Peter Hoagland’s cable company, Comcast, had a surprise for him at the end of the year — and it wasn’t a good one.
The cable giant first raised his bill by 40 percent. He asked it to reconsider the raise, and it agreed to lower his bill to $103 a month.
“That amount represented about a 10 percent increase over what I had been paying,” says Hoagland, a consultant from Warrenton, Va. “A representative told me it would be good for a year.”
Problem solved? Not quite.
“In late January, I got another rate increase of about 20 percent,” he says. “This was only six weeks after the last one.”
An isolated cable problem?
Every day, thousands of consumers face the same problem when they look at their cable bills: The number is greater than they expected. Worse, calls made to the company to appeal any increases are met with scripted denials. You signed a contract — take it or leave it.
And leaving it isn’t always an option. The cable industry is one of America’s great oligopolies, controlled by a few large players. They openly dislike competition, even going so far as to suggest that it hurts consumers.
Hoagland could jump to a competitor if he can find one. He could negotiate with Comcast. Or he could cut the cord entirely. All are valid options.
“There are definitely ways to reduce your cable bill,” says Nathan Miller, founder of Rentec Direct, a company that helps tenants pay their rent online. He’s seen his customers talk their way into lower rates, a tactic that works “about 20 percent” of the time.
Call the cable company and ask
You should call your cable provider to negotiate fees every 6 to 12 months anyway, says Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert. “If you don’t stay on top of your provider to find out about new and upcoming promotions, your bill could double or triple in cost,” she says. The rate reduction sometimes all depends on the person who helps you, so if you get a “no” just call back and talk to someone else or escalate your request to a manager.
Use a third party to fix the problem
A service like Shrinkabill.com or BillFixers.com can help. These services renegotiate your bills on your behalf and then split the savings with you. Rachel Cohen tried it with her Comcast bill recently, enlisting BillFixers.com to help her. “I was so sick of overpaying for it so I gave them my bill and told them to haggle it down. They did and were able to reduce it by $12 per month and they got me a one-time credit of $226,” she says. “I have no idea how they did that. ”
Cut the (cable) cord
When Wheeler Winston Dixon’s cable bills rose to more than $100 a month, thanks to bundling, he looked around and found no other viable cable options. “There was no alternative, other than satellite, and all they offered was an introductory offer that would reset to roughly the same rate after a few months,” says Dixon, a college professor in Lincoln, Neb.
Finally, he decided to cut the cord. “We listen to more music, read more books, take more walks, and have a much happier life,” he says. When he wants to watch TV, he streams video from Amazon Prime, Vimeo, YouTube and other alternative sources. Problem solved!
Cord-cutting seems to be the “in” thing, actually — given the Federal Communications Commission’s recent unwillingness to protect consumers through careful regulation of set-top boxes.
“It’s the future,” says Damon Gonzalez, a financial planner from Plano, Texas. “Five years from now virtually nobody will be renting an antiquated cable box for $10 per month per TV from a cable provider.”
He recently sent his own cable box to Frontier Communications and signed up for the new DirecTV Now internet cable service where he can watch more than 100 channels on television over his Wi-Fi. He saved so much money that he decided to splurge $5 per month to get HBO and the HBO GO App.
Disclosure: I’m with Gonzalez and the other cord-cutters. I canceled my cable TV service in 1993 and never looked back.
But quitting cable isn’t the only acceptable solution. Consider the outcome of Hoagland’s case. He sent Comcast’s executives an email, asking them to reconsider their second rate increase. “They have agreed to roll back the rate increase,” he said.
Ah, ask and you shall receive. If only every consumer problem had a happy ending like this.