Despite the wide availability of streaming media options in today's digital world, Internet and TV bundles play a prominent role in modern viewing habits.
According to Forbes, survey data shows that consumers age 30 and up use the TV for over 80% of their movies and shows. Even Millennials still utilize the television for nearly half of their viewing.
Still, the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Sling TV has been a major motivator behind traditional media companies offering cheap cable and high-speed Internet service packages.
This is good news for you because it means that the cable TV industry is becoming more competitive, especially since live TV viewing services, like Sling TV, are invading with cheaper prices. That trend translates to more savings for you and more convenient – and comprehensive - Internet and TV bundles.
If you've ever moved or started up new Internet or cable services at your residence, you know that cable companies tend to encourage you to purchase multiple services at a discounted rate. This is called bundling, and it can – quite literally – save you a bundle.
There are two types of bundles to consider - the double play bundle and the triple play bundle. While the double play bundle usually includes TV and Internet featured with a bundle discount, the triple play bundle includes TV, Internet, and landline phone, all for a reasonable bundle discount.
In the initial days of Internet service, there was no choice but to get your dial-up service through your Internet service provider and your cable television through your cable company. Now, however, cable and the Internet are delivered via the same infrastructure in most cases. In addition, many companies, like Comcast, offer landline phone service - Xfinity Voice, for example - as well. This means that it makes sense both practically and financially to get all of your services from one company.
You can always instead opt for a top-tier satellite Internet provider and/or a satellite TV service, but there are a couple of advantages that cable TV companies would have over satellite TV companies; for instance, cable TV companies offer faster high speed Internet service packages. However, satellite TV offers more flexible choices and better deals.
If you're looking for flexibility, you should consider a satellite TV package from services such as DISH Network or DIRECTV. Both satellite TV service providers offer competitive double play and triple play broadband bundles, so you'll want to do a lot of research before you settle on either a DISH Network bundle or a DIRECTV package.
With the dizzying array of combinations available, it can be tricky to decide what you actually need when it comes to channel selection and Internet speed. After all, these packages are usually bundled into the double play or triple play packages, which can be tempting. So here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Getting hundreds of channels doesn't mean getting the channel you want. For example, if you opt for an AT&T Internet U-verse service bundle and choose the U-family cable option, you'll get over 200 channels. You won't, however, get ESPN with this U-verse TV package, which is a requisite for many households.
- Your Internet speed should match your household's usage habits. You don't necessarily need the fastest, most advanced speeds, even if you've got multiple devices online at the same time. According to the FCC's Household Broadband Guide, speeds between 6Mbps and 15Mbps are sufficient for most typical functions, even when high definition streaming. So again, depending on your hobbies and activities, you won't always need to opt into a high-speed Internet service. For instance, Comcast's performance Internet package is more than enough for most households.
- HD is extra. Decide if you really must have HD channels, and know exactly how much extra you're going to pay for this luxury. If you must have HD, you will likely have to move up to one of the higher tier Internet and cable bundles, missing out on cheap cable TV.
When you order your service, the rep will try to talk you into the most lucrative bundle possible. This is understandable - it's their job. That's why it's to your advantage to know exactly which services will fit your needs. If you don't want a landline phone service, stand firm when they try to talk you into adding one to your bundle. To quote Charles Passy of the Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, "A bargain is only a bargain if it's something you actually want".
Providers That Offer Double and Triple Play Bundles
We've taken an extensive look at the major Internet and cable TV providers and investigated the different bundles they might offer if they're available near you.
Best Bundle Deals
When you're shopping for cheap cable TV you will likely notice that many of the best deals are accompanied by fine print such as "for the first six months" or "for 12 months, then retail pricing applies".
These introductory offers, which are subject to change, are the industry standard, but it's very important to find out exactly what happens after this time period expires. My analysis of several of the best cable providers indicated that there are drastic variations in the normal rate once the initial offer is exhausted. Some plans go up by just $10/month, while others may go up by as much as $60 or more.
