Shopping for telecom service can be a tricky business. Cable and fiber providers are regional, and many won't even give you information on pricing until you enter an address within their service area. Although competition has increased over the past two decades, prices have continued to rise, and many consumers don't have access to more than one provider. The good news is that, according to our survey, there's no downside to negotiating. You can get big discounts, or maybe get a few freebies thrown in. Here are some smart ways to save.
Do your research. If you have multiple telecommunications providers in your region, check out any promotions they might have, then shop them against each other. You can use their online calculators, or better yet, call and request a quote in writing or in an online chat that you can print out. Make sure it includes all taxes and fees, including equipment fees, because those "extras" can boost the package price considerably. Present that to the competition and see if they'll beat it.
Play the promotions. Many of the best deals are promotional rates that expire after six to 24 months. Some require a contract, some don't. Some of these temporary promos involve free premium channels or equipment. Pay attention to the post-contract price, and if you take advantage of any of these promotions, mark the expiration date on your calendar as a reminder to cancel or renegotiate. Otherwise, you can get a surprise increase in your bill.
Watch for data caps. Some Internet service providers have started to limit monthly broadband usage. Depending on your provider or plan, caps can be as low as 50 gigabytes per month. If you're a heavy downloader, you can either be charged overage fees or simply cut off. Check the details on each ISP's website, or call and ask if they have caps.
Eliminate sports channels. Many TV providers levy a sports surcharge on channel packages that include ESPN or regional sports networks. If you don't watch sports, then see if your provider offers a sports-free "economy" package.
Go bare bones. If you don't care about premium channels, ask for the most basic TV package your provider offers. Our recent analysis of two similar bills showed a savings of almost $50 per month between a midtier and basic TV package.
Don't buy unnecessary gear. Each set-top box and DVR costs money, so for lightly used sets in secondary rooms, consider an over-the-air antenna, which can pick up digital HD broadcast signals from most major networks if you are within range.
Lean on the Internet. Maybe you can ditch your pay TV service. Online services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video are rich sources of TV and movie content, and an antenna can pick up local channels.