Best search tools for inexpensive Internet
You want an inexpensive, reliable Internet connection. That’s true whether you’re a cord cutter, or still paying through the nose for a cable subscription.
But how do you go about finding the best price for an Internet-only subscription? Every time you call a local cable provider for Internet service, they want to either sell you a bundle of services that you don’t want, or overcharge you for an Internet-only subscription.
Google can’t help much, unfortunately. Every time you type in words like “deals on broadband” or “best internet deals”, you wind up with less-than-stellar results. Comcast, Charter and Verizon dominate the first page of your search results in most parts of the U.S., and the rest of what you see might be somebody trying to sell you a related product.
There is some irony here. We rely on the Internet and search engines to direct us toward resources and information so we can make an educated decision. But for a variety of reasons, it’s more difficult to find this valuable information when it comes to shopping for the very thing that connects us to the Internet.
How to access secret rates to get the best deal for Internet
During your searches, you may also come across “Internet deal” search engines on various websites. Just type in your zip code and you get a list of all the deals in your area.
Sounds great, right?
But here’s the problem with most of these so-called deal finders. They’re basically drawing from the same information that is showing up in your Google search results mentioned above.
There are only two ways to get a decent price an Internet-only subscription. You can get an introductory rate, and make sure you use your own modem and router. But that’s going to be short-lived. It’s more likely that you’ve already been a cable or Internet subscriber, so in order to get a better price, you need to become what’s known as a “save” to your local Internet service provider (ISP) or cable company.
Getting the best deal for Internet without cable won’t come from asking for a deal.
It will come from knowing how customer service representatives are trained. Some operate on an 8-step scale to try to upsell you, or keep your service, rather than landing you a fair price. Once you understand that training, you can use it to your advantage and tap into secret rate charts used explicitly to retain customers.
These rates are never advertised. These charts are where the truly good deals live. Here’s a clip from C-SPAN that will give you an example of what I’ll discuss in more detail below.
I’m going to flesh out here a combination of my own research, experience of dealing with these companies and the very revealing findings of a Congressional investigation in June 2016 that delved into customer service and billing practices in the industry. The investigation was led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a ranking member of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. What her committee found was pretty amazing.
Tips and resources for the best Internet deals – finding all the providers
One of your best tools for researching Internet service providers in your town or city actually comes from the government. Broadbandmap.gov can give you a true lay of the land when it comes to Internet infrastructure in your neighborhood.
Just type in your street address once you’re on the site and you’ll get a listing of Internet service providers. The results will include the lesser known Internet service providers that you may not readily find in search engine results.
There’s a handy map on Broadbandmap.gov as well that’s worth looking over too. It includes data from the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. But the site should only be one piece of your research arsenal.
Broadbandnow.com is also worth a visit. The site has compiled a tremendous amount of data using public reports and documents to compile listings that include smaller carriers, which you can’t find via a search engine. Nick Reese, a co-founder of Broadbandnow told me, “We update regularly from data directly from providers in addition to what the US government releases from Form 477.”
Their blog has many useful tips on how to optimize your network for faster speeds, and creative ways to save money on your Internet bill. There’s also a town-by-town listing, and facts about government funding to expand broadband in each state. You will also get an idea of the highest and lowest speeds your local ISP’s will offer. I do take exception with their view on customer service reps at cable companies, which I’ll get into below.
DSLReports.com has industry news and forums, where customers like you share what they know about the best Internet deals where they live. Collecting all this information before you get on the phone to pick a new subscription is half the battle in saving money.
Figuring out your need for speed
Get an idea of what kind of Internet connection speed you’ll want before you get on the phone with a customer service representative. Remember, they don’t want to help you. They want to sell to you (and they get bonuses for upselling). They’re trained specifically to do this, and they get hours and hours of practice every week at their job.
Knowing what you want in advance can have a huge impact on how much money you can save each year. Netflix has its own Internet connection speed recommendations. For HD quality, they recommend at least 5.0 Megabits (Mbps) per second. But I’m guessing you will want to be able to stream more than one device at a time. So using the Netflix as a baseline, a 10Mbps stream should serve you well if you have Hulu streaming in one room, and HBO Now in another. That’s also assuming you have DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and a decent router.
|MINIMUM INTERNET SPEED REQUIREMENTS FOR STREAMING|
|NETFLIX||5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality|
|DIRECTV NOW||2.5 – 7.5 Mbps – Recommended for HD quality|
|VUDU||HDX (1080p) requires 4500 kbps|
|AMAZON VIDEO||High Definition (HD) videos: 3.5 Mbits/sec|
|SLING TV||Constant speed of 5.0 Megabits per second or more|
|* speeds represent single stream minimums|
I recommend checking out Daley’s Frugal Communications Guide. You may not go as hardcore as his plan for Internet and phone. At the very least, it gives you a great example of how you can dramatically lower your monthly bills. You can also read about my own path toward getting a 50Mbps Internet connection for $35 per month. Check out Cord Cutting 2017: the definitive guide with everything you need to know to see exactly how I keep my Internet bill reasonable.
