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Technology

Telecommunication Bundles: A Triple Play

When it comes to buying telecom services, Americans just love to bundle up.

Three-fer telephone, Internet and TV packages have proved so popular that within three years, 80% of U.S. households will have some form of communications bundle, predicts analyst Matt Davis, of IDC, a technology-research firm.

The deals are a hit with customers because they're often cheaper -- at least during the 12- or 24-month promotional period -- than buying services a la carte from one or more vendors. Providers adore bundles because they reduce customer turnover and allow companies to make more money per customer.

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Low introductory prices are generally available only to new customers and vary by region; a typical triple-play package including high-speed Internet, cable TV, and local and long-distance phone service goes for about $100 per month for one year, after which the price goes up. For example, Comcast customers whose one-year packages are expiring will find that they're paying $118 to $143 per month, depending on where they live.

But vendors are often reluctant to discuss what you'll pay once the promotional period ends. For example, to find out what Comcast's Triple Play package costs after one year, you have to click on the "terms and conditions" link at the bottom of the company's pricing page and read the fine print.

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Even if you're re-upping, a little haggling can get you a deal comparable to the promo package. Says Verizon spokesman Jim Smith, "The idea is not to force people into a big bump-up, but rather to let them migrate to the then-current discounted price." That price is based on several factors, including competition in your area. "There are opportunities to negotiate," says Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. "If you don't ask, they don't tell."

If you are ready to bundle and give up traditional land-line service, be sure to ask what happens to your phone if your electrical power is knocked out. For example, Verizon FiOS and Comcast promise battery backup that lasts about eight hours; Time Warner does not provide battery backup.

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