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I need cable/internet. Should I go with Comcast, DirectTV, or DISH Network?
October 15, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I need cable/internet. Should I go with Comcast, DirectTV, or DISH Network?

I just moved into a new apartment in Arlington, VA and I need cable. I have a 50" Panasonic plasma and I want as much HD as possible. I'm pretty sure we'll have line-of-sight to the satellites, as well.

I despise Comcast because of its internet throttling/bandwidth and it's horrible customer service (I should have cable already but they screwed me over).

Do I go with satellite? If so, do I get DISH or DirectTV? Have you all had problems with rain fade, reception in storms, etc.?

And if I get them, should I go with Comcast shitty internet or Verizon? Or do they have satellite internet?
posted by decrescendo to Technology (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
We don't have the FiOS option for some reason, either. Supposedly my complex won't be wired for that for another year. (I don't know why it would take that long.)
posted by decrescendo at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2008


Don't go with satellite internet if you play games, use Skype, or Vonage- the bandwidth is great, but the latency is terrible.

Comcast, as sucky and evil as they can be, is probably your least awful internet choice, unless your needs are relatively modest and DSL is available to you.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:14 PM on October 15, 2008


although i have had nothing but bad experiences with comcast, their service, and CSR's, i still think that comcast has the best cable/internet when it works.

*i hated having to say that*

i live in nyc now and actually miss comcast. i can't wait til FIOS becomes more widely available. it's the most like comcast (HD availability, channel line-up, etc.)
posted by alice ayres at 12:14 PM on October 15, 2008


As a former Comcast CSR I can honestly say, yes, we are terrible.

...but unless you don't mind the latency you don't want satellite internet.
posted by cimbrog at 12:21 PM on October 15, 2008


I think that I can get Verizon internet if I got satellite. I assume that would be Verizon DSL? Do they have something else?

But what I'm not sure of yet, is whether to go with Comcast for HD, HBO, and all that jazz or go with one of the sat providers. I've heard compelling arguments on both sides.
posted by decrescendo at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2008


Longtime DirecTV user here, and have had nothing but good experience, except installation is a major pain in the ass unless you like having tacky dishes bolted onto your house or like paying $200 for a pole mount. And no, the installer won't let you do it yourself. When we moved into our new house I went through this runaround and had to tell the installer to leave, and I got a dish off Craigslist for $20 and mounted it the way I wanted it.
posted by crapmatic at 12:29 PM on October 15, 2008


As a former Comcast CSR I can honestly say, yes, we are terrible.

...but unless you don't mind the latency you don't want satellite internet.


but I think I'd go with a landline for net and sat for cable if I went that route
posted by decrescendo at 12:29 PM on October 15, 2008


Longtime DirecTV user here, and have had nothing but good experience, except installation is a major pain in the ass unless you like having tacky dishes bolted onto your house or like paying $200 for a pole mount. And no, the installer won't let you do it yourself. When we moved into our new house I went through this runaround and had to tell the installer to leave, and I got a dish off Craigslist for $20 and mounted it the way I wanted it.

I thought there was free installation nowadays for that? All he'll be doing is bolting something on my apartment's balcony and running cable somehow (NO idea how he's gonna do that).
posted by decrescendo at 12:31 PM on October 15, 2008


Neither DirectTV nor DISH Network is going to deliver particularly fast internet service. If that is your priority, you need a direct (wired) connection, which means Comcast or Verizon's FiOS service (it is worth considering, even if you have to wait a year). Theoretically, FiOS is faster because they use fiberoptic connections all the way to the home. Comcast only use (pretty low bandwidth) coaxial cable connections between their local server (probably located at your local Comcast office or nearby) and your home. Comcast have historically been resistant to re-cabling, even when their are bandwidth problems (as this eats into their profit margin big-time). So you may find that your advertised "up to 8 Mbps" is actually 1-2 Mbps in your neighborhood. The bandwidth that you get depends on the quality of the cable in your locality (if your neighborhood was cabled a long time ago, the bandwidth will be lower), the number of people accessing the internet at any time on your cable spur (typically a street, a block, or a group of streets), and the capacity of your local Comcast server (some areas are a "backwater" where they installed too-small servers as they did not anticipate the capacity they needed). Verizon are a somewhat unknown quantity - their mainstream packages are about the same bandwidth as Comcast (5 Mbps or 20 Mbps download speeds). They have to recable your house with fiber cable, so if you hate them, you will have to pay to get your old "wire" cable installed again.

In terms of TV, there does not seem to be much to choose between the various providers. For equivalent packages, they all seem to come in about the same price point and have the same sort of problems with customer service (or lack of). All have raging fans and venomous enemies, if you read sites like Consumerist. Just remember that you will probably be gradually moving to the internet (streaming video) for TV viewing, over the next few years. So what seems like a good deal now may not be if you watch a lot of HD streamed video. Comcast's download cap of 250 GB/month equates to between 60 to 120 standard def movies (depending on compression), but (again, depending on compression) this is only 15 - 30 high def movies (YMMV).

