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

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

Summary: 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.

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

Topics: Broadband, After Hours, Innovation


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Sports

    This works very well if you are not into live sports or are just a casual fan. But more and more important sporting events are on basic cable, and without that you need to buy into some very expensive streaming services which are sport if not team specific. Sometimes even that is not an option.
    Michael Kelly
    • I'm listening to a major league baseball game right now

      if I remember correctly, the subscription for the whole season is less than $20. There's an Android app for it.
      John L. Ries
      • So

        So you only need a $100 cellular service and $20 more to save a $40 on cable.
        Buster Friendly
        • If you have the cellular service anyway...

          ...then why not?

          I resisted carrying a cell phone for several years until my wife finally insisted. So, for me, at least, it's a necessity.
          John L. Ries
    • Excellent point

      This is an often overlooked point. In Canada they blackout games that are broadcast on national TV. This means that unless you alter your DNS or view the games illegally the online service only actually lets you view the games that are NOT broadcast on national television. Hockey in Canada is pretty big and lots of games are on national television, so lots of games are blacked out from the online service, which forces many people to get cable.
      • One of the advantages of living in a small city

        All of the big time sports venues are hundreds of miles away, so I don't need to worry about blackouts.
        John L. Ries
    • 100%

      If you want to watch NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, Formula 1, NASCAR, TUDOR, etc. you are out of luck. NFL gives you 1 game a week live, which is on NBC Sunday night. MLB has their stuff locked down.

      Want to use a "free" service? Bring the anti-Virus and ad-blockers and hope they show your event in HD.

      I barely watch any "Broadcast" shows anymore. I watch a ton of sports on a myriad of channels. Subscribing to all that without cable is a pain, especially when you have to worry about random streaming issues, outages, inconsistent "free" services, etc.

      I respect cutting costs, I just don't ever seeing it happening on my end until content is delivered reliably, universally, and cheap enough. That's why Steam works so well, but EA and Ubisoft decided to muddy the water and take away choice.
  • On the verge

    ... for quite a while now. But I've cut back Comcast to the minimum TV service and am almost ready to ditch that. I couldn't care less about "sports" on TV and resent the high cost of cable due to the extorted sports subsidies we all pay.

    I only wish I had a good broadband alternative. Sadly the FCC and the courts are unlikely to take on the necessary trust busting in the U.S.

    Roku makes some nice products, and coupled with a home NAS supporting streaming and tools like PlayOn/Playlater you can easily take advantage of many free and pay services for TV shows and movies.
  • Just High Speed Internet

    I found that I was only watching CNBC, and only for American Greed. When they stopped airing new episodes, I stopped watching TV altogether. My cable company didn't want to let me cancel TV service, but in the end they offered me a great deal on high speed cable Internet by itself. This is essential for my work and lifestyle, but it also restructures my leisure activities, where I read news articles instead of watch the idiot box. I currently pay $45 a month, which I can afford.
    Brian Croner
  • Cut the cord

    I dropped cable TV a couple years ago.

    If only there were some competition in the internet provider space, I could get rid of the cable company entirely.
  • Cut the cord last year

    It was a steady slide for me I had cable with premium channels with internet but it was almost $120 a moth I cut down to extended basic that was until Comcast cut back extended basic to pimp digital cable. Then basic cable.
    In addition as prices went up the quality of the channels went down, I got tired of (NOT) reality TV with redneck building guns with fake explosions, and pickers and buyers snipping at each other. I also changed my viewing habits wanting to watch tv only at my time and niche genre like Anime.
    I eventually cut cable TV for internet only, Netflix. I can't get crunchy roll on my blu-ray player and I was not impressed with Hulu Plus but in operation and restricting some shows i.e. One Piece showing only sub but not dubs on Hello Plus
    • So now

      So now you can watch the same old TV series over and over? Netflix is rather limited.
      Buster Friendly
      • re: "So now you can watch the same old TV series over and over?"

        you just watch them with a 1-2 year delay
      • Re: So Now

        If you want to watch current TV shows as soon as the DAY after they air, you can become a Rabbit TV user for just $10 /year. Rabbit TV offers the most current shows on television, as well as episodes from classic TV shows. Described as "The Worlds Largest Entertainment Guide," offering all free, ppv, and live media.
        Rabbit TV
        • Re: So Now

          You don't have to throw away $10 a year on Rabbit tv to get what is already there free!
  • HTPC

    The other thing to consider is a home theater PC. Many of the networks have some content on line. We did that for quite a while until lightning struck our little box.

    We also used it to plug in a USB tuner and used Windows Media Center as a DVR. Not the best software, but at free, the price was right.
    • Re: HTPC

      This was the route we went as well. We're in far northwest suburban Detroit (about halfway to Flint), and we downgraded from Comcast Blast (30 Mbps internet) + Digital Economy (about $105/mo) to Blast only ($76.95/mo). The savings wasn't much, but the Digital Economy cable service provided virtually nothing that wasn't broadcast, and a second receiver and HD cost extra.

      For our DVR, I looked into a TiVo, but we ended up going with a HTPC with a USB TV Tuner, running Windows 7 with Windows Media Center, since we wanted full control of our system. We haven't given up any functionality relative to our Comcast DVR (it downloads the TV guide and lets you schedule recording of an entire series). I was turned off of the TiVo due to the subscription fee - in all seriousness, if you've paid for the DVR and tuner hardware and are recording OTA TV, what service is subscription providing?
      • Re: HTPC

        Forgot to mention (the reason for mentioning my location), we had to set up an outdoor antenna, which was relatively cheap but not terribly easy, due to the trees in our yard and our distance from the stations, but for the most part it works pretty well (except in bad weather).
  • My Internet and mobile company

    Provides my cable as well, so I wouldn't see any great reduction in cost by losing cable. That said, it isn't worth much.

    Ten years ago, Discovery channel was glorious science pretty much all day.... Now it is just doofuses fighting with robots. Basically Duck Dynasty with pocket protectors.
    • What show is that?

      Fighting with robots? What show is that? The last I remember is Robot Wars that ended a decade ago.
      Buster Friendly