As prices rise, and options dwindle, many TV lovers are considering whether or not to cut cable TV. Will it save money in the long run? Let’s explore.
To Cut the Cord? Or Not?
You know what I love? TV. But TV is very, very expensive thanks to my friends at the cable companies. I’m trying to economize right now, like so many Americans, because the price of caviar is through the roof! Thanks a lot Iran sanctions! And have you tried to buy a pashmina suit lately?
Kidding! I’m just plain old looking to save some money because I have a toddler son in daycare and I like to eat. So the most obvious was to cut cable TV.
What I have really started to notice lately is that almost all the TV I watch is broadcast on the networks, meaning it is available for free over the airwaves. So why do I have cable TV? There are literally hundreds of channels that I couldn’t care less about. I don’t even like sports that much. So maybe one of those cord cuttings is due? I hear so much about it, could it be for me? It sounds great! I like free stuff!
One thing that I should probably throw out there is that I know a lot of young people download shows for free on the internet. I’m just never going to do that. It’s not that I’m super moral or anything, I just think that’s going too far and too much of a pain.
See also: What to Binge-Watch on HBO NOW for Free
I pay about $200 a month for my Fios service and I really like it. I rent a DVR from the Fios people for $20 a month. I get HBO, Showtime, Starz, The Movie Channel and Encore for $22 a month, which is a great deal. I have some kind of HD channel pack for $65 a month. I have a home phone (I work from home, so a land line is useful) for $30 and my 50/50 MBS internet connection is something like $60. And then there’s taxes and the like. So, although not one of those things is so expensive it is ridiculous, it all adds up to way too much a month. $200! That’s a lot of money, more than my car payment.
The thing I keep banging my head up against is the Internet. I don’t think there’s any way to get an internet connection in my house without going to one of the TV content providers.
You know what sticks in my craw? Verizon wants me to pay to update my rental equipment, namely the DVR and wireless router. I would have thought the whole point of not letting me buy the equipment was that it could be updated. Oh, sure, I get that Verizon is a company and needs to make money. But I think that they are making plenty of money off of me. Would it kill them to sweeten the deal with one of those new DVRs where you can get, like, 1000 hours and record six things at once? I’ll pay what I’m paying for my current equipment but I’m certainly not going over $20 for a rental box.
But for me a DVR is a necessity. I’m not going back to VCRs! You can’t make me! At least in part because they don’t really work with HD broadcasting without some tweaking. But it is possible to buy broadcast DVRs. The one I was looking at is the Tablo 4-tuner, which is about $300. So, that’s a DVR just for broadcast network television: the five networks, PBS, and a few weird broadcast channels that show old Rockford Files and such. And there’s a $5 a month fee to get a usable onscreen TV Guide. TiVo also has a nice product for this, but it’s $15 a month subscription fee, which seems like a bit much, even though they are an established name in the industry.
What else do I have to buy? A 2 TB hard drive for the Tablo, call it $100; an $8 a month Hulu plus membership; same for Netflix; and a cable antenna for around $30. So that’s about a $500 outlay for equipment and then $21 a month. Sounds pretty good.
The thing I keep banging my head up against is the Internet. I don’t think there’s any way to get an internet connection in my house without going to one of the TV content providers. I currently have 50/50 mbps speed and to keep that, I’d have to spend $85 a month ($75 for 25/25), which brings my per month cost up to $85 as a cord cutter. What could I get from Verizon for $85?
Another strange quirk of mine is that I want closed captions, which Tablo only sort of supports, judging by their web site. I think if I was watching live TV through the antenna , I could see captions. But then I’d have to watch commercials like a caveman.
It should be noted that Comcast is also available in my neighborhood. I called them to see what they offered and I couldn’t really get a straight answer. I kept saying I wanted to know if they had any deals for 24 months, but they would only give me deals for 12 months. I would say, “Is that for 24 months?” “No, it’s for 12.” “Do you have any for 24 months?” And then they would tell me another deal and I would ask the same questions and it would be for 12 months. Comcast could have a great deal, but if they do, I couldn’t get the deal out of the rep I was talking to.
