Avoid These ISP Money Grabs

Category: Shopping

The U.S. broadband market is dominated by just a handful of companies that provide high-speed Internet, TV and phone service. And most of their customers pay far more than they should for those services. Here’s why, and how to avoid money grabs from your phone company or cable operator...

Save Money on TV, Phone and Internet Service

The latest market share data from Statista shows Comcast and Charter each with about 30 million broadband customers. They are the whales in the ISP fishpond. Behind them are Cox (5.5 million), Altice (4.4 million) and a few others with a million of fewer subscribers. These companies got big by gobbling up smaller, regional competitors, creating a situation where many consumers have only one choice for Internet service. So chances are good you're paying whatever they demand, and sucking up those annual price increases as well.

Telcos and cable companies employ legions of MBAs and consumer psychologists to divine how best to pull the wool over people’s eyes and tap them for as much money as possible. Regularly, they get together at conferences to “share best practices” on how to prove P.T. Barnum was right. They are totally awesome at fleecing sheep.

Don’t blindly follow the “provisioning process” laid out by a large ISP or you will end up as its dinner. A telco’s website is the first place most people go when seeking Internet service. And they find it, prominently linked on the company’s home page. When they click to enter the Internet service section of the site, they enter dangerous waters.

These pages are cunningly designed to lead a visitor to the worst deal for them and the best for the ISP. If you just follow its instructions you will get your Internet easily and quickly – you won’t even feel the hand dipping into your wallet pocket.

Save on Phone, TV, Internet

The first rule of buying Internet access online is: do not, ever, buy Internet access online. Use that website only to gather information that you can use as ammunition. If you go through the online ordering process at Comcast/Xfinity, for example, and choose the popular "triple play" (Internet/Phone/TV) package, you'll be lead through a maze wherein you'll be presented with a choice of several "deals" and upsells for each of the three components.

After you choose your internet speed, modem, TV channels, and phone options, you'll see what you think is your monthly subscription fee. You'll have to click on the fine print to find out there is a Broadcast TV Fee (up to $24.95/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $19.15/mo.), and "other applicable charges" that are subject to change during and after the term contract. Oh, and you can count on that "introductory discounted rate" jumping up considerably after your first 12 or 24 months of service.

Most non-techie consumers have no idea what Internet speed they need, so they shrug and say, “Well, if that’s what it costs…” and click the button to buy. You can’t question or argue with a computer. So exit that money trap and contact a live human being with whom you can negotiate. Online chat or toll-free talk will do equally well. The people on the other end are the telco’s sales people, highly trained and very knowledgeable. But beware, in addition to knowing all the options available to you, they are also highly trained in how to steer you to the options that are most profitable for their employer and unnecessarily expensive for you. You need to take control of the conversation immediately.

I use Optimum (an Altice subsidiary) in my area, because it's the only company that offers anything close to high-speed Internet access. Recently I was in the local Optimum business office, waiting in line behind a man and his son who were ordering home Internet service. The rep asked if they watched Netflix or played online games. When they replied in the affirmative, she recommended the (most expensive) 900 megabit service package. I wanted to holler "Hey, Netflix and Call of Duty will work just fine on a 25 megabit connection." But I held my peace.

(Sweet) Talking to the Customer Service Rep

Here's what I suggest. Start with “I want Internet service and I want to use my own modem/router.” Your ISP desperately wants you to lease a modem or router for $10 to $20 per month. But leasing is like the lottery: both are for people who can’t do math. Ask the rep to give you a link to the company's list of modem/routers compatible with its service. You could also Google the list using “(telco_name) list of compatible modems” and it will probably be the first search result.

Now, off to eBay, where you’ll find modems aplenty. Narrow your search to “auctions” and “used” items. Modems are not cars that wear out rapidly. They have no moving parts aside from their rarely used reset buttons and swivel antennas. As long as there is no obvious evidence of physical abuse, a used modem is almost certain to be as good as a brand-new one, and much cheaper. The Arris TM822A modem for which Optimum charges a $10/month lease fee can be found online for under $30. You'll save $210 in your first 24 months of service, and own the modem.

