Cable bills rising again; what can consumers do?


Associated Press

NEW YORK

Cable and satellite TV providers are ringing in the new year with an unwelcomed gift: higher cable bills.

Over the past decade, prices for TV service have risen almost twice as fast as inflation, according to an analysis of government data. Data provider S&P Global Market Intelligence says customers’ cable and satellite TV bills have soared 53 percent since 2007, to $100.98 in 2017.

Annual rate hikes are as guaranteed as death and taxes. But you can push back and trim your bill.

WHY PRICES RISE

Cable companies point to rising fees they pay to carry TV networks. The networks, in turn, have their own rising costs – particularly sports, as they willingly pay more to sports leagues for what they consider must-have programming. But the networks also know they can pass those costs back to cable companies and ultimately their subscribers.

It’s industry convention that a cable bundle needs live sports. Otherwise, cable companies risk losing subscribers.

PUSH BACK

You can threaten to ditch your cable company in hopes of getting a discount. Companies will often offer a promotional rate for a year or two – though they may also try to get you to upgrade packages in the process. BillFixers, a service that fights on your behalf in return for a cut of your savings, estimates that 55 percent of customers are on a promotion at any given time.

But just having a discount doesn’t mean it’s a good one. BillFixers’ founder, Ben Kurland, recommends calling to complain about prices and rejecting the first deal offered. More often than not, a better discount will be available if you ask for it. Repeatedly.

If you decide to cut one of your services, such as your home phone, but you feel that you are still paying too much, Kurland advises calling back in a month to see if there are any new discounts.

Cable companies are already dealing with customers dropping TV service entirely. That hurts the networks, too, as their fees are based on the number of subscribers.

CORD-CUTTING

An increasingly popular option is to just peace out. Though there are still 94 million cable and satellite TV customers, that’s roughly 4 million fewer than two years ago, according to MoffettNathanson Research.

You don’t have to drop TV networks completely. Online TV services such as YouTube TV, DirecTV Now and Sling TV offer smaller packages of channels, often for less than what cable charges. MoffettNathanson estimates these services have 3.5 million customers combined.

Antennas are also available for $50 or less. You get over-the-air networks for free, although reception might not be perfect.

Be careful: Paying for online services to replace TV could eventually add up to more than a $100 cable bill, especially as more services are created to compete for your dollars.

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