How to Negotiate Your Internet Bill For a Better Deal
The bottom line: most cable companies will offer you a better monthly price if you call and ask about it. Just keep in mind that you will have to spend at least an hour on the phone, call multiple times, and be extremely polite and patient.
Found another fee increase when you opened your broadband bill this month?
You’re not alone. The notoriously uncompetitive US broadband market has been driving prices up for years, while Internet costs elsewhere in the developed world have steadily fallen. A 25mb/s connection from an internet provider in New York currently costs nearly twice what they’re paying across the pond in London.
So. what can you do about it?
Well, you can either shrug it off and keep mailing away your hard-earned dollars…
…or you can get on the phone and start negotiating.
Even in an uncompetitive marketplace, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Spectrum, AT&T Internet, and CenturyLink place a lot of value on you as a customer. And even if your provider can’t bundle or cut any services to lower the price, it’s likely they’ll lower your subscription rate just to keep you from canceling your service.
All the strategies for haggling with Comcast, Time Warner and the rest come down to two things:
- Being prepared to cancel so they’ll make offers to keep you
- Being ridiculously polite to the person on the other end of the line
Assess Your Situation
Your biggest bargaining chip is your value as a customer. Having a clear picture of your account’s standing is critical for an outcome in your favor.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you pay your monthly bill on time?
- Are you at or near the end of your contract?
If the answer is “yes” on both counts, then you’re in a great position to negotiate. Make a note of your payment history with exact dates to bring up during your call. Calculate how much you pay annually (make sure you’re sitting down for this part) and quote that figure to your rep.
Negotiations get trickier if you’re in the middle of a contract because the rep knows you’ll have to pay a fee to break it. This is common in cities like Los Angeles and Richmond that have contracts required by incumbents. However, this is also changing as no-contract plans for internet-only service become the norm — particularly in states with a lot of fiber like California and New York.
Regardless, don’t give up: if the cancelation fee is less than you could potentially save by switching or downgrading to a different service, you still have chips on the table.
Finally, comb your account history and make note of any promotions you’ve already taken advantage of (sign-up bonuses, etc.), as well as any price hikes that occurred during the course of your contract. Make a tally of issues you’ve experienced from ISP errors, such as incorrect fees or uncompensated loss of service. If you’re already taking advantage of a sign-up bonus or other promotion, be prepared to explain to your rep why it’s insufficient.
Research Your Options
There has to be a consequence if your sales rep won’t lower the price of your service. In most cases, that consequence is to take your business elsewhere. To that end, familiarize yourself with all the ISPs in your area, what plans they offer, and how much other customers on your current plan are paying.
The bad news is that a staggering 39 million Americans only have access to one service provider. If you live in one of these areas, you may be fighting an uphill battle.
The good news is, finding out the specifics of what competitors are available is ridiculously easy: just enter your zip code into the BroadbandNow provider comparison tool and click the “Go” button.
Let’s take a look at our options in Brooklyn, New York as an example:
Right away, we can see that this is a great area for negotiation. (Edit: as of 2018, Spectrum has taken over cable service in most of NYC. They are notoriously less willing to negotiate with customers than other cable companies.) There are plenty of options for true broadband at varying prices and levels of service quality. More detailed information on each provider is available as a drop down, offering recent stats on plan tiers and specific download/upload speeds.
The second step is to get on the phone with the competition first. Call every provider in your area, even workable DSL options, and take note of what they offer. Call centers are a hassle, but the rewards are big: tell them you’re considering switching to their service, and chances are they’ll offer a sign-up deal to get you on board. If they do: bingo! Your bargaining power will be all the better when you call to cancel or negotiate with your current provider.
It’s also worth asking around to see if your friends or family in the area have the same provider and how much they pay for service. If you’re paying more than any of them, make sure to bring it up with your rep during your call.
Once you’ve covered all the bases above (we know, it’s a lot of bases), it’s time to get on the phone with your provider and start negotiating.
To recap, here’s the information you need to have on hand for the call:
- Current monthly bill amount
- Monthly bill amount when you signed up
- Amounts and reasons for any bill increases
- Length, to date, of your subscription
- List of any service issues you’ve experienced
- Competing plans and sign-up bonuses in your area
- Sign-up bonuses your current provider is offering
Get on the Phone and Start Negotiating
Now comes the fun part: getting on the phone. Two rules of thumb to keep in mind to boost your odds:
- Be polite
- Be insistent
This is easier said than done, since big ISP help centers are famously difficult to navigate (to the point that businesses have cropped up to navigate them for you.)
Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes:
When customers call to cancel their accounts, most ISPs route them to a retentions rep whose job is to stop you from leaving. Acquiring customers is expensive, and losing you is a hit to their bottom line: if you’re paying $120/month for cable and broadband, that’s almost $1500/year. It’s easier for your ISP to cut you $10–40/month slack than it for them to lose your patronage.
The retentions reps are given set amounts of promotional deals, which they hand out at their discretion to entice you to stay. However, they won’t offer you one unless you are really prepared to cancel your account with them.
The sales rep you talk to will probably be following a well-designed script. Luckily, yours is simple and hard to argue with:
“I want to cancel my account. Other providers have better offers, and if you can’t match them I’d like to switch.”
That’s it. Whatever they say, just remind them of your good account standing, disappointment with past issues, and everything else you gathered in steps one and two. If they won’t budge, politely ask for a transfer to their manager and check if they have anything to offer.
In the event that they still don’t make an offer, you have two choices: try again later, or go through with your cancelation. Different reps sometimes have different deals, so it’s worth calling a few times (spread over a few days) and canceling once you’re certain they won’t negotiate with you on the price.
If they can’t keep you, it’s their loss.
What if There’s Only One ISP in My Area?
In an ideal world, every American would have access to at least two options for broadband access. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world (yet), and chances are strong that you’re one of the millions of Americans with only one or two ISP options.
Though you don’t stand to save nearly as much if your ISP knows you’re trapped with them, you can still negotiate savings through other channels. Instead of calling the usual help line for existing customers, go straight to the new sales line, even if you’ve been a customer for years.
Why? Because the new sales department likely has much better discounts, since getting a customer on board is trickier than keeping an existing one.
First off, request that they match any promotional offers for new sign-ups to your account. It’s unfair that you have to pay more as an existing customer than a new customer without a good payment history. Be insistent. If they don’t meet your demands, it’s likely they will offer the bundle or cut your existing services.
Don’t use all your channels? Don’t need nearly 150mbps for your streaming needs? This is a great time to customize your package so that you’re at least using what you’re paying for. Sometimes it can actually save money to bundle basic cable with your Internet: just keep an eye on the bill to make sure they don’t start raising the price once you’re hooked, and cancel immediately if they do so. Bundling cable and hiking prices later is a common tactic ISPs have adopted to deal with the “cord-cutter” trend.
The same approach as before still applies: demonstrate your value as a customer and politely ask for a deal in exchange for your loyalty.
Even in an Uncompetitive Market You Still Have Leverage
The broadband market in the USA is surprisingly uncompetitive. As of 2013, we ranked 16th for wired broadband penetration, and huge swaths of the country still have access to only one or zero providers.
That being said, never forget this: you are still important to your provider’s bottom line.
Be firm, patient, and respectful, and chances are you’ll get respect in return — or at least a discount on your monthly broadband bill.