Comcast Vs. FiOS: Is There Really a Difference?

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

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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.