Rogers Phone Service

April 6th, 2006 by Potato

A quick disclaimer: I wrote this in early March (so when it says “today” or “last week”, that’s when I’m referring to), but didn’t post it at the time because I had been focusing on Rogers bashing a little too much at the time, and also because this is not one of my more readable rants (a particularly long one at that). However, Netbug recently praised Rogers Home Phone and I figured that as long as the rant was already written…

Netbug pointed out one thing that I didn’t consider in the original rant below, that you can lower the price with Rogers’ “bundles”: I could save 5% ($4.65) by bundling the phone and my internet service (analog cable doesn’t count for a bundle, but with TV it would be 10%, and 15% if I had a cell phone with them too) with a 2-year commitment. Still not worth it for me, living in rental housing with basic cable, but it might make the whole exercise less futile for someone with permanent lodging and a big screen TV. (Fun fact: for the first year and a half I lived here, I only had a 12″ TV, and watched DVDs on my computer)


I got a flier delivered in my mail today advertising Rogers home phone service. They send me the same stupid flier almost once a week, it’s getting to be an obscene waste of paper, and I’m thinking of mailing them soon to let them know…

The biggest problem I find with the whole thing is that their pricing is completely out of whack with what it costs to get a phone (hey Rogers: you don’t have a monopoly on phones like you do with cable TV, you can’t just pull prices out of your butt!). Before we get into the details, here’s my a priori assumptions and ideas on the matter: Bell is the old school monopoly, and the incumbent phone service provider. As far as landlines go, they are “the” company to go with. As a result, one might expect that they would have the highest prices, both due to residual monopoly thinking, and due to the value of their name brand.

Telus has offerings, and is a fairly well-known telephone company. Rogers, while well-known for cable and cell phone service, is a complete newcomer to the landline (I think it’s technically VOIP) industry [update: I’m pretty sure it’s only VOIP to the CTMS — that is, the cable head-end for your neighbourhood. After that, it’s on the phone system, not the internet — another source says that it’s simply reselling of Bell’s normal phone lines]. Thus, I would expect Rogers to offer the best prices in order to get people to switch to their service. After all, as a consumer I’m fundamentally lazy, so I will only switch services if there is a savings involved, or if I believe the quality of the product or service will be better. For example, I generally avoid shopping at Futureshop unless there is a significant cost savings, as the staff there are generally smacktards, whereas the staff at the Business Depot located in the same mall here are much better behaved. For me, the smacktard cost is about 5-10%. About a year ago I bought a laptop at Business Depot even though it was $50 more because the staff were more helpful, and relented after the first rejection of the extended service ripoff–err… contract. For my parents’ wireless router, however, I ended up getting it at Futureshop, since it was $30 cheaper.

Anyhow, for the matter at hand. The ubiquitous Rogers flier arrives in my mail again last week, and being a day where I’m already 3 hours late for work, I decide to read it (I can be a real retard at times). Here’s the offer: Local phone service + 1 calling feature, $29.95/mo (plus system access fee of $4.25). Add on unlimited long distance for $19.95/mo, or 1200 evenings & weekends minutes for $18/mo (less if you call less than 225 minutes). Fine print: Actually not too bad. Oddly enough, you’re prohibited from using your long distance access to send faxes (though I doubt that’s enforced).

It’s not a terrible deal, I’ll admit, but here’s how my Bell bill breaks down:
Local access: $19.13/mo, plus $5.95 access fee. I don’t get a “calling feature”, but it’s still $9.12 cheaper. The long distance is slightly different: right now I pay $18.95/mo for 1200 minutes (essentially unlimited for me), but they’re only good evenings and weekends. For the most part, I don’t find that to be a burden, the few calls I do have to make during the day rarely run up more than $1-2/mo. Looking at my Bell bill, I noticed that the system access fee is going to go up in April by $1.50. So I called to complain, and the agent was actually really helpful, which is a huge, refreshing change for phone support in companies (there was also no waiting on hold period, so I suspect it was a slow day and he was bored). Nothing to be done about the system access fee, of course, but I found out that my $19 plan had been upgraded to 1200 anytime minutes, and the 1200 evening & weekends plan had gone down to $12/mo. So, I had him switch me down to that cheaper plan (like I said, I hardly ever use the phone during the day). They also threw in a $7 credit towards the daytime long distance I had used in the last few months after the plan changed since they didn’t automatically upgrade me to the same-price “anytime” plan.

