If you’re overpaying on your Internet and TV bill, you’re not alone.
Pretty much everyone has to deal with their Internet bill creeping up every year. Honestly, some providers rely on us not caring or noticing, and will increase your bill as often as they can get away with.
At the same time, most customers don’t have the time or the patience to spend hours on the phone arguing with call center agents. They’re generally trained to deflect you, and it’s tricky even figuring out which department to ask for.
However, negotiating your bill is possible. All you need is an understanding of your situation and a solid plan of action for making your demands.
Take Stock of Your Situation:
Any negotiation requires adequate research and preparation, which means knowing what’s in your bill and what services you receive vs what you need.
It’s a good idea to make a list of your monthly bills and services first: Internet, Data, TV/Cable package, Sling, Netflix, etc.
Figure out which services you need and which ones you don’t. Determine if you’re looking for a package deal to get more for less, or if you’re simply looking for a discount to lower your current bill.
Keep in mind, packages often sound like a great deal, but if you don’t really need specific services you could end up paying more for something you don’t use. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for will determine the nature of your research and a more direct negotiation stance.
Also take note of your payment history. If you have paid your bills on time and/or have been with the company for a while, you can emphasize your position as a quality customer during the negotiation—one they’ll want to keep.
Are You Getting What You Pay For?
Another thing to consider when preparing for bill negotiation is the quality of the service itself. Keep a record of any gaps in your cable service or drops in your internet speed.
Problems with TV are easy to notice as they happen, but you should also test your internet speed to make sure you receive the bandwidth you’re paying for. It is not unusual to receive lower speeds or to have them fluctuate throughout the day. This is a useful thing to take note of when negotiating, even though it might be hard to prove.
How Much Internet Do You Need?
It is important to know how much bandwidth you need for your personal use. For instance, someone interested in simple day-to-day internet usage (browsing, checking email, etc) will not require the same bandwidth service as several people in one household using multiple devices at the same time.
|Usage level||Applications||Download speed||Upload speed||Latency|
|Basic access||Email, Facebook, general browsing||1-5 Mbps||0.5-2 Mbps||200 ms+|
|Basic streaming||SD video streaming, basic gaming, basic video conferencing||5-10 Mbps||2-4 Mbps||150-200 ms|
|Heavy streaming||HD video streaming, gaming||10-30 Mbps||4-10 Mbps||100-150 ms|
|Premium connection||4k streaming, gaming, and video communication||30-80 Mbps||10-20 Mbps||80-100 ms|
|Platinum connection||Multiple intensive users, home office, professional gaming||80-1,000 Mbps||20-1,000 Mbps||0-60 ms|
Things to consider: What do you use the Internet for? How many people will be using the internet? How will they be using it? How much bandwidth do you need or will be happy with?
Keep in mind, while upgrading to higher speed with greater bandwidth might seem economically sound and a great deal, if you don’t need the extra Mbps (and a lot of us don’t), then you likely would be throwing money away.
Identifying Hidden Fees and Extra Fees
Identifying and keeping a record of hidden fees and/or extra fees can also be useful when negotiating your bill. Knowing which fees are necessary vs which are avoidable can make the difference when seeking negotiating leverage or attempting to waive unexpected charges.
Most if not all ISPs have an installation or activation fee. Many consumers complain about receiving an installation fee even when promised no installation charge. Even if you install yourself, many times the fee will shift from an installation fee to an activation fee.
While this sort of fee is unavoidable most of the time, there are some fees added that shouldn’t be there. For instance, look for FCC Recovery Fee, which, according to FCC.gov, are not taxes or government fees and could be the ISP’s way of making an illegitimate fee sound official. 
Another common mistake ISPs make are charging Modem rental fees even if you own your own, or removing discounts promised by representatives at the time of the contract agreement.
In short, read your monthly bill, paying particular attention to the way it’s broken down. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for and whether or not the charge and/or service is absolutely necessary for your use.
Any issues or questions you have should be presented to your ISP when you do call.
Determine your Alternatives
Shop around for competitors’ services, packages, promotional deals, etc. Many times this sort of leverage will prove invaluable when negotiating your current bill, and could be the only ammunition you need to successfully persuade your current provider to lower their fees.
It’s also useful to research your current provider’s promotional deals to compare with your current services and fees. In fact, count on the fact that your current ISP is aware of the competition (or lack thereof) and will probably have a similar deal available.
