How much do you pay every year for Internet access? You could save hundreds of dollars by renegotiating your service plan. This guide will help you get the lowest price on the best Internet service plan.
We’ll divide this guide into the following sections:
- Your Internet Service Self-Audit: Understand what matters – and what doesn’t – for your household’s Internet service
- Secret Shopping: Search your local ISPs’ websites. Find out what your current provider offers new subscribers.
- Know How To Work The System: Understand what motivates the ISP and its call center reps – and how to turn that in your favor.
- Dialing for Dollars: Talk to your local ISPs to find deals they don’t publish on the web. Then negotiate with your ISP for a better combination of service and price.
- Frequent Follow-up: Make sure you get the deal your ISP promised. Then make this a regular part of your household financial checkup.
Your Internet Service Self-Audit
You can’t negotiate from a position of strength unless you know where you stand. What kind of service do you have now? How does your household use the Internet?
Review Your Plan
You aren’t happy with what you have right now, but how bad is it? Start with sites like Speedtest or Measurement Labs to measure the speeds you get right now. Performance can vary: faster early in the morning and slower during the big game. Run the tests at different times and on different days. If you think weather affects performance, test your service during rainstorms.
Now take a look at your latest statement. What rate is your ISP charging for your service and how many fees has it added? In general, fees will fall into one of two categories:
- Pass-through Fees: ISPs do not pay taxes. They add your “share” to your monthly statement.
- Revenue-enhancement Fees: Your ISP will charge you a monthly “support and maintenance” fee for any hardware it provided. In most cases you can spend much less by purchasing your own modem and wireless router.
Audit Your Internet Use
You may have outgrown your existing plan. More and more devices in our homes connect to the Internet. We consume more bandwidth-hogging content all the time. And if you have kids in the house, their Internet demands keep rising as they get older. Gather your family or roommates or just yourself around the table. Talk about how everyone expects to use the Internet over the next year. Here is a quick run-down of the requirements for different activities:
- The Basics: Email, chat, web browsing, and Facebook do not use a lot of bandwidth. Even a slow 1 megabit-per-second (Mbps) connection can handle this.
- Audio Streaming: Any service faster than 0.5 Mbps can handle audio streams from Spotify and Skype.
- HD Video Streaming: You will need about 5 Mbps as you start streaming video from Netflix and Amazon, or conducting one-to-one video calls on Skype.
- 4K Video Streaming: Pulling UltraHD video from Netflix, Amazon, or other services requires anywhere from 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
There are some edge cases that may place greater demands on your Internet connection. Online gamers care more about latency (the time it takes data to travel back and forth) than the amount of data.
Add up everyone’s usage to determine what level of service you will need. Decide whether you should worry about caps on bandwidth consumption.
The next step is to shop around for quotes to use when negotiating with your ISP. There are many different kinds of ISP. Deep down, though, they work the same. High bandwidth fiber optic backbones connect the ISP to the Internet. How each ISP bridges the final mile from the backbone to your home defines your Internet experience.
Here’s a quick review of the different kinds of ISP you should consider when shopping around:
Fiber-to-the-home providers run that fiber optic cable all the way to your door. This is the fastest service you can get with speeds approaching a gigabit per second.
It is also the most expensive for companies to deploy so it isn’t widely available. Some fiber companies limit residential service to low-hanging fruit. Apartment complexes, for example, let a single fiber connection serve many subscribers.
Old-school telephone companies AT&T and Verizon only offer fiber in limited markets. Google Fiber gets a lot of press, but it scaled back its plans.
Traditional cable companies use their TV infrastructure to bridge the last mile. They offer speeds between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps or more. For most people cable is the fastest option.
There is a downside. You share your cable line – and its bandwidth – with your neighbors. When everyone streams video at the same time, everyone’s service quality could decline.
Odds are you only have one choice of cable provider in your neighborhood. In most markets it is either Cox, Comcast, or Spectrum.
Related: How to get the Best Cable TV Plan at the Lowest Price – A Complete Guide
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
Telephone companies offer DSL over their existing copper telephone wire infrastructure. They usually market the service as “High Speed Internet” rather than DSL (it’s a marketing thing). The latest versions reach speeds up to 45 Mbps.
But DSL has its own downside. The speed you experience depends on how close you are to service provider. The farther away, the slower your service.
You can get DSL from national players like AT&T and Verizon, but be sure to check regional providers. They often compete for residential customers with better service plans and pricing.
Availability is satellite Internet’s greatest strength. Anyone with a clear line of sight to the orbiting satellites can get the service. The latest generation technology provide 25Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
Physics is the biggest problem. Signals travel 80,000 miles from rooftop dish to orbiting satellite to ground station and back again. That latency disrupts things like streaming video, online gaming, and Skype. Satellite providers also impose capacity limits after which they throttle their service.
The main satellite providers, HughesNet and Exede, sell direct to consumers and businesses. DISH Network and DirecTV do not offer Internet service themselves. They sell bundles with services from regional DSL providers or the satellite companies.
