Cutting the cord: Why I kicked my cable TV company to the curb

I decided I was sick of spending crazy amounts of money for video content I could get for free, or for far less using various streaming services.

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A pile of AT&T U-Verse TV receivers I couldn't tolerate paying for anymore.

Like many Americans, my wife and I love our video content. Although I am extremely busy between my work life and my writing, being a couch potato for a few hours a week is a guilty pleasure.

I wouldn't say I am addicted to television, but I like to watch certain things. My wife likes a lot of the broadcast stuff, and I consider myself something of a movie buff.

However, I also consider myself a fairly frugal person. Since moving down to South Florida two years ago, I've tried to eliminate extraneous expenses as much as possible.

I make a decent living, and I live very comfortably. But having lived through a recession and having seen lean times in the not so distant past, and having watched friends and family go through unexpected financial hardship in recent years I now value having cash in the bank.

As part of this expense-cutting process, I've been going over my bills. And one of those things that stuck out like a sore thumb was just how much money I was paying for cable TV. It astounded me.

Cable TV provider Monthly charge Yearly charge
AT&T U-Verse U450 $132.00  $1,584.00

This TV service charge includes an $8 per month extra receiver charge because we had three televisions. The AT&T U450 package includes all the premium channels, as well as access to a certain amount of On-Demand content from the premium channels as well.

It does not include the premium sports channels, such as the NFL stuff. This charge was for the TV service alone; not the Internet service, for which I was being charged $74 a month for 24Mb down and 5Mb up. The broadband service I consider a cost of doing business, and my employer covers most of it because I am a home-based remote employee.

I had a sit-down with my wife and asked her what shows she mostly likes to watch. As it turned out, most of them were broadcast television shows, although a few of them were on cable.

While we both were huge Game of Thrones fans, the fifth season of the show isn't coming back to HBO until April of 2015.

Yeah, there are some licensing complexities that will probably make it difficult to buy streamed episodes from various outlets, and some like iTunes will get priority access to them, but I suspect this will work itself out in the future.

I own an Apple TV, a Roku and an XBOX ONE that basically gives me access to all the streaming services in existence. If somehow Google Play ends up getting it first, a Chromecast device is dirt cheap.

And while the wait could be two years before I see Season 5, I could just buy the thing on Blu-Ray.

We looked into, of course, just cutting off all the premium channels and going with "Basic Cable". But AT&T has their pricing model engineered as such that if you leave a premium plan, they a-la-carte charge you for basically everything, including HD service and the receiver boxes themselves.

It turns out that if we had gone with "Basic Cable" we would have been within less than $30 a month of the all-inclusive U450 plan.

Look, I dig Nat Geo, Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and the History Channel, but not at those prices. And a lot of that stuff is now ending up on Netflix and other streaming services.

I haven't done the due diligence to look at other cable providers pricing plans (which I believe are fairly comparable) but in the community that I live in, we only have two broadband/cable TV providers, U-Verse and Advanced Cable Communications, which owns the local cable infrastructure but is a Comcast partner.

For customer satisfaction issues that are too long to detail, I decided to switch out my broadband to Advanced Cable Communications. For the time being, they are providing me a better class of service than AT&T was with U-Verse VDSL.

For television, I could also go with DirecTV, but I had them in my previous home in New Jersey and I wasn't crazy about them after being a customer for ten years. And pending the FCC's go ahead, they'll probably be purchased by AT&T anyway. 

And Dish really wasn't going to be a better an option than DirecTV. It rains a ton in Florida, particularly in the summer months. When using any DBS-based system reception is basically shot when it rains, so I'm not paying a premium for sub-standard reception a good portion of the year.

So I did what some hard-core couch potatoes may consider the unthinkable. I cut the cord, and went with a number of streaming services for my premium content. I'd consider this a "Deluxe" plan, you could easily eliminate two of these services and still have plenty of premium stuff to watch.

Recurring charges $45.99 $650.88
Streaming service Monthly charge Yearly charge
Netflix (Stream with two screens + 2 DVDs with Blu-Ray) $14.00 $168.00
Hulu+ $7.99 $95.88
Amazon Prime (inc. Prime Video) n/a $99.00
Four "premium" stream rentals (at $6.00 each) $24.00 $288.00

As it turns out, when you cut the cord, you not only save a lot of money, but you've got a bunch of options open to you.

Amazon Prime offers not only the free 2-day shipping, a huge selection of free Amazon Music, an e-book lending library for Kindle users but also Amazon Prime Video which is a comparable service to Netflix, and there is some content overlap between the two. Netflix offers the DVD mailer service with different plans, I chose the economical 2 disc out at a time plan with a Blu-Ray upcharge.

I also considered adding Redbox, but I thought that was overkill. There was no way I was going to watch that many discs a month and it would add additional overlap to Netflix and Amazon. If you have access to some of their kiosks though, it's not a bad way to go, particularly if your broadband isn't fast enough to support reliable streaming.

I chose Hulu+ for some network TV coverage because of the Florida/rain issue that could occasionally interfere with DVR recordings as well as having a considerable back catalog of TV programming and movies to choose from.