So - to conclude - you can wait for FiOS (Comcast is an OK substitute in the meantime and at least you get good internet service, even though I share your sentiments about their customer service). Or you can get satellite service if Internet speed is not all that important to you. At least Comcast's installation charge is not a showstopper if you decide to replace it at a later date -- you don't have to buy a lot of expensive equipment.
posted by Susurration at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2008


Susurration,

I suppose I could mix and match satellite TV and cable internet, correct? Is that dumb?
posted by decrescendo at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2008


I just got hooked up with Earthlink cable internet (they offer TV and phone too). As far as I can tell they're just reselling Comcast's service but it costs less, no contract and no or lower installation fee.

It's been a week or so and so far the service and customer service experience has been great (jinx).
posted by eatcake at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2008


Very happy with Dish Network for TV. Their VIP622 HD DVR is the best DVR I've ever used. Dealing with their CSR's is no more fun than with any other big cable/satellite company, but that DVR is reason enough for me to put up with it.
posted by jluce50 at 12:58 PM on October 15, 2008


I'm currently with DirecTV for TV and Cablevision for internet. I do get outages in nasty weather, but I hate Cablevision with a passion and won't get their TV package. Plus the DTV Tivo is the single greatest thing for video on earth.

I'll probably change to Fios when I get a new TV, but I don't consider it an upgrade. I've heard some bad stories, throttling and filtering of the internet, stupid installers, being required to get fiber phone vs. my land line, and their DVR sucks almost as much as the Cablevision one, with no local or long term storage.
posted by Marky at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2008


Dish will be best for your high def needs, but as everyone else has said it will suck for internet. Comcast internet is pretty decent and unless you are downloading movies or something you will not run into problems with usage limits. Contrary to what others have experienced, I have received nothing but excellent, courteous and timely service from Comcast, especially for internet issues. That may be in large part to our local service manager. Whatever the reason, they beat any of the other utilities I deal with hands down in terms of service.
posted by caddis at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2008


I live in Chicago, and we have Direct TV for television and local cable for internet. It isn't that much more than a bundled package from the cable company, and we are completely happy with both. Plus, when one thing goes down they don't both go down.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2008


We have DishTV and whenever there's a hint of a storm, the reception goes out for anywhere from 1-10 minutes. Very annoying.
posted by bluekrauss at 1:35 PM on October 15, 2008


I suppose I could mix and match satellite TV and cable internet, correct? Is that dumb?

It's not dumb--I did this exact thing for a couple of years, and at the time it was the best combination price-wise. However, I dropped the cable internet for DSL when my region's cable monopoly (Charter) started charging a $10/month penalty for having cable internet without also having a cable TV package. I have no idea if Comcast does this, but if it's something you want to avoid, be sure to check with them before signing up.

DSL may be a viable option for you. It tends to be lower in price than cable at the same speeds, and it doesn't suffer from slowdown during peak usage hours as cable can. Latency is good--my ping times for google.com average 30ms (through AT&T DSL). If you can live with the highest speed offered by your DSL provider, I don't think you'll find any advantages with cable or satellite internet.

Also consider whether you'll be required to sign a contract, especially if you're planning to switch to FIOS when it becomes available.

I have Dish Network's all-HD package (recently rebranded as TurboHD). The HD quality is excellent--you'll still encounter a number of older shows and movies that are up-sampled from standard-def even on "HD" channels, but that decision is made by the networks, not by the cable/satellite provider (meaning the problem will be roughly equal with any HD service provider) and will get better for all providers as time goes by. Here in the Nevada desert, I've never experienced any problems from adverse weather, but your mileage will vary depending on location and satellite.

When comparing HD services, compare only what's on offer right now, not what they suggest is "coming soon." I can't tell you how long Dish has been promising [pick a number] more HD channels just around the corner (although to be fair, they have been increasing their lineup), and I know DirecTV has been accused of similar empty claims. Also, lineups differ within each pricing package, so you might start by making a list of your must-have channels, then compare to see what it will cost you to get all those channels from each provider.
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2008


bluekrauss-- check your dish alignment. The only time our Dish goes out is when there's a huge black cloud between the dish and the satellite, and it comes back fairly quickly. It got a lot worse when the teenager whacked the dish with a frisbee -- Mr R went out and realigned the dish, and we're back to very few problems. Considering that our cable (internet) goes out at least once a month, often for 12-14 hours, I think it's a fair trade.

It certainly does make sense to go with cable internet and satellite TV. We've had Dish + Charter cable internet since before it was Charter out here (10 years, now). The cable TV has never been any good, even with the new digital cable (we tried the new digital boxes when they first came out, and the next day I returned the boxes and cancelled the service -- we were getting better signal off the air for the local channels, and DISH had better selection of channels).

