By Liana B. Baker
March 27 (Reuters) - Time Warner Cable customers looking to lower their bills would be able to hire "professional negotiators," to squeeze discounts out of the cable provider under a trial service being offered by Yipit, a New York-based daily deals startup.
Yipit sent out an email on Thursday to a small group of people on its distribution list directing them to a link to submit their Time Warner Cable account information. Then Yipit said it would have employees who are "professional negotiators" try to haggle for better rates with the cable company.
The service is being tested as consumers are being hit with cable bills rising faster than the rate of inflation and as cable companies find it harder to hold onto customers who are defecting to newer entrants such as Verizon FiOS.
Yipit was founded in 2009 and offers an email newsletter roundup of top daily deals from websites such as Groupon and Gilt Groupe.
A representative from Yipit verified the authenticity of the offer but declined to comment further. A Time Warner Cable spokeswoman said "there's no need for our customers to pay someone to call us on their behalf."
The website cites potential savings of $564 per year. Yipit will not charge customers if it is unable to extract better rates but customers do have to pay a 20 percent cut of savings if it succeeds, according to the offer on its website.
For example, if the negotiator is able to lower customer bills by $30 per month, or $360 per year, customers will have to pay Yipit a $72 cut.
The website also features some testimonials from Yipit users including one woman who said she saved $600.
Consumer Reports published a survey of 81,848 customers this week that found that 92 percent of respondents who called to negotiate with their cable company were able to get some kind of better offer. About 46 percent of respondents who tried to negotiate were able to get a lower rate of up to $50 per month or less.
Consumer watchdog groups have raised concerns that the $45.2 billion merger of Time Warner Cable with Comcast will leave consumers with fewer choices on prices. The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission are expected to take months to review the merger, focusing on antitrust and public interest concerns respectively.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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