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Best digital TV service

Consumer Reports magazine: February 2010

Best services, deals and

How to piece together a great deal for TV, phone, and Internet service

Shopping for Internet, home phone, and TV service is increasingly a buyer's market. You already know that if, like a growing number of readers, you live where fiber-optic services Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse are challenging cable and satellite providers. Those companies, which received relatively high marks from readers in our new survey of telecom service, have wooed customers with such signing bonuses as $400 Visa gift cards and free netbooks and DVRs.

This market also offers potential savings even if fiber isn't yet available in your area or you can't get or don't want the triple-play bundles of service that providers push the most. Shopping shrewdly can be especially rewarding if you're prepared to switch services or to negotiate with your current carrier when your enticing introductory offer is about to expire.

We discovered big distinctions among providers in a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center of some 69, 000 reader experiences with telecom services. Highlights of that survey and of our additional reporting include the following:

  • Fiber-optic service is tops overall. Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse received top scores for Internet and TV service and were among the better phone providers, too.
  • Cable service is mostly middling. The major cable companies typically got average scores at best for Internet, phone, and TV service. However, a few small cable companies—notably Wow but also Insight and Bright House—got scores that rivaled those of the fiber companies.
  • Satellite TV had strong points. While DirecTV and Dish Network scored below fiber and the best cable services for TV service overall, they were on a par with those top providers for channel selection and picture and sound quality.
  • Internet phone comes on strong. The best Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, which came from providers of all types, rivaled fiber in offering the best phone service.
  • Bundling has satisfied many. Overall, 85 percent of Consumer Reports readers who get all three services from one provider said they'd probably (50 percent) or definitely (35 percent) do it again with the same company.
  • It can pay to negotiate. Savings aren't assured, even if you bargain, but enough readers of the Electronics blog reported success in their efforts that we recommend calling carriers before signing up for or renewing service. We've even provided a script for would-be renewers to follow.

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