Avoid the "All You Can Eat" Buffet

There are plenty of other things that your phone, Internet or TV provider wants to sell you. Sheep tend to eat more than they need. People tend to buy more than they need, mainly because they don’t stop to figure out exactly what they need. When you chat or talk with a live agent, be aware that he or she is paid bonuses for “upselling” customers: getting them to buy things they didn’t plan to buy at first. The modem lease is just one example. Your ISP may offer a dizzying menu of premium TV channels, and an "Internet Security Suite".

Another example is Internet-connected devices insurance. “Only $4.95 for the first month and just $9.95 per month thereafter, you say? Full replacement value of anything connected to your Internet? Even if I drop my laptop in the bathtub?” I did ask that and the rep said, “yes.” So I went a little farther. “How about I connect my car to the Internet and drive it into a bridge buttress? I could use a new one.” Stunned silence; she hadn’t been trained for that one.

I wasn’t sarcastic or mean; we both ended up laughing out loud at the absurdity of what she had to try to sell me. Never be mean to service people. Instead, be kind. Give them the gift of laughter and they will be disposed to return the favor, as in this case. “Sir, I’m going to let you in on a secret: as your renewal date approaches they’re going to try to renew you at the much higher ‘regular’ rate. Here’s what to say to keep the low rate…” I’m sure she could have been fired for telling me that, but she was in such a good mood she forgot all about the “monitoring for training and quality purposes” thing. Unauthorized perks are the sweetest of all, and they usually go to someone who makes someone smile.

Here are some other ideas you can use to save a bundle on your TV, Phone or Internet service:

  • Don't buy super high speed Internet service if your Internet usage is mainly for email, casual Web surfing and the occasional YouTube video. Most people will do just fine with an entry-level 30-50 megabit/sec package. You can always upgrade later if your kid's online gaming is slowing your connection to a crawl. Your ISP's website may offer only choices like 300 megabit, 600 megabit or gigabit Internet speeds. Be sure to ask if there are other lower-cost options.
  • Don't pay extra for phone service with "unlimited" minutes if you only talk a few minutes a day. Check your bill each month to see if any new or unnecessary services are listed. You might be paying for 3-way calling, call blocking or other upsells you'll never use.
  • Don't buy the 500 channel package with HBO/Showtime/Cinemax. You probably only watch 3 or 4 channels anyway. Check out my article Tired of Paying for TV? Try These Free TV Options to see all the movies and TV shows you can get online for free.
  • Don't pay extra for "Multi-room DVR" or other optional set-top box features if you won't use them. These extra services can tack on $10-30 a month.
  • Don't "rent" movies on demand from your Internet provider. You'll almost certainly get a better deal and a wider selection by using a ROKU box to stream movies from Netflix or Amazon Prime.
  • Check to see if you can combine your cable and mobile phone bills. Some companies offer a discount for doing so.
  • Find out if there's a discount offered to seniors, military, or employees of your workplace. You may be able to save 10 to 25% on your bill.
  • Consider downgrading from the Internet/TV/Phone package to an Internet-only subscription. If you don't watch much TV, you may find that streaming services like the ones mentioned in the link above will do just fine. And maybe you can drop the landline of favor of your mobile phone. I recently did this, and it's saving me about $200/month!

And finally, if you're near the end of your contract, tell the rep you're thinking about downgrading or cancelling your service. Sometimes those magic words will get you transferred to another rep that has more leeway to offer a better deal. If not, be persistent - ask for a manager, or the Cancellation Department. Have competitors' pricing info at hand, and quote it.

