CHAMPAIGN — If you think your pay-TV bills are taking too big a bite out of your wallet, you've got lots of company.
Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based watchdog group, said it found in recent polling that 75 percent of Illinois consumers think their cable and satellite TV bills are too high and 76 percent of the cable or satellite customers who quit their service cite high bills as their reasons.
The consumer group is making a free, 19-page guide available to empower the public with tips on how to cut TV costs. The guide also has information about the pros and cons of market choices, such as cable, satellite and triple-play bundles and cable alternatives, according to CUB.
"It took several months to put the guide together," CUB's communications director, Jim Chilsen, said Thursday. "It would probably take hours and hours of web surfing for people to get this information."
Some measures most supported by respondents in CUB polling were reforms aimed at reducing excessive cable box fees, requiring pay-TV companies to offer a la carte programming that would allow customers to pay only for the channels they use, requiring pay-TV companies to offer a low-cost plan for senior citizens and allowing customers to be able to cancel service online, according to CUB.
Meanwhile, Chilsen said, CUB is sharing information that can help the public make good decisions in the market.
For instance, the pay-TV industry is one of the few in which loyal, longtime customers pay the highest bills and the newest customers get the deals. But that doesn't mean established customers can't try to negotiate a better deal, Chilsen said.
Another tip is being careful cutting the cord to avoid a big cable bill, then loading up on streaming services because you can't find one that has all the programming you want.
"You want to be careful about piling up services," Chilsen said. "You don't' want to have so many streaming services that your bill starts to look like the big cable package you tried to escape."
When dealing with your cable company, Chilsen said, CUB advises approaching it politely and assertively.
"That's the best way to get what you want," he said.
Remind your company what other options and prices are, and you can say something along the lines of "I'm going to leave if I don't get a better deal from you," or "I like your product, how can I get a better deal from you," he said.
Chilsen also advised people calling cable companies about canceling service over high prices that employees in the retention department are often those empowered to offer them the best deal.
"One of the things we've learned about all of this is you have to be creative in the way you get your pay TV programming," Chilsen said.
Don't forget about the old standbys, such as antennas and renting DVDs from the library, he said. For some people, TV needs can be met with a basic antenna and a streaming service.
Keep in mind average TV customers pay about $100 a month for about 200 channels, and they only need about 17, Chilsen said.
To get the CUB "Guide to Cutting Your TV Costs" free, visit http://www.CUBCableCenter.com.