Utility Watchdog in San Diego

Oouuccchhhh!  Just got your monthly cable bill and it hurt, huh?   Well, it should.   With the average family paying upwards of $70 per month for cable alone and throw on another $40-50 per month for broadband Internet, the bucks are really adding up.   In many cases, families pay more for cable/Internet than they do for electricity or water each month.  

To make matters worse, in the midst of the current recession-depression economy,  many cable companies have had the gall to raise their rates.  Of course, they do it in sneaky ways, like moving channels from a lower-cost tier to a higher one, as Time Warner & AT&T recently announced in San Diego.   Of course, the cable companies have long proven their sense of unfairness, so this shouldn't be as surprising as it is despising.

Fortunately, cable customers are not powerless to fight back.   Here are some proven and probably surprising tips about how to get your monthly cable bill lower.

Ask Them.    Cable companies are losing customers during this economic downturn and they will take some steps to keep customers on board.   Our suggestion is to check out some competing cable company websites to price out current rates, or compare packages and availability in your area. Look for signup specials as well as rates for plans that are similar to yours.   In San Diego, you can visit AT&T Uverse or some of the satellite companies like Direct TV or Dish Network.   Look for some packages that might be of interest to you.  BEWARE of third party vendors selling Direct TV/Dish Network at County Fairs or local big box stores, the prices can change when the company comes to your house to install the product.  Make sure you read everything you sign on the day of installation.

Call your local cable company.   Select the "cancel service" option in order to get to the reps who are trained to "save" the account.   They know the "best and lowest" deals that the company will offer.   Hit them with the news that you must do something to lower your cable bill.  Then hit them with the fact that you've checked out your options with their competitors and are seriously thinking about switching or just downgrading your current service.  Then just ask whether the company can match some of the lower prices, or inquire about any special offers -- perhaps for new customers -- that can be extended to you. If not, just ask about ultra-cheap rate plans.

You'd be surprised at how quickly they'll offer you some options that will lower your bill.  If you like the offer, then be sure to jot down any offer you're given and its expiration date, and then make sure you monitor your bill for price increases. When your promotional rate expires (or if your bill goes up for other reasons), call again, repeat your spiel, and ask the company to help you find places to save.

It works.   Consumers have reported getting deals like 50% off their monthly bill for six months, a 25% rate cut on a cable and Internet package, and $15- to $57-a-month discounts, as well as a new receiver thrown in for good measure.   There are bargains out there.  You just have to ask.   If you are nervous about this and need a step-by-step instruction about how to use this "cancellation call" strategy, click here

Go Basic.   All cable companies must offer a "basic" package of channels (usually 20-25) which include local broadcast stations.   This package is regulated by the federal government.   Companies won't advertise them, but they must offer them if asked.    Monthly prices range from $8-15 per month.   So if you just need local TV and a few other ones thrown in,  try the little-known but very affordable basic packages.

Scrutinze your Internet Speed. Many cable and Internet providers have different pricing tiers for different speeds of service. The slower speed, which typically runs $7 to $10 a month cheaper, is just fine for most people, unless you're a rabid gamer or you like to regularly download the entire Internet.

Bundling.   If you have cable, internet AND phone service, you may save some money by "bundling": Cable and AT&T want your business so badly that they're willing to eat the cost of some services entirely to get you to sign up for a package that includes cable TV, Internet, and phone service. The savings on most bundled plans come to roughly10-20%.  But be careful: the "gotchas" on these deals can hurt -- such as a requirement to sign up for premium services you don't need, or a charge if you cancel the contract early -- so read the fine print.

Consider Emerging Options.    Ever hear of Hulu?  Netflix?  Fancast?  YouTube?   How about phone services such as Google Talk, Yahoo Talk, Jajah or Skype?    All of these (and more) offer Internet based options for entertainment.  You can even hook up your computer to your humongous flat-screen LCD TV and watch these programs at 50"!    We've been using Netflix Video Streaming for the better part of one year now and have found it to offer high quality and reliable video that can be delivered to your large-screen TVs.    Similarly, Amazon just began offering streaming video.   It, too, offers high quality signals but suffers from a much more modest library of videos than does Netflix.   However, Amazon's promotion of offering free streaming video for its Prime customers makes the offerings quite an attractive deal at the moment. 

Go Cold Turkey.    Many families report a decidedly improved quality of life, actually.  Buy a Wii console and play video games with your family.  Use your big-screen to improve your bowling and tennis rather than softening your buttocks!    And so long as you have some kind of high-speed Internet access,  you can enjoy downloadable movies from providers like Blockbuster and Netflix.  You can buy DVDs of entire TV series for less than one-month's cable fees.   And you can watch broadcast shows after they first appear using Hulu.com and other web sites.   

We are here to tell you that there's life after cable.  So if you can't get a good deal from the cable companies then consider cuting the cord for awhile and see whether life is bearable.   You might be surprised.