Preparation is key, but it’s worth it
By Mark Micheli
I did it about a month ago and couldn’t be happier.
It wasn’t easy. It had to be well planned. And despite some minor problems, I’m convinced more than ever that cable-TV will soon be as archaic as a VCR.
The cable companies know this too and are fiercely holding on to customers, refusing to remove their greedy claws until they say “Uncle.” And they’re doing this not by offering great deals and service but by making it very difficult for you to disconnect. Their “customer service” reps are often nasty and confrontational as they try to wring out every last buck they can from your thinning wallet.
Still, I’m glad I went through this process for two main reasons:
- I lowered the total cost for Internet, TV, and Landline from $189 per month (part of Verizon Fios’s triple-play package without a contract) to $104 per month. I now pay $59 for internet service from Verizon (most people can pay even less, more about that below) and $40 per month for streaming TV service which gives me live TV and local channels. Oh, and I only pay $5 per month for my landline (more on that later).
- It’s much easier and faster to find something to watch because the UI (user interface) is much better. Verizon’s UI for TV is horrible. This, to me, was just as important as the cost savings. I also got rid of several wires and all those bulky cable-TV boxes that I had to rent.
Here’s what I learned and some advice on how you might want to cut the cable-TV cord:
- You need to keep your internet connection if you still want to watch TV, unless you opt for a digital antenna, which will just get you a handful of local channels.
- If you want more than just a handful of local channels you’ll need to subscribe to at least one of the many TV-streaming providers. Several of these offer the three big networks and their local affiliates, as well as many of your favorite “cable” channels. The cost of the TV-streaming providers ranges from about $25 per month to $45 per month, with most charging $40 per month.
MAKE A PLAN, ESPECIALLY IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR LANDLINE PHONE NUMBER
Many people could care less about their landline, but I like it for its uninterruptible sound quality, dependability, and familiar number. Most cable companies will charge you as much or more to keep your internet and phone service as they do for you to keep internet, phone and TV. So I had to find an alternative.
Ooma is an internet-based phone service that works really well. In fact, I can’t tell the difference between it and the service I got with Verizon. Emergency 911 service also works the same way as it does with traditional landline phones: it routes your number to your local 911 center, something that cell phones do not do. However, unlike traditional landlines, you need power as well as internet service for the phone to work.
Ooma is practically free once you buy a piece of equipment from them for about $100. I was able to get it for only $79.99 as part of a sale. And a check on their website today revealed another sale, this time for 69.99. After you buy the Ooma Telo Home Phone System, you’re only charged taxes and fees each month, which for me is $5.06.
You can also keep your landline phone number with Ooma but you have to put in a special request that can take several weeks. This is where the planning comes in. It takes about two to three weeks to port your number over once you receive and activate your Ooma device. And you can’t cancel your phone service with your other provider until the porting of that number is complete. This last point is true, no matter which new phone service you choose.
I miscalculated this because an Ooma sales rep incorrectly told me the porting process would take two to three weeks once I placed the order for the equipment. After I ordered the equipment, I contacted Verizon and told them to stop service three weeks from that day just to be on the safe side. A week later my Ooma device arrived. I activated it and that’s when the clock started ticking.
I realized I had to call Verizon again and tell them to extend phone service for another week. Verizon told me they couldn’t just extend the phone service. They had to extend everything or nothing. Ugh!! So I ate the few extra dollars and extended everything until I was notified by Ooma that the phone number had ported over to them. I then called Verizon again and cancelled everything: except for the internet.
NEGOTIATING INTERNET-ONLY PRICES: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU TELL THEM
When you call to cancel your cable-TV service, the service reps will ask you many questions. They’re reluctant to let you cancel but instead of offering you great deals and good prices on internet service they continue to badger you with more questions. I believe your answers to their questions will directly correlate to what deal they will give you on internet service and this can be the difference between a good deal and a bad one. One of the questions they ask is why are you cancelling TV service. The first time I called, I said I’d rather not discuss it and I was not offered a deal for internet service that I liked.
