RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Mondays we talk about technology, and today we talk about bundling. That's what you use one company for phone, Internet, and cable service. A lot of us are getting bombarded by flyers these days, trying to get us to sign up for these triple play packages. To help figure out if it's worth it, we called in MORNING EDITION tech guru, Mario Armstrong.
First thing off, do you have any of these deals? I know I've been getting all kinds of pitches for this one deal, $99 a month, put it all together.
MARIO ARMSTRONG: You and everyone else in America is being besieged with all these marketing deals. No, I haven't been convinced at this point. I'm actually using different services within my household for everything from the Internet to my phone to my television programming.
MONTAGNE: The one I'm getting is $99 a month. Is that sort of the key number?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, that is, that's pretty much a standard typical package that people are seeing. And that's usually for one-year agreement, typically made up of a premium level of some type of TV service, standard speed broadband Internet service, and telephone service that may have a variety of different calling features.
MONTAGNE: Is there any risk to this?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I mean, there are risks to this. I mean, if I decided to bundle my phone calls, my Internet surfing, and my television all into the same pipe, the same connection coming to my house, Renee, we're moving into a time as well where we're seeing high definition programming, and people that want faster connections to the Internet to download larger files, how much bandwidth can we really sustain? I don't know, but I am scared to find out.
MONTAGNE: Okay, but if someone who's brave enough to not worry about that so much, hope for the best, let's talk about the fees. Will it be $99 a month forever?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, the first year is gonna seem sweet. You're gonna receive great programming, all these extra features that you will never probably need again, and then your year comes up, and then the real bill hits. And that's where you're seeing a lot of changes in the perception versus reality here. So you could certainly see your prices rise after the promotional period. But you could also see your prices change during the promotional period.
For instance, if you decide to prematurely cancel a bundled portion of your package, you might now pay more for less. So you have to really understand these plans and look at the fine print.
MONTAGNE: Okay, so what about customer service when you have this much going on from the same provider?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, the customer service is out of control right now. The segregation of customer service duties is just staggering. You would think that you could cross train some of these customer service representatives at a certain degree. I mean, the problem is you end up calling companies, you end up finding yourself in transfer heaven. You'll be on the phone with someone and they'll say, oh, well, I'm with the phone side of the business, I can't talk cable, so let me transfer you to the cable side or the television side of the business.
MONTAGNE: So while you're clearly unconvinced, at least for yourself about one of these package deals, but who would they be good for?
ARMSTRONG: Well, you know, Renee, there are some good things about this, right? You could have one bill, and that helps a lot of people, not have to try to manage multiple bills. But some other things that people are saying. For example, Consumer Reports, their latest survey has found that subscribers to many companies have been reasonably satisfied with all three of the most commonly bundled telecom services. I think that is probably due to those people that prefer premium or high tier cable channels.
So if you're a person that has to have Internet in the household, and you enjoy premium or upper tier programming choices, bundling will save you money and it's probably the route for you to go.
MONTAGNE: Any final advice, final verdict? Go with the deal, don't go with the deal?
ARMSTRONG: You know, yes, with extreme caution, and lots of haggling if you're comfortable with haggling. Three questions that you should absolutely ask, though. Number one, are there installation or activation fees? Number two, what will the rate be after this promotion ends? And number three, is there a penalty fee if I decide to unbundled or get rid of any of these services?
MONTAGNE: Mario, it's been swell.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Mario Armstrong is MORNING EDITION'S regular technology commentator. He also hosts the show, "Armstrong's Digital Spin," on member station WEAA in Baltimore.
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