Got any other ideas for saving money on your TV, phone ot Internet service? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Avoid These ISP Money Grabs"

Posted by:

01 Jun 2022

How did a supposedly Christian nation reach the point where it considers acceptable an entire industry built on cheating customers? In the Old West (at least according to 1950s-'60s television), dishonest business people were strung up. We probably pay more than needed (mostly for three phone lines) for these items, but that's in part to stick with companies I trust. I would consider two cans and a string before some of the corporations you mentioned.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2022

MY costs are : Dish for all tv - my son tends to watch a lot of films etc so it's usually about $120 or so monthly - and for internet we use my old landline - no phone now just internet at $80 or so monthly - pretty reliable, and not troubled when inclement weather sometimes strikes the Dish connection/power supply - emergency power keeps the internet router/pc's going. My cell phone plan is with Consumer Cellular at $20 monthly - great service ! If my son leaves then the Dish would go back to minimal/basic only (his contribution pays for the extra anyway). There are a lot of different ways to deal with all the issues, but I think my configuration works well.

Posted by:

Karl Gregg
01 Jun 2022

Altice (4.4 million) and a few others with a million of fewer subscribers.

A small error to be sure.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2022

Just switched a couple of months ago to Frontier Fiber (500 Mbps up & down) for $49.00 per month. I had been with Sparklight, $85.00 per month for 300 Mbps down and 30 Mbps up.

The service has been very good so far.

Posted by:

Jay R
01 Jun 2022

I have been using Straight Talk for over a year now. $35/mo. Data is capped at 5G, but if I am online with it, it is nearly always at home and the Wi-Fu has been paid for. I have been very happy with the service. I think T-Moble is the carrier that WalMard uses.

I totally agree with your sentiments about the monopoolists.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2022

One of your best articles. We only have 50 meg/sec and it is more than adequate even when we have multiple streams running in the house. Combined with a high-quality Orbi mesh system, our internet connection enables WiFi calling on mobile phones that is superior throughout the house.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2022

Thanks, Bob. Excellent info as always.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
01 Jun 2022

We have AT&T DSL Internet service plus DirecTV for a combined monthly bill. (Our cell phone service via a T-Mobile family plan is separate.) Every once in awhile AT&T will try to raise the Internet charge and/or raise the DirecTV charge (usually because some promotion or discount is expiring). Then I have to go through the familiar routine of calling AT&T and asking them to reduce their rates or restore their discounts to the level that I was previously paying.

The AT&T representative will respond that it's not possible. So I ask if there are any other promotions or discounts available that would provide the equivalent savings. The rep will sadly explain that nothing is available at this time, but I could try checking back in a few months. So I tell the rep that I'm not willing to pay the additional money, and ask how I can go about cancelling my service. The rep says he'll have to transfer me to that department, and then transfers my call to their Retention department (different companies may have different names for it). This gets me to someone who actually has authority to act. The Retention rep will say I've been a great, long-time customer and they'd be very sorry to lose me, and why do I want to cancel? So I go through the song-and-dance again, explaining that I was already paying a substantial amount per month and I'm not willing to pay more. The rep will say she fully understands and she'll see what she can do. Negotiations ensue, and sure enough there is some way to reduce my rates to the status quo ante through some combination of promotions and one-time discounts. Sometimes it will shift the cost a little bit from Internet to DirecTV or vice versa, but I don't care as long as the net change is zero. Bottom line: I spend an hour on the phone to keep my monthly bill from going up for the next 6 months or a year, then rinse and repeat.

The important thing to understand is that as the customer you have ENORMOUS leverage. The marginal cost of providing Internet service and satellite/cable TV service is practically zero for the provider. They do NOT want to lose you as a customer. Their marketing department spends a huge amount (probably hundreds of dollars) for each new customer acquisition, so it would be insane for them not to do everything conceivable to retain an existing customer whose on-going monthly payment is almost pure profit. But to exercise your leverage you must do two things: (1) Ask for a better deal, and (2) Seriously threaten to quit when they initially refuse to give you one.