All I wanted was the same deal new customers are offered for internet service without a contract and when I revealed that to the customer service rep. he said they couldn’t do that.
The next time I called I answered the question by saying my wife and I decided to stop watching TV. The rep was shocked. How could anyone stop watching TV? Surely you have another plan. I said, no. I said we’re going to try it and if we miss it too much, we’ll call back and restore service.
After that, I got the internet price I wanted, which is the same deal they offer new customers. New customers are given this price without a contract, but I only got it if I agreed to a two-year contract. I was tired of fighting and figured I could commit to two years. After all, who knows what will happen to this industry and prices during that time.
FOR MOST, THE CHEAPEST FIOS TIER WILL SUFFICE
The three tiers of Internet service Verizon Fios offers to new customers are $39.99 per month for 100 mbps speeds; $59.99 per month for 300 mbps speeds; and $79.99 per month for speeds up to 940 mbps. Most people will only need speeds of 100 mbps but I need the faster upload speeds because I work as a video producer and need the extra bandwidth to upload videos to clients. This is the one major difference between Verizon and Comcast: Comcast does not offer as fast upload speeds. I’d sometimes wait a few minutes, up to 10 or 20 minutes for a video to upload with Comcast. With Verizon, the uploads take between 1 and 3 seconds.
I previously had the fastest Verizon speeds, but when I performed internet speed tests, I realized I was usually getting speeds somewhere between 200 mbps and 300 mpbs so I didn’t need to spend more money for that service. The discrepancy between what Verizon promised (up to 940 mbps) and what I actually got was because my computers access the internet via Wi-Fi in my home. A Verizon rep told me I could get the higher speeds if I plugged in directly to the internet. But again, I don’t need them.
HOW TO PICK A TV STREAMING SERVICE
The last piece of the puzzle is finding an internet streaming provider that has the channels you want. They all charge about the same amount of money per month, so channel selection became the most important criteria for me. Some are better for sports fans; others for movie fans; others for fans of HGTV and the Hallmark Station.
I took a good look at this chart, provided by CNET, which lists streaming providers and all of the channels they offer, and narrowed it down to DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, and Hulu with Live TV. All offered the major TV networks and local TV affiliates. My wife and I both wanted to get that as well as Turner Classic Movies and HGTV. My wife also wanted the Hallmark Channel, specifically for those corny Christmas shows. And so we went with DirecTV Now.
[UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019] We stayed with DirectTV Now until spring came around and then we switched to YouTube TV because we wanted to watch the Red Sox. Cancelling DirecTV Now was a breeze: just a few clicks of a mouse, and with a few clicks more, we were able to get YouTube TV.
You can now stream PBS stations live if you subscribe to YouTube TV. The change was made this week after YouTube TV (not to be confused with regulary YouTube) struck a deal with more than 100 of the 330-plus PBS affiliates, according to an article in USA Today.
Before this, no streaming service offered PBS and you had to download a PBS app to your TV which gave you access to most, if not all, PBS shows, just not live broadcast access. This is still a good workaround if you choose not to subscribe to YouTube TV.
The app is designed really well, letting you browse and choose programs you might have missed with cable-TV. Example: there is a section for Ken Burns films and one for Nova, and Frontline. There you can look back at shows you may have missed the first time they were shown. [END OF UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019]
NEXT, PICK A CLICKER
The next thing you need is a way to access the streaming services and apps, like PBS, Netflix and Amazon Prime. This will determine the clicker you end up using. I already had an Amazon Fire Stick, which costs about $40, and so I use that to watch the main TV in the living room. Other options are Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast etc.
These devices have two parts: one part plugs into the HDMI port on your smart-TV and the other is the clicker you use. The small TV in my bedroom is an older TV without an HDMI port. However, it does have composite A/V ports: those red, white, and yellow ports in the back. The only device that works with that is the Roku Express+, so I bought one of those at Walmart for about $30 and it works fine.
