The Great American Hornswoggle

When Tim ‘haz a mad’, he generally hangs on to it for awhile. Last month, he had a mad.

We pay our bills online for the most part. When our satellite television did not send us a bill for a three month period, Tim (aka Mr. Reliable) just continued paying the bill. Towards the end of December and in January, we received two robo calls and one letter dunning us for payment of our past due charges and threatening to shut us down.

Total overdue amount? $20.72. They had raised our rate during that time. Receiving no bill, we had no way of knowing. We were being threatened for a rate increase that we had not been informed of. Tim was well and truly fed up.

We’d been talking about it for a while. Spending $200 a month on our bundled phone, internet, and television seemed like a largish chunk of change so we began seriously considering at what we could do without.

We are not cell phone people (I have one but don’t carry it), so our landline is something we do not want to give up.

We are also internet people. We both enjoy keeping up with friends on the internet and it is an important tool for Tim’s renovations. We needed to hang on to that as well.

But the televison? We generally watch the three major networks, PBS, the History Channel and HGTV. That’s it. If we want to watch a movie, we’ve got our netflix.

We were spending a LOT of money every month for those 6 channels. Add the billing kerfuffle, the two robo calls and the letter, the company had pushed two customers over the edge. We decided we could cut back there.

There are not a lot of options in this town. We don’t live in an area served by cable. Spectrum is advertised but not available here. We had three options. (I am purposely narrowing things down for you.)

I called one of the other satellite companies, explained our situation, and told them that we were looking for a cheaper alternative that would also remember to send bills out every month. Jovial Antwan became my new best friend.

He began listing off all the things that they could do for us. The list of numbers started out sounding pretty good. But then fees and taxes and the like kept getting added. As I did the math in my head, I kept thinking, “Wait a minute. Our monthly bill is not going to change very much.” Even more nervewracking was the long soliloquy he did about the two year contract and the fees associated with early cancellation.

The final charge was a one time fee of $49.99 for a credit check that had been done at the beginning of the call.

I blinked. “You know what? Let’s forget this. These fees are adding up way to quickly for my liking. That credit check did not cost your company $49.99….” but that Antwan was a charmer. He was looking out for me.

“Wait a minute!” he said. “Let me talk to my supervisor. I’m going to put you on hold.”And he did. I pictured him humming the Jeopardy theme song to himself as he waited to come back on the line. When he did, he was very happy to inform me that his supervisor had allowed him to drop the charge.

He also requested that I don’t tell anyone, because that was a special thing. Just for me. But you all are friends and I know you won’t rat me out, right? I mean, you don’t even know who it was. It could be any of the three satellite companies that serve Warren, any one of them.

Split seconds after hanging up, Tim came in the door. I explained what had just gone down. I was not happy about the situation but we were saving $20 a month, so at least it was not worse. However, Tim was not happy. After reading the reviews on the phone service I’d just signed us up for, it was clear that this was not a good deal. To make matters worse, it was a two year contract and I was worried about those cancellation fees. So I was on the phone again. I cancelled the connection appointment with the phone/internet company. A girl politely argued with me about all the things they could offer me beyond our current service. I kept politely insisting that we wanted to cancel the installation. She kept politely insisting that we shouldn’t. I’m very insistant, even more insistant than she was. She finally politely canceled the appointment.

Next call was to the television company. They, too, were shocked that I was changing my mind. I just told them that it was too much money, that we’d decided to get a ROKU instead.

This fellow was also very charming. Long and the short of it. He offered me television for $29.99. The only glitch was that I had to leave the current order in place, that they would not be able to hook up a new service for that low price of $29.99. I said, “But the last fellow I spoke with went on at great length about the fees associated with backing out of the contract early. Hundreds of dollars…”

The charming fellow said, “I take very good notes. I’ll have it on file that you’ll be changed over to the new contract with no cancellation fees.” When I hesitated, he quickly said, “Don’t you trust me?”

I decided quickly right then and there. I’m sure that this fellow was as trustworthy as they come, but what I didn’t trust was the company that he worked for.

It seems to me that trustworthy company would not back you into a corner without giving you all your options. This $29.99 deal is not listed on their website and it was not offered on the phone even though I stressed that we were looking for the cheapest plan because we did not watch most of the channels we were currently paying for.

A trustworthy company might think to tell you that there is are different options available for the receiver you rent and that you can save quite a bit of money there.

A trustworthy company wouldn’t scam you for a credit check.

A trustworthy company would give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. Based on that alone, I canceled the appointment and the installation.

Tim called our current provider. I mean, they couldn’t be all bad: the billing department had evidently been given a three month vacation. He explained that we were looking to cut costs. Our contract with them expired some time ago. We’d just never really given it much thought.

Now here’s the truly amazing thing: they also had a $29.99 deal. Tim was surprised that it even included HBO and EPIX. He was also able to get a cheaper receiver. With one phone call, we cut our bill from $200 a month to $111.

If you are not still under the initial contract (one to two years, typically), you can do the same thing. I’m telling you because your provider won’t. It’ll be our little secret.