Dish and DirectTV seem to be fairly even in terms of reception and customer service. Go with whomever has the preferable channel line up *now*.
posted by jlkr at 2:31 PM on October 15, 2008


decrescendo - no reason why you should not mix-and-match. Comcast charge an additional $5-6 if you have internet without cable, in my local area (there seems to be regional pricing, so this may vary). It could be worth considering subscribing to a basic cable TV package to get all of your local PBS stations, if you care about watching PBS. This would add about $12 to your monthly bill (this is my local area price), but you'd get $5-6 off internet and not have to pay the $5 local channels charge on satellite, so it's not a big deal. The satellite providers tend to supply a "generic" PBS station, rather than your local ones (or at least this is my impression -- please someone correct me if I am wrong). This is a big deal for me -- we have 4 local PBS stations and they are all fabulous ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 5:06 PM on October 15, 2008


!!!!!!!!!!!!

Don't go with DirecTV for Internet. They have terrible terms of service that include - a clause that limits your total bandwidth in a 24 hour period (something like 175 mb, which I guess might be fine for some). If you go over this, the speed drops to below dial-up for an entire 24 hour period. Very, very frustrating. Plus, there are major slowdowns during peak times (evenings).

I'm so glad that we got out and found a local provider.
posted by PixelatorOfTime at 5:53 PM on October 15, 2008


I've had DirecTV for about 8 months now, and I've been happy with them.

One caveat though to watch out for is installation, especially if you're in an apartment. Speaking from experience, I was expecting installation to be free, as they told me, but, it's "standard" installation, which means that if they can't put the satellite on the roof (which, most complexes won't let you do), they'll want to attach it to your patio railing (which, my complex didn't want to happen because it rots the wood )...so, I had to pay about $150 for a metal pole to be planted on the first floor (I'm on the 2nd floor) and cable run up to/through my window.

I'm in Texas, and got one freak snow flurry earlier in the year and my satellite actually lost service because snow had accumulated on it. All I had to do was wipe it off; however, I could see that being a problem if you're up north and run into a bit more snow than we do here.

FWIW, my SO has Dish Network, and she didn't really care for their customer service or their installation crew (even if they are contracted out to a 3rd party, I think), and I've been at her house numerous times when her satellite has gone out during a windy rain storm. Never for very long though, but still. She's going to ditch Dish and I'll carry my DirecTV service over to the house later this year.

Also, don't let either DirecTV or Dish tell you you *need* a land line. You don't.

posted by mrhaydel at 6:39 PM on October 15, 2008


Verizon Rules FIOS just do it
posted by patnok at 6:42 PM on October 15, 2008


Oh, and if you think cable is more robust than satellite ... my Comcast cable goes out or gets jittery every time there is a bad thunderstorm or a snowstorm. Cable may be more robust, but they obviously get their feed from a satellite ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 8:52 PM on October 15, 2008


Cable is vastly more robust than satellite internet, susurration.

Satellite internet access involves very high latency (that pesky speed of light). Once any individual download has started, it moves along reasonably quickly, but there's a full second lag between sending any request and getting a response, which kills gaming and voip, makes ssh painful to use, and slows down all sorts of things you wouldn't necessarily expect. (It's faster to check my email over dialup than over the satellite.)

They also impose very strict bandwidth caps -- I'm on the most expensive non-business plan available from HughesNet, which used to be called DirecWay; it limits me to 475MB per day. Which is not enough. WildBlue (which I believe is what DirecTV is reselling now) uses a monthly cap instead of a daily one, but once you add it all up it's at a similar level; also I've been warned away from them by an installer who says they have too few satellites and are oversaturated already. (To be fair, this installer also was of the opinion that it's crazy that we can't launch more satellites, because if the space aliens can do it, why can't we? so perhaps he's not the most reliable observer. Another little-known aspect of satellite internet access is that all of the installers, apparently without exception, are batshit insane. On the other hand, the space-alien-believing guy did manage to switch us to a different satellite so ours doesn't lose signal every time it gets cloudy anymore. And it only took eight hours of him swearing at HughesNet Technical Support on the phone to get it done. So there's that.)

If you have any other option, do not choose satellite internet access.
posted by ook at 10:23 PM on October 15, 2008


Until my recent Directv drama, i had them for 8 years and loved them. They randomly forgot to charge my credit card two payments in a row, then took out 4 payments at one time. And they wouldn't refund the extra 2 payments and just said "it'll be used as credit to future payments."

Yes, okay, tell the electric company that.

So ASIDE FROM THAT ONE INCIDENT, I never had issue with them.
posted by damnjezebel at 3:30 PM on October 16, 2008


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