The Dirty Little Secret Of Cord Cutting

For the past few years, the blogosphere has proclaimed that cable is dead and everybody who’s somebody has cut the cord.

We’re all presumed to ditch our expensive cable subscription and get everything over the internet or over the air. Broadcast television is so yesterday when we can watch everything on Netflix and Hulu and save money.

There’s one dirty little secret that people don’t talk about: You’re usually not saving any money.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to write the ultimate cord cutting guide where you can build a digital palace on a budget. Then I get to the part where I compare what I was paying before and paying now and come up with a difference in cost of ten bucks. Woo.

Why don’t you save any money?

The people who sell you your internet access are also the people who are selling you content. Unless you’re a college student tapping into the university fiber for free, you’re buying your internet from a cable company or a telecom company – which is also in the business of selling you video content. They set up the pricing tiers so that one effectively subsidizes the other. Remove the video content from your internet package and the internet price goes up to the point that after adding all of the online services needed to replace what you got from the cable/telecom company you end up back where you started.

Let’s face it: streaming is a pain in the ass.

In our house, we dropped Uverse 6 months ago for internet, television, and landline (I know, I’m old, I have a landline and cell phone) for internet via Comcast, television via Sling, and telephone via Vonage.

The internet service has been great since we made the switch. I bought my own modem so I don’t have to rent one from Comcast, the speeds are consistently faster than anything I got from AT&T, and believe it or not, the customer service from Kabletown is superior to the service I have received from Ma Bell as of late. [A few years ago, this was not the case. ATT’s customer service is in my opinion on a downward trajectory, Comcast seems to be getting its act together.]

Television via Sling? It’s not as convenient as I had hoped. The streams tend to stop and stutter, especially when they go to insert local commercials into the commercial breaks. You can’t skip through commercial breaks on most channels. You can’t DVR episodes of shows. Some networks allow you to watch past episodes of shows on demand, some do not. Overall, the experience of watching television isn’t consistent from one network to the next.

Netflix is Netflix. But I never got into watching television via Hulu, primarily because I don’t watch the types of shows that Hulu carries. (Hence why we get our content from Sling.)

Broadcast TV we get over the air. I live within sight of the transmission towers (not a figure of speech; the strobe lights from KHOU and the Senior Road Master Antenna lights up the front of our house at night) but digital TV reception is still a little wonky and requires fiddling with the antenna often.

The VoIP experience with Vonage is solid. I have no complaints, and it’s fairly cheap.

But let’s do the numbers.

Our old ATT bill clocked in about $150.

Now: Internet costs $70. Sling + Netflix + TiVo costs $56. Vonage costs $10.

Total: $136/month.

So for a savings of $14/month or $168/year, I lose access to 186 channels (most of which, I honestly don’t miss) and access to DVR features on the cable networks that I watch via Sling (which is a feature I do miss). Plus there’s the whole issue of fiddling with the antenna or waiting for Sling to buffer.

Time for a change?

I hit my breaking point yesterday. We had signed up for Sling early on in its life and are on one of its original plans that limit you to one stream. If I wanted to watch something in the living room and my wife wanted to watch something else upstairs, that meant that one of us couldn’t be watching Sling.

Sling has added new plans which allow for multi-streaming of some networks. (Again, the cable networks are adding lots of restrictions on internet delivered television to protect the cable/telecom market). I was about to pull the trigger to bump up to their Orange + Blue plan ($40/month, no contract) to add a few new networks they offer in the Blue package that I didn’t have in Orange and wanted, but would still need to add the sports and lifestyle packs to get the other networks that we watch often, which would raise the Sling bill to $50/month.

That would raise the cost of internet + live TV to $120.

But if I call Comcast and add their middle TV tier to my internet package (which has the networks I want) and connect that to my TiVo using a cable card, I’ll be paying $110/month without a contract. Then I can extend that to the bedroom upstairs using a TiVo Mini. Then we don’t have to switch between using the TiVo to watch local channels and the Roku to watch cable channels (and we can still watch Netflix and MLB.TV on the TiVo, so it’s a consistent user experience).

Remind me again why I had cut the cord?

They’re installing the TV on Saturday. I’ll tell you in a few months whether I’m glad I changed this or not.

(image credit: flickr/Michael Mol/cc2.0 attribution)