Saturday, May 26, 2007

Where's the Triple Play?

Google for the earliest mentions of "Triple Play phone tv internet", and you'll find a timeline of press releases going back to 1995. So, now, a dozen years later, there must be several bundle deals, and an intuitive search engine to help you choose, right?

Heh, heh.

Getting Connected in your new location, with an ISP, home phone service, and TV is still not a simple task*. Are you ready for the industry-wide Catch-22? All of the companies that I polled based their availability search on your home phone number. Once you have signed up for a home phone service, your options for bundling are limited to the partners of your phone company. So, there's no real way to compare bundle deals without excluding yourself from many of them. Without an established home phone, some sites will do an address lookup, and most will give indeterminate answers and 800 numbers.

As of today, here in 78704, the golden bundle is nowhere to be found. To wit:

  • Time Warner - "All The Best" plan is expensive ($135/3 services), and only available in your choice of Indiana or Ohio.
  • Verizon - I resigned myself to the fact that FiOs was not available. Their Triple Freedom (DSL/land line/satellite TV) package sounded okay. It was only after 15 minutes of discussing options with a telesales rep that she asked her supervisor, and told me that Verizon phone service was not available in Austin at all.
  • Extreme DSL had glowing reviews, but higher prices and DSL only. Their top speed was the same as AT&T: 6Mbps.
  • DirectTV - They bundle, but are not prepared to set you up with one phone call unless a) you already have a home phone, and b) your phone happens to be with one of their partners. Two misses. Otherwise, you could bundle them with WildBlue, a satellite TV and Internet outfit that reaches the rural fringe. It's new, has few reviews, and all of them were mediocre at best. Pass.
  • Dish Network was happy to give me the phone numbers of their five or more telephone partners, so that I could go bundle it myself.
  • AT&T bundles are limited. You can get a triple play, but only 100 Dish Network channels, and only 1.5Mbps DSL. They offer higher speeds, and Dish Network has more channels, but not via bundle.
AT&T All Distance Online Select offers the decent rate of $40/month for unlimited US long distance and local calls. However, the deal is Web-only, and requires -- you guessed it -- a home phone number. So, you call and sign up for a home phone, agree to much more expensive terms, and hope that the "Web deal" does not evaporate before your new line is connected. Until then, you get an error message when you try to switch packages:
Error: The Telephone Number you entered does not match an active account. Please re-enter your Telephone Number.

So, I am left to research each provider of the three services, and cherry-pick the best. I chose the AT&T All Distance Online Select for phone and their 6Mbps DSL. Television will have to wait for another day.

Several of the company reps I spoke with claimed "oh yeah, we bundle. Here are the phone numbers to call for our partners." Um, that's not bundling. Calling that bundling is like calling a bucket and a pair of sneakers "running water."

(*Caveat: all these comments apply to service at my address in Austin 78704. If you relocated somewhere else, your mileage will vary.)

Tools for an ISP Search

Consumer Reports contained only very general comments, and a link back to my old friends at DSL Reports. Their availability tool tries to do the search I need: tell me what bundles are available to me. However, the results were general to the entire state, and those sent me down some rat holes. E.g.: Covad, the top result, only serves businesses. The status messages were less than helpful:

YEP!, your CO is wired for DSL from one or more DSL networks. Since you appear to be living less than 18000 feet from the CO, you should be able to find DSL service from the options below.
No mention of what a CO might be, nor a link to a broadband glossary, but my CO is pinpointed on a map. The results from Search ISPs by US Zip Code had reviews (thousands for some, handfuls for others.)

Wikipedia offered some non-marketese descriptions of the communications companies, which helped untangle the snarl of brands and mergers.


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