We’ve rounded up what ISPs are doing for customers during the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s something you can do as well: Call your ISP and ask for a lower price on your Internet service. I did, and it’s saving me about $20 per month.
Everyone’s struggling right now: consumers, businesses, and ISPs alike. Millions of Americans are filing for unemployment (including my wife). But your Internet provider wants you to remain as a customer.
My advice: Meet in the middle. Normally, negotiating a better rate with your ISP is best left to the end of the month, when the company doesn’t want to ruin its retention numbers. But why wait?
What are your options for lowering your Internet bill?
A couple of weeks ago, I called up my broadband ISP and explained my situation. I didn’t speak to a bored corporate drone working in a call center; each of us was working from home, trying to hear each other over a spotty wireless connection. We were in the same boat.
ISPs have various ways of luring new customers, especially if they’re in one of the few lucky regions with a choice of Internet providers. In my case, my ISP currently offers the choice between a lower, promotional rate that will eventually expire, and a “contract” rate that locks you into a given service plan for a specific period. These rates will often change on a city-by-city basis, depending on how much the market will bear.
Both deals offer certain pros and cons. Though cheaper, the promotional rate will eventually (and sometimes subtly) expire without warning. With a contract, you’ll know how much you’ll be paying each month, allowing you to plan your budget accordingly. But if something unexpected happens (such as a pandemic, for example) you run the risk of early-termination fees if you’re suddenly forced to disconnect your service. You may be able to sign up for a month-to-month “contract” without fees, but you’ll probably pay more for it, too.
Fortunately, most ISPs have signed on to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge (PDF), where they’ve agreed not to terminate service if a subscriber is unable to pay. That doesn’t mean, however, that your bill will never become due; it’s probably just deferred.
In my case, I found my ISP was willing to offer me the promotional price to keep me as a subscriber. I explained that I didn’t think I could commit to a long-term contract, so I’m currently paying month by month.
How to lower your ISP bill even more: Cut the cord
The representative also did something that I would have previously considered unthinkable: He offered plans to cut the cord entirely, disconnecting my cable TV service in favor of an Internet-only connection. That option would save me as much as $50 to $70 per month, depending upon the speed of the connection. Even better, I was told all of these options would be available without contract, and would be there going forward as well.
I’m strongly considering it. One of the few reasons that we keep cable is for live sports—which, of course, is on hold for potentially months. My kids are already hooked on Disney+, and we keep a Netflix subscription on top of that. HBO’s free shows offer additional entertainment options. I have one son who’s hooked on some of the Cartoon Network shows, though Hulu is an option. Pile on too many streaming services, though, and all of the savings disappear.
Leaving your ISP altogether for a competitor is a theoretical option, though unfortunately a rare one. I live in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area with an option between high-priced, high-speed cable and slower, cheaper DSL. I’m hopeful that a competing fiber-to-the-home service may arrive soon. Unfortunately, multiple, competing broadband options aren’t always available to customers.
Right now, however, I can’t see how hardline negotiating tactics benefit me. Terminating my relationship with my ISP, returning equipment, and possibly scheduling a technician to enter my home in a time of a global pandemic isn’t something I’m willing to do. Surviving off of my cellular provider’s data feed for a few days simply isn’t an option with a household full of people, either.
Instead, asking for a discount or promotional price seems like a good compromise. And if you do, be reasonable. Explain your situation. Being nice, I’ve found, pays dividends. And you know what? It all boils down to a single piece of advice: It can’t hurt to ask.