Further complicating matters is the fact that it's not always easy to figure out exactly what the regular rate is simply by reading the offer details on the provider's website. Be sure you know the future rates for the bundle you want before signing up. Even if high-speed Internet alone may be cheap initially, the prices may increase after the promotional period ends - the same goes for all bundles.
It's not exactly a secret that many areas of the country suffer from a lack of options when it comes to the cable television and high-speed Internet industry. In fact, the chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) compiled data on this very issue, indicating that 55% of Americans have access to a single high-speed Internet provider.
To shed some more light onto the situation, the Augusta, Maine area only offers Time Warner Spectrum as a cable provider, and the company in the area is unfortunately known for poor customer service. However, Augusta residents can always purchase a DISH Network or DIRECTV Internet bundle or TV bundle. People simply need more than just a single outlet - at least, in terms of cable - as their options for Internet and TV.
If you fall into this under-served group, you may be thinking there's nothing you can do about the price you're paying for cable and Internet services. That's not quite the case - there are a few things you can do to work with your local provider to make sure you're getting the best possible deal on your Internet and cable bundle.
Next, I will outline basic techniques to use in order to get a better deal on your services. Most of these steps can be used effectively with a company that has a monopoly, as well as with those with local competition.
Whether you're hoping to keep your introductory rate with the sole provider in your area or want to use the competition's prices to convince your provider to come down a bit, I've outlined some basic guidelines that can help you strike a deal.
- Know your numbers. The most important thing is having hard facts to lay on the table when you call your provider. Find out what the best deal is for new customers in your area so that you don't waste your breath low-balling.
- Talk to the right department. Many cable and Internet providers outsource their normal customer service functions. If you connect with the cancellations department right from the start, you've got a better chance of talking with someone who has access to a better deal for you. Cable companies know that more and more people are becoming "cord-cutters" each year (former cable customers who are choosing to stream in lieu of traditional television service). Prior to the advent of streaming media, you wouldn't have had much leverage to negotiate a lower rate. Now you do.
- Be nice. Trying to get the best cable and Internet deals means heeding your mom's advice - this is one case in which it really is true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. No matter how irritated you are by those bills which seem to continuously creep up, month after month, resist the urge to turn confrontational. In other words, be polite. Ask nicely and you may just receive.
- Take notes. Don't take the verbal promise of a rep and leave it at that. Write down the exact terms you were offered, along with the name of the person to whom you spoke. Then call back before your next statement comes out and make sure that's what you're actually being charged.
Fees and taxes
You're probably well aware that the monthly fees for your service aren't the only charges you need to consider. There are a number of other service charge fees as well, and they can add up quickly.
- Installation fee: this typically ranges between $50 and $100. Some providers will allow you to split the cost up over two or three bills.
- Activation fee: also known as a one-time setup fee, this is a fee that cable and Internet providers sometimes charge to turn your modem or DVR on. The amount varies by provider but usually, runs between $0 and $30.
- Equipment rental fees: this is where your monthly cable and Internet bundle deal can jump by quite a bit. Modems and set-top boxes may cost as much as $10/month each. DVRs can run as high as $20 for the whole house.
The good news is that you can often have some of these fees waived. Don't hesitate to ask while ordering your service whether your provider is willing to do the install for free. You have a much better chance of getting them to budge on the installation fee if you're ordering multiple services as opposed to just one (I found this out the hard way). Additionally, some companies also allow you to do the install yourself for free or a reduced fee.
Another thing that high-speed Internet providers don't usually tell you when you order bundles is that you can usually buy your own modem if you wish. This is a major untapped source of savings. You can buy a modem for around $100.
When you consider that you may pay more than that just for one year of rental, it's definitely a better deal over the long haul. And the best part is, it's not difficult to use your own modem. Just make sure you get a model on the provider's approved list, then call them and they will guide you through the setup.
Cable and Internet providers may have as many as 10 or more bundles going at any given time. This can make it confusing to sort out what you really need and how to get the best deal on it. There are a number of things you should keep in mind as you shop for cable Internet bundles.
If you want access to movies and television shows on the go using your mobile devices, you'll want a plan that includes this feature - not all bundles do.
You can also search for Internet providers by ZIP code using our handy tool to find the best provider available near you.