When you eventually make the call, it will not only help to have an awareness of what you need vs what they will offer you, but also to know what sort of promotions competitors are offering. In short, do your homework and be as prepared as possible.
Here’s a Handy Checklist of Prep Materials Before Making 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
Script for Negotiating ISPs
While most guides might suggest you start out by threatening to cancel your service, this should be a last resort. In fact, most (if not all) ISPs have become aware of this technique and have developed detailed scripts to defuse the traditional “customer-is-always-right” caller.
For instance, in a recent and more extreme case, Charter Communications, who recently acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Network this past year, has reportedly stopped offering discounts to keep its customers after the initial promotion deal has expired. While this might seem counterproductive to keeping its customers, the company doesn’t seem to mind.
Instead of starting from a bold, all-or-nothing stance, it might be best to treat this negotiation as an extended process involving 2 or 3 calls. When negotiating with ISPs, calm persistence can go a long way.
Pro Negotiation Tip from BillFixers Co-Founder Julian KurlandWhen someone is hired on at BillFixers, we give them three pieces of advice to help them successfully negotiate, and this advice rings especially true for negotiations over the phone.
First, speak with the right person. If you’re not talking with someone who has the power to give you want you want, you’re talking to the wrong person. For a cable bill, the right person is the company’s retention department.
Second, be friendly. The person on the other end of the phone has probably dealt with people yelling at them all day. If you’re friendly, they’ll go above and beyond to help you out.
Third, double check everything. Negotiating over the phone has one main drawback – there’s no good record of what you agreed to. Try to get your agreement in writing or, at the very least, call back to double check that the other person followed through.
The trick to a successful negotiation is to be polite, but insistent. Before you actually make the call, be sure to have your research handy along with a clear sense of your ideal goal and limitations.
Also keep in mind the person on the other end of the line is often an employee with limited options.
In fact, sometimes the person you speak with is a “Vendor,” who are outsourced, third-party representatives hired by the primary company—Comcast, for example, uses third-party representatives to cover their overflow calls. Because these “Vendors” are third-party employees, they are not technically direct employees and do not have access to specific deals and information that might help you lower your bill.
In this circumstance, remain polite and try to call back at a later time. Oftentimes, your 2nd or 3rd call will connect you with someone more helpful.
Understand Your Strategies
There are generally two strategies to approach a negotiation to lower your rates:
- Politely call and let the representative know your exact issues and ask what they can do to help
- Call them and tell them you are canceling your plan due to the price increase.
Each of these strategies has its pros and cons as well as its place in the negotiation process. In both circumstances, it is important to remain calm and polite.
It is also helpful to use these strategies separately, and stretch them out over at least 2 phone calls.
General rules of thumb:
- Again, do your homework
- Don’t accept the first offer (Not a hard-fast rule. If you’re truly happy with their first offer, take it)
- Don’t feel pressured to decide on the spot. You can always think about an offer and call back
- Be prepared to Cancel (don’t bluff)
The First Call
When you first call, directly state your issues and concerns, and politely ask the representative what your options are. Tell them you want to lower your bill. This approach opens up negotiations, and will allow you to state your case while also remaining polite.
Keep in mind that the representatives do have a required script they have to run through before they can offer any discounts or transfer you to someone more helpful. Be polite and listen to what they can offer before moving forward with a counterargument.
If you don’t like what you hear, or if they simply don’t offer any new offers, do not panic. Remember to strengthen your negotiating stance with the research you’ve done. Bring up competitor’s offers, emphasize your status as a loyal customer, and highlight the services you need or don’t need.
If you still feel you’re not getting what you deserve, remain calm (easier said than done sometimes) –you still have options. Consider calling back a few days later with the same strategy and hoping to speak to someone else who might know more or is more helpful. If you’re feeling bold, you can also ask to speak to a supervisor and hope they can offer you a more agreeable deal.
These companies do want to keep you as a customer, and it is more productive to show you’re willing to negotiate as a loyal customer. Only when you feel you’ve exhausted all your resources should you ask about cancelling your service.
…which take us to our next strategy…
The Second Call
The second phone call should take a stronger stance and present the cancellation option. Be aware, though, this should be used as a last resort when negotiating your bill.
