

My first thought was “What the hell is that about?” Then Ellin reminded me we saw a news report about how ISIS has a very extensive and modern computer network. I realized if that’s true, they must have an IT department. If they have an IT department, they must have a tech support hotline.


What must an average day be like for the guy who manages
t
he ISIS tech support hotline?

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello, you have reached the ISIS tech support line. How can I help you?

ISIS GUY: Hello, I’m having trouble with my suicide vest. It won’t explode.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: OK, I am opening up a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ISIS GUY: No, let me try that. Hang on. (pause)


BOOM!!!


ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello? Hello? OK, I am closing this ticket. This is the ISIS Tech support line. How can I help you?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: My suicide vest isn’t working.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hold on, I am opening a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: Yes. It still doesn’t work.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hmmm, that usually works. Have you tried jiggling it?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: No, hang on, let me take it off. OK, I’m jiggling it.


BOOM!!!!!


I think that’s pretty much how his average day goes.

Here’s another note. This one was an interesting question.

“How do you go on vacation when you’re retired?”

Good question. It reminded me of an old joke by George Carlin. He asked, “What does a dog do on his day off? He can’t just lay around on the couch. That’s his job.”

That got me thinking.

Do I get days off? Well, yes. All my days are off. Not doing anything is my job. I’m always on vacation. So, being on vacation is my full-time job. That sort of depressed me because I’m always working!

I can never take time off!

So, to take my mind off this existential Catch-22, I spent a week doing nothing but play a video game. Red Dead Redemption 2.

The video quality of the game is breathtaking. It’s the most realistic game on the market. In it, you are a cowboy. Sort of a bad guy who is running with a gang. You get various missions. Most entail going somewhere and shooting somebody. Or shooting a lot of some-bodies.

But along with that, you have to do other things. Like, find food, cook food. Eat food.

Feed your horse. Brush your horse. Go fishing. Clean the fish. Go hunting. Bring what you catch back home and skin it. (Sorry, I drew the line on that one). (Note to self: Does that mean I’d starve?)

And to get anywhere you have to ride your horse. And all the towns are a long way from each other. After a week of this, it hit me.

This isn’t a game. This is work!

A lot of work. I didn’t do this much work when I was working! So, I’m giving up on this game. Well, after I collect the money the O’Driscoll gang owes me, and I finish cooking the stew.

After that, I need some time off.

THERE’S NO GOOD TIME TO CALL AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Affable

Affable. I was in a pretty good mood when we got home from shopping, or at least as good as I feel after shopping when I have a cold and forgot to buy eggs. That was probably why I thought it was a good time to call AT&T and get my rates dropped. I’ve been overpaying for my phone for more than a decade and I was determined to GET the lower rates this time.

First, there is NO good time to call AT&T. No one knows anything. They transfer you back and forth and half the numbers they give you don’t work. Even when you get the right person, they don’t know anything. No one takes notes so you have to explain the problem over and over and over and by the fourth time I was repeating the same story, I was just plain pissed.

What I had done — THOUGHT I had done — was to transfer from my $53/month plan to the $29.99 plan which is part of the “Senior Nation” set of benefits for we old folks.

This required that I have an un-smart phone.

I wanted an un-smart phone in the first place because I don’t use the internet on the phone. If I want the internet, for this I have multiple computers. But our telephone distributor (they are morons there, too) said they didn’t have any, couldn’t get any — so you had a choice of a smartphone or? A smartphone.

We ended up with this Galaxy Samsung Google phone which does whatever it does pretty well, far as I can tell — but they only thing I do with it is to make an occasional phone call … like when we are on the road and lost (always lost, always and forever), or if the power is out and we have to call the electric company.

I don’t use it on the internet. I don’t use it to update banking or to text. I actually don’t know how to text. That’s embarrassing, I realize, but I simply haven’t done it … so I don’t know how. Garry doesn’t know how either. But Garry is anti-technical and I’m supposed to know all this stuff. I do know a lot of stuff, but texting isn’t one of them. Shoot me, but there it is. I also cannot change the ink in my printer. I hate printers and I refuse to even try.

After making this arrangement to get on the low-cost plan and get a free flip phone (yes, they still make them), I got a bill from AT&T informing me that I’d changed my plan and would now be paying them $90 next month and $60 for each month after that — which is significantly more than I’m currently playing. For having done absolutely nothing except try to lower my bill.

No mention of the senior plan. No mention of the free phone. No mention of nothing.

I called back. No one knew what I was talking about, but they kept transferring me from one department (who knew nothing) to another department (which knew nothing). Finally, I called back and said: “I’ve had it. Either you fix this right now or I’m leaving AT&T. You people are driving me CRAZY.” I have been an AT&T customer for about 15 years and there was a time when they actually had really good customer service.

Ah, those were the days. We were so young, so optimistic.

Phones

So eventually, I got the $29.99 (+ taxes, et al) and can use the phone I’ve got OR the one they are actually sending me. I don’t think you can transfer a smartphone SIM card to a flip phone. I’ll deal with that IF I ever get another phone. My current phone is five years old, but it looks brand new, probably because effectively, it IS brand new. I don’t use it. It lives in my bag and is usually off.

So much for affable.

At this point, I’m plain pissed off, even though I think (I hope, I believe) I have the issue dealt with. But who knows? I may get another bill any minute. Nothing like a long afternoon on the phone with customer service to finish off your good mood of the day.

Now I’m watching the news. The final crunch. I have such a nasty headache, too.