Avoid These ISP Money Grabs
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 Jun 2022
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Avoid These ISP Money Grabs (Posted: 1 Jun 2022)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved