What You Should Know About DirecTV NOW — AT&T’s New $35 Streaming Platform

TV Television production concept. TV movie panels

AT&T finally announced the price for DirecTV NOW, it’s hotly anticipated streaming service for cord cutters. The “mobile-centric platform” will cost $35 a month and it will be available by the end of November.

In the true spirit of innovation, the price of the new service — which offers on demand and live programming from 100 premium channels — was announced in a Facebook Live interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

DirecTV NOW, which was first announced in March, can be viewed on smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, set-top boxes, PCs, and other devices. The service will include channels from networks  like A+E Networks, Scripps, Fox and NBCUniversal, according to Variety.

AT&T’s new service will directly compete with live services like Sling TV, which offers 30 premium channels at $20 a month. Like Sling, DirecTV Now will also have add-on options. However, the $35 price might sound steep to folks used to paying between $7 to $15 per month for on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO NOW.

Is it worth it?

AT&T offers more than three times as many channels as Sling, which could make it worthwhile to Sling customers feeling bored by their current options. The fact that it offers live streaming of TV shows gives it an edge over streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, which air shows and movies with a delay.

DirecTV NOW could also offer mobile TV viewers a big break on their cell phone bills. AT&T will not charge viewers for using data to watch shows on the platform.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said the service’s low pricing is intended to help “drive down prices in the marketplace.”

The news comes just days after the company inked a $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner in one of the largest media deals to date. The merger is expected to be carefully scrutinized by federal regulators.

The company has yet to release more information about DirecTV Now, but you can check AT&T’s DirecTV site for updates.

The post What You Should Know About DirecTV NOW — AT&T’s New $35 Streaming Platform appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Comcast Is Being Sued for Allegedly Deceiving Customers

comcast-lawsuit-2016

Washington state is suing Comcast for more than $100 million, its attorney general’s office announced Monday. The lawsuit alleges the cable giant deceived subscribers by offering a “near-worthless” service protection plan, charging improper service fees and conducting improper credit screening.

The state is seeking refunds for more than 400,000 residents.

The lawsuit primarily takes issue with Comcast’s Service Protection Plan, a nationwide program that claims subscribers can avoid being charged for certain technician visits to their home in exchange for a $4.99 monthly fee.

According to a press release issued by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office, Comcast customer service routinely misrepresented limitations that applied to the plan’s coverage for Washington residents, failing to properly disclose that customers would be charged for service calls related to consumer-owned equipment and the repair of cable jumpers, connectors and splitters.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges customer service scripts directed Comcast employees to state that the plan covers service calls “related to inside wiring” or “wiring inside your home” when, in fact, it doesn’t cover most inside wiring.

Comcast said in an email that its Service Protection Plan covered more than 99% of enrolled Washington customers’ repair calls.

“We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input,” the company said. “Given that we were committed to continue working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office, we’re surprised and disappointed that they have instead chosen litigation. We stand behind our products and services, and will vigorously defend ourselves.”

A Word on Fees & Credit Checks

The lawsuit takes similar issues with the “Customer Guarantee” Comcast makes to Washington subscribers. Per the press release, Comcast charged thousands of subscribers for service calls regarding Comcast HDMI and component cables, Comcast cable cards and the installation of drop amplifiers, which fix Comcast signal problems, despite the fact that its guarantee expressly promises not to charge for service visits resulting from a Comcast equipment or network problem.

The attorney general’s office also alleges that Washington state consumers paid a deposit to Comcast, despite credit checks performed by the company showing they had high credit scores.

“This indicates that either: (a) customers paid the deposit to avoid a credit check appearing on their credit report, only to have Comcast run one anyway; or (b) customers were forced to pay the deposit despite their high credit score, contrary to Comcast’s policy,” the press release said.

Signing Up for Cable

Remember, it’s a good idea to read the terms and conditions carefully for any cable plan — or additional service package — you are considering before signing up. That way you’ll know exactly what you’re supposed to pay. (Case in point, while Comcast is accused of misrepresenting its Service Plan Protection coverage over the phone and not making information readily available to cardholders, restrictions are listed in the plan’s terms and conditions on its website.)

It’s also smart to regularly review your monthly bills for unfamiliar fees and charges.

Cable companies are in the habit of checking credit whenever you sign up for a plan — and good credit scores can help you avoid certain fees or qualify for better rates. It’s important to check your credit before you apply for any new contracts. It’s also important to monitor it for any inquiries, since they could impact your score. (You can view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.) And, should a hard inquiry appear when it shouldn’t — say, when you didn’t authorize a credit pull — you can dispute it with the credit bureau in question.

