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Adventures in Cord Cutting

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

May 31, 2022 — Many of America’s most hated companies are the cable, internet and telephone giants – Comcast/Xfinity, Century Link, Sprint, etc. People dread calling these behemoths for customer service, because they know they will get into a never-ending telephone tree that make it very difficult to speak to a human being. They also don’t like the bills that come along with telephone, cable and internet service. The bill starts out looking reasonable, but after you add in the modem and cable box rental fees, broadcast and sports fees, and 6 different kinds of taxes, the total tab can easily approach $300/monthly. Adding more sports packages and HBO can send it north of that. And of course, every year the bill goes up. For retirees on a budget, these bills can become just too much.

After talking with friends your editor decided to cut the cord – or at least 2 of the cords – home phone and cable. Here is how he did it.

Alternative to cable TV

There are several good alternatives to cable TV.

The cheapest and most basic one is to buy a good indoor antenna and try to capture local on air broadcasts the old fashioned way, for free. We tried that, but after some struggles only got about 7 stations, most of them spanish language or old movie channels. Maybe we didn’t have the right antenna, or are too far away from local TV stations. We could not get any network or local news.

Youtube TV. My friend suggested this, praising how many channels (85) he receives and how wonderful their cloud DVR is. The only thing he couldn’t get were Red Sox or Yankee games, but since John is a Mets fan – no problem there. The monthly fee for Youtube TV is $65, but there is a 14 day free trial. It does not offer the Weather Channel.

Hulu +TV Live. For a monthly fee of $69.99 you can get an astonishingly long list of live TV channels – just about anything you would want. That includes Disney+ and ESPN+.

Fubo TV and Sling Orange and Blue are also contenders.

Most cord-cutting reviewers think these competitors are roughly the same. Each of them has a few different exclusions or add-ons that could tip the difference, depending on your needs.

What you want to watch. If local news, certain sports teams, movies, or weather is important, compare each service carefully to see if it is included. Some streaming services like Disney+ or Peacock are included with some packages, and that might make a difference in your decision.

How We Cut It

Most people have figured out how to eliminate their home phone – rely on your cell phone instead. The key to cutting cable TV is having reliable Internet so you can stream everything. Streaming services like Youtube TV rely on your Internet to bring you the programs they carry.

Apps arrayed at bottom

Your TV is important. Newer TVs have almost every streaming app built in, so you only need 1 remote to do everything. If your TV is a little older, you might have to also buy a Firestick, Apple TV, or Roku to control the apps. We opted to replace our 15 year old TV with a bigger one with built in apps. So far that has worked great; using only 1 remote makes things simpler. You have to log into each paid app on the TV, but that is not too difficult. The most complicated one to install for us was HBO Max, since we pay for the service through another provider.

Repeater

Optimize your wireless signal at the TV. Our main TV often stalled in the middle of a program because the wifi signal was slow. That wasn’t good if we were trying to watch the evening news or a favorite program. So we improved the wireless signal by installing another wifi repeater (booster or extender). You can use apps like Speed Test to measure the speed in different areas. Just by moving the locations of the repeaters around the house we were able to significantly improve the signal. We also changed the modem location to use the cable input that was by the TV, so now the wifi signal is at the strongest point in the house. You can also use a cable to input the signal directly to the TV from the modem. One final tip: get a new modem. Your Internet company won’t tell you this, but they are constantly improving their modems (same goes if you are buying your own). If yours is more than 2 years old, ask if there is a better one.

Youtube TV trial. Based on our friend’s experience we took a 14 day trial to see how it would work. The results were great. It recorded all of our favorite shows and never ran out of memory. It is easy to operate and there are more programs than we could ever watch.

Cutting cable. Since the trial was successful we went to Xfinity and cancelled the triple play, leaving only Internet. Of course they are charging us more than triple what they would for a new customer ($120 vs. $39), so the dollar savings are not that great (about $90/month in total vs. our previous bill). But since we are snowbirds we can now eliminate paying the $60/month seasonal hold fees for 6 months of the year. Perhaps that will allow us to qualify as a new customer next year!

Bottom line

It has been a week now and so far we are very pleased with our decision. We can watch anything we want on live TV, although we mostly stream other apps like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max. It seemed like a big decision, but don’t think we will be going back.