Cable vs DSL, fiber optic: Internet speed comparison
There’s been a lot of marketing thrown at you to make you believe that broadband is the only viable solution out there. Talk to any customer service rep from a cable company and they will sound like if you don’t have say – 100 Mbps download speed – you’ll be starting at a frozen picture on your TV the next time you watch Netflix.
Did I mention that these same employees have been trained to instill fear and doubt into customers, who threaten to leave or change their service?
If you don’t want to play hardball with negotiating a lower rate like I demonstrate below, then you should seriously consider fiber optic or DSL. It may not even be available in your area. DSL is enjoying a bit of a comeback thanks to cord cutting. It’s similar to what’s happening with the TV antenna. There are also small fiber optic providers out there worth considering.
We already know from our chart above that you really don’t need that much speed to stream video in HD. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about watching Netflix or a live stream from Sling TV. But here’s something else that your cable/ISP provider doesn’t want you to know: DLS works for a lot of people and it’s cheaper.
I’m going to list my top picks for alternatives for you to explore in case you don’t come up with much on your own searches using the tools above.
DSLExtreme for fiber optic trueSTREAM or DSL
DSLExtreme: Despite its name, this California based company offers fiber optic Internet, and DSL service around the U.S. Prices start at $17.95 per month for 768Kbps. Personally, I would start shopping around the “Elite” 6.0 Mbps download package, which is around $33 per month. We know that Netflix requires a minimum of 5Mbps for HD quality. Same thing with Sling TV.
You can get 12Mbps download package, an 18Mbps package and so on.
Check to see if DSLExtreme offers DSL or fiber optic in your area. DSLExtreme requires that you use one of their modems. You can either rent one for $6.50 per month or buy it for $100. And their service must be professionally installed. Right now, the company is waiving the installation fee. I couldn’t tell you how long that offer will last. Generally, you’re getting a promotional rate with them, and you’ll probably have to sign up for a year of service.
But let’s do some quick math. I like to keep my Internet/streaming services under $100 per month. So right now, I’m paying $45 per month for PlayStation Vue. My Internet just went up $10 to $45 per month, so I’m just under my $100 goal. During year one of cord cutting, I was saving $66 per month compared to cable. Now it’s $56. I know my ISP will raise the price another $10 per month next year. But once that happens, I either negotiate another price or I’m going elsewhere for a lower price.
Toast.net: another alternative for Internet without cable
Toast.net has lower price points for its DSL service and no data caps. So you can stream as much as you want without penalty. The company has been promoting itself lately as a cord cutting alternative to larger and much pricier internet service providers.
I spoke to someone at Toast.net to find out how they operate. Here’s what I found out. You won’t be able to use your own modem or router, a method I prefer to avoid rental fees.
Instead, you will end up buying a new modem-and-router combo unit from the company. It’s brand new and comes out of the box when DSL gets installed at your home. It’s yours to keep since you are buying the unit from Toast.net, so you’re not paying any kind of modem or router rental fee. Usually, the company will outfit you with an Arris or Motorolla unit with a four-port switch.
Their service has a no hassle 30-day money back guarantee. This is a family-owned operation, basically the kind of mom-and-pop business that I was talking about earlier. If you have any kind of gripe, you’ll end up speaking to someone in their Toledo office.
The infrastructure is fiber running to the modem, and copper line going to the house.
Their service isn’t available everywhere. Your location will depend on what kind of plan that you can get. Their most popular plan is 18Mbps download/1.5Mbps upload for $49.99 per month. The next step up is 24Mbps download speed for $59.99 per month.
You will have to use their availability checker on their site to see if you can get their DSL service in your area. This doesn’t work like a search engine.
The company has to manually check what kind of service, if any, is available in your area through AT&T. So it could take up to a day, but many times you will find out if you can get Toast.net service on the same day of business. In case you do go this route, it’s a 12-month contract. Afterward, your subscription runs month to month and the rates stay the same. Also be aware that if you sign up for a plan online, installation is half off ($50 vs paying $100).
