Comparing TV, phone and Internet plans gets easier, but not easy enough
While I don't mind calling a few companies for price quotes, the main difficulty is comparing one company's offerings to another's. Finding the same telephone service isn't so hard, but trying to compare plans for the same TV stations and Internet speed can be next to impossible.
Allconnect.com, a Web site used primarily by people moving and setting up such services in their new home, is trying to change that with updates to its Web site this week. While the changes are big -- comparing home utility company services and taking customers' orders -- the site doesn't yet go far enough to make it easy to find the best deal.
Comparisons are available and easy enough to wade through, but improvements that would make it easier for consumers aren't expected for another few months, company officials told me in a telephone interview from their offices in Atlanta.
"It's very difficult for consumers to compare apples to apples," said Glenn Goad, chief strategy officer at Allconnect.com. "Do you need an apple or do you need an orange?" he asked.
Some companies have better TV offerings, while other have better Internet or phone packages, he said.
"I don't think they make it difficult on purpose," to compare plans, he said. "I think each of them is trying to play to the strength that they're really good at."
Since services can differ by address, with your neighbor getting a service that isn't yet available to you, you must enter your street address on the site to get accurate comparisons. Along with TV, phone and Internet services, and bundles from such companies as AT&T, Comcast and DISH Network, Allconnect also offers comparisons on utilities and home services such as trash pickup, home security, appliance rental and newspaper delivery.
Along with details of each plan, it also lists any fees that the company will charge you for installation, so you aren't surprised when the installer gives you a bill. Allconnect doesn't charge customers any fee to sign up for or research a service, but gets a cut from its 200 suppliers.
But where it falls short, at least for now, is the ability to find out all of the TV channels available under the plans. Some of the stations are listed, but not all, a service that Goad said should be on the Web site in the next two to three months.
Allconnect also plans to start -- sometime in the fourth quarter of 2009 -- what it calls a "bundle and save with the choices you want" program that allows customers to build their own bundle of services from different providers. Instead of having to go with the bundles that Comcast, for example, offers, you can pick the best offerings from AT&T and other companies.
A minor problem -- although I don't blame this on Allconnect -- is that it doesn't offer comparisons on all of the services that are available to your home. We have Astound services at our home in California, and Allconnect doesn't offer Astound as an option because the company chose not to list with it, Goad said. Small companies such as Astound often make that choice, he said.
Allconnect has been around since 1998, and up through 2007 movers represented more than 90% of its business, Goad said. Movers now make up 60% to 76% of its business, with more people returning or trying it out at their current home to compare deals.
Half of its business is expected to come from comparison shoppers in the next few years, Goad said.
"The economic pressure of people trying to control their household spending" is what's driving business now, he said.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net