1. The Big Deal Isn't Always the Best Deal
The most prominent deals being promoted by the cable company are not typically the most affordable. These top-of-the-list Internet and cable bundles usually fall around the $100/month range and include a mid-range number of television channels along with moderate Internet speeds. It's important to look at all of the available combinations to make sure you're getting only what you really want and need, at a price you can afford.
Additionally, you may also want to take into account any service charge the provider may throw at you. Some companies, however, include a service charge, such as an activation fee, within their promotional pricing. If you don't see a bundle that fits your needs on the company's website, you can call customer service and ask if there is anything else they can put together for you. Fortunately, a DIRECTV bundle is great for flexibility. DISH Network is also incredibly accommodating.
If you're fortunate enough to live in an area with more than just a single outlet, the be sure to thoroughly research all of the available services in your location - for example, if you have Time Warner Spectrum, Comcast Xfinity, DIRECTV, and AT&T Internet surrounding you, then look through all of the available options, packages, and services these four companies offer. What do Xfinity TV and U-verse TV offer in terms of channels? What is the best DIRECTV Internet bundle or even the best DIRECTV package? What is the Xfinity Hotspot service like? Is Xfinity Voice worth the bundle fee? What are the speeds of Xfinity Internet, DIRECTV Internet, and U-verse Internet? These are just some of the questions that you should be asking yourself when comparing the available services.
2. Satellite or Cable?
As mentioned previously, there are disadvantages and advantages to both cable internet and satellite internet. For instance, while the satellite dish offers greater flexibility, better overall deals, and greater picture and service quality, cable services provide you with better and more stable performance Internet. For instance, some Internet service providers also feature the much sought-after fiber optic Internet. Fiber optic Internet offers a hefty download and upload speed packages, all for a reasonable price. Verizon FiOS, U-verse Internet, and the Xfinity service all offer at least one fiber optic broadband bundle.
Again, the reasonable prices will change to a regular rate once the promotion ends. If you're hungry for better Internet speeds, then you should consider an Internet and cable service provider over the satellite dish. For instance, Comcast service includes top-tier Xfinity Internet as well as Xfinity TV.
There is also digital cable to consider over standard cable. While cable TV can be either analog or digital, digital cable involves a newer, cleaner type of signal that is high quality compared to analog.
3. Watch for Long-Term Commitments
Once you get up into the higher tiers, such as Internet and cable packages which come with premium channels and higher download speeds, you could be looking at a two- to three-year agreement to get that discount rate. This isn't a problem if you know you're going to stick with that particular provider.
If, however, you'd rather have the freedom to shop around for a better deal then it's best to avoid getting tied down to a contract, especially when there is a hefty early termination fee involved. Do be aware that an early termination fee can cost you hundreds of dollars.
4. Pay Attention to the Extras
It may seem like a good idea to sign up for the first offer you see which comes with the channels and download speeds you want. Be sure to read the fine print, however, as the devil really is in the details. For example, many Internet and cable providers are diving headfirst into the streaming market along with traditional services. If you want access to movies and television shows on the go using your mobile devices, you'll want a plan that includes this feature - not all bundles do.
With that being said, there are some positive incentives and extras to look at, though these incentives may be subject to change. Many service provider packages, for instance, include HD DVR. HD DVR will record your programs in full high definition. Another extra to consider are the included hotspots. The Comcast Xfinity TV bundle, for instance, may include complimentary Xfinity hotspot access.
Exclusive packages are another incentive that are built into these service provider packages. For instance, the DIRECTV bundle services highlight the NFL Sunday Ticket. The NFL Sunday Ticket allows you to catch all of the football action with a myriad of devices. You can even catch the DIRECTV Fantasy Zone with the NFL Sunday Ticket package.
Another incentive that cable companies offer is the money-back guarantee. For instance, the Comcast service and Time Warner Spectrum offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Bundles can be a great way to save money if you're in the market for multiple services, whether that means phone and cable, cable and the Internet, phone and Internet, or all three.
Plus, it's easy to find the perfect deal for your needs by using our handy zip code checker to find Internet providers in your area.