Posted by:

Bill Pfeifer
02 Jun 2022

For quite some time, i tried to get rid of Centurylink's 40Mbs plus landline for $96/mo, mostly because pretty much every night, the internet went down a bunch of times for about 2 minutes at a time. Their remote troubleshooting cut those incidences in half, but they still continued. Comcast's website said that internet-only was not offered at my address, and to keep checking. The wife uses Netflix and Hulu, and for local channels, we have a device called, "antenna", so i didn't need any package deals. I finally got tired of checking and walked into an Xfinity store. The guy looked up on his phone and said it's available right now. Signed then and there. Supposedly "up to" 100Mbs, but speedtest.net regularly gets 120-130. Unlimited long distance, which the wife uses a lot to yak with our long-distance daughter, and I'm renting the modem for now, all for $68/mo. After a year, it'll go up to $88; still less than the slower Centurylink, where i owned the modem.
For cell, I've been with T-Mobile for decades. 2 lines of unlimited text, talk, and data for $60/mo. On 5G, speedtest.net tells me 573Mbs down, 58.5Mbs up. I found that hard to believe, but it's consistently up there. (In a different spot, on LTE it tells me 2.56Mbs down, 0.15Mbs up)

Posted by:

02 Jun 2022

Talking to someone at Comcast is not likely to get you a better deal. In fact, it might even get you a worse one. I believe the two biggest ISPs should be broken up, and no single ISP should be allowed to have a monopoly over a set of customers, such as the one in our city. Give consumers a choice and make the ISPs compete for customers.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
02 Jun 2022

When I originally set up my account with ATT, I had Dish Network TV (on 4 TVs), their home phone service, and ATT-Internet 50 ADSL Internet service. That combination was O.K. because we used our Internet service for email and web surfing for the most part, but it was expensive (IIRC around 225.00/month). When my wife passed away, I had to make changes so I could pay the bills on about half the income we had together. I dropped the phone and Dish TV services and switched to ATT Fiber-300 Internet service with ATT U-Verse Basic TV (about $110.00/month - better, but not great). Between then and now, ATT upgraded me to fiber-500 service for the same price.

An ATT technician came by the house to tell us that they would be doing work in the area a few weeks ago. I recently got a new internal Wi-Fi 6 adapter for my desktop PC because I was having trouble getting my existing adapter(s) to work in Linux (Secure Boot/UEFI issues). The driver for this new adapter is in-built into the Linux kernel so it 'just works'. Since my new adapter supports Wi-Fi 6, I asked why I'm not getting that service level on my desktop PC. The tech told me that Wi-Fi 6 is supported on their fiber service, but only with the fiber router. I asked how to get that router and he told me to call ATT to set up a service call. I did and the technician will be here tomorrow.

I got an email today, reminding me about my service tech appointment. It also had a link about ACP, a government program to help low-income families with their Internet costs. Since I'm a low-income senior citizen who qualifies for the LifeLine mobile phone service, I also qualify for the ACP program. I applied and I'll be saving $30.00/month on my Internet bill for as long as the program exists.

I have been keeping the ATT U-Verser TV service because it gives me unlimited Internet data. While interacting with the ATT CSR today, I learned that if I cancel the TV service, I can get unlimited data for an additional $30.00/month. My ATT U-Verse Basic package costs me about $48.50/month, so by dropping the TV service and adding unlimited data, I can save about $18.50/month. If I've done the math right, when all is said and done, I should be getting ATT-Fiber-500-Internet with unlimited data and Wi-Fi 6 for about $60.00/month (much better than the roughly $108.00/month I pay now!).

We have four operational TVs in my home, and we have a Roku device for each of them. We stream TV from Netflix and Paramount+. After I finish making these changes, I may add DIsney+ too (I like their Star Wars offerings :)).

Back in 2019 I got a MagicJack device, and I pay about $40.00/year for home phone service. I don't think any other provider can/will beat that, and my service is great. I have a wireless home phone system with four phones, and it works with the MagicJack as well as it did with the ATT copper I originally had when we got the ATT-50 ADSL service back when we started with ATT.

I live in North-West Ohio, and there is a local Internet/TV provider. We used them for many years, until they raised their prices beyond what we could afford - that's when we switched to Dish/ATT (can you believe that $225.00/month sounded like a good price at that time?). I've heard of Frontier Internet, but I don't know if they service my area, I may check them out if they do.

