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February 2008
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Internet, TV, phone
Bundling can cut bills

Illustration of wires connecting TV, phone and internet
Illustration by Harry Campbell
Are you bombarded with pitches to receive your cable TV, Internet, and phone service from one provider? Don't dismiss them too quickly. So-called bundles or triple-play packages might save you enough money to be worth the disruption of switching some services.

And a new survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center finds you needn't compromise service quality to buy a bundle. Subscribers to many companies were reasonably satisfied with all three of the most commonly bundled telecom services.

Telephone companies, principally Verizon, continue to expand fiber-optic networks, which allow them to compete more easily with cable providers to offer a full array of telecom services, including TV and Internet. (Cable providers also use fiber in parts of their networks, as they are promoting in some ads clearly aimed at the migration of cable customers to fiber service from the phone companies.)

Satellite-TV providers can't alone offer viable bundles, since satellite-based phone and Internet service is expensive and, for Internet access, also slow. But satellite providers are partnering with phone companies to create bundles comprising satellite TV, DSL Internet, and landline phone service.

Here's what we found from our survey and reporting on telecom bundles.

You can get a good deal. A bundling mainstay is the one-year, $99-a-month package, typically made up of a premium level of TV service, standard-speed broadband Internet service, and telephone service with a variety of calling features. Such deals could save you up to hundreds of dollars a year over the amount you'd pay if you received the three services separately.

Many readers who wrote about their bundling experiences on the Electronics Blog at say that they successfully negotiated good deals when their introductory period was over. Having signed you up for the cheap bundle, "the last thing the company wants is to lose you," says Douglas Williams, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

Bundling is less likely to save you money if your telecom needs are simple--say, basic TV, minimum-broadband Internet, and telephone service with little or no long-distance calling.

Bundles aren't yet tidy. For one, they're distinguished by a profusion of plans that can be hard to compare. For example, in one part of New York this fall, Verizon offered six bundles, four of them $99-a-month deals, two of which appeared to be identical. Comcast was the best provider we found in spelling out what the fee would be after the promotional period.

Bundling offers convenient consolidation of your telecom bills. But a number of blog respondents reported that it took weeks or even months of calls and e-mail messages for the combined bill to show the right price.

It's worth learning about fees and other requirements in advance (see What to ask before you sign up).