Based on our viewing habits, I also budgeted for up to four "Premium" stream movie rentals per month, assuming I might watch one of those movies per week, usually on the weekends.

All of the content suppliers, be it Amazon, Google, Apple or Microsoft are essentially at parity with the premium stream pricing. The yearly charge that I have conservatively factored in also accounts for any series that I may have to buy piecemeal, such as a season of Game of Thrones.

Next Page: Over the Air and DVRs

Crystal-clear broadcast television is actually very easy to get in most markets. You can buy any number of small, unobtrusive indoor UHF/VHF antennae that connect to your TV or DVR device via coaxial cable for about $60.

These give you approximately 35 to 50 mile reception from the broadcast source.

The two I had the most success with were the Winegard Flatwave Amped (which is as thin as a placemat and can be hung behind a picture frame, and includes a signal amplifier) and Channel Master's SMARTenna, which can work with or without preamplification and can be mounted indoors or outdoors.

Both of these (as well as others) require some experimentation with positioning, so you'll have to do a couple of channel scans and test out placement before you get the ideal reception with channels/networks you want.

In the case of both of these antennas, the higher I mounted them, the better.

In my case, the town that I reside in is between two large broadcast markets, Miami/Dade to the south, and Palm Beach County to the northeast.

If I aimed the antenna towards one rather than the other, I got some channels in, but I lost a few I wanted, such as the local ABC affiliates, which are farther away than the other network sources.

The best combination in my case was directing it between the two broadcast areas. Checking out antennaweb.org will show you what you can receive in your particular market.

Florida is basically flat as a pancake, so when it isn't raining cats and dogs during the summer, my signal is pretty strong and I don't need to put my antennas outside. But there are also small, outdoor antennae (like the Channel Master SMARTenna) that you can also mount and position accordingly, even on a mast if you need the height. 

Here's my Bill of Materials for equipment costs:

Item Price
TiVo Roamio HD $170.00
802.11ac Wi-Fi router $225.00
Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac media bridges $90.00
Indoor HDTV antenna $60.00
Equipment cost $545.00

I chose this setup because I wanted to ensure the highest possible throughput to my WiFi router located centrally in a guest bedroom (where the broadband coax drop and cable modem is) from the streaming devices in my living room and my master bedroom.

My home layout is such that hard-wiring with Cat-5 Ethernet would be difficult and expensive, as would a comparable MoCA setup using coax. Ethernet over Powerline in my residence has also proven to be unreliable.

However, if you can do this in your home easily, Cat-5 and/or MoCA with a few inexpensive 1000BaseT desktop switches would be the most reliable option, connectivity-wise.

As far as DVR goes, I chose the basic TiVo Roamio because of its integrated Netflix, Hulu+ and Amazon Instant Video rental capability (although no Prime content on it yet) and its excellent search functions and superior user inferface.

TiVo also sells an extender device, the Mini, which runs about $90 and allows you to view live TV as well as your recorded shows in another room, similar to what a Slingbox does.

"If you decide to cut the cord like I did, there's no question that your viewing habits will have to change. You will also have to get used to the idea of some of your content not being available until after your Cable TV-viewing friends have seen it long before you have."

TiVo does come at a recurring cost though, to the tune of $15 per month for the first DVR, or $180.00 per year.

Each Mini is $4.99 a month extra. If you choose to go that route, make sure you have Cat-5 or MoCA, because the setup doesn't work using 802.11ac media bridges and the Mini devices have no Wi-Fi built-in. I learned that lesson the hard way.

The upper-end TiVo Roamios can act as a MoCA host, if you want to just connect two rooms.

So if you factor in that I'm paying about $651 a year for all of my streaming/rental services, that's $831.00 per year. But that's still roughly half of what I was paying for Cable TV with U-Verse.

You could, by the way, do DVR without recurring costs.

Channel Master's DVR+, which I have been testing for the last few weeks, is a great product. I'm strongly considering buying one for my master bedroom, along with another indoor antenna.

However, the user interface isn't as fancy as the TiVo Roamio, and it only has two OTA tuners as opposed to the basic Roamio's four. Their search parameters and show "season pass" also aren't as sophisticated.

Their remote control isn't as slick as the TiVo's either, and right now the device only supports Vudu for movie streaming, although future software updates being promised from the company allude to more on the way.

That being said, the product does work very well for what it does, and it has a free 14-day program guide that it gets from Rovi.

The Channel Master DVR+ comes as a basic model for $249 with 16GB of internal storage, and allows you to bring your own USB 3.0 external hard disk, as well as your own Ethernet connection for the program guide data (the company also sells a USB WiFi dongle for $40). Channel Master also has a 1TB model for $399.99.

If you decide to cut the cord like I did, there's no question that your viewing habits will have to change. You will also have to get used to the idea of some of your content not being available until after your Cable TV-viewing friends have seen it long before you have.

It will probably also require jumping between different devices to see the things you want.

But is it worth the effort? Heck yeah.

Have you also become a cord cutter? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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