The under-the-cabinet TV in my kitchen, however, had neither an HDMI port or A/V ports so I had to buy a new under-the-cabinet TV (see photo at right). I must be the only person in the world who likes under-the-cabinet TVs because there are only about 3 models out there. I like them because they don’t take up any counter space and the screen can be hidden when not in use by flipping it up under the cabinet. The new one cost me about $160, which I bought online from Home Depot. I bought another Amazon Fire Stick for about $40 for that.
So far all of the TVs work great without any pauses or buffering, except for the one in the kitchen. There, sometimes the show pauses but not too often. This is because the TVs are streaming the programming via Wi-Fi in my 171-year-old home which has horse-hair plaster walls that make it difficult for the signal to get through.
My router is in my living room, so the TV there has no problems at all. The TV in my bedroom, which is directly above the living room, also has no problems. I’m thinking I might try getting a Wi-Fi extender to boost the Wi-Fi signal to my kitchen to see if that works. Google has one for $99. But again, this really doesn’t bother me as I only turn the TV on in the kitchen when I’m doing something else, like cooking or washing the dishes. It’s really just something in the background, not my primarily function there.
So, in summary, I’m thrilled to have cut the cord. There is something freeing about it.
I had to spend a little money (about $310) to get there but should get that back soon with a savings of about $85 per month. And despite some of the minor drawbacks with Wi-Fi signals, I’m enjoying watching TV more.
We now watch better shows via Netflix and Amazon Prime, two services we already had. I’m a creature of habit and so I usually start out seeing what’s on the three networks and/or their local affiliates but hardly ever settle there before looking to see what’s on the other “cable” channels. However, I inevitably end up watching either a good movie on Turner Classics or move on to Netflix and Amazon movies or shows. And I still enjoy the occasional guilty pleasure of watching Judge Judy as I cook dinner in my kitchen late in the afternoon.
PROS AND CONS
- Cost. I’m saving about $85 per month.
- User interface for TV allows me to find programming quickly. With DirecTV Now there are no numbers. The channels are listed alphabetically and you can easily set up favorite channel lists. I also find the “What’s on Now” directory to be helpful. And with the Amazon Fire Stick, I can also use the voice command to find programs.
- Less clutter. There are fewer wires and no cable boxes.
- I don’t feel trapped and abused.
- Buffering. The TV in my living room where the router is works fine, as does the TV in the room above the living room. However, the TV in my kitchen at the other end of the house occasionally pauses. I’m considering buying a Wi-Fi extender for that for about $99.[UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019] I ended up purchasing this WiFi extender for just $14.95 on Amazon and it works great. [END OF UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019]
- Access to some shows. Some shows are blocked with DirecTV Now but so far this hasn’t been a major concern. I think that’s because of regional broadcasting rights. For example, I get two ABC channels and on one of them I can’t access “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” (not that I want to watch this anyway). I can get PBS shows with the PBS app, but I can’t get them when they’re first broadcast.
- Clicker sometimes works funky. This doesn’t happen often but I’ll choose one channel, only to get the channel above or below that. However, when I choose the channel again, I’ll get the right one. I also sometimes have to wait a couple of seconds for the information in the channel guide to pop in.
- [UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019] This problem went away with YouTube TV. [END OF UPDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2019]
This isn’t a perfect solution for cutting cable-TV but so far it’s near perfect, but who knows how long this cost-savings will last?
I’m sure that as more people choose to cut cable-TV and move to streaming services, the cost of those streaming services will rise and internet providers will likely raise prices too. Still I’m hoping these savings will last at least a couple of years, or until the next big TV delivery system alternative.
(Mark Micheli is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of Reel Partners Media where he tells stories using video for news organizations, nonprofits, and businesses. He also founded this food blog, Rootsliving.com )