Kids & Money

Consumers may be gaining the upper hand with cable, internet services

I was heading home from work several weeks ago when a call came from my wife.

“Heads up,” she said, explaining that an AT&T sales rep would be coming by the house that evening to pitch the company’s triple-play package of cable television, Internet and phone service .

AT&T? You might say I was stunned. After all, this wasn’t going to be a cold call from a neighborhood Girl Scout selling peanut butter cookies.

Sure enough, the salesman arrived as scheduled, made his case on my doorstep for U-verse and ended on this note: He needed my answer that night. None of this look-over-the-brochure stuff and think it over.

My decision was a no-brainer because the cost was actually higher than what I was paying Time Warner Cable.

While this scene may not be playing out in every neighborhood, this door-to-door pursuit of business left me with a loud and clear impression: The market for cable, high-speed Internet and telephone services might finally be turning ever so slightly in favor of consumers. In short, there may be more supply than demand.

In my neighborhood, for example, Time Warner Cable has long ruled the roost. But both AT&T and SureWest have recently moved in, and Google is coming up the road with its grand Kansas City fiberoptic experiment that is in the national spotlight. Satellite companies, of course, are options, too.

This is great news given that cellphones, cable and the Internet have become a major line item for many household budgets, surpassing electricity and water.

With more competitors, the deals are getting better and there’s more flexibility to negotiate.

Unhappy with pixilated images on the big screen or tired of paying twice as much as new customers, who seem to get the best package deals? Bypass regular customer service and deal with the retention department. That’s a trick I’ve learned.

For every outage with your cable box, keep track of the minutes and then demand a few days’ credit on your bill.

Being a longtime paying subscriber with service options should put more muscle behind your request.

Still, it’s been my experience that it’s no easy task to compare rate plans unless you are retired and can spend a lot of time on the phone

Some providers offer competitive basic service, with lots of sports channels. But if you’re trying to round out family programming, costs can quickly escalate.

Dan Mathews, a financial planner with Stepp & Rothwell in Overland Park, recommends that you only spend 3 to 5 percent of your budget on technology. Good luck, given the increasing sophistication and costs of the gadgets and services.

Option B? Take a look at what you really use and need and make cuts.

What’s the message in all this for your kids?

Save your money — and sharpen your negotiating skills. You’re going to need to do both if you want to keep up with technology in the years ahead.