When you’re paying more than $150 a month for TV, Internet, and phone service, as I am, a promotion offering a triple-play bundle for $79.99 or even $99.99 a month sounds like a can’t-lose proposition. Don’t get your hopes up. When you add in equipment charges and an ever-longer list of fees—many of them recent additions—the total package price goes way, way up.

Those extra charges aren’t exactly hidden, but they’re buried in fine-print footnotes and pop-up boxes that you could easily miss in your euphoria over saving big bucks. We found that recent promotions from Optimum (Cablevision), Verizon FiOS, and Xfinity (Comcast) included a number of fees. You might find these fees tacked on to a triple-play deal:

  • $4 a month RSN (regional sports networks) fee
  • $1 a month FDV (FiOS Digital Voice) surcharge
  • $2 a month broadcast surcharge
  • $8 to $12 a month for each HD STB (set-top box)
  • $13 to $17 a month for a DVR
  • $5 to $10 a month for a cable modem or router
  • $8 to $10 a month for a separate phone modem
  • $1.50 a month for additional outlet
  • $90 for installation.

This list doesn’t even include taxes or government fees such as E-911 and the Federal Universal Service Fund. Such taxes and fees can easily exceed $10 a month.

When you factor in all the extras, a $79.99-a-month package can wind up costing you well over $100. And if the salesperson convinces you that you can’t live without a bigger, better package, the bill could easily be double what you expected.

See which TV service providers did best in our Ratings. Or explore our buying guide on telecom services.

There’s not much you can do to avoid some of these fees, but other charges—for installation and DVR service, for example—might be negotiable, particularly if you’re a new customer. If you can’t get the price down, you can always ask for extras such as a free DVR or faster broadband service.

To make the deals more palatable, some companies offer free wireless routers, a year of half-price premium networks such as HBO and Showtime, even $200 or $300 gift cards—usually if you sign a two-year contract. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth being locked in for two years to get those enticements.

See whether friends and relatives who use that provider are satisfied with the service, or check our Ratings of telecom providers to see how their customers rate them. If you opt for the contract, it’s especially important that you know exactly what you’ll be paying, and for exactly how long, so print out the online chat with the company rep or record the phone call to make sure there are no misunderstandings. You might also want to ask about early-termination fees.

And if you decide you simply don't want to pay a high price for telecom services, build your own package with lower-cost alternatives for TV and phone service.

—Eileen McCooey

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