Comments? If you have cut the cord or are thinking about it, please share your experiences and thoughts in the Comments section below.

More help:
Tom’s Guide – 7 Essential Steps to Cutting the Cord

Posted by Admin on May 30th, 2022

13 Comments »

  1. We have been trying to figure out the best way for us. We live in a remote area, so signal strength is a consideration. I think that some tech savy folks could make a consulting business out of this!

    by Jan Gram — May 31, 2022

  2. I cut the cable cord with Comcast over six years ago. I got a high-definition antenna that covers a 50-mile radius. I then scanned all the channels and edited out the ones I would not watch. I get all local HD channels and more news, food, old movies, and old programs than I can ever watch. I can also get QVC and HSN if I want, and several PBS channels including one from the UK which is important to me. I got rid of my landline as well, changed to Republic Wireless for my phone, and pay $25.00 per month for that (one year in full paid in September) and have not looked back. I negotiated my Internet only with Comcast and I pay about $85.00 for up to 600 bps. They just sent me a new router/modem (for wireless) and so far so good. Where you live can be the key to good reception and how many channels your Antenna can access. I was lucky to have a number of neighbors who had done all this before I had and I got to see how it worked for them, it was easy to make the move. Before buying the antenna, I reviewed all options online and then made my purchase at Best Buy. High definition was a must and my channels are amazingly clear. Also if the cable goes out, I still have TV reception if I want it.

    by Jennifer — May 31, 2022

  3. Hi John,
    Just wondering if you’re able to get local news and sports?

    Staci: Yes, plenty of local news and sports. If anyone is considering this option I recommend the 14 day free trial to see if you it works for you with what you want to watch.

    by Staci — May 31, 2022

  4. We got rid of cable a few years ago and not going back! We have Smart TVs and added the Roku. We have about 8 to 10 streaming channels and only pay about $20 per month for the channels because we always purchase the yearly subscriptions. We could get by with fewer channels with everything that is offered for free these days though. You could just take the monthly subscription and alternate months and save money too. We have the highest internet speed for about $59 per month. So we are saving at least $50 per month but prefer paying for channels we want to watch.

    by Areti11 — May 31, 2022

  5. Two sites that will tell you what stations you can receive based on your location. They also tell you what size / type antenna will work best for you.
    https://www.antennaweb.org/
    https://www.antennasdirect.com/

    by Mike — May 31, 2022

  6. Living in an internet service hole, we had very poor speeds until Spectrum brought in fiber and tv at 400mbps about six months ago. We immediately dumped Directv, CenturyLink and Verizon services at a savings of more than $200/mon. No more land line and less expensive unlimited cell package.

    I tried Roku at first, but retuned it after discovering that my 5-year old LG tv (with our Amazon Prime subscription) offered everything most other streaming services provided without more fees. So we get the hundreds of internet available channels, apps for Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube TV, and others (which we mostly don’t activate). We also have a 25-year old antenna setup for about 50 (redundant) locals that is seldom used. If fact, between the Spectrum package they offered (including ESPN channels and other sports), Amazon Prime and the standard free YouTube (no need for YouTube TV), we have more service options than we can watch. All at a reduced rate contractually committed for 8 years.

    This was all provided to our 100+ household community under a bulk contract for a small connection fee including DVR and receivers. So if Spectrum offers to install fiber for your community or subdivision for a good contracted rate (which covers their half million dollar fiber investment), I strongly recommend you get your neighborhood to seriously consider it — take the gift horse. The 50-household community of a friend in our town turned it down. Very bad mistake — the savings for us are significant and our home values all went up.

    by RichPB — June 1, 2022

  7. RichPB, in our 900 unit community (mix of condos and single-family homes) in SC, Spectrum gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Standard cable package plus extras like Showtime (and ESPN) for $25 per month. Internet and phone separate but reasonable. Same TV service in our primary home in CT runs to around $150.

