Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time Warner Cable: Pulling It Out, Or Falling Flat?

Many of you know that I've recently been on a quest for better Internet/TV/phone services.  In the interest of helping out anyone else who may be considering these options, I thought I'd share our experience.  First, some background...

We've been using Time Warner Cable for several years, but I've been completely underwhelmed by it.  We purchased the all in one package, with the digital phone, expanded basic cable, and 7MB/1.5MB Internet.  The phone has been fine, no complaints there.  The cable is generally pretty good, with good picture quality on the HD channels.  To their credit, they have done a good job of increasing the number of HD channels over the past couple years.  I can't remember the last time I watched anything in standard definition.  The DVR boxes stink up the joint, though.  They need to be rebooted every few weeks, or they start getting jitters (the picture on the screen literally shakes back and forth).  Sure, you can return the box to any TWC location and swap it out for free, but their hours are too short and the lines are too long.  And besides, every time you do that you lose all the customizations, settings, and programming that you've set up.  There's a USB port on the front of the box, but it's inactive, and there's no way to save your settings or copy them to the replacement box.  Nice.  The user interface sucks, too, and has little thought toward being user friendly.  One example is the fact that they have no manual or guide to explain how to do anything.  I called TWC when we first got the DVRs and asked about that, and was told to just 'play around with it' until I 'figured it out'.  Nice.  Also, the packages they sell to customers include way more channels than necessary.  I think we have something like 1600 channels.  Of course, several hundred of them are pay-per-view that we'll never use and don't ever want to see, but is there a way to drop them off of the channel guide list?  Nope.  You would think that setting the relative handful of channels that we actually do watch as favorite channels would help tighten things up, right?  Nope.  You still have to scroll through the entire list to see what's on, even in your favorite channels.

The Internet has been less than excellent, too.  Using the speed tests that TWC endorses, we get download speeds of anywhere from 7MB to 16MB.  Yeah, right.  If that was the case, we wouldn't ever have a problem with our Netflix streaming service...but somehow Netflix can't maintain an HD signal for more than a few minutes at a time, and rarely maintains any level of signal at all for the full duration of a 22 minute sitcom, let alone a feature length movie.  I've spoken with Netflix customer service, and they have data showing the dips in bandwidth coming from TWC.  So, that's why I regard TWC's speed tests as irrelevant, and tend to lean more heavily on other online speed tests, which reflect much more closely with our real world experience and show a range of .5MB-2MB download speeds.

That, plus the ridiculously common short service outages -- 8 hours here, 24 hours there -- that occur every couple of months, and it's a lackluster experience overall.  So, I was considering switching to AT&T U-Verse.  I have a co-worker who's had good luck with it, and it offers several features that I like, including an all-house DVR and the ability to record four shows at one time.  I checked with some friends and acquaintances to see what they thought of U-Verse and got some mixed responses.  Basically, there are problems with both TWC and U-Verse, so it's kind of a toss-up.  I was still thinking about taking the plunge, just to snub TWC.

Then I got an e-mail about TWC's new Signature Home service.  It promised a veritable utopia of service offerings, including 'blazing fast' Internet, all-house DVRs, the ability to record four shows at once, and lots of other features, and for just a small increase over what we were already paying.  I called and asked a few more questions.  Apparently, 'blazing fast' Internet was 50MB download and 5MB upload speeds.  Wow!  If that's the case, that should at least quadruple our current Internet speeds, maybe more (even figuring for the inevitable overblown TWC-endorsed speed tests).  They also made a big deal about how Signature Home Network customers got priority service for outages, actual appointment times (not 4-hour ranges...times), and a customer support phone number that bypassed the normal TWC support line.  All good stuff, if they follow through.

We talked it over, and decided to give it a shot for 12 months and see what happened.

The installation was Tuesday night.  A very nice man named Chester came by (early) and did his thing.  It was a 3-hour process, but they warned us it could take up to 4 hours, so no biggie.  In the process of talking with him about the new features, he mentioned that the 50MB/5MB Internet speeds weren't actually in production yet, but were supposed to kick in 'soon' (aneurysm warning!!!  More on that in a moment).  But it wasn't an issue he could address at all, so I held my tongue for the moment.  Our LG Blu-Ray player isn't connecting to the wireless Internet for some reason, but I suspect that's more an issue with the player itself than the TWC service, so I'll have to work with LG to figure that one out.  I'm slightly disappointed about the 'all-house' DVRs - apparently, it's a read-only 'all-house' functionality.  For example, if I record a show on DVR A, I can watch it on either DVR A or DVR B, but once I'm done watching it I can only delete it from DVR A.  Not a big thing, but given that we tend to watch-then-delete a lot, it'll be a minor annoyance.  It works the same way for setting up programming, too.  I thought we could just manage all of our recorded shows from one (let's call it the primary) DVR and only use the other one as a read-only DVR...until I tried to record 4 shows at once from the primary DVR.  Can't do it.  Their promise of recording 4 shows at once is contingent upon recording two shows from each DVR, not from a single one.  So, scratch the idea of managing all shows from any DVR.  But, this is just an annoyance, not a critical problem.

Since the installation was completed, I've done a little bit of playing with things, and my conclusions include: the user interface is the same - still clunky and sucky.  The HD quality is still good.  Though the all-house DVR thing is a bit messy, it's still better than having to fully manage two completely separate boxes.  We'll have to wait and see if they get the jitters over time; they look like the same hardware, so I suspect so, but maybe I'll be surprised.  I have yet to delve into the new phone features, so I'll reserve comment on that.

Now, the big one: the 'blazing fast' Internet that wasn't.  I called the dedicated customer support line this morning to discuss the Internet speeds.  The rep I spoke with told me that the sales person should not have promised me the 50MB/5MB speed because it's not yet available in our area.  I said that that may be true, but it was sold to me that way, and since TWC wasn't delivering on the promise, I felt that a discount was in order (until the full speed was implemented).  After haggling a bit, he said he'd have his supervisor pull the call logs to listen to the conversation, and if the sales person had, in fact, incorrectly sold me the product, a discount may be in order.  I'm supposed to hear back in 48 hours.

I have to say that that's far better customer support than I've previously had from TWC, which usually consists of a brain-dead moron following a script to tell me to reboot and then swap the box.  If they follow through and give me the discount, I'll be thrilled, and all will be well.  If not, well, we'll just deal with it if/when it happens.  Thus far, I'd say I'm cautiously optimistic.  Whether or not Time Warner Cable will pull it out or fall flat will become crystal clear in time.  I'll let you know.


  1. Hello out there! I wanted to give a heads up about DISH Network since I subscribe to them. I get over 200 national HD channels which is more than any other TV provider. As a DISH employee I can tell you that DISH offers HD Free for Life as a qualified customer. You should check out for more info.

  2. sharshar - Thanks for your suggestion! We'll see how this goes. If it falls through, I'll definitely check it out.