We’ve all been there. You’ve been paying an annoyingly large sum for Internet and/or TV service each month for the past couple of years, and suddenly your ISP tells you it’s time to pay even more.
Your promotional rate has expired, and now you’ll have to pay the “real” price of service. You’re free to switch to another provider—if there’s another one in your neighborhood.
And so, the ritual of calling your ISP to demand—or beg for—a lower price begins again. There’s no guarantee that it’ll work, but in our experience it’s worth trying to negotiate a better rate using whatever amount of leverage you have.
Around Ars, we have some strategies to share from past negotiations with ISPs (admittedly resulting in varying levels of success). Of course, you’ll have better luck if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where there’s at least two high-speed broadband providers. But asking nicely for a discount doesn’t cost anything except your time, and threatening to cancel your service may help you get a better deal even if you’re not seriously planning to switch.
And for those who read all the way to the end, one Ars staffer even has past experience in customer service, leading to some tips on how to get on a customer rep’s good side.
Timothy B. Lee on threatening to cancel
Over the last decade I’ve lived in areas served by Comcast and Verizon. I found that Comcast made me play games to get a discount, whereas Verizon gave me a big discount just because I asked for one.
Until 2015, I only had DSL available from Verizon, so Comcast cable was my only realistic option. When I signed up for service in Philadelphia in 2009, I got a great initial rate of $33 per month. Over the next 18 months, they steadily raised prices to $45 and then $60 per month. I then threatened to cancel and got the rate dropped to $39, which then crept upward to $45 and then $72 per month in 2012. I moved to Washington, DC and got another $35 promotional rate, which then crept upward to $50, then $67.
When I’d call Comcast to ask about these rate hikes, they’d tell me that the price went up because my initial rate had expired. But they didn’t seem to be able to explain why I’d get two big price hikes back-to-back. Maybe the first price hike represented the end of a promotional price, but then why does it go up again a few months later?
Comcast didn’t make it easy to get discounts. At first I would call up and ask if they had discounts available and they’d just say no. Eventually I figured out that the thing to do is to just call up and say, “Hi, I’d like to cancel my service.” You can always back out if they actually try to go through with the cancellation process, but in my experience they always send you to a “retention specialist” whose job it is to give you the smallest possible discount they can without losing you as a customer.
It’s a good idea to do a bit of research, have a specific price in mind, and hold out to see if you can get it. The specialist’s initial offer usually won’t be the best one.
Dealing with Verizon has been comparatively painless. For my first two years as a Verizon customer, I paid a flat $39-per-month rate. After the two-year rate expired last year, they switched me to a faster speed (75/75) for $54 per month. When that rate expired this year, they jacked up the price to a whopping $99.
But when I called to complain about this, they immediately offered me a huge discount, without me having to pretend to cancel and having a stressful standoff with a customer service rep. In the last few months, I’ve been paying $40 per month. And I just tested my Internet connection: I’m getting around 60Mbps of download bandwidth and 70Mbps for uploads.
Jon Brodkin on fighting Comcast price hikes
My history of negotiating with cable companies goes back to the early 2000s with Comcast, which was my only viable option for about 10 years across three apartments in Massachusetts. Comcast was shockingly bad about honoring the rates they promised me. Invariably, I would sign up over the phone for a two-year deal at a certain price, and within a few months Comcast would add $20 or $30 to my bill with no explanation.
I would call Comcast each time, and without fail the company’s representatives claimed to have no records or knowledge of the rate that had been promised to me previously—even though it was supposed to be locked in for two years. I patiently explained what had happened each time, and the helpful Comcast rep would almost always give me some kind of price break. But the new price was almost never as low as the rate I was supposed to get in the first place, and the price would get raised again randomly within another few months, and I’d have to start the whole process over.
This went on until 2010, when I moved to a new place that had both Comcast and RCN wiring. RCN promised me a fair price that would be locked in for three years, with a mere $10 increase each year. There was one mistake in the first monthly bill that RCN fixed after I alerted them to the error, and RCN then honored the originally promised price for the entire three years. The price increases in years 4 and 5 weren’t bad, but I don’t recall the specifics now.
In 2015, I moved to a new place that has both Comcast and Verizon FiOS. I signed up with FiOS on the Verizon website, which was actually pretty good at explaining what services I was buying and what they would cost. My Internet-and-TV price was a bit more than $145 a month, and I locked in for two years. I could have paid less, but my sports-obsessed brain will not allow me to get a cheaper TV package that doesn’t have every possible sporting event I need to watch.
After two years, right on schedule, Verizon added $30 to my monthly bill, making it a little over $175. I paid it for a month simply out of laziness, but then I prepared for a negotiation. While I had no desire to switch to Comcast, I could threaten to switch when I contacted Verizon.
As it turned out, no real negotiation was necessary. I started an online chat with a Verizon rep, explained that I wanted to get rid of the $30 increase, and I was quickly offered another two-year contract for the same exact TV-and-Internet package for a few dollars less per month than I originally paid. My bill went down to about $143 a month, and I’m still paying that rate, though I’ll have to negotiate a new deal sometime next year.
My only major gripe is Verizon won’t raise my Internet speeds unless I pay more, even though the entry-level speeds have been increased since I first signed up for service. I’ve asked Verizon several times to at least upgrade me from the 50Mbps tier to the 75Mbps tier at my current price, but they won’t do it.
This is more of a theoretical gripe, since my 50Mbps download and 50Mbbps upload speeds have been plenty for everything I do online. My actual speeds seem to be higher than promised. When I do speed tests, I usually get download speeds of about 58Mbps and upload speeds of about 63Mbps. Besides, I’m glad that I’m not stuck with cable’s slower upload speeds or (shudder) DSL’s slow upload and download speeds.
Verizon’s prices for speed upgrades are pretty weird. It used to be that Verizon’s billing system would offer me an upgrade to 75Mbps for an extra $10 a month, but the Verizon site is now telling me I’d have to pay an extra $50 a month to go from 50Mbps to 75Mbps. This is especially bizarre because the Verizon home page is advertising stand-alone broadband of 100Mbps for $40 a month total, and 300Mbps for $60 a month. Before my next round of negotiations, I’ll gather the latest data about Verizon’s various Internet offers and try to get a speed increase.