    by Larry — June 2, 2022

  8. Our Setup:
    1. Verizon Fios gigabyte service: $80 total. 3-year deal with no-cost gateway included, no contract. Our older Fios gateway has weak, slow WiFi so instead of an extender I use my own fast router and turned off WiFi on the Fios gateway to avoid interference. The new Fios gateway supports WiFi 6 and is very fast so we won’t need a separate router after we upgrade.
    2. Tablo dual-tuner antenna DVR in our upstairs bedroom for best antenna signal (24 local channels). It connects to our WiFi network. Signals are sent to all our TVs, phones, tablets. Old USB hard drive connected to store recordings. Can watch live TV or recordings away from home on phones and tablets. $60 for refurbished Tablo, $20 HD antenna.
    3. Roku Ultra LT (Walmart version). $50 on sale. Fast performance with Ethernet for a more reliable connection to my WiFi router. Simple voice-controlled remote with TV controls. We bought this Roku because our older TV had a limited channel store, but we use it with our new TV because it is so small, simple and easy.
    4. Paid services:
    – Philo $10/month for 64 channels, with T-Mobile discount ($25 otherwise)
    – Britbox (BBC, ITV) $39/year promotion
    – Formula 1 TV $27/year
    – Hulu $.99/month Black Friday special (every year)
    – Curiosity Stream $11.99/year (annual special in May-June)
    Total $17.50/month plus $80 for Fios.
    We order Netflix and PBS Passport to binge the shows we like for one month, then cancel until more shows we want are added.
    4. Free services:
    – One year of free Apple TV+ we got for buying an iPhone (now reduced to 3 months free).
    – One year of Discovery+ from T-Mobile
    – The Roku Channel
    – Pluto
    – Tubi
    – YouTube
    – Kanopy and Hoopla (both free with library card login)
    – Peacock (with ads)

    We only watch sports on local channels and F1 TV. We also use a VPN to watch IMSA auto races. We don’t miss cable news any more – it seemed designed to stir up emotions (more clicks), not provide good journalism.

    by Rex — June 2, 2022

  9. Inexpensive, limited cellphone service to replace home phone. These plans save lots of money if you use your personal cellphones for most calls.

    1. Selectel Wireless 90-day pay as you go plan: $10 +$1 tax for 500 minutes, good for up to 90 days. Reorder as needed. Must call to activate this plan after you have their SIM card; not advertised. Uses the Verizon wireless network.
    2. Walmart Freedompop free plan: $10 SIM card, then free 200 minutes, 1000 texts, 100 mb data/month. You can buy extra minutes during a month when needed. Sold only at Walmart. Uses the T-Mobile wireless network.
    3. Red Pocket annual plan: $99/year for 1000 min, unlimited texts, 1GB data/month ($8.25/mo). Uses the AT&T wireless network. You need a phone that is certified by AT&T for ‘Voice over LTE’ since they closed their 3G network.

    by Rex — June 2, 2022

  10. In 35+ years of living in Texas, I’ve never had cable.

    With an amplified antenna (about $12 on Ebay), I get 90 channels over the air; about a third are worth a look. (I’m in the DFW area.) Took about five minutes to set up.

    I don’t have any streaming services, either. For movies, I have a large DVD collection (DVDs are really cheap now). Other stuff — I’m not missing anything. Whenever we stay someplace with cable, I don’t see anything good, or at least worth paying for.

    by Scott L — June 2, 2022

  11. Wow, I love all of these great comments. So many different ways to skin the cat, so to speak. Thanks to all for contributing!

    by John Brady — June 3, 2022

  12. Building on Larry’s comment, if you live in an association with many homeowners you can probably cut a better deal with a cable/internet provider. Our association of about 600 homes sent out an RFP to several providers. The result was that one company really wanted our business. The incumbent company was not providing very good service, and chose not to bid in a competitive situation.

    Over 10 years we believe we will collectively save millions of dollars with the new company.
    In our home we pay $6/month for an extra wifi extender, and the condo association pays another $80/month for Internet service (fiber optic directly to every home) that is super fast, and cable TV with lots and lots of channels and ability to connect up to 3 TVs. We end up paying the association for that $80 in our fees. So $85/month compares to about $200/month before.

    by John — June 6, 2022

  13. For a number of years (2014-2019) we used an antennae, paid for internet and subscribed to Sling Orange. When we moved to Sun City West we decided that cable would be our “splurge.” We got a “special rate” (no contract) from Cox for $119.99/month for internet, cable TV (I think about 140 stations including ESPN, HGTV, A&E, History, etc.) and land line (which we don’t use). With DVR, Broadcast surcharge, Regional sports surcharge and taxes my bill is $179/month. I’m happy with it.

    by Rocky — June 19, 2022

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