Science & Technology



Jennifer Van Grove: Why this die-hard sports fan didn't cut the cord and is sticking with cable — for now

Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

It's the ideal setup for someone who wants to bounce around between games and avoid commercials, Randy said.

The only hiccup -- and it turned out to be a big one -- was picture quality. We're not talking about buffering issues, but rather missed details at a pixel level. While YouTube TV is streamed in HD, Randy still noticed a not-quite pristine picture compared to what he's used to. And it was enough of an issue to make him hit pause on his cord-cutting plans.

"That's the big hang up," he told me. "Here's the thing, you said it very nicely in your column the other day, (people) have to make choices. What's more important to you, having a great picture or saving all that money? That's a balancing act, and I get it."

The good news is that the picture quality in streaming environments -- which depends on a number of factors including whether or not your neighbors are contributing to network overload -- is improving quickly.

"Netflix is the gold standard," Verna said. "In general ... these skinny bundles have very good quality ratings ... and it's going to get better and better."


Decidedly undecided about cutting the cord, Randy went to a Cox store earlier in the week to negotiate better rates, upgrade his internet speed -- he was bumped up from 50 Mpbs to 100 Mpbs -- and get the company's latest-and-greatest Contour cable box.

If there's a lesson to be learned from Randy's experience, it's this: When it comes to dealing with your cable provider, if you don't ask for something, you won't get it.

Otherwise -- and this is important -- beware of offers that sound too good to be true.

Cable and satellite TV providers are famous for upselling customers on packages they don't ask for, often with the temporary promise of saving money.

"While customers may believe that, having called a provider, they are driving the conversation, cable and satellite companies seek to ensure that their agents are in control," according to "Inside the Box," a 2016 Senate subcommittee report on the consumer practices of cable and satellite providers.

The report continues:

Employees were trained to "probe" their customers with questions to identify additional services that they could be persuaded to buy. Agents at Dish were discouraged from asking "purpose-less" questions like "How's your day going?" and instead were instructed to ask questions whose answers might suggest additional services to sell, such as whether they have children (and might therefore want children's programming). Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) said, "Don't ask a question unless it will help you select and recommend the right package, unless it helps you save or sell."

Agents were even encouraged to listen to the surrounding sound at the customers home for a sales advantage; if they heard children they could suggest family programming and if they heard cheering they could suggest sports packages. Regardless of the reason that customers may have called, Comcast told its employees to "uncover 'hidden' needs" of their subscribers for additional services. Charter encouraged agents to ask "high value discovery questions" aimed at "aligning the customer's needs" with their more expensive packages.

Apparently, Randy had some hidden needs of his own.

Aside from the improvements he wanted, Randy was offered a Cox home automation package -- aka smart-home devices -- free of charge. Kind of.

The deal, he told me, includes free installation and a free starter kit, which comes with an HD video camera, one wireless door or window sensor and an internet-connected LED light bulb. All can be managed remotely from the company's app, offering Randy a push-button way to unlock his door, control the light and tune into a live video feed from his home.

The equipment usually comes with a $20-per-month service contract, but Randy said he was being gifted everything free of charge.

That's not exactly what happened.

"Because Mr. Ward was interested in using our new product, Cox Automation, he then became a four-product customer, eligible for discounts tailored to his needs. He was offered the home automation base kit at no cost for the equipment and no cost for the professional install," said Jennifer Andrews, a Cox spokeswoman. "To clarify, we do not have a 'free home automation' retention offer. However, based on this customer's situation and upgrades he selected, we were able to offer him a much more robust product suite for the same price he was previously paying -- 'a re-bundling of his services.'"

In other words, Randy walked into Cox paying $181.58 for three bundled services and walked out with roughly the same bill for four services. Without getting into the merits, or lack there of, of turning to a cable provider for internet-enabled home appliances, I worry that Randy has unwittingly committed himself to additional services that will see his bill creeping back up in time.

Plus, having become even more bundled than he already was, Randy may find it even more challenging to untether himself when -- really, if -- he wants to cut the cord.

About The Writer

Jennifer Van Grove covers e-commerce and digital lifestyle for The San Diego Union Tribune. Readers may send her email at

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