Cutting the Cord

Our Comcast bill at $215/month was a constant thorn in my side. At nearly $2,500 a year what were we really getting? Of the 1,923,452 channels that we had access to with Comcast we used about 5. We were constantly having to purchase movies either through Xfinity (because the $2,500 a year we were paying to Comcast somehow wasn’t enough) or through Amazon. The pricing for our Internet access wasn’t very competitive. I came to view the monthly bill as one more giant hole in the leaky bucket of our bank account.

The Switch

We were using Comcast for TV and Internet and they forced us to keep our home phone (try calling it-our parents still try all the time-206-925-9804-there’s no phone even hooked up to it) for an all-in-one-we-charge-you-every-month price of $140 (plus lots of other taxes and fees to get to $200-235/month). We’ve moved to CenturyLink for Internet at a promotional rate of $29/month for the next year at 40 Mbps speed and cut the cord on cable totally. We signed a one year contract with CenturyLink. We had already been paying for Netflix and have Amazon Prime, which gives us access to TV & movies galore. We have smart TVs and one Amazon Fire TV Stick. We purchased a digital antenna to capture local HD channels (this thing looks more modern than the old rabbit ears you might remember but does make you feel as if you should show it your badge when you stand in front of it). It’s possible that my family will put up a small revolt, but I’m prepared to handle them. That sums it up for now, many more details below if you are interested…

The Money

So what’s the rub? Accounting for all the one time costs, equipment we needed and the cancellation fee for Comcast, I figure we will save $2500 over the next 2 years (so saving about $100/month) and we’ll have access to most of the shows that we want. On top of this our Internet speeds have increased from 25Mbps to 40Mbps.

Details – Internet

Let’s talk about Internet access first, because this is far easier. This likely totally varies according to where you live, but for us this was a no brainer. CenturyLink had just set up fiber optic access in our area (Seattle, WA) with speeds up to 1Gbps. 1Gbps is really fast – this video is a great illustration of how fast. The base price was for 40Mbps at $28 per month for the first year (with no obligation after that). I love the fact that if we are feeling starved at all for more speed, we can upgrade to the true Information Superhighway at 1Gbps. As compared to what we were paying its a tough comparison because we had the Xfinity Bundled Services. I tried to estimate this by going onto the Comcast site where it appears that their 25Mbps offer was $40 per month. $12/month less for 15Mbps more. No brainer.

Details – TV

This is hugely complicated and I’m still not sure that we’ve covered all the bases but as I was looking into this with my head spinning, I figured the worst case is that someone can’t watch their show and they are forced to do something else, like read a book. Not a bad consequence if this doesn’t work out perfectly.

The reason this is complicated is because it’s all about what you watch, and when you turn off cable there are numerous different ways to access your shows. For us, I realized that it really boiled down to a couple important things–the three or four shows that my wife, Laura, watches, Seahawks football and a few oddball things like the Olympics and the US Open Tennis match. The kids don’t matter. Forget them. Really. You’ve spent enough money on them already and you likely have more to come. Further, they are pros at finding content. From stupid 6 second vine videos, to YouTube, to Instagram, they will find what they want.

One more point before we get into the details… Cutting the cord on cable is essentially moving away from a model of getting all of our TV programming delivered from a single company such as Comcast or DirecTV over their delivery platform (usually coaxial cable) to moving to more of an a la carte model, selecting the services and programs you want, delivered via the internet.

There is a lot to cover here, so I thought the easiest way to explain it would be to just list out all the alternatives that we looked at, though we haven’t used all these. In order to replace the TV and movies you are getting from cable, you’ll want to set up some combination of the following (you don’t need everything here):

