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Start trimming your phone, Internet, cable costs

Telecom services offer large and relatively pain-free ways to reduce household bills.

Do you really need a land line telephone? Is premium cable worth the money? (Is any cable? TV stations still broadcast for free, although you'll need to buy a new TV or digital converter.) Can you really tell the difference between cable Internet and cheaper DSL?

From a simple phone bill 20 years ago, household telecommunication expenses have bloomed into multiple layers that can add up to more than $300 a month. A recession is a good time to sort out what you value and what is expendable.

Comcast is the largest cable provider for metro Baltimore. Its best deal is a bundle of phone, cable Internet and 80-channel cable TV for $115 a month for a year for new customers. Even the regular price, $135 a month, is lower than plans that include premium channels.

"Reviewing your monthly statements can help you determine which services you really need and which ones you can go without," says Steve Krenzer, president of Experian Interactive Media, which runs LowerMyBills.com.

For no-frills service, you might do better than $135. Check competing offers from Verizon, if available, or satellite TV providers such as DirecTV. Unless you're under contract, companies will often negotiate if you tell them you're thinking about switching.

Do you really need a bundle? Comcast sells just cable for $61.30 a month. DirecTV and Verizon FiOS sell cable for about $50. You can get DSL Internet for less than $20 a month from Verizon and others. Then sign up with Vonage's Web-based phone service for $25. You're down to less than $100 a month. Or just use your cell.

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