That makes the final bill about $13.50 cheaper for Bell (with my new long distance package), but assuming I pick up a calling feature at $6 to make the packages the same, Bell is still $7.50 cheaper.

Granted, if you absolutely, positively need call waiting, call display, visual call waiting, call answer, and call forwarding, then you’ll come out ahead with Rogers, since they charge about half what Bell does for the add-ons. For me, that doesn’t work: I’m very old school with my calling features, since those per month charges really add up. A year or two with call answer, and you’ve paid for your answering machine (though you do miss out on the ability to take messages while on the phone). I dislike call waiting (email me or call my cell if I’m on the phone and you need to get through), particularly since when you choose to ignore it since you’re on an important call, the person on the other end can never tell if you’re not home or what — a busy signal actually says something :). And with a cell phone, it just becomes a matter of “manual call forwarding” — getting people to try you on your cell themselves (without eating up airtime for forwarded telemarketers). Finally, for call display, I figure: why bother? I almost always answer it even when I can plainly tell it’s a telemarketer, and when I don’t feel like answering the phone, I let whoever it is leave a message (even if I can tell that it’s my mom and she hates when I do that).

This is simply not a very good deal, certainly not enough of a savings to make me switch. Bell has its issues at times (there are some billing horror stories out there), but their home phone service seems to be the best branch (most of the nightmares are for expressvu, sympatico, and wireless, in roughly that order too). The reliability is very impressive — I’m not sure Rogers’ phones would still work if we had another multi-day blackout like we did two summers ago, and that’s not factoring in the usual late-night outages that used to plague Rogers and still happen occasionally.

It reminds me of a discussion raging recently about the Rogers digital cable service. My parents got it, and have not seen the benefit. There’s been talk about discontinuing analog service in the next few years, since it eats up a lot more of the spectrum on the cable than digital TV does. The sooner Rogers can get everyone switched over, the better. However, the benefits just don’t seem to be there for regular people like me and my parents. There are many advertised benefits, and some quiet downsides.

First, the real benefits we’ve seen are pretty much limited to the time-shifting channels and Rogers On Demand. However, there’s very little free stuff on ROD, and what you have to pay for looks pretty over priced: I’m better off walking to the video store most of the time. The picture is clearer on some channels, but most have no difference (for HD, you’ll need a HDTV and a more expensive HD tuner box from Rogers; and this is a household where everyone wears corrective lenses, so buying a new HD TV isn’t a very high priority).

The downsides are numerous, starting with the cost (about 25% more than analog, at least for the basic package). The program guide is a joke (and is down or wrong a lot, especially in the middle of the night). Channel hopping is painful, as the digital tuner is significantly slower than the analog tuner built into most TVs. The seperate tuner adds a seperate remote; while the remote can learn to turn your TV on and off, it only controls the volume from the cable box, which doesn’t give you the kind of range you get when controlling the TV directly. Note that someone has refuted this point, and told me that if I “read the manual” I’ll find that there’s a way to program the remote to change the volume on the TV instead. Unfortunately, I never found this, and my parents’ system didn’t come with much of a manual, just a 16-page installation guide. Wayfare’s dad, who’s very knowledgable about technology, couldn’t get it working on his system either, and if he can’t do it what hope is there for the rest of us? Since the cable comes into the tuner box first, and then out to your TV or VCR (or DVR if you’re more hip to the times), if you want to record something you’ll need to program both devices to work together. My parents just barely got the hang of setting up the VCR to tape shows, so they’ve given up all hope of recording off the digital cable.

