How to negotiate a lower Internet, cable or phone bill

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How to negotiate a lower Internet, cable or phone bill
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Only 1 in 3 negotiate with a service provider, yet almost half of bargainers succeed in reducing their bill or getting more services for the same money.

Everyone grumbles about the high costs of TV service, but most of us just pay up, month after pricier month. That's too bad, because customers who speak up often get a break.

When we surveyed almost 21,000 Consumer Reports readers who had a triple-play deal (TV, phone, and Internet), we found that only 1 out of 3 had negotiated with their provider. But close to half of those bargainers got a reduction in their monthly bill or more services for the same money. (The report is available through the Consumer Reports website.)

Why not give it a try? Here are some tips on negotiating:

First call your service provider and say your bill is too high. Find out whether you qualify for any promotions, including their best deal for new customers. Stress that you've been a loyal customer for X years and would like to stay—but only if they can do something for you. That "something" might be a lower rate, no DVR fee for a year, or more channels for the same price (a higher programming tier or free HBO and Showtime for 6 months or a year, for instance).

If they won't budge, call other providers in your area to see what kind of deal they'll give you. In most parts of the country, there's only one cable company. But satellite TV is widely available, Verizon FiOS covers 12 states, and AT&T U-Verse is offered in 22 states. Maybe a competing package will be so good you'll want to switch. Just be sure you know exactly what you'll get and how much it costs now, how long that offer is in effect, and what you'll pay after the initial deal expires.

[Click to compare rates from multiple providers now.]

If you'd rather stick with your current company, let them know you're considering another deal. Provide specifics, and ask them to meet or beat that offer.

No results with your first call? Hang up and call back. You might get a different answer from another rep. Still no luck? Say you're thinking about terminating service and ask for the "disconnect department"—also known as customer retention. Their mission is to hang onto customers, so they often have more ability to wheel and deal.

Lower your bills by buying less. Are you paying for a set-top box or DVR for a TV you rarely use? Could you get by with an over-the-air antenna for a bedroom TV that's used mostly for network news or late-night talk shows, or with a basic cable package supplemented by streaming video? If the answer to any of those questions is "yes," cut back.

Parting advice: Be polite, be firm, be persistent, and keep good records. It's worth a shot.

The Consumer Reports telecom services report features Ratings of bundles from 14 companies, along with individual phone, TV, and Internet services from several more providers. The full report can be found in the May issue of Consumer Reports, and online at ConsumerReports.org.

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