Image: RiverNorthPhotography

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Comcast’s Newest Product: Cable Without a Credit Check

It’s no secret many utility and cable companies check your credit when you sign up for services, but that may not always be the case. In fact, Comcast is releasing a new TV package — Xfinity Prepaid Service — which doesn’t require a credit check.

Xfinity Prepaid Service is a no contract, pay-as-you-go plan for TV and Internet services that allows customers to renew their subscription every 7 or 30 days. There is a one-time fee for the starter kits, which includes the first 30 days of TV and/or Internet, and then you can decide when to “refill” your services.

“We want to create an easy, pay-as-you-go option for people who want more flexibility and predictability when buying our services,” Marcien Jenckes, Comcast’s executive vice president of consumer services, said in a press release.

The TV package offers two tiers — more than 45 or 140 channels — while the Internet package has one option with download speeds of up to 10 Mbps. You can choose to order these services individually or bundle them at a discount.

Service Availability

Both the TV and Internet services will be available later this year in select states — Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Indiana — and are expected to be everywhere Comcast serves by the end of 2017. Comcast has also signed a deal with Boost Mobile to offer Xfinity Prepaid Services in some Boost Mobile locations later this year and all 4,400 locations Comcast serves by the end of 2017.

Changing Service Providers

Remember, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of any Internet or cable plan you are considering in order to determine which one might be best for you. It’s also a good idea to comparison-shop before entering into any contracts or formally subscribing to new plans.

And, if you do opt to ever change service providers, it’s a good idea to keep track of your payments throughout the transition to avoid getting hit with late fees or missing a payment. The latter could eventually wind up in collections and may be reported to credit bureaus, which can lower your credit score. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

Image: Lise Gagne

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5 Ways to Save on Netflix

save-on-Netflix

Whether it’s shows on other networks or their own originals, Netflix is one of my favorite services for cutting the cord. If you’re a fan, too, with some creativity you could save money on your Netflix subscription.

Here are just a few of my favorite Netflix hacks.

1. Share an Account

Wait a minute — Netflix lets you share? CEO Reed Hastings has said in the past that account sharing was a positive thing, so they must be.

In fact, the company’s different packages are set up with sharing in mind. Their Standard Package allows you to watch Netflix on two screens, and their Premium Package lets you watch on up to four screens. You can also create up to five profiles on each account, so you could easily share one Netflix account with four people, each with their own profile, and never notice a thing. (Keep in mind, though, depending on your subscription package, you may find it frustrating to share if you can’t get on Netflix because everyone else is watching at the same time.)

While you won’t be able to split the bill, one solution is to have everyone buy gift cards and put them toward the account.

2. ‘Pause’ an Account

Expecting not to use your Netflix account for a few weeks or a few months? You can “pause” your membership. In the past, you could put an actual Hold on your account, effectively pausing it and the billing for a period of time.

Netflix has done away with that feature, but you can still “pause” an account by canceling it. (To do so, just go to your Account information, and click the Cancel Membership button under Membership & Billing.)

Netflix will save your account information for 10 months. To restart your membership, log back in and update your payment information. It’s a few extra steps, but if you aren’t going to use your account for a while, why pay for it?

3. Buy Netflix Gift Cards on Discount

If you’re willing to jump through a few hoops, you can search gift card marketplaces for discounted gift cards to stores that sell Netflix gift cards, like Target.

Target gift cards are often available for 4% to 5% off, and Target sells Netflix gift cards. Four percent to 5% off a Netflix subscription may or may not be worth your time — but hey, every penny counts.

When researching marketplaces to buy gift cards, be sure to review their buyer protections. Buying gift cards online can be tricky, but many marketplaces are mature and offer protections such as 100-day guarantees. Be sure those are in place before making a purchase. For more info on how to play it safe online, you can check out our tips here.

4. Choose the Right Plan

In previous years, Netflix had a whole litany of packages, and many members paid for plans they weren’t using. Nowadays, Netflix has streamlined everything. However, you still could be on a plan that’s more than you need.

Netflix offers three plans — Basic, Standard and Premium. Basic is the cheapest and lets you watch on one screen in Standard Definition. If you aren’t sharing your account and don’t care about picture quality, you might want to get the Basic package and not pay for HD. On the flip side, if you’re on Premium and don’t need four simultaneous screens and Ultra HD, why pay $2 more for Premium?

Review the different packages and make sure you’re paying for the one that’s right for you.

5. Don’t Miss Your Favorite Shows

This last tip is less about saving money on a subscription and more about getting the most value out of your account. Use third-party sites to help you find what’s new and what’s about the expire on Netflix. One site for finding the best in new-to-Netflix shows is Instantwatcher.com — their Expiring+Upcoming section is great for (as you’d expect) titles that are leaving or coming to Netflix.

Happy binging!

