Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cutting the Cable

I dropped cable TV this week.  I'll be saving just under $100/month.  My cable provider, RCN, loves to bundle services like every other cable/satellite/DSL provider.  They start you off with a reasonable $99/month with all kinds of bells and whistles, then gradually jack the price up.  It became a routine; every summer my cable bill would go up, I would call and complain, and they would magically find some sort of "promotional offer" for me.  The net result was an uneasy status quo of price and service, provided I was willing to burn a day of summer break debating with their customer service reps.  I imagine a lot of people just gritted their teeth and lived with the price hike.  Not everyone has a summer break to work with.

But lately, RCN's strategy shifted away from giving me promotional pricing to gradually stripping away services.  "You can save $10/month by dropping xxx channel package."  Well, that was fine for a while, because there were plenty of channels I never watched and didn't even miss.  But ultimately I was paying the same amount (or slightly more) for less and less service each year.  It reached a point where I was cutting packages containing channels (like the Science Channel) that would have been nice to have for one or two particular shows, but were not essential.  As of last year, I was down to basic cable plus one small channel package which included most of the channels I actually watch--BBC America, AMC, TBS, TNT, SyFy.

With this year's inevitable price increase, RCN's recommendation was that I drop that package to counteract the $10/month hike.  They refused to budge one penny on their price, even though I know my ex-wife, who lives only a few blocks away from me, is getting identical service for $50/month less as a promotional package for new customers.  I started looking into their competitors' prices, but I also began evaluating my viewing habits.  I really only watch a handful of shows--Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, Falling Skies, Orphan Black, and Continuum.  Other than that, I mainly use the TV as background noise while I'm writing.  That's hardly worth an extra $100/month, especially since there is now so much video content available online.  My web searches shifted to devices that could stream video from my laptop to the TV wirelessly.

After some compromise between features, price, and availability, I settled on Western Digital's WD TV Live.  It cost $100, equal to my first month's savings on cable bills.  It's a tiny box that sits below my TV that can stream wirelessly from anything on my home network or from my 3 TB external hard disk that I now keep plugged into it.  There was a bit of a learning curve getting it set up, but it's summer so I had the time to burn.  So far, the only difficulty I had was with a few freeze ups when streaming a 1080p episode of Falling Skies (the season finale that RCN's DVR failed to record, by the way) from my laptop.  A Continuum episode streamed without a hitch from my laptop at 1080p, so we'll see if that was just a one time thing.  But video from the USB-connected HD runs very smoothly, even at 1080p.  The best cable used to get me was 1080i, and more often down at 720i.

My biggest worry was whether Gabby would be okay with the switch.  She seemed hesitant at first, even though she is much like me and mainly uses TV as background noise while doing other things on her laptop.  But once I showed her the features and the amount of content we had available, she seems to really like it.  Much of what she watches is anime, which is also available online with subtitles rather that the crappy English dubs they show on TV.  Seems like she'll be happy with the new setup.

The only things I'll lose are cable news, which I can read online, and sports.  The only sport I watch is football, the Philadelphia Eagles specifically.  I can pick up an antenna at Walmart for under $50.  The vast majority of Eagles games are on local stations, so I will likely only miss two or three games, and if I really want to, I'm sure I could go watch the game with my dad.  I doubt he'd mind the company.  If a couple of football games are the only thing I need cable for, well, I'd have to say that watching Michael Vick limp through another season isn't worth an extra $1000 a year.

So for now, I'm happy with my new setup...and my savings.  If I eventually discover that I miss cable TV, I can always grab onto one of those new customer promotional deals.  I just wish more people had the time and technical resources to dump cable TV, because a mass exodus away from their overpriced service is what it's going to take to get the cable companies to stop gouging their customers.

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