Will switching cable companies save you money?

By Tod Marks Features Consumer Reports

If you’re like me, you’re probably bristling over the high cost of watching television. Even with a $15 a month “triple-play” discount for bundling TV, Internet, and telephone services from a single provider, my bill seems out of whack. When Optimum, my provider, eliminated the promotional discount for my HD cable boxes (each set requires its own box at $7 per month), I protested by downgrading my channel package to barely above basic. That ultimately cut my monthly bill from around $180 to $130, but I still felt gouged considering I gave up premium programming, which included a few movie channels and sports.

Continue Reading Below

So I took the bait and responded to a tantalizing counter offer from Verizon. Most of us have read or seen the ads; I receive these so-called limited-duration deals on a regular basis. Optimum plays the same game, too, trying to lure competitors’ customers with similar come-ons. The promotion teases a low introductory rate for 24 months. But the difficulty of getting straight answers to straight questions, and inconsistent responses from one customer-service representative to another, was enough to make me yearn for the days of rooftop and rabbit-ear antennas and Ma Bell.

After several live-chat sessions, a rep cobbled together a bundle similar to my current Optimum plan. The price: $79.99 per month. But that’s before the barebone-but-essential extras: Three set-top boxes (one for each of my TVs) to receive programming, $23.97; a wireless router, at $4.99; and tax (estimated at 10 to 15 percent), which raised the prospective bill to approximately $120 to $125 per month. That’s not exactly the savings I was hoping for, considering that the installation process can take six hours, and Verizon couldn’t—or wouldn’t—provide an estimate of what my bill would be once the promotion expired.

Save a bundle on telecom services: Learn how to beat the cable companies at their own game.

Having written extensively about negotiating for discounts, I figured I could do better. After all, our recent telecom survey revealed that seven out of 10 respondents with a triple-play bundle didn't even try to bargain down their bills. But among those who did, more than 90 percent got some accommodation from their provider.

When I hesitated to commit, the representative sweetened the deal significantly with a $250 gift card if I was willing to sign a two-year contract. Not bad, but when I continued to balk and explained I needed to talk it over with my family, she dangled another perk: A free three-month subscription to an array of premium movie channels, and 50 percent off for the rest of the year.

Continue Reading Below

Right now, I’m still weighing my options, and hope to squeeze a little harder. And in fact, it looks as if I’ve found one more bargaining chip to pile on yet another discount. A new Verizon FiOS promotion gives Verizon Wireless smart phone customers (like me) $240 in savings ($10 per month over 24 months) if they sign up for a FiOS Triple Play with Quantum Internet, plus another $10 per month off their residential phone bills, also for 24 months. At this point, the deal may be too good to pass up.

—Tod Marks

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.