[Editor’s Note: If you’re looking to save on traditional cable services, you may want to check your credit. A good credit score can help you qualify for better prices on a plan. You can see where you stand by viewing two of your scores for free each month on Credit.com.] 

More Money-Saving Reads:

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Time Warner Cable & Charter Overcharged Customers $7.2 Million a Year, Senate Finds

time-warner-cable

A U.S. Senate investigation just gave consumers a reason to cut the cord. According to a report released Friday, TWC overcharged customers nationwide an estimated $639,948 between January and April this year, with the projected yearly total pegged at $1,919,844.

On top of all that, Charter, TWC’s new parent company as of May, told the Senate’s Subcommittee that it “over-billed customers by at least $442,691 per month,” which works out to $5,312,292 per year.

That’s $7.2 million in faulty charges. So what caused it?

Over the course of a six-and-a-half year timeframe analyzed by the subcommittee, “Time Warner Cable and Charter made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to and did not provide notice or refunds to customers,” they said in the report. Worse still, “Time Warner Cable and Charter did not automatically refund or credit customers for equipment overcharges they discovered.”

Fortunately, TWC and Charter have agreed to amend their policies. However, for its part, TWC said it “will not investigate when it began overcharging those customers unless customers bring specific concerns to the company’s attention.” The new policies will alert customers to overcharges and help them decide whether to take a credit or refund.

In response to a request for comment, a Charter spokesperson provided the following statement via email:

“An audit of our set-top box charges over the last nine months found them to be over 99% accurate. To move us closer to 100% accuracy and permanently resolve this issue, we have installed new controls to ensure discrepancies are caught and eliminated on a daily basis. Charter customers who were incorrectly charged for set-top boxes are being notified and given a 12-month credit for these fees. … We will put controls into place to catch such instances daily [at TWC], as we now have installed at Charter, but that will take approximately 60 to 90 days. Until then, we will proactively issue a one-month credit to any TWC customer that the current monthly process reveals was overcharged.”

If you’re thinking of switching cable providers, be sure you know where your credit stands. It isn’t uncommon for utility and cable companies to run a credit check when you apply, and you could potentially pay a larger deposit if you have bad credit. You can view your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com. Not making sense of it all? You can read our tips for understanding your credit score.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Craig McCausland

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Time Warner Cable & Charter Overcharged Customers $7.2 Million a Year, Senate Finds

time-warner-cable

A U.S. Senate investigation just gave consumers a reason to cut the cord. According to a report released Friday, TWC overcharged customers nationwide an estimated $639,948 between January and April this year, with the projected yearly total pegged at $1,919,844.

On top of all that, Charter, TWC’s new parent company as of May, told the Senate’s Subcommittee that it “over-billed customers by at least $442,691 per month,” which works out to $5,312,292 per year.

That’s $7.2 million in faulty charges. So what caused it?

Over the course of a six-and-a-half year timeframe analyzed by the subcommittee, “Time Warner Cable and Charter made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to and did not provide notice or refunds to customers,” they said in the report. Worse still, “Time Warner Cable and Charter did not automatically refund or credit customers for equipment overcharges they discovered.”

Fortunately, TWC and Charter have agreed to amend their policies. However, for its part, TWC said it “will not investigate when it began overcharging those customers unless customers bring specific concerns to the company’s attention.” The new policies will alert customers to overcharges and help them decide whether to take a credit or refund.

In response to a request for comment, a Charter spokesperson provided the following statement via email:

“An audit of our set-top box charges over the last nine months found them to be over 99% accurate. To move us closer to 100% accuracy and permanently resolve this issue, we have installed new controls to ensure discrepancies are caught and eliminated on a daily basis. Charter customers who were incorrectly charged for set-top boxes are being notified and given a 12-month credit for these fees. … We will put controls into place to catch such instances daily [at TWC], as we now have installed at Charter, but that will take approximately 60 to 90 days. Until then, we will proactively issue a one-month credit to any TWC customer that the current monthly process reveals was overcharged.”

If you’re thinking of switching cable providers, be sure you know where your credit stands. It isn’t uncommon for utility and cable companies to run a credit check when you apply, and you could potentially pay a larger deposit if you have bad credit. You can view your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com. Not making sense of it all? You can read our tips for understanding your credit score.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Craig McCausland

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A New Law Could Make Canceling Comcast as Easy as One Click

How to Avoid Wasting Thousands on a New Computer

Canceling your cable subscription can be easier said than done. Major providers generally require subscribers to call if they want to disconnect service, as this gives the sales agents an opportunity to talk the consumer out of their decision. (Listen to this viral phone call in which podcast host Ryan Block tries for eight minutes to cancel his Comcast subscription.) On top of that, many customers sign a contract that requires them to pay hefty early termination fees if they want to pull the plug before its end date.

