The Best and Worst ISPs

Buying a Bundle: What to Ask Before You Order

Buying several connectivity services--a bundle--from one ISP may sound like a bargain. But is the deal right for you? Before ordering, grab a calculator and your monthly cable or satellite TV, home phone, and Internet bills (find your cell phone bill as well if you're contemplating a so-called quadruple-play). If you're paying, say, $130 a month for three services, and the bundle costs $100, a switch may make sense.

Be sure to read the fine print, however. How long a commitment is required? And after the promotional period expires (usually 6 to 12 months later), how much more will you pay? Time Warner Cable offers a $99 "All the Best" bundle in some markets, but after 6 months the price jumps by about $30, and penalties may apply if you drop the bundle (at the very least, you'll lose the discounted rate on the remaining services). Cable companies typically require shorter commitments and don't offer long-term discounts: They might figure that you're unlikely to bolt once you're hooked up, since going back is such a hassle.

Next issue: What features do you get? Does the phone service include unlimited local and long-distance calling? How much are international calls? Is the telephone service VoIP-based (in which case reliability and quality may be important issues)? Is the broadband speed similar to or faster than what you currently have?

On the TV side, does the channel lineup include your favorites? Check prices for the channels you want, including premium services such as HBO and Showtime. Remember that cable and satellite companies sell channel bundles, so adding a single service may mean upgrading to a different service tier.

Don't forget reliability. If your ISP suffers a service outage, you might be without three services. (We say "might" because some bundles include services from multiple firms--a satellite TV and landline phone/DSL combo, for example.)

Vendor Features Monthly price
AT&T Quad Pack Landline and wireless phone, satellite TV, 1.5-mbps DSL Internet $135
Comcast Triple Play VoIP phone service, cable TV, 1.5-mbps cable Internet $99
Time Warner All the Best VoIP phone service, cable TV, 256to 768-kbps cable Internet $99
Verizon Ultimate Freedom Landline and wireless phone, satellite TV, 3-mbps DSL Internet $135 to $145

Service may vary by region, so read what subscribers in your area have to say about a provider you're considering. BroadbandReports.com (also known as DSLReports.com) carries lots of user reviews. Go to the site and choose Review Finder in the left column. Use the down arrows to narrow the search to, for example, 'Show DSL reviews from CA'. Better to do your research now than to post your own broadband sob story later on.

Jeff Bertolucci

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