Divorce Court for Your Cable Provider: The Art of the Steal

The following was originally posted in Kevin's blog at MyMediaDiary.com.

Wouldn't it be great if we could negotiate everything like a cable bill? Try it the next time you're in your doctor's waiting room.

"That will be $148, Mr. Walsh," says the cranky person behind the glass slidey-door.

"Hmmm...I'm not sure about that."

"Hmmm?" she glances up from her computer.

"That's right. Hmmm. You know, I think you might be overcharging me."

"Sir, would you like me to stick a collection agency on you?"

"But $148 to have my kids' acne examined? And we had to wait an extra hour for that privilege. Can you knock off twenty bucks because of the wait?"

"Sir, the doctor is very busy."

"I'm sure he is. Anyway, the zit-doc down the hall told me he'd look at my kids' pimples for only $128, so I thought it might be reasonable..."

She begins to dial the collection agency.

I find it odd that liquor stores advertise their prices as the "state-minimum," yet cable companies don't have to tell you any such thing.

Earlier in this blog, Jeff Mahowski (link) pointed out that perhaps we are not far from a day when a la carte television will be as easy as picking a Netflix movie. When I was a child, we had six channels. We also had Canadian channel 9, that was fuzzy, and PBS' channel 56 -- but you wouldn't be caught dead on that post-Sesame Street. I truly believe that I still only watch six stations, and would thoroughly love to pay for only those six if I could. But, until that happy day, I am forced into a dangerous melodrama between me and my loved one -- my television.

Dr. Who, Fan-Girls and Wandering-Eyes

My fourteen-year dysfunctional marriage to my cable company nearly ended two weeks ago when my daughter planned a party for the anniversary special on the 50th season of Dr. Who on BBC-America, a station 150 channels light-years past the offerings of my meager basic cable/internet package of $103 per month.

But I wanted to give them first crack. We've got WOW, Comcast and AT&T's U-verse in our neighborhood. And, unlike many towns with only one cable company, there is some room for bargaining -- or so I'm told by better horse-traders than me.

"Hello, Mr. Walsh. What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to upgrade my cable/internet package so we can get BBC-America."

"A Dr. Who fan, eh? That will be an extra $26 per month."

"Well, it's my daughter... But anyway, that'll get me a lot more channels?"

"Oh yes, a couple hundred."

"Any good ones?"


"Never mind. So do I get any movie channels with that?"

"Oh no," as if I'd just told a good one.

"Okay. I may have to go elsewhere. Do you have any specials coming up?"

"No, sir."

The Other Woman

And that was that. I called U-Verse, avoiding Comcast's high rates, and didn't really feel like supporting a company that now owns half the nation and two thirds of Congress (funny, when Ma Bell is an underdog these days).

AT&T was very congenial, and they offered me a great deal that included 25 movie channels, HBO and Showtime free for three months, and that wireless receiver that the cute kids pitch in the ads. The guy even kindly reminded me to set my calendar so that I'd remember to cancel the premium channels at the three month mark. So, I scheduled the installation for five days later, and told my daughter that her father was awesome.

And there was much rejoicing.

Second Guessing the Affair

At our kids' fall play, I mentioned my AT&T affair to a friend, and he smiled politely and said: "You'll be back." That comment sat in my subconscious for the next day when I bit the bullet and sent out a general appeal to our handy-dandy neighborhood Yahoo group, asking for their experiences, WOW vs. AT&T.

The reviews were generally supportive of WOW, with most high marks going to their speedy internet, quick service and rate-controls. The knock on AT&T described intermittent signal issues, slow internet and painful customer service. No one brought up Comcast to me, the way you don't discuss a Lexus to someone at Ford dealership.

So I thought I'd give the marriage one more try and called WOW -- probably out of good old-fashioned, Irish-Catholic guilt. And who knows, maybe I'd get someone more understanding. Once they knew I was serious, that I had already scheduled the divorce and had the honeymoon booked, suddenly I was a valued fourteen-year customer that they really appreciated -- even those annoying little things, like the midnight calls complaining about squirrels chewing through our outside line and disrupting his silly blog. They were also congenial and appreciated the second chance.

Moving Back From the Doghouse

By the time our conversation was over, I was guaranteed $106 per month for the bazillion channels that AT&T had offered, along with Starz and Encore. We could live without HBO and Showtime -- and I'd probably forget to stop at the fourth month anyway. Netflix keeps us into more movies than we'll ever see anyway.

And, like any evangelical, nearly-divorced husband, I quickly reported my deal back to our Yahoo Group so they too could do some haggling as well. Two neighbors have already dropped their rates.

I'm waiting for my cable to suddenly drop when WOW discovers who the big-mouth is. Then I'll be served my divorce papers in the form of a $200 per month bill.