The story of my near break with the cable company

The story of my near break with the cable company

Summary: With the help of fellow ZDNetter, David Gewirtz, I've all but broken my vows with the cable company. Thanks to a diminutive device and an understanding family, we're almost 100 percent free of cable company jail.


Back in early December, I wrote friend and colleague ZDNet DIY guru, David Gewirtz, an email and asked his best advice on how to break away from the cable company. He had several suggestions for me, including how he is setup at his house, but I settled on the Roku, The Roku 2 XD to be exact. It retails for about $79, or less, through any of your favorite online shops. The Roku is the best thing to happen to my family since, well, me. Here's my story.

We were spending almost $200 per month on cable/phone/Internet bundle from Cox Cable, so we switched from Cox to AT&T Uverse. And, after a few months, we were spending almost $200 with AT&T as well, plus our five, yes five, AT&T cell phones (iPhones). The amount was practically a very nice car payment or a payment for a house*.

It was time to make a change, hence my email to David Gewirtz aka Yoda.

The resolution seemed easy. Buy the Roku, hook it up, enjoy thumbing my nose at the cable company, whomever they may be.

It worked!

My wife was extremely excited to receive the Roku for our bedroom TV for a Christmas present. 

Side story: She kept mentioning that she wanted to break with the cable company and I didn't tell her that she was getting a Roku for Christmas so imagine my surprise/irritation/shock when she kept mentioning stuff like Netflix, Hulu and Roku just days before Christmas. I thought to myself, "I hope she's surprised." She was. Extremely happy too.

We've been so happy with the Roku in the master bedroom that I ordered another for our family room. It's been incredible. 

As for the cable company, my wife called and explained, nicely, that we were breaking up with you (the cable company) and we only want basic cable. Basic cable, in case you don't know, is what you get if you had an old TV with a knob on it that changes channels. You get about 12 or so channels, mostly local, just for news, weather and sports.

I had to sacrifice my Indie channels: IFC, Sundance, Syfy, BBC, etc. But, it was worth it. We now pay less than half and seem to get more even with our Netflix, Amazon Prime, Pandora One and HuluPlus subscriptions. We never really watched much "live" TV. We watched a lot of recorded TV: Big Bang Theory, Dr. Who, Doc Martin, The IT Crowd, King of the Hill, Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother. Of course my middle son watches such great cinema such as Duck Dynasty, Mythbusters and Hawaii Five-O. He's more disappointed at the change than the rest of us. He needs less free time on his hands or needs to embrace Dr. Who with the rest of the nerdy family he's been blessed with.

The transition hasn't been a problem for us. The savings is significant.

If you don't want to spring for a Roku, you can actually watch Netflix and maybe some other select premium services through a Nintendo Wii, which we did for a couple of years until we decided to make this break.

David Gewirtz also suggested Apple TV, which we considered but rejected based on some research that my wife did. We're happy with the Rokus and really haven't looked back. I do miss the occasional Indie flick but I can get most of them on one of our other services such as the "free" Crackle or others.

While writing this, my daughter just asked, "How do I get to the Roku?" And I'm back from showing her. Awesome.

The problem with cable TV is that you can have 500 channels and find absolutely nothing to watch. We always find something to watch with our subscriptions, Netflix being the most expensive at $7.99 per month. We still have to depend on the cable company for our Internet, home phone (I know, who still has a landline, but at $1.50 per month and no long distance, who can give it up?) and all of our cell phones. 

Soon, I'll give up my AT&T Uverse iPhone at over $100 per month. That's a ridiculous cost for not unlimited bandwidth. You'll read about that transition very soon. I'm tired of paying too much for too little. I can use Skype for phone use on a laptop or netbook and I can disconnect from just about everything except the Internet. If I find a way to do that, I'll let you know.

I feel another email in my head coming for you, David Gewirtz. Hurry, change your email address before I become a pest.

My sincere thanks to David for his patience and to Roku for providing what seems to be the best wife-pleaser since the automatic ice maker. 

Have you broken from the cable company? Write back and tell me how. Your story could be featured here on my column/blog. Woot!

*Yes, here in the MidWestern/MidSouth part of the US, you can still own a home for $500 (or less) per month. In town. In a good neighborhood. Good, well passable, schools. All that.

Topic: AT&T


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Local channels?

    If you decide to dump cable, there's a nifty way to get local OTA channels. It's called a Mohu Leaf indoor antenna, and it's amazing. I have an AppleTV connected to a HDMI input on my TV, and the Leaf connected to the RF input. The Leaf is flat and the size of a 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper. I have it taped up on the wall behind my TV. It's not directional, and is pulling in stations 30 miles away! (I do have the model that has a USB-powered amplifier built in.) I couldn't believe how many OTA channels the Leaf was able to get!
    Good luck with your down-sized cable. I doubt that you'll miss those 500 channels very much.
    • I use a similar antenna and it is fine

      Occasionally I lose signal, but the local channels dont offer much anyways and so it is no big deal.

      It sure beats the $80 per month cable bill.
    • All antennas are directional

      You would do better to put your indoor antenna in a window or to place it in your attic.
  • And now a word from the Apple Universe's POV pertaining to this topic.