So I could cut cable TV down to just the networks , not Comedy Central, not TNT, but most channels that have shows on them, for an advertised price of $79 a month, which gets rid of the home phone and lowers my internet speed to 25 mbps. So that’s $79 plus $27 for equipment, plus tax, which is probably at least $15, which equals $121. That’s a lot better than what I was paying. But what about HBO, Showtime and Starz’s original programming? Arrgggh. I could keep my $22 a month package, but we’re up to $143, which is kind of crazy.
Also, when I called Verizon– which I did on several different occasions over months– they wouldn’t give me the lower prices, which are only offered to new customers. So that makes it $89 a month, which would be $153 with everything, $131 without the movie channels. And I’ve been a good customer for seven years! They know I pay! Why not let me have the better price?
And I still don’t know what to do about the phone. I work from home! I like having a landline! But if I keep the phone, I’m up to $154! So I think what I’m going to have to do is get rid of the phone, the pay channels (I’ll never see another deal like that $22), which takes me to $122. Of course, that’s a two-year commitment!
And then I talked to DirecTV. I don’t know why, but I don’t like satellite dishes. My parents had DirecTV in the ’90s and it was fine, so maybe I’m just culturally against putting a dish on my house because of all those jokes about dishes being the state flower of West Virginia (birthplace of the author). But hell, DirectTV doesn’t bundle with the Internet in my area, so no matter what I do, I have to pay for the Internet on top of the DirectTV payment. Without a bundle, that really adds up quickly, it’s like $75 for a 25/25 internet from Verizon and then $50 for DirectTV, so we’re at $125 with a weird two-party setup.
But I never really wanted to be a cord cutter. It’s so convenient to have cable and most of the people I know who cut cable TV do a lot of downloading from the internet, which is the last thing I want to do. It just seems like such a pain. But looking at the options, I almost did it for the $45 a month that Verizon offers for new clients. But then that gets up to nearly $80 dollars for 25/25 internet (did I mention it sticks in my craw a bit?). Comcast has a deal with really fast internet and some TV and a cable box (no DVR) for $55, but then you have to rent the equipment, which takes you up to $65.
By sheer chance, I re-checked Comcast and they had a deal with one of those super DVRs for $89 a month, 75/75 internet, home phone, and TNT, A&E, FX, AMC, USA, and all the channels that show traditional TV shows (half hour or hour scripted comedy, action, and drama). After a year, the price goes up $10 for DVR rental. But if I keep it for three months, I get a $100 gift card. So hello, sailor, er, Comcast. You’ll be happy to know that Verizon drove me into your arms by not giving me prices that I could see on the Internet. I did buy a cable modem for $60 so I wouldn’t have to rent Comcast’s for $10 a month, so that pays off after six months. The drawback? Comcast is not known for the customer service and I certainly had to call back a few times until I got the right person. But Verizon is also like that now. The companies are so big it’s difficult for them to support their clients!
To sum up, the big companies charge a lot for cable. And if you try to just get one of their services, like the Internet, it can often be nearly as expensive as getting the whole enchilada — phone, Internet and cable. I am hobbled a little bit by my fondness for watching things on an actual TV rather than sitting at my computer, which is, I gather, something that the young people do. I ended up paying $15 or $20 more a month for getting all three, but avoided throwing down $500 for new equipment and such. Perhaps your feelings on what I did will help you to make the decision whether or not to cut cable TV. But my advice would be, try to get the most for the money. And as someone who tries to avoid credit card debt, don’t make a huge outlay of cash for something that you haven’t even tried. Also, I could have probably gotten away with a much slower internet connection that I got, but it’s certainly icing on the cake that it is a good one.
So my advice to cord cutters? Change services first and try to get some kind of internet service for under $50, which makes your deal better.
For article skimmers, here’s some stuff to consider:
1) Cutting the cord sounds nice! They broadcast TV for free through the air! Everyone watched it that way for 35 years with very little complaints!
2) But you still need the Internet. How much does it cost to get just the Internet? How fast of an Internet speed do you need? The companies will tell you that you need a lot, but 25/25 mbs is probably fine for all your needs. And people who need more probably know enough about the system to know that they need more.
3) How much more is it to get Internet, phone and cable? I ended up paying about $15 more than just Internet and getting 75/75 internet, phone and reasonable cable, with a one-year free DVR and $100 gift card.
Photo credit: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 / Creative Commons / Flickr User Nic McPhee