Jim Carrey's performance in "The Cable Guy" still sends shudders up the spine of anyone contemplating a switch to get a better deal. These days, the cable company is even more powerful because it often provides Internet access and phone service as well as TV service.
Before you pull the plug on your cable company, perhaps because a promotional offer ended or your bill keeps creeping up, call your current provider to see whether you can negotiate a discount.
If switching is more attractive, follow these steps. (If you signed a contract, you may face an early-termination fee. Make sure the savings on the new plan are worth it.)
First, call the new company to start service. For do-it-yourself types whose homes are already wired, getting equipment from the new carrier and setting it up yourself saves the time of waiting for a technician -- and likely avoids the installation fee. But some complex tasks -- say, making sure the equipment integrates with your TV or wiring properly for a land-line phone -- may be best left to the pros.
Wait until your new service is fully functional before canceling the old, in case the new carrier runs into problems.
When you do terminate service, confirm that any automatic bill payments will stop, and make sure you get a refund if your bill shows that you were charged for days beyond the termination date. Ask how to return your equipment, such as the cable box and modem, on time to avoid fees. You may be able to leave them at your door for pickup.
If the provider offers DSL Internet access, make sure your home is close enough to the nearest central network device (called a DSLAM) to get service. The farther you are from the device, the slower Internet speeds may be.