Discount for Spectrum customers hit with rate hikes
Toast.net may be a good alternative for Internet if you recently got swept up in the price spikes recently implemented by Spectrum. Across the country, customers have been surprised to see their rates go up without warning, in some cases dramatically.
These rates changes reportedly come straight from CEO Tom Rutledge, who was America’s highest paid CEO in 2016 at $98.5 million. Geez, that’s about $1.9 million per week. Not a bad paycheck for Rutledge. But he’s not exactly someone who will sympathize with you about your bill.
Toast.net is responding to customer outrage by offering a $5 per month off discount to orders for 18Mbps and above.
Just enter the code TCC17 to get the discount.
AT&T High Speed Internet
If you’re someone who feels like they can keep their data consumption in check, AT&T High Speed Internet may offer you some real value. Sure, AT&T is a big company, but it’s a big company that competes with Comcast and Spectrum. Use that to your advantage.
AT&T offers download speeds of up to 50Mbps for about $40 per month. The only downside? There’s data caps, so you could face spending some cash if you don’t watch it. You get 1TB per month. That said, some people are able to use this because they are a one-TV home that also makes the most out of their TV antenna. This isn’t a bad deal if you know that you only use a little chunk of data per month.
There’s an “unlimited” option to get around the data caps, but that costs about an extra $30 per month. AT&T only offers service in about 21 states (see below), so you might want to look over what lineup of Internet-only plans are available in your area.
Any deal you get with AT&T will last for 12 months under contract. Pricing with AT&T can vary from region to region, so it’s best to investigate what plans and pricing is in your area.
AT&T will supply you with a WiFi Gateway Router, and you’ll have to pay an installation fee that could be up to $99. Internet plans for 75Mbps and 100 Mbps are also available to qualifying AT&T customers.
After the 12 months are over, this promotion price will no longer be applied to your bill, so you should expect a rate increase. But once it’s over, you’re free to take your business elsewhere.
Internet-only subscriptions are currently available in 21 states. The states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina , Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Don’t like any of these alternatives? That’s fine. We still have some ground to cover with re-negotiating a better price with your current ISP. So here’s some things to scribble down on a notepad before you get on the phone and start talking to someone.
5 key facts to remember before calling an Internet service provider
1) It’s always an introductory deal
Cable and satellite companies all work from a similar business model. They attract customers with an introductory rate that, for a time, may be a fair and competitive deal. That deal will change in a matter of months, and the price will go up (sometimes significantly). When you call back to get the price back down, you’re met with a calm, but firm resistance. I’m currently on an introductory rate for Internet that will last me 12 months. I also know exactly how much my rate will go up next year and the year after. So there are no surprises for me until after 2018. I only got this deal because I cancelled my service, and then pushed my customer service rep even further to get a lower rate. You can do the same exact thing. It’s not that hard. We’ll get into that in more detail below.
2) You’re quoted a price, but not fees
Let’s say a local cable company is offering an introductory offer of 25Mbps for $39.99 per month. Sounds pretty good, right? It does until your first bill shows up in the mail or your inbox invoicing you for $50. What happened? Fees, my friend. Even if you’re just subscribing to Internet, make sure you ask about the rental fee associated with your cable modem. We recommend buying your own cable modem. You could save between $5 and $10 per month from your bill. I personally found that my Internet speed improved substantially once I bought my own cable modem. I recommend the Arris SURFboard SB6183 in our review of best cable modems.
If you do wind up subscribing to cable again to get the best deal on Internet, be aware that you’re going to get hit with even fees than for rental of a cable modem. You will see line items like “broadcasting fees” or “regional sports network” on your bill that no customer service rep ever told you about. Cable companies began creating new fees as a way to charge customers more money in a way that did not affect the base price of programming packages that are advertised to you and me. Sound illegal? Maybe it should be. What I can tell you is that many customers routinely get upset about this style of billing. Congress even held a series of hearings on the matter. You can read the findings of the Congressional investigation yourself. Check out this graphic from their report on what direction broadcasting and other fees have been going in:
3) Data caps are another ugly toll
These are just another sneaky way to levy more fees on users. Except this is specifically aimed at broadband users streaming content on Netflix or a web page they are visiting. Watch too much Netflix and you get whacked with an extra charge. There has been mounting public pressure about the practice of data caps as a way to toll customers. This is where knowing the lay of the land comes in. If you live in a market where say Charter is based, you may benefit from the fact that they’re not allowed to impose data caps for the next seven years. If you live in a Comcast-only kind of area, you might be screwed. Or maybe not. Perhaps the Broadbandnow.com site that I showed you can point you to more of a Mom-and-Pop ISP that will do you a solid. I suggest that you also read a couple of articles, one in USA Today about why Charter dropped data caps when it acquired Time Warner Cable. The other story comes from the Consumerist, which has a story about how Comcast charged a customer $1500 for data they didn’t use. The Consumerist also has a whole section on data caps worth checking out. And we also found the Stop the Cap site amusing and informative as well.