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto proposed an in-state bill that could address the first hassle by requiring companies that allow online cable or internet subscriptions to also allow customers to cancel those services with just one click.

“It just makes sense, that if you are able to sign up for a service online, you should also be able to cancel it the same way,” Gatto said in a press release.

Gatto’s press release goes on to mention Block, who purportedly spent 18 minutes on the phone with a Comcast representative trying to cancel his service and arrange for return of his cable card.

Comcast declined to comment on the bill, citing that the proposal is not a Comcast-specific issue. It directed Credit.com to the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, which did not immediately respond with comment.

Paying for Cable

Gatto’s bill would have to pass before any change to the current system would be implemented — and, even then, it would be restricted to California.

If you currently feel you’re paying too much for your cable service, you can call your provider to see if they offer a “skinny” package, which is a slimmed-down list of channels for a lower price. You also might research prices of different cable packages in your area and then either switch your service or use the possibility of cancellation to broker a better deal with your current provider.

In either case, it could help to improve your credit beforehand, as providers generally offer lower rates and fees to people with good credit scores. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com. If your score is in rough shape, you can fix your credit by disputing any errors on your credit report, addressing your credit score killers and focus on maintaining smart spending habits, like making all payments on time.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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Here’s How Much Comcast Data Caps Cost One Customer Every Month

While Comcast moves ahead with its plan to add cell-phone-like data usage fees to home Internet service, consumers like Kimberly Richardson are feeling the pain. And if you are a heavy user and part of Comcast’s new fee trial, expect your bills to go up in January.

Richardson, who lives in Atlanta, regularly exceeds Comcast’s 300 GB usage cap. In July, she was charged $70 for overages. In August, $90. Meanwhile, warnings that her family is about to exceed its allotment seem to come earlier and earlier each month.

“Today, December 7th, I just got a notice that we have already used our 300 GB of data for the entire month of December!!!! What?? It’s only 7 days into the billing cycle!!!” she wrote to me recently. “This seems ridiculous since we have only been home TWO of these days!!! We will probably be billed an extra $100 to $140 in overage costs just for this month. I spoke with three different people, including management, and got no help.”

Even more frustrating, said Richardson: There’s no way to know if Comcast is accurately counting data usage. While Comcast offers some usage information on its website, it is sparse on details. “There is no data meter showing the hours of data usage or what was downloaded either, which is suspect. They only provide the totals of data, but this isn’t helpful or specific,” she said.

Comcast announced it was going to expand its existing trial of cap-and-charge-excess-fees back in September. (Trials in Richardson’s area had started earlier.) Not surprisingly, consumers strongly dislike the move. The website CutCableToday.com reported this week that 13,000 complaints related to the data caps were filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Comcast sent notices in September that gave consumers a three-month courtesy period to get used to the caps. It expires in January.

When I contacted Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas to discuss Richardson’s complaint, he repeated what he told me in September — that 92% of users would not be impacted by the 300 GB limit. Customer service agents contacted Richardson and walked her through tools designed to help consumers understand their usage patterns, he said.

While Douglas said he couldn’t discuss Richardson’s account for privacy reasons, he said there are situations where family members use websites or applications that require a lot of data — even when they aren’t in the house — and families should have discussions about data usage. “We’ve created FAQs about our plans. We have a data usage calculator on our website so consumers can estimate how much data they’ll need,” he said. A data usage meter available to account holders shows a three-month history, he added.

When asked if Comcast plans to offer more granular tools for examining usage patterns — routinely offered with smartphones — Douglas said Comcast was taking feedback from customers on the issue. “People are learning how to manage data usage from their wireless experiences and we’ll continue to study it,” he said.

Richardson wasn’t happy with Comcast’s explanation, however. “Basically, nothing was resolved,” she said. “We have a better understanding on what could be using up our data each month, but there isn’t anything we can do about it. We weren’t able to get a refund on the data charges or regulate our data usage without getting rid of devices. We still don’t have any proof that we are actually using that amount of data, and there isn’t a specific data meter going forward telling us what we are using.”

Other consumers who chimed in on my original story about the caps have the same complaint. “I know for a fact that I have not used 300 GB,” wrote one. “I live with my two young children. On weekdays, they go to school and I go to work. We get home between 5:30 and 6:00. They are not allowed TV or electronic use during the week. They are gone out of the home every other weekend, and so am I. And yet when I asked for proof of this usage, I was not able to access such proof because it does not exist.”

UPDATE (12/17/15 at 5:15 ET): Comcast says it uses outside auditors to verify the accuracy of its usage metering technology. Consumers can read about the audits here.

Richardson did sign up for a new plan Comcast will offer in Atlanta starting in January. For an extra $35 each month, her family will once again enjoy unlimited data.

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