Comcast Vs. FiOS: Is There Really a Difference?

Rys: When it comes to your TV provider, be careful what you wish for.

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

I have met the devil I didn’t know, and his name is FiOS.

After nearly 13 years of living in Center City, I moved to the ’burbs in September. Along with ample parking and more Wawas than I know what to do with, the relocation also brought a new kind of freedom — release from the shackles of Comcast for my television entertainment needs. I’ve taken my shots at the cable giant on this site, usually after receiving an enormous bill or enduring a lengthy customer service call. If only Verizon’s FiOS was an option, I’d say to myself (and sometimes, loudly, to a Comcast phone operator). This fall, my wish came true. I’m almost three months into living my fiber-optic dream.


And guess what? Sit down for this, because it’s a real shocker:

Not much has changed.

The first thing I noticed with FiOS is that their standard DVR is very similar to the new X1 boxes that Comcast is (slowly) rolling out — a much greater storage capacity, graphic on-screen interfaces, and more options for finding and recording programs. My FiOS machine also works in tandem with a second set-top box, so I can catch up on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. while my girlfriend watches The Real Housewives of Atlanta (Ok, I watch that too, but you get the point). As I always suspected, Comcast is a step behind its competition; that old DVR I was renting was a pop cultural antique, like a Blockbuster video card or a portable CD player.

I fell in love with FiOS quickly. I couldn’t record high-def movies and TV shows fast enough, yet I wasn’t even close to half-capacity. No more racing to delete last week’s Saturday Night Live to make room for the new fall lineup.

Then, almost on cue, the problems began.

First there was my bill, which included $171.65 in erroneous charges. Only after a half hour on the phone did I determine there was a mistake and that I didn’t owe Verizon nearly the equivalent of a month’s rent. Next was the pixelation on my screen, as Law & Order: SVU turned into a blurry mosaic. Another call, and more than 30 minutes later, I was told that if the problem is located in the line, not my DVR, I’d be on the hook for a tech whose hourly rate would make a lawyer blush. (Kids, forget med school — learn cable TV repair.)

This past weekend introduced me to unprecedented levels of cable-rage. The season finale of The League recorded as scheduled, but wouldn’t play past the two-minute mark. I taped the next showing, and that one froze, too. On Sunday night, live television cramped up; to watch The Walking Dead, I had to flip from high-def to standard every 10 minutes when one channel stopped working. Homeland played through, but after the opening credits, the sound disappeared.

Through all of the headaches, Verizon’s customer service department — once I finally get a human being on the phone after upward of 15 minutes on hold — is a definite improvement over Comcast’s. After my first call, an email arrived with a coupon for a free movie rental — a small token for my trouble and one I appreciated. The next time, the operator gave me his personal email and encouraged me to let him know if my problem persisted. Another offered to call me back if he found any more useful information. All were friendly, apologetic and intelligible.

But when it costs more to watch television than to heat my apartment, is it too much to expect both customer service and cutting-edge technology that isn’t crapping out all the time? The lesson here isn’t that the grass is rarely ever greener on the other side; when it comes to cable, everyone’s yard is yellowed and lousy with weeds. Rather, it’s that hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have more ways to unplug altogether and still watch the shows and sports we love. Until then, take comfort in knowing that the next time your DVR freezes, or you spend half a work day on hold, the rest of us are just as miserable as you are — no matter who you’re paying for cable TV.

Follow @RichRys on Twitter.

  • Facebook User

    There are other alternatives in the burbs. At least in my part of Delaware County, RCN cable is available. Never seen any issues like the ones you describe and my DVR does 4 showsbat once! So proud to have never, ever given Comcast one dime.

  • lighter_touch

    Having had Fios for four years, I’m still loving it! We’ve had a few problems – a cable box went bad or we needed a new remote. It was delivered the very next day and I shipped the damaged item back. No problem. I never had to call. I worked with tech support online to trouble shoot the problem. I’m always emailed the next day to make sure the problem was resolved. I don’t have a DVR and don’t need one with Hulu and other online video outlets to watch programs I miss. If I want a “big screen,” I just plug my computer into the TV and watch the online show. I don’t watch that much TV to require a DVR.

  • Walter White

    I am a comcast lover. It’s clearly the lesser of the evils.
    Clear understanding of your bill in key.

  • Dan Snappy

    FiOS’s fleet of Set Top Boxes is in general newer than Comcast’s. That is of course unless you have a X1. That’s simply because they didn’t start taking delivery on STBs until 2005. Verizon is suppose to come out with their Media Server, the VMS1100 which will compete against Genie and The Hopper. I’ve actually had my hands on one. It’s the same size as a QIP7100p2 (the small black Motorola STB) and then uses extenders that are slightly larger than a DCT700. I have no idea what the delay on them is.

  • LeonKowalski

    I had FiOS briefly. VERY briefly. Four weeks to be exact, in Nov & Dec 2013.
    Spent the entire time on the phone trying to get Verizon to fix their abysmal
    WiFi (non)service. I even have transcripts of two online chats where the tech
    support droids pompously lectured me on why I shouldn’t expect WiFi signals
    to travel more than “ten to fifteen feet.” Nope, not makin’ that up, I have it in
    writing. Ten to fifteen feet.

    This was with their latest-n-greatest “state of the art” (VZ’s words, not mine)
    modem/router (Actiontec Mi424WR RevI). Verizon ultimately refused to take
    any corrective action, and refused to escalate the issue — claimed there was
    no escalation path. No higher authority.

    They were wrong. My money now spends much better at Comcast.

  • Hobbes

    As a counterpoint, I switched from Comcast to FIOS five years ago when it became available in my area. I’ve never had a single problem with my service or my bill. I’ve had flawless video and internet service, with never an outage of any type.

    I couldn’t be more happy with my FIOS service, and it is far better than the host of problems I had with Comcast before I switched. Perhaps Comcast has improved their service in the past 5 years, but I have no desire to find out.

  • AdrianHickman

    FiOS is also very responsive on Twitter for support. I’ve had no more problems than I did when I had cable in Drexel Hill (RCN) but the customer service is definitely an improvement.

  • Dom Reidman

    A few things after reading your article. 1) stop watching so much tv. Start reading a kindle book or get a hobby or even start a home business…just something because your ridiculous with all of your shows. Your the reason cable companies have become behemoths. 2) If your truely concerned about your bill being more than your heat bill…get creative. Buy indoor antenna for $30 and get free true HD quality network channels. Drop cable tv and buy few roku boxes and stream netflix. We watch more tv with netflix and free over-air tv than I ever did with Comcast.

    • Jim

      Why are you here reading articles about tv if you dont like tv? We like tv, it’s your opinion that we should read more. You like reading that’s great. Some people like tv get over it.

      • Dom Reidman

        I would reply..get a life then. If thats what your existence has become. I am sure your ex-wife agrees with me.

      • Lance Lau

        Jim, Reading and comprehension skills are lacking on your part. The author (Dom Reidman) made no mention of NOT liking TV. Matter of fact he found ways to save on his viewing time ,plus gave valid recommendations as to how to utilize other sources to acquire TV stations. Dom- you are a reasonable man.