Fixed Wireless Services
Another way to bridge that last mile is to skip the wires. Fixed wireless providers use LTE, the same technology as your smartphone. Equipment on a local tower communicates with a modem attached to the side of your house. The modem sends the signal through wires to your Wi-Fi router.
The services provide download speeds as high as 50 Mbps and download speeds as high as 5 Mbps. But you have to be within 7-10 miles of the tower and have an unobstructed view.
The largest providers are not exactly household names. Yet companies like Rise Broadband and GHz Communications provide competitive services. AT&T rolled out fixed wireless service in rural markets. Larger distances to the tower caps bandwidth and limits speeds to 10 Mbps up, 1 Mbps down.
Does your Internet activity start and end with email? You might get away with using your mobile wireless service. Most smartphones turn into hotspots and let you connect a laptop over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Be sure to read the fine print in your service agreement. Mobile providers will cancel your service if tethered devices use too much bandwidth.
Check The Comparison Sites
Wirefly and BroadbandNow display the latest promotions from most ISPs in your area. These may not be the best possible deals, but that is true for everything you see on the web.
Check Your Current ISP
Your ISP offers its best deals to new subscribers. If you’re an existing customer, you may not see the best deals when visiting your ISPs website through a normal web browser. Use your browser’s incognito mode or surf from a coffeeshop to check out the latest deals.
You could also use a VPN service to mask your identity while price shopping. We recommend IPVanish as a complete privacy solution.
Know How To Work The System
It always seems like ISPs stack the deck against you. You can make your ISP’s priorities and policies work for you. All you need is to know how to work the system they created.
You Are Worth A Lot Of Money
A service plan that costs you $100 a month generates $1,200 a year for the ISP. As a long-term customer who auto-pays bills, you are a very profitable revenue stream.
Your ISP does not want to lose your business.The marketing and promotional spend to replace you is very expensive.
The ISP thinks it has stacked the deck, but you hold the cards. It will do whatever it can to keep your business. And that’s how you get a better deal.
Help The Reps Help You Save Money
Our advice gets you to a specific call center rep: the customer retention specialist. This person’s only job is to stop you from cancelling your service.
ISPs train retention reps to save the customer. They will ask you questions that probe for your hidden priorities. Then they will use your own answers to offer services and promotions. The reps are well-paid when they save a customer – and punished when they fail.
Knowing this, you can use the rep’s training to guide the conversation to a deal that works best for you. At the same time, you let the rep score a save with your ISP. A win-win scenario.
Dialing For Dollars
Set aside several hours for this stage since you will spend a lot of time on the phone. Make sure you’re comfortable. Block any distractions, but have a book or something handy so you don’t get frustrated with the hold times.
Polite But Not A Pushover
Keep in mind how much life as a call center rep really-really sucks. The customers they talk to are frustrated and angry. They take it out on the rep, spewing language they would never use in person.
Surprise the rep by being nice. Ask them how they are doing and show an interest in their answer. It will catch them off guard and shift their perspective a little in your favor.
But being polite does not mean being a pushover. Your preparation has shown you what you need from your ISP and what a fair price ought to be. So stand firm during the negotiations. Don’t let the rep distract you with services you don’t value.
Call The Competition
Start by calling your ISP’s competitors. Explain that you are not satisfied with your current ISP’s value. Ask if they have offers for people switching services. They may have something more that they don’t publish on their website.
At the end of this you may find that one of the competitors has a pretty sweet deal going. But you will still want to take the next step.
Call Your ISP
Get to the customer retention specialist as soon as possible. Tell the front-line call center rep – politely – that you want to cancel your service. Ask to speak with the “cancellation” department.
Don’t rush things once the retention specialist is on the line. Let the game play out so you can work the system in your favor.
Tell the rep that the current service and pricing doesn’t offer the value it once did. Explain that unless there’s a better option, you want to cancel your service.
The rep will start asking you questions, hoping to find a promotion that will change your mind. That’s what you want so answer truthfully. Help the rep by explaining your household’s priorities.
Don’t accept the first offer or a bundle that you don’t care about just because it’s a “deal”. Explain why you don’t value it and ask if there’s something else they can offer.
Towards the end of the conversation you can play your power card. Ask whether making a long-term commitment will get you an extra discount. There’s nothing wrong with a twelve-month or twenty-four-month contract – as long as it’s on your terms.
Before you hang up with the retention rep, be sure to review everything you’ve negotiated. Confirm any extra fees and penalties. Ask when you can expect to see it reflected in your account.
Make a point of checking your account soon afterwards. If something is missing, call the retention department again. Explain who you spoke with, what the two of you agreed upon, and what’s missing. Be ready to reopen the negotiation by, politely, asking to cancel your account.
You should make this an annual part of your household financial management. ISP pricing and service quality evolves all the time. Make sure get you the Internet service you deserve at a price you can afford.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.