Cheaper cable and Internet services

The foolproof way to lower your cable bill

WSJ.com

Picture this: You walk into your local supermarket, grab a gallon of milk, and then tell the cashier that you’d like to pay less for it—and sure enough, the store obliges. And you repeat the process time and time again, resulting in savings of hundreds of dollars over the years.

It sounds pretty ridiculous, right? And yet, that’s how I’ve approached paying for another of life’s necessities in the last couple of decades. Namely, cable television.

OK, maybe cable isn’t as much a “necessity” as food and water—unless you really, really have to catch “Game of Thrones.” But it’s a basic household expense that can be easily bargained down with a relatively quick call to a customer service rep. I make such calls about every six months and almost always talk my way into a better deal. Not that long ago, I knocked about $15 off my basic monthly Time Warner Cable package, which includes cable, phone and Internet.

But before you make that call, it’s important to understand why cable providers are willing to bargain in the first place. It all has to with how the Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed the marketplace by allowing phone companies to compete with cable companies (and vice versa) and by allowing each to offer a “bundle” of services. The result? Not only are more companies vying for your cable (and phone and Internet) business, but your business is also that much larger—a $50 basic cable service bill is now probably a $100 bundled bill. So, if you move your business to the competition, there’s some serious money involved. “Today, when a customer leaves, they take everything, ” says technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

Still, it’s not a guarantee that Time Warner—or for that matter, any cable provider—will cut you a deal. But over the years, I’ve learned how to be a better bargainer, and I’ve also talked to industry pros about what you can do to up the odds of lowering your bill.

Here are my eight takeaways:

1. Call at set intervals

Just because you get a bargain one month doesn’t mean you can ask for another one the next. You need to pace yourself accordingly. Most cable providers will offer you a deal—typically, a lower bundled price or free extras (like a movie channel)—that’s good for half a year. The bet they’re making is that you won’t remember when the six months are up. My advice: Don’t let them win that bet. (But if the deal they offer is good for, say, three months, you can adjust your call schedule accordingly.) Still, Time Warner says it welcomes a call at any time, especially given the many options and offers it almost always has on the table. “We want to hear from a customer any time their interests or budget changes, ” says a Time Warner spokesperson.

2. Do your homework

Sure, you can call and play Willie the Whiner and say you deserve a better deal—just because you’re such a nice person. But you’re more likely to make an effective case if you can quote a promotion you’ve been offered by a competing company. Just save those mailers you get—or even if you toss them, just look on the competition’s website and see what they’re offering. Then, ask your provider to match the deal, or—better yet—beat it. “I think of it like buying a new car. You know the prices at different dealers so you can negotiate, ” says Dan Rayburn, a telecommunications industry analyst.

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