Through making all these changes to my entertainment/communications services, there are a few things I have learned. The price they advertise is not the price you'll end up paying - they never tell you about the 'hidden' government and service fees that will be added in, and they NEVER give you the best price they can until you are ready to quit. Don't ever be afraid to threaten to cancel or change your service. The worst that will happen is that you may have to change providers or re-start a service you have stopped. Just remember to do your homework to get some ammunition when negotiating with your service provider. Another thing I have learned is that if I am kind to the CSR, (s)he will tend to be kind (and helpful) to me. If you approach the CSR with an adversarial attitude, the CSR will respond in kind. You're not looking for a fight, you're trying to negotiate the best deal you can.


Posted by:

02 Jun 2022

I live in the sticks in Ontario Canada. We had Bell and were getting a maximum of 6 Mbps download and 0.25 upload for $118.00 a month. When my grandson moved in with his Play Station I had to get another line, so the terrible service was costing me $236.00 a month. God Bless Elon Musk, got Starlink and the speeds are amazing. Usually there are between 8 and 12 devises running at one time with no problems at all for $147.25 a Month

Posted by:

Jo L. Will
02 Jun 2022

You can't beat Google Voice for home phone service- it's entirely FREE. Over a year ago I bought a $50 box on Amazon, plugged it into my router, assigned my Google voice number to it, and Voila! Free calling in the US, very cheap anywhere else, and more features than you'll find on ANY commercial phone set-up. (faxing works fine, too) Yes, now my home number even rings on my cell phone too. There is a few extra set-up steps if you want to still use your same home phone number- which I did (was with Ooma before). Google voice will only port in a cell number, so you first port your home number to a cell provider for a week or two, then port it to Google Voice.

Posted by:

02 Jun 2022

You guys should move to the UK. I pay $40/month for all UK I landline calls, the broadband internet connection & my cheap mobile contract and yes, the router is included

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
02 Jun 2022

Jo L. Will, I strongly agree about Google Voice. I did a similar thing about nine years ago, porting the land-line phone number we'd had for decades to Google Voice (via an intermediate cell phone). It's set up for voice mail only, and forwards excellent transcripts of calls to my email. This let's me winnow out the important calls and avoid large numbers of telemarketing calls and scams, all for free.

Posted by:

Dana Lynch
02 Jun 2022

Every year when it is time to renew with AT&T U-verse (comb. tv & internet) I have to go thru the song and dance. I learned to immediately by pass agent and request retention dept. When told no more promo or call back in a few months (I have been with them for 10 years) I say I'm going to cancel and hang up. Then call next day and get another retention agent who may help me better. If they can't then I tell them I have no choice but go to Comcast and that works. I know costs go up so don't mind a few dollars increase as long as my budget allows.

Posted by:

02 Jun 2022

Excellent advice. I cut the cable completely over a year ago and wish I has done it sooner. I still use Spectrum for internet because I have no other choices in my area but am saving over $150 a month by not having cable. See my website https://techminimalist346984965.wordpress.com/2022/02/21/cut-the-cable-and-paid-streaming-services-and-watch-tv-for-free/
on how I did it. I use an OTA antenna and receive over 40 channels. I am also able to record OTA channels using an Amazon Fire Recast.

Posted by:

02 Jun 2022

I'm in Toronto, Canada. I have a Bell landline at $48.88 a month, ADSL internet with a small ISP at $55.35 a month and now have basic TV from Shaw Direct satellite at about $30 a month. Until my husband died, we paid $70 for TV, which bought us 5 sports channels to get F1 racing and Canadian football. Everything includes the national and provincial sales tax.

I don't watch TV but I wasn't ready to cancel TV
but I probably will eventually.

Posted by:

04 Jun 2022

I also use a Magic Jack as Ernie (above)to keep my home phone service for $40/year. One thing Magic jack has is anonymous call screening (which you have to activate online in your account) Callers have to dial a randomly changing single digit for calls to reach us. This has COMPLETELY eliminated junk,robot, political or sales calls from reaching us. This is by far the best feature of Magic Jack.

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