Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cutting your communication costs

Our monthly communications bill, including landline, mobile and net, is a good percentage of our food or mortgage bills.

Pretty impressive, unfortunately. I'm constantly looking for ways to drop the cost. The main things we've done and not done are:
  • We don't do SMS. That saves us about $35 a month, even after we pay the fees for the messages we do get.
  • I signed up for an AT&T Canadian calling plan to reduce the costs of the frequent mobile phone calls I make to aged parents. That saved some money, but then ...
  • I started using Google GrandCentral (now Google Voice) to call Canada. That has saved about $1,000 a year (!)
  • We do Netflix rather than cable TV. That saves us about $25/month and is a much better experience (save that Netflix has too many broken DVDs for children).
  • Rather than pay $10/month to add a phone to the family plan, we signed up for a T-Mobile pay-go plan. Estimated savings of $80 a year, so it may not have been worth the hassle.
  • We do pay for a higher quality/performance ISDN service, but that's been worth it in terms of reliability.
  • When iPhone 3.0 comes out with Push support for instant messaging, we'll use that and see if our phone minutes drop enough to justify switching to AT&T's smallest iPhone family plan.
  • We dropped long distance services from our landline -- it's local only. We haven't dropped our landline yet and, with 3 kids without mobile phones, we probably won't. However when Google Voice comes out for everyone each child and my wife will get GV numbers.
  • We get a 15% discount on our AT&T mobile services through John's employer
  • Rather than pay for fax line we use maxemail, a pay-as-you go fax send and receive service. They're bare bones primitive, but excellent service, low cost, and much more reliable than even high end office fax machines. We scan documents to the server from our ancient brother printer and then upload. (It's a safe market niche btw, Google is never going to get into something as messy as fax receipt and fax seems eternal.)
All in all we've hacked off about $2,000 a year. Today's NYT suggests some other options, though many don't apply to us. Some of the best tips come when you're dissatisfied enough about your current pricing to consider switching services (or willing to bluff). I'm going to take a look at the cable alternatives to my current ISP and decide if I want to threaten a switch. 
Basics - How to Cut the Beastly Cost of Digital Services -
... Cable, satellite and telephone companies can only be overjoyed that millions of their customers take no action to lower their bills, and instead routinely pay much too much for overpriced plans they purchased a decade ago.
Faced with increased competition, they will gladly tell you about better package prices if you ask, but they won’t be calling you up to tell you how you can save money.
Pull out your bills and then call all your providers. Tell them you’re paying too much and you want to lower your bill. They can only say no.
... The regular customer service representative won’t be as empowered as someone in the cancellation department to cut you a better deal.
“We will work with our customers to find a package that suits them,” said Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman.
At their discretion, Verizon sales reps can cut the price of DSL service, offer free months of Internet access, increase the discount on voice service or give a $50 American Express gift card to customers returning to Verizon’s television service.
AT&T gives its employees similar powers to make deals. Reps are known to offer enhanced services for a basic price, and to lower the cost of one service to its bundled price even if you’re not buying the bundle. “If it’s a matter of keeping the customer, we’ll do the best we can,” said Fletcher Cook, an AT&T spokesman.
... AT&T, for example, offers local and unlimited long distance for $40.
That price drops to $35 if you also get wireless (but you must tell the company to combine your bills). A $99 package includes unlimited landline service, a DSL connection and wireless service for $10 less than those services would cost if priced separately. The company will also pay new customers $100 to sign up.
ASK FOR CORPORATE DISCOUNTS Many corporations have discounts with the major wireless phone carriers. Bring your corporate business card to a wireless carrier’s store or check your company’s intranet site for particulars. Depending on the company, you can typically knock $10 off the monthly cost for a smartphone’s voice and data plans.

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