What Broadband Competition Looks Like in Harlem

My building only had one broadband provider until recently, as Stacey reported last week. But that’s changing, as Verizon (s VZ) FiOS just became available in my building, and the company is making a huge push to get people connected. So for those of you in other areas of the country, where broadband competition may be the choice between basic cable and DSL, here’s what true competition looks like.

Verizon made a six-hour marketing push in my building’s lobby to inform residents about its broadband and TV services, as well as the cost and speed difference between its service and that of incumbent provider Time Warner Cable (s TWC).

Verizon brought out a wall display unit, as well as Subway subs, cookies and water to attract a crowd in the lobby of my 1,200-unit building. But it wasn’t just cookies that the company used to bring attention to its services; Verizon is offering up some pretty dramatic deals to get people signed up as well.

The company quoted me a price of $116 per month for a triple-play bundle that includes more than 300 HD video channels and DVR; broadband Internet for 35Mbps upstream and 20Mbps downstream; and  phone service with unlimited local and long-distance calling in the U.S., Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But that’s not all. Mike, the Verizon rep I spoke with, said he could cut $20 from the quoted price for 12 months, making monthly pricing $96 for the first year. In addition to that, the company offered a $150 Target gift card on the spot to residents who signed up for the service today and a $150 “cash back” Visa card that representatives say will be mailed out 60 days after service starts.

I followed up with Time Warner Cable to see how its prices compared. For $99 a month, the cable provider offers a similar triple-play bundle, with a comparable pay TV subscription and phone service. But the Time Warner Cable broadband package that is part of that deal is much slower than Verizon’s, with a maximum download speed of 15Mbps and a max upload of just 768kbps. (In my speed test last week, I found my service to be running closer to 9Mbps down and 500kbps up.)

My phone rep at Time Warner Cable — whose name was Brett, and who claimed to be a former Verizon refugee — noted that, unlike Verizon, Time Warner Cable had no contracts or cancellation fees for its services. In contrast, Verizon has a $179 cancellation fee for those who decide that FiOS is not for them before the first year of their contract is up.

Brett also warned me that while I would spend a comparable amount on the broadband package itself, my cost of using FiOS would also include the price of having an ONT installed in my apartment and drawing power. He estimated that the ONT by itself could increase my electric bill by $15 to $20 per month, which would offset much of my savings from a lower initial pricing, as well as some of the “cash back” incentives that FiOS was offering.

In the end, I decided to sign up for FiOS. While I’m not a heavy cable TV watcher, the boost in broadband speed and unlimited calling on Verizon’s phone service seemed a fair enough trade-off for the $70 more that I will spend per month over my current broadband-only bill. Given the amount of video streaming and data transfers that I do, the increase in data speed seems worth it.

Plus, as Mike said when I told him I was a reporter interested in writing a story about broadband competition,”Then you should totally get FiOS. It’ll help you write your stories a lot faster.”

Oh Mike, if only that were the case.