    Good Article, Ken. It basically covers everything.

    From my Apple centric universe, I can add a few other observations and benefits from using an Apple TV in place of the Roku.

    Before that, however, to "break away" from Cable, a person should have a very fast internet connection.

    Like many users, I had been using a 3.0 Mbsp DSL setup. (AT&T service gave consistent uptime but only maxed out at 2.4 Mbps in normal use over six years for me) That type of download speed only frustrates a user attempting to accomplish the great cable break-away because of the buffering encountered and because the quality of the DSL streaming video is downgraded significantly from less "uncompressed" video signals.

    I have recently switched to Comcast cable for my internet service provider. (For the same price as the AT&T DSL) The 25 Mbsp download speed makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the world. No buffering and the video quality is remarkably improved.

    For me, I upgraded my iTunes account to include Apple's iTunes Match. Now all my music and purchased videos are available 24/7 for playing in uninterrupted, non-noticable buffering bliss.

    Apple TV also includes the Netflix and Hulu Plus options as well as MLB, NBA and NHL highlights. And who wouldn't salivate at the availability of Apple TV's WSJ video content and Uncle Walt Mossberg's insights into the Universe?! Grin.

    But here's the thing with Apple TV - if you have a wired Apple System at home. AirPlay is GREAT. It works perfectly. Any iPad content (be that photos or any other digital content) that can be viewed on the iPad (or any other iOS device plus some of the AirPlay enabled OS X products as well) can also be viewed on any Apple TV connected HDTV set.

    Even David Gerwirtz has at least two Apple TVs in his home!

    And, the iOS ecosystem provides many apps that can stream video content thru the Apple TV for viewing 1080p video content on your home HDTV sets.

    I like the Smithsonian, TED, Crackle, National Geographic, 60 minutes, ABC, NBC and many, many other iOS apps that more than fill the void for casual 1080p video watching.

    Speaking of that, most cable and satellite companies only provide 1080i content (at best) over the airways. Many iOS apps broadcast in 1080p content. As does iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus and so on. One more reason to break away for the cable companies.

    Of course, breaking completely away from cable or satellite video feeds does have one drawback. There are quite a few iOS apps that provide access to that content for viewing on an iOS device. For example, HBO Go content from my DirecTV HBO account is viewable on my iPad. Unfortunately, I would give that up (and many other examples) if I completely broke away for cable or satellite services.
    • Yeah I made the switch when my ISP upgraded to 12Mbps service

      It makes a huge difference. I also use power plug networking as the wifi is spotty.
  • You can still have Doctor Who

    If you're missing the Doctor and willing to pay through your nose for it you could always avail of the bbc iplayer. The iPlayer app was previously only available to UK Netizens who pay their TV License but is available internationally now as long as your willing to pay the monthly fee.
    Unfortunately the IT Crowd is not a BBC show it's made through Channel 4 in the UK, at least in Europe we don't need to be in the UK to use to watch it but that may be different in NA. Of course you could always buy it on DVD, remember those??
    I'm getting ready to move to Texas, in the area I hope to live the OTA signal is good enough to access almost 40 local stations with an indoor antenna so that's good news... my wife will be very upset though if she can't access HBO Go.
    Last word - it's a little unnerving Kenosha that you know how many Apple TVs Gerwitz has in his home :)
    • IT Crowd was on Netflix

      Watched all 4 seasons & loved it. Even my wife, who's not always into British humor, loved it.
  • as for phone service...

    To replace your home phone, grab an old Android handset and install Google Voice and GrooveIP. A quick internet search will discribe how to set it up. Been using it as my home phone for months with great results!
  • Another home phone alternative

    Consider Vonage - $30 a month for free calls to USA, Canada, México and Europe. And if you disconnect your home phone circuit from the street, the Vonage box can support all your in-home phone sockets and wired/wireless phones.
  • phone

    What I want to know is how in the hell do you get a landline for $1.50/month?!?! Cable/Internet/Phone is a huge racket here. Only one company (Verizon) services this entire area. It's cheaper to keep the bundle instead of having internet alone. What a scam. ;-)
  • I Made the Switch 6 Years Ago

    ... away from Cox TV and phone. I use a fractal and bow-tie antennas in my attic and can easily pull in over 135 channels for about 40 miles distant. As I call overseas a lot I find Vonage is my best phone option. I have an Android phone without a data plan (House wi-fi is OK), and pay $10 a year to T-Mobile ($100 to start) for a phone I rarely use. I do use the media player and GPS quite a bit.
  • I never was married to cable

    I read with curious amusement the trials and tribulations of being in 'cable prison'. I broke up with my TV maybe 30 years ago so I never even got to first base with cable - I never once paid for cable TV. But I nevertheless am very interested in ROKU-ish devices so I can see internet offerings in my living room instead of my office, or on a laptop on my coffee table. That would be the first good reason that comes to mind to get a HDTV.
  • Roof antennas still work

    Even though HOA's don't like it, they can't prevent you from installing one on your roof even if its a 12 foot monster.

    In some markets you can get 100+ free channels, so why be slaves to proprietary dish providers or cable companies. If you NEED 500+ channels you really should get out more.