The Internet Game and How You Can Win It

Time to save some folks some more money. Since it’s that time of year for me again, today I’m going to do it by writing about how I play the internet game. Why didn’t I say the cable/internet game? Because cable is useless. You can get every show or movie with internet alone and as a bonus, there are no commercials in most cases. If live sports are your poison, those are often on over the air tv so you can get your fix in HD with a ten dollar antenna. They make fancy ones that cost ten times that much but if you read the reviews, you will likely conclude, as I have, that no one has ever topped the rabbit ears at any price point. You can even put them in your basement or attic, as I once did, so you don’t even have to look at them in your living room. If your live sports are not on over the air tv, you still have plenty of options – bars, friends’ houses, streaming, etc. In conclusion, no cable needed – and I didn’t even have to go into how the average person spends way too much time staring at a screen and should simply be doing it far less in the first place. Or Kodi for that matter…

Why do I call it the internet game? That’s all that most of life is. And that is certainly the case with internet service providers (ISPs). They lure customers in with a relatively reasonable rate, then double it a year later. The fewer customers fight back or do so successfully, the better the ISP does in the game. More profit equals winning. But you don’t want to fatten up an ISP’s profit margin and you don’t have to. Now in the internet game, there are only two basic scenarios – one easy and one slightly more difficult. But not to worry. I’ve experienced them both and both are beatable. You have scenario one if you live in a major metro area with more than one viable internet option. In other words, child’s play. Scenario two is when you have only one. And no, satellite and the like don’t count as options. Remember, we do not inconvenience ourselves in the name of saving money; we simply save money.

If you have options, as I do here in Houston, the game is already over the minute you show up. First, sign up for your “promotional rate” internet with AT&T. Bonus points if you negotiate an extra hundred dollar gift card out of them as I did last time to negate the unnecessary “installation fee” they charge for a technician to pay you an unnecessary visit. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat because there is competition. When they raise your rate a year later, look at what Comcast, or whatever other option you have, is offering. In this case, I’m about to save some money because they’re offering internet in my area for $30 instead of the $40 I’m paying now. Yay for me. Next, you call your current provider and tell them to cancel your account. When they ask why, simply tell them the truth; they jacked your rate up and there is a cheaper option available to you – so bye. They will probably transfer you to their retention department but that’s why you’ve done your homework. Stick to your guns unless they can beat your other option. There really is no more to it than that since your next call is actually going to be to your other option, which does exist. However, in this scenario, the retention department just might actually work hard to win your business because they know that. Going into the call, I know I’m going to save a minimum of $10 a month, but possibly more if their numbers are down and they’re feeling especially motivated today.

If you don’t have options, you can still win, but you have to be a little more creative. The game starts off the same way as above, but when your year is up, it changes. You can try negotiating with the retention department if you want to but again, they know the local market. So if you don’t have any better options, they are pretty unlikely to be in deal mode. But that’s ok. If you don’t get anywhere with them, simply cancel. Next, have your significant other call them and set up new service at the address. Don’t have one? Invent one. If they require a social security number or something over the top like that, have a friend call and return the favor for him or her. You get the point. This is war, people, so band together against the common enemy, which is anyone trying to rip you off. Once your alternate account name’s year is up, you can typically call and set up your own service again at the “promotional rate” since most ISPs purge your information from their system after six months.

That is the main game but here are a few other pointers.

1. If there is any kind of a modem/router rental fee charged, don’t pay it. You can usually buy a compatible setup for no more than $50-100 and they usually last at least a few years if not longer. Given that you’re avoiding a $10-15 a month rental fee plus taxes and fees being charged on top of it, this small “investment” pays for itself in less than a year.

2. Like all businesses, your ISP wants to make as much profit as possible. Its cost is whatever it takes to provide your service and its revenue is whatever it can get you to pay. Here’s the dirty secret: most of the cost is in setting up and maintaining the network. In other words, there is very little marginal cost between different speeds. And here’s another secret: most people need no more than 10-20 mbps – usually around the bottom rung of service that is offered. When they ask what you use the internet for, they’re listening for that magic phrase – streaming. That’s when they’ll say you need some ridiculous speed like 50 or even 100 mbps (depending on how gullible they’ve decided you are) and attempt to upsell you. If you let them fool you, you can quickly wind up paying way too much for internet. Go with the lowest speed that is offered and when they try to play the upselling game, tell them you use the internet exclusively for email and web browsing. At this point, they may try any number of low brow sales tactics and of course they would; the more they get you to pay, the more they get paid. Once again, stick to your guns. I promise the world will not end over this decision, no matter what they tell you.

3. Another note on speed is that sometimes the best deal isn’t advertised. When I was in Wisconsin, Time Warner (later acquired by Spectrum) used to offer a “budget plan” of maybe 3 or 5 mbps for $15. The next highest speed was about three times the price. As a bonus, it was somehow exempt from the “promotional rate” bullshit. I was able to keep it for years. I still fondly remember the day a sales woman from some company or other came to the door and asked what I was paying. I told her what I paid for internet and that I don’t pay for cable under any circumstances and she literally did an about face and headed for the next house without another word. Good times. But this plan wasn’t advertised on the Time Warner website. I happened to have heard about it from someone so I called and asked for it. After listening to a few minutes of the inside sales rep insisting I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my internet if I went with this horribly inadequate plan and ignoring it all, I was in business. And guess what. ISPs can’t perfectly control the speed you get. So even though 3-5mbps would have been adequate anyway, I often got double or triple the speed I was paying for – most likely a regression towards the mean situation. If you want to find out how much speed you are getting, you can find tons of online options by googling “speed test.” But in any case, it certainly doesn’t cost anything to try the slowest available speed and switch if it doesn’t work. Assuming it won’t work very well may cost you something. Assuming can do that in tons of different situations in life.

That should about cover it. If you’re paying more than $40-50 a month, you’re paying too much. By employing these three methods, you should be able to prevent that from ever happening. Adios for now.

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