If your internet or cable bill is more than you can afford – or it suddenly looks higher than you registered – you are hardly alone.
Many American internet and cable TV companies use a game of limited time promotions and hidden, variable service fees to force us to pay more over time. The Biden administration has asked the Federal Communications Commission to address the bookmarks by asking for a “nutrition label” for broadband service, as if you were getting packaged food. But this may take some time.
Meanwhile, what can you do now if your bill is too embarrassing?
Here are five tricks I learned from internet service providers and consumer advocates.
1. Try to switch providers
Check the BroadbandNow website to find all available service providers specific to your ZIP code. The site database is one of the best, though not all of the options listed will necessarily provide enough speed to keep an entire family online right away. Numerous users of computers, tablets and phones may want download speeds of at least 100 Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 10 Mbps.
If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity, you can even switch providers after the promotional award is over. Just remember to set a calendar reminder.
Of course many Americans, like me, live in places where there is only one real opportunity for internet service at least 100 Mbps. Sometimes the problem is in local laws that limit or make it too expensive for the competition to lay the necessary cables. You can try calling the elected city or county officials and telling them you need more opportunities.
2. Threaten to remove the service
Many ISPs would rather lower their fees to keep you as a customer than try to win you back later. Calling and threatening to leave is not fun for you or the person working in the customer retention department, but it may work. Ask to have access to the latest promotional offer for your area. Do not be fooled: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Some internet service providers, such as Sonic in California, say they have made a policy not to re-increase incoming discounts after the promotional period has ended. Honestly, this could be best for everyone: Getting a fair price for your internet should not feel like shopping for a used car. This system is even worse for people who do not know how, or are just too busy to play these games.
Sign up for the Broadband Fast Speed Program or any other discount program
The federal government is offering to pay $ 50 a month for the internet bills of millions of Americans who were financially damaged during the coronavirus pandemic. If you lost income last year, this may apply to you – and beyond. Just know that the program will not necessarily last forever.
If you can prove that you have a low income, you may have other options – although they may be slower. Another government program called Lifeline offers very low cost links. And Comcast, America’s largest Internet service provider, offers its Essentials online package for $ 10 a month to Americans who meet certain criteria.
4. Buy your modem and router
When you get internet, you need two parts of the device to make it work: a modem and a router (sometimes combined in a box called a gateway). Most companies provide theirs, even set it up and then charge you to rent it for $ 10 to $ 25 a month.
But you do not have to rent their equipment – you can buy it yourself. In my home, I use a $ 150 Arris SURFboard modem plugged into a $ 130 eero router for Wi-Fi. (You can often find this device used or refurbished for less money.)
This approach will cost you more money up front but save you money in the long run. It may work even better than what your renter offers.
5. Disconnect and cut the cord into the cable
The TV part of your combined internet and TV bill can cost you much more than you think. Many carriers pay “service fees” for things like local stations and sports networks that you have no choice but to pay.
These days there are more streaming application options than ever before, and they usually make it easy to start and stop the service as needed. If you only have $ 20 to spend on TV entertainment, you can drop in favor of Hulu for two months and cancel, then switch to Netflix for two months, and then maybe switch to Disney Plus after that.
If you still want local broadcast channels that provide news and weather, you can always get an antenna and insert it in the back of your TV – they all still air for free.
And there are also cable replacement services that stream online, such as SlingTV $ 35 (and up) per month. Just be careful – if you subscribe to a fully equipped service like YouTube TV for $ 65, you can spend as much as you were with that cable package.