There are benefits to be had, but they largely seem to benefit Rogers: if everyone goes to digital cable, they can discontinue analog, freeing up spectrum on the cable for other things. And digital terminals don’t require a technician to come by to change the filters every time you choose a new channel lineup.

4 Responses to “Rogers Phone Service”

  1. Netbug Says:

    I’m just on my way out. Don’t want to point form all your beefs, but most (if not all) I can address.

    Want to lay them out point by point? :)

    The analogue to digital thing is CRTC btw. Plus, you know with digital, you get 160 channels with the basic package as opposed to the 65 you get with analogue? And it’s the same price (or within a few dollars).

    See, the problem with Rogers is that the advertised price is never what you pay. It’s almost always less. Esp with bundling and crap.

    If you point form it out I have a binder around here with the breakdown.

    Also, home phone never hits the internet and it doesn’t go onto the copper telephone line until it leaves the rogers network (ie. Leaves ontario). It’s ALL internal till then.

  2. Potato Says:

    What counts as a channel for digital though? For my parents, they seem to have at least 3 copies of the network channels (the “analog” version in the old position, i.e.: global on 003, the “digital” version in the 800’s, and another version in the 1-200’s, as well as a time-shifted west coast version). A lot of the channels are what my grandparents would call “radio”. Then there are vast tracts of pay-per-view, which we won’t use until the price comes down to the point where it’s not more economical to give my sister a buck to run to the video store. The end result is that I can’t think of any unique channels the digital package offers that the analog one didn’t (at least, not any we would ever watch).

    The digital package is 25% more expensive than the analog one… and I can’t understand why they would charge less than what they advertise. Plus it’s so annoying — I spent over an hour last night helping Wayfare & her parents set up the VCR and the cable box to record a few shows. And they’re like “so we can’t record and watch something else? Geez, it’s like we’re back in the 80’s with our betamax.” We also couldn’t get the remote to control the volume on the TV instead of the cable box, and we tried every remote control code in the manual. It just wouldn’t take it. So they have to constantly juggle remotes (actually, next time I’m there I should see if the TV remote can be programmed to run the cable box instead).

    All that said, I think that digital cable is the way of the future, and freeing up all that signal on the lines is going to allow for a lot more stuff to be done (whether it’s just more internet traffic, or something more revolutionary). However, we’re just not ready for it yet. We need another 5-10 years for everyone to have digital tuners built into their TVs (and for universal remotes to improve, or for remote control codes to be standardized), or Rogers needs to stop dicking around with these single tuner boxes (with slow channel hopping at that) and just give out the dual-tuner PVRs in the first place (rather than charging $700 for it plus $2/month).

    Right now almost all the benefits of digital cable seem to benefit Rogers rather than the customer (easier to service, easier to upsell/PPV, get to charge more, easier to prevent theft, frees up analog spectrum), so the onus should be on Rogers to manage the pricing better, and to step up to make this an easier transition… especially since I forsee further backlash when they cut off the analog in ’09/’10 and all of a sudden these 3- or 4-TV homes have to start paying for each outlet again (and pick up another metric shit-tonne of tuner boxes).

    So, it will be the cable TV of the future, but right now it’s really just for enthusiasts (and face it Bug, you’re a TV enthusiast!), and the only reason it’s gotten as popular as it has is on the back of some extremely aggressive marketing, and the fact that people can still have the other TVs in their homes work on analog (and for those who like to tape programs, most seem to just use one of those other outlets).

  3. Netbug Says:

    What the heck is a VCR?

  4. Potato Says:

    It’s like a PVR, but with a trade-off: you can’t record as much nor as instantly, but it’s dirt cheap and you can take your recordings with you and show your grandmother the clip where you made the evening news.