  • A smart TV that can connect to the Internet directly, with access to services such as Netflix and Amazon, or a streaming media player such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Chromecast, Roku, or Apple TV. You can also use an Xbox or Wii to access streaming services. If you don’t have a smart TV, Xbox or Wii, a streaming media player will cost anywhere from $35 for the Chromecast to the latest Apple TV player for $150.
  • Digital antenna to access free local HD channels (with ours we get ABC, NBC, CBS, Ion, PBS, and a few others). We purchased the GE Amplified Antenna for around $35, but there are many options here ranging in price from $6 to $110.
  • A DVR (digital video recorder). This will allow you to record and pause live TV. We didn’t buy one yet but I’ve researched several options such as the TIVO Roamio, Mediasonic Homeworx,  or Tablo. If you want to simplify setting up a recording you’ll need access to an updated programming guide, which requires a subscription. You can do without the programming guide, but will feel like you are back in your apartment, trying to figure out how to record Seinfeld on your DVD player. The three options I listed above are very different. The Mediasonic device appears to have no guide and costs only $30. Tivo on the other hand is free but you sign a monthly contract at a minimum of $45/month (sounds familiar, eh?) The Tablo costs about $200, and has an optional guide at $5/month. We are probably going to try the Mediasonic Homeworx, but haven’t purchased it yet.
  • Netflix. Netflix gives you tons of original programming, thousands of movies, TV shows and great documentaries for about $10/month. You’ll love the Netflix interface and you can even download a Netflix app on your phone or tablet. Watching shows on your phone is strangely awesome. (Side note… You might want to check your Netflix account. I’ve been seeing a $17 Netflix charge on our credit card for years and assumed that was the price. I just discovered that we’ve been paying $7.99/month for the ‘DVD plan’ which was Netflix’s first service in which they mailed you DVDs. I don’t think we’ve rented a DVD from them for at least 4 years, so I canceled it, plugging another hole in the bucket.)
  • Hulu Plus. Hulu is where you’ll find the biggest selection of shows from the major TV networks, most of them available a day after they air on cable. Hulu starts at $8/month for the ‘limited commercials’ option. We haven’t tried this yet, but might do so.
  • Amazon Prime + Amazon Video. Amazon has a great selection of movies, TV shows and original programming all streamed online. Much of the content is free if you are a Prime member, but we’ve found that most of the time the movies we pick have a rental fee of $4-5.  You can also purchase whole seasons of shows a la carte for a fairly reasonable price.
  • iTunes. iTunes has movies and TV shows available for purchase, with some free shows also. Haven’t used this much, but we may tap into it if we are looking for a show.
  • Youtube. Of course there is always YouTube, which actually does have some great content but is also known for homemade cat videos.

So there it is, good luck. By the way, here is the spreadsheet that I used to figure out the cost savings.

I’ll update this post as we see how this goes and as we learn more. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.





5 thoughts on “Cutting the Cord

  1. Great info! Your experience is very similar to ours. We pulled the plug ~2 years ago and never looked back. We love our Apple TVs with Netflix (grandfathered at $7.99) – but it does not have access to Amazon content. Our kids don’t remember cable and love Netflix. We buy season’s passes to some TV shows on iTunes which reduces the savings – but we’re still on top. We recently bought a new TV which has direct easy access to Amazon – and we can now view the free content with our Prime subscription. Last month, we just added Hulu Plus sans commercials ($12/month) – which should reduce the number of seasons passes we buy. I use the ESPN app on Apple TV to get sports highlights and news – but not live sports. Old school rabbit ears give us all of the major networks. I have been debating a switch from Comcast internet/phone ($80/month) to CenturyLink. Glad to hear you are having a good experience with it. I’ll give it a try!

    My gripes:
    1. Sports is a downgrade – while the NFL is on networks (except for MNF), I miss ESPN Sportcenter and College Football bowl games and Mariners games.
    2. Finding content – we need to look in multiple places – Netflix, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime and then iTunes to find our shows/movies at the best price. We recently got hooked on a few new shows on vacation and had a hard time finding them when we got back home.
    3. Internet Speed – Comcast Internet is often slow which impacts watching TV. We have to reboot our router 2x/month – not terrible but an inconvenience. Hopefully, CenturyLink will be better.

  2. Thanks, Doug, for sharing. It does seem like finding content is going to be a bit of a challenge. I’m hoping CenturyLink will be a fast connection. Also, one thing we did that has done wonders for our connection speed is getting the Google OnHub wireless router. We had tons of problems with the router that we were renting from Comcast. Despite having a fast connection, the router somehow was always glacially slow. After switching to the OnHub, its been amazingly fast.

  3. Great info Chris. Been thinking about doing this too. Have you looked into SlingBox for watching sports? Thinking about putting one on my dads guest bedroom tv so I can tune remotely.

  4. Great stuff! Thanks Chris. This is especially relevant for movies and TV series content. The only real TV watching our family does, however, is “live sports” however (MLB, NFL, NCAA hoops, NCAA football), which I think would be limited without either Direct TV or Cable. Perhaps this will change…but would a “slingbox” handle this (I think they have ESPN content) ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s