After stating your intentions to cancel, chances are they will transfer you to a “Retention Department,” or “Loyalty Department,” or “Cancellation Department” or something similar. Some companies have a direct number to call for their Retention Departments; others might have a “Cancel Services” option when you first call that directly connects you to it.
The employees in these departments are trained to keep you as a customer —it’s their job— and will most likely do so as long as you remain polite and insistent. Most of the time it’s cheaper for the company to keep you on with a lower rate, than it is to lose your business altogether.
However, reaching these departments can be uncertain. Several consumers report issues reaching a Retention Department when dealing with companies like Comcast and Charter, while others say they have no problem.
If you do experience issues reaching the right department, ask to speak to a supervisor or consider calling back at another time. Again, if you call at a later time, you increase your chance of speaking to someone more knowledgeable and helpful.
That said, be careful taking such a strong stance too soon since you can easily box yourself into a corner and narrow your options. Keep in mind that several ISP’s have been merging, meaning less competitive alternatives and more monopolies. Just to reiterate, this should be a second option.
Common Negotiating Problems and How to Get Around Them:
What if You Don’t Have Another Provider in Your Area?
If there is only one ISP available in your area (which is becoming more common due to corporate mergers and larger monopolies), concentrate on your value as a long-term customer and consumer loyalty. Emphasize your good standing with your payment history.
If you’re struggling to pay each month, be honest and let them know you’re considering dropping broadband altogether in search of other options (such as hotspots).
If you don’t use all your services, let the representative know and ask how you might reduce the charges for those you don’t use.
If you do cancel your services and you do not have another provider, you do not have to go without internet. You can have someone else in your household sign up for the promotional deal (someone who qualifies), or you can call back yourself at a later date and try for the new customer deals.
What if You Have Strict Early Termination Fees (ETFs)?
ETFs are one of those built-in fees people tend to overlook when signing up for a long-term contract. While they are sometimes avoidable depending on your plan, they are often built into the original contract and can quickly become a complication when considering your negotiating stance.
Either way, the first step is to calculate how much it will cost if you have to cancel your service vs how much you would save going with an alternative provider. Depending on the numbers, you might find you can use the money you’d save switching to a different company as leverage during the negotiation.
If the numbers do not add up in your favor, a good strategy might be to put off the cancellation and spend some time documenting any failures on the ISP’s services that might merit a contract break. Issues like regular service outage, channels not received, consistent drops in internet speed, etc) can be used as leverage to talk a representative into dropping the ETF if you do cancel.
However, this is no guarantee and might be difficult to prove. Again, be polite and remember that it never hurts to ask.
What if I’m New to the Area or a New Customer?
Unfortunately, if you have just moved to a new area and/or are a new customer, the ISP will most likely take you less seriously as a negotiating customer. However, chances are you might already have a promotional offer.
Regardless, you can still negotiate by concentrating on competitive offers and other sign-up bonuses. In other words, shop around and be direct regarding your wants and needs.
Other Tips and Resources for Lowering Costs:
Short on Time?
If you’re short on time or simply want to avoid the hassle of taking on the negotiation process, there are professional services that will take care of the negotiation for you.
For instance, companies like BillFixers and Billshark have high success rates negotiating customers’ Internet, Phone, and TV bills down. At the same time, they are a profit-driven business and take a percentage of what they save you monthly in return (usually 50% of what they saved you).
If you are having troubles with payments or simply looking for ways to cuts costs, Internet Subsidies might be a good option.
Companies like EveryoneOn.org help to determine your eligibility and work with major ISPs to offer low cost plans for anyone interested. While these offers vary based on location and specific customer criteria, EveryoneOn.org is very user-friendly and takes very little effort.
The Secret to Negotiation
Is there a secret to negotiation? Not really.
A successful negotiation takes preparation, research, and determination. More importantly, it takes a strong understanding of what you want and what you’re willing to give, as well as an understanding of the ISP’s wants and limitations.
Whatever your strategy, always consider the person on the other end of the phone and what their goal is. Be polite, but firm. Remember, the best negotiation is one where both parties walk away happy.
References and Footnotes
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Jessica Sims is a technology blogger and broadband industry veteran. Her background as an administrator and customer support employee for a major ISP informs her passion for helping consumers understand their service options.
Jameson Zimmer is a technology and telecom expert hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia. His work with data-driven companies like BroadbandNow has helped bring attention to consumer issues like municipal broadband.