4) Downloads, uploads & truthiness
ISP’s will brag about how much download speed they are capable of piping into your home. Good for them. They also may suggest to you that a baseline Internet package could slow you down, cause lags when you stream Netflix and so forth. The truth is download speed is the rate at which you can download something from a remote server. Most of the time, when a download slows down for you, it’s more likely the server — not your Internet connection. So getting a high speed Internet connection doesn’t actually speed up everything. Just remember, downloads are the rate you can download something from a remote server. Uploads is the speed at which you can post a photo on social media, or move some files to Google Drive.
5) Agents get incentives on “savings” and selling
Here’s the money saving part … There’s a lovely silver lining in the way many cable, satellite and ISP’s operate. They are terrified of losing you as a customer. They don’t want their steady stream of income (i.e. you) to go to someone else. That’s why the cable/satellite industry has both pooh-poohed the idea of cord cutting as a growing trend, and slyly got in the game of offering alternatives to traditional cable. (Hello, Sling TV and DirecTV Now!) There’s a ton of training that customer service reps (the pawns of the corporation’s chess board) undergo to keep you as a customer. The knights of the board are called “retention specialists” and these guys are the ones with the juice to give you the best deals on Internet service without cable. How do we tap into their special powers? First we have to understand why they want to “help” you and I so much. Retention agents at major cable and satellite companies are evaluated and compensated based on how well they can sell you more, even when you are asking to downgrade your service. Commissions can be a significant portion of retention agents’ salary. Commissions range from approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of retention agents’ salaries at Charter, Comcast and Time Warner Cable and DirecTV. These figures were compiled by Congress as the TWC and Charter merger were underway, but they’re still very telling. Retention agents are able to access their performance metrics in real-time. Draw your own conclusions with how that affects you when you’re calling trying to cancel or downgrade service.
Becoming a “save” to save on Internet without cable
If you want to downgrade from a cable and Internet bundle to just Internet service without cable, the best way to do this is to initiate the break-up. Call and insist that your last day of service will be at the end of the month. Be firm. Mean it when you call. You’ll meet quite a bit of resistance. They’ll ask what the problem is. Why do you want to cancel?
Their training is kicking in. And you can look at this diagram I’ve included which illustrates it nicely. The diagram shows the top-down approach that Time Warner Cable was using to retain as much of your current cable/Internet subscription as possible. Generally, this is fairly successful because most people don’t really want to get rid of their cable. They don’t want the hassle of removing their equipment and returning it. They just want a better deal. The truth is the cable company doesn’t want you unhooking their equipment either.
But to get that best deal for Internet service without cable, you need to get to the bottom of the scale I’m showing you. Somewhere between the “final save” and “maintain relationship”. You need to learn about the secret rates.
I got rid of my cable and Internet package, but ended up getting an introductory rate on my Internet ($35 per month) after being told that would never happen. How did I do that? You can read a blow-by-blow of my dialogue with them in my cord cutting guide. But here’s the short version: I started the call by giving them a date of when I was ending service. I ended the call saying that I would only remain their customer, and think about returning to cable someday (lie) if I got the $35 per month rate. That was not an advertised rate. But did I get it? Sure. Because I learned how to order off the menu, I was able to get a better deal and you can do the same exact thing.
For more information on this topic I recommend checking out: Cable & satellite TV employees trained to create fear, doubts in customers, and Inside the Box Customer Service and Billing Practices in the Cable and Satellite Industry.
Once you score the best deal on Internet service without cable, you might be wondering what kind channel bundles and streaming platforms are out there to replace your cable. Read my guide Cord Cutting 2017: the definitive guide for help.
What are the best Internet without cable deals?
Hopefully, some of the tools and techniques above will put you on the road towards getting a better deal for Internet without a cable subscription. There’s no doubt that where you live may have an impact on what’s available for service and price. And you may have to go hunting for a lower price after a 12-month promo rate is over if you decide to take advantage of one.
Check out the AT&T Internet plans if you live in their 21 state footprint to see if that’s a decent fit for you. Toast.net offers service in those areas as well without any data caps. DSLExtreme and trueStream broadband is also worth checking out if you just want an Internet connection for streaming movies and playing games.
Good luck and be sure to tell fellow readers in the comments below how you ended up getting a better deal for Internet service without cable.