Changes in TV irk reader

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: Is it just me or are other people as disgusted as I am of what shows are on TV? I can’t believe people want to watch shows like “The Bachelor.” Marriage is not a game.

It’s too bad there are no more good family-oriented shows like “The Waltons” we could watch together.

We used to be able to tape shows on our VCR. Why are we now forced to buy extra equipment just to be able to do what we were able to do before? Greed. — Joanna, Lewiston

ANSWER: Sun Spots doesn’t doubt the profit motive of many of these companies, but changing technology is also a factor. In the “olden days,” everyone primarily watched the three main broadcast networks, so the programming had to be family friendly.

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Now there are hundreds of channels. Cable (and online) programming can show and say things not allowed to be broadcast. That means the broadcast networks have lost viewers and subsequently revenue and are seeking low-cost alternatives. You don’t get much lower cost than reality TV, where the “actors” are real people eager for their 15 minutes of fame.

The good news is that things will probably continue to change. There is even some noise about ala carte cable, where you’d only pay for the channels you want, although that is a ways off.

Meanwhile, you might seek out the channels that show older, gentler programming, such as TV Land, Hallmark or Me TV.

You can also still use your VCR (if you still have one) or a DVD player/recorder to record and play back programming. Most people prefer the convenience of digital recording, but you don’t have to do it that way. Mr. Sun Spots has even figured out a way to record on his computer, although it is too comlicated to be practical for everyday use.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have FairPoint Communications for my local phone. I used to pay $11.55 with LifeLine. They took that away and left me with a bill of $32.89 a month. They have a list of items you can apply for, but I can’t get any of them.

I live on my Social Security check, and we haven’t had a cost-of-living raise in two years. I can’t afford that payment every month. My long distance phone is with AT&T at $14 a month. I don’t know what to do. I could try to apply for MaineCare. — Maureen via email

ANSWER: Social Security has gone up the last couple of years, albeit not much. As for MaineCare, it’s for medical services not phones, and Sun Spots guesses you are already on Medicare.

If your income is too high for LifeLine (which helps ensure that everyone has basic telephone service) and you don’t qualify for other services, you might want to go the capitalist route for the best deal.

One thing you can do is call FairPoint and tell them you can’t afford your phone and need help reducing the bill or you might have to cancel your service. The representatives are knowledgeable and motivated and may be able to recommend changes that will greatly reduce your bill.

Be sure and have your most recent phone bills handy when you call, including the AT&T bill, when you call, preferably during the middle of the day when they are less busy.

Or, if you have cable TV, you might look into adding TimeWarner’s phone service package (you may have seen the ads in your bills). Sun Spots is not familiar with it, but perhaps other readers will share their experiences.

If neither of those plans work out, you might consider switching to a cellphone, which also eliminates the need for an additional long-distance plan. 

If you hardly ever use your phone, you might get an inexpensive “track phone,” which is a cellphone where you buy minutes as you use them.

Another possibility is to tag along on another family member’s cellphone plan. Sun Spots added her mother as an additional phone on her plan, which also served Mom’s state. At that time, the cost for an extra line was $20. It may have gone up since then, but being on a joint plan with others should still greatly reduce the cost.

If you want to go the cellphone route, be sure that service is available in your region. You might ask your neighbors what service they have and how it works.

Another advantage to cellphones is that you can keep them with you when you are outdoors or away from home.

And, finally, you don’t need to lose your current phone number. You can take it with you. Sun Spots arranged to keep the landline number Mom had had for 40 years so that everyone could find her, and Mr. Sun Spots chose a simple phone she could understand.

(If you want to transfer your landline number to a cellphone, be sure and take your current phone bill with you to the cellphone provider. They need some of those numbers in order to “port” the line.)

Shop around for the best price and a phone that will suit you. There are still basic phones available (often free with a contract). No need for a smartphone, unless you really want one!

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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