Cable, Cell-Phone Companies Ready to Haggle With Customers

Published January 21, 2009

| Wall Street Journal

Frustrated with his hefty and mounting monthly bill for TV, Internet and phone service, Alan Weinkrantz of San Antonio decided to call his provider, AT&T, shortly before Christmas to ask for a discount.

"Times are tough, and I don't think I can keep paying these rates," Weinkrantz says he told an AT&T representative.

A communications-industry consultant who keeps a close eye on the space, Weinkrantz says he hoped for a reduction of about 10 percent to his $159 monthly bill.

To his surprise, AT&T reduced his bill to $94 a month, a drop of almost 50 percent, for a one-year period.

"I was very surprised," Weinkrantz says.

An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on the specific bill but said that "we work hard to give our customers the services they need at the best price."

Weinkrantz is among a number of savvy customers who realize that while times are tough for consumers, they are also tough for cable and phone companies.

Under intense pressure from Wall Street to keep subscribers as the economy sags and competition intensifies, many carriers are bent on retaining customers even if it means offering big price breaks.

"The key is to hang on to every possible customer right now," says Alex Dudley, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable, the country's second-largest cable operator by subscribers, after Comcast Corp. "They are our lifeblood."

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