On January 12th, 2011, the town of Bethlehem (NY) will be holding a monthly town meeting.  One of the topics on the agenda is to have a public hearing to allow the public to voice their opinion on whether or not to allow Verizon to provide FiOS TV.  This would be a competing cable TV service, going up against Time Warner Cable (the current provider).

This should be interesting for a few reasons.  For the last few years,Verizon has provided FiOS Internet service in parts of Bethlehem.  I’m in one of those parts and have had FiOS since it became available.  Verizon started laying down cable through out the entire town for FiOS, but abandoned that task when the economy tanked in 2008.  I heard a rumor that Time Warner was able to put pressure to block additional FiOS deployment, but I haven’t seen any proof of that.

To be able to offer TV to the town, Verizon will have to lay down fiber through out the rest of the town.  Or at the very least, cover the same area served by Time Warner Cable.  That’s a significant expense for Verizon and will take some time to rollout.

This should make Time Warner Cable very nervous.  I know a fair number of people who get the “All The Best” package from Time Warner Cable, with TV, Internet, and telephone service all bundled together,  When Verizon wired up my neighborhood with FiOS, almost no one wanted to switch from Time Warner Cable’s package to some mixture of Time Warner Cable and Verizon.  Verizon did not have FiOS TV, their equivalent to the Time Warner Cable bundle was FiOS  Internet, Verizon phone, and DirectTV satellite TV.  So most people stayed with Time Warner Cable.  The convenience of a single bill trumped the faster broadband speeds offered by FiOS.

If people have the option for a true all in one plan from Verizon, then they a competitive choice to over Time Warner’s plan.  Especially if Verizon offers a discounted rate for the first year or two.  Many people who signed up for “All The Best” were given a discounted rate for the first year (possibly two).  That rate jumped up quite a bit after the discount period was over.  If Verizon has a cheap enough rate, people will be inclined to switch.  Verizon also calls their package “Triple Play” and their introductory offer is $89.99 a month.  That beats Time Warner’s introductory rate of $99 a month.

I’m customer of both companies.  I have Verizon phone and FiOS Internet, and I have Time Warner Cable TV service.  If FiOS TV becomes available, I’m going to consider switching to it.  I spent some time talking to FiOS TV sales agents and it sounds like they offer strong competition to Time Warner Cable.

Verizon has a multi-room DVR called the Home Media DVR.  This is an upgrade from their standard HD DVR.  If you have multiple TV sets with cable, one set will have the Home Media DVR and the rest just need to have set top box (STB).  Each STB can watch shows recorded on the DVR.  I was told by the sales agent that multiple recorded shows can be watched at the same time, from different STBs.  I asked a couple of sales agents how many show could be watch simultaneously and they said it depended on the number of set top boxes.  I don’t think that is true, I think the limit is 2 STBs watching from one DVR based on materials published on the Verizon web site.

The Home Media DVR can record 85 hours of SD and 20 hours of HD content.  If you need more space, you can move shows from the DVR to a PC and back again.  You can also send your own video and music content from a PC down to the DVR,  This uses a feature called the Media Manager.  There have been sneak peeks posted online for the next version of the FiOS TV software that looks pretty cool.  It looks like the next version gets the following:

  • Support for an external ESATA hard drive so you can record more shows at once.
  • The program guide uses the 16×9 screen on HD TV Sets
  • An undelete button (sorry, I can do that now with my TiVo).
  • DVD style chaptering on recordings.

This version (IMG 1,9) is not out yet, but since it would take time to rollout FiOS TV in this town, it should be out by the time we could use it.  Some more information can be found here.

If you use a TiVo with a CableCard to get Time Warner Cable, there are a couple of benefits that you would get by switching to FiOS TV.  First off, no Switched Digital Video (SDV), which means no tuning adapter will be required.  I posted about the annoyances of SDV a while back.

The other TiVo benefit is that FiOS TV does not blindly set the CCI flag to the “Copy Once” setting that Time Warner Cable uses.  “Copy Once” means that you can record the show to your TiVo, but you can’t transfer the show from the TiVo to your PC or another TiVo.  Verizon FiOS TV does not have this limitation.

There might be some drawbacks to switching from Time Warner Cable to FiOS TV.  First off, you’ll need a STB or DVR for any TV that you want to watch cable on.  Time Warner Cable still offers the analog channels.  You can still watch most of the channels on a SD TV just by plugging the coax cable in the back of the TV.  You can’t do that with FiOS, and to be fair, you need a STB for every TV that has the Time Warner Cable digital channels.

Will we get the local sports with FiOS TV?  With Time Warner Cable, we get the local Syracuse and Siena games as part of the standard cable package.  It’s not clear if we would get that with FiOS TV.  We also get a local Time Warner news channel, YNN.  I could not get a straight answer from the sales agents if FiOS TV offered something similar.

There is also the question of support.  Time Warner Cable has local offices and branch locations in this area.  If a remote or DVR fails, you can drive to the mall or TWC office and get it replaced.  Will Verizon have locations in this area?  They don’t have any now, but a quick peek at the online store locator does show many locations across the state.  They also have online forums for support. 

Time Warner Cable has great live technical support via Twitter.  Does Verizon match that?  They both offer “live chat” support, but the Time Warner Cable Twitter support is manned by experts and they know more about the system than the live chat people.

Time Warner Cable does offer a multi-room DVR, but only as part of their Signature Home package.  That is their high end offering, $199 a month in NYC.  That’s more than I want to pay and I don’t want to switch from FiOS Internet back to RoadRunner.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about FiOS TV.