The Tip Jar: How to save some money on your internet service

I did it to save money. And now I want to help you save money as well.

It's been three years since I signed up for Comcast internet service and this past weekend I took very smug pleasure in telling the media giant I was leaving it for good.

Minnetonka-based fiber startup U.S. Internet finally installed service on my street and I couldn't sign up fast enough. The reasons I switched? I remember the two visits from a Comcast technician to activate our service when it could have been done remotely. I also told Comcast I disagreed with their industry's wider efforts to wriggle out of regulations that protect net neutrality.

But the main reason I changed was cost, with U.S. Internet saving me $15 a month for service that's four times faster than what I was getting from Comcast. And I'm so darn pleased with myself I've put together a guide for how you too can save some money on your internet package.

Pick the right provider

I was paying Comcast $49.95 a month for 12 megabits per second (12 Mbps) download speed. My switch to U.S. Internet means I'm getting 50 Mbps for $34.95 a month, on a deal that doesn't include any extra fees and doesn't lock me into a contract for a year or more.

I've only been hooked up for a month so I'm reserving judgement on the quality of internet I get from my new provider, but one definite downside with U.S. Internet is that its coverage is currently limited to a handful of south Minneapolis neighborhoods. You can see its coverage map here.

For the rest of metro area residents you're probably looking at Comcast or CenturyLink (you can find your local providers using this tool). They offer promotional deals that are good for the first year, only to get hiked after 12 months.

Comcast, for example, offers 55 Mbps download speed for $29.99 for 12 months. But it will go up to $59.95-$64.95 thereafter. CenturyLink offers 7-20 Mbps speed for $29.95 a month for a year, but it can rise to anything from $55.99-$80.99 after a jump plus fees.

Pick the right speed

Even more important than comparing different providers from a money saving standpoint is making sure the package you sign up for is right for you.

If you're a couple using only a few devices at a time for email, a little streaming and social media, there's no point paying a fortune for gigabit-speed internet – which can cost three-figures a month.

Nerdwallet has an explanation here about what internet speeds you need based on how much you use, and this tool will give you an answer about the minimum speed you need.

If you're paying for more than you use, downgrade your deal and save money. This chart from Ritter Communications gives a few examples of what speed you need depending on what you do online.

Haggle, threaten to leave

When I told Comcast I was leaving (and in all fairness the person I spoke to was very professional – much improved from the horror stories associated with the company), he made me an offer to reduce the price of my internet package.

I was paying $49.95 – how would I like the same deal for $39.95? Still too expensive and slow, so I said no.

It's annoying that companies don't make these deals available in the first place, but it shows that a well-placed phone call to your provider telling them you're thinking about switching up can save you money.

Even before you sign up, it's worth giving them a call to say, "Hey, I've found another provider who's offering me a better deal, what can you do for me?"


Buy your own modem and router, self-install

Leasing or buying modems directly from internet service providers is a total rip-off. CenturyLink, for example, will lease you a modem for $9.99 a month, or a one-off payment of $99.99.

When I signed up with Comcast a few years back I bought a router and modem second hand through Craigslist, I don't think it cost me more than $40.

And I know some of you might not be the most tech savvy, but really try your best to self-install your internet. You can get phone support if you're struggling, but to get someone out to install your modem with CenturyLink costs at least $29.99.

Bundle packages

I'm a cord-cutter loud and proud, but companies like Comcast, CenturyLink and Dish that offer internet, phone and cable packages will subsidize the cost of internet if you sign up for a cable or phone services as well.

Yes, this means you'll be paying more per month. But the internet portion is typically cheaper, with BroadbandNow saying it'll save you between $5-$10 a month. Before signing up make sure you can afford what your eventual rate will be, not just the 12-month promotional rate you're offered.

If you're a cord-cutter but still want access to TV channels, The Tip Jar has this guide for online streaming packages.

Use subsidies

There are internet subsidies out there that give you access for as little as $10 a month, and it's aimed at those who are on low-incomes (less than $35,000), live in public housing, receive food stamps, are in Medicaid, or get a veterans pension.

You can put your ZIP code in here to check what deals are available to you locally.

Comcast is one of the local providers, offering its Internet Essentials package to families with children enrolled in the national free or reduced school lunch programs for $9.95 a month.

Use free Wi-Fi

If you want to cut out internet payments altogether, you're braver than me. But Minneapolis does have its own public Wi-Fi network. You can find a map of hotspots right here.

If you're looking for free Wi-Fi in St. Paul, Foursquare has a list of the best hotspots.

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