I cut the cord and lived to talk about it.
I’m seven months into a grand, cable-free experiment, which I first wrote about for Money-Smart last July. That makes it a good time to revisit my decision, provide details on how it’s going – and let you know if I’m ready to beg Verizon FiOS to take me back.
To recap, my wife and I dropped cable because we counted on saving about $82 per month on our bill. I knew it would be hard to keep up with all of the shows we DVRed for later viewing, and I’d miss watching Sabres games on the MSG and NBC Sports networks, but I was willing to give it a try.
Here’s what I learned during seven months spent bingeing on “House of Cards” episodes on Netflix, complaining about how the PBS channel on Roku doesn’t have a “Resume Play” function and figuring out why I listened to a Bills-Browns game on the radio.
• I’m saving more than I thought I’d save. My last monthly bill from Verizon FiOS was for $140.03 for a package of cable and Internet and related bells and whistles.
My most recent bill from Time Warner Cable is for $34.99 – a savings of $105.04 – for its standard Internet of 15 Mbps for downloading and 1 Mbps upload speed. The service has been fast enough for us so far.
How did I end up saving more than expected? Following the advice of my colleague David Robinson’s MoneySmart article last August, I turned in the modem and wireless Internet router provided by Time Warner and bought my own, through Best Buy, for $89.99 after applying a $30 savings code.
I save $9.99 per month on the modem and router rental, so I’ll have paid off the purchase of my own device after nine months, or sooner if Time Warner raises the rental cost. I already had Netflix, at $7.99 per month, and added Hulu Plus, at the same price.
I have a few other, one-time expenses. I bought a $29.99 antenna, a $99 Roku streaming Internet player – so I could access Netflix and Hulu Plus, among other “channels” – and I later bought a $99.99 Apple TV to stream the same channels to my second television set.
• I can watch almost everything I watched before. The problem is it requires more of an effort to find it and a reasonable level of tech savvy.
If you never figured out how to set the time on your VCR, for example, or if you don’t know how to email someone an attached file, setting up a streaming Internet player – not to mention getting your own modem – will be tricky. Not impossible, mind you, but it will take some time to get comfortable with it.
Before cutting the cord, I set my DVR to record all of my preferred shows, which were well-organized in one place. Now, I have to search between Hulu Plus, for the latest shows on NBC, ABC, FOX and Comedy Central, and the Roku or Apple TV channels for PBS, CBS News and others.
One network that falls through the cracks is AMC. I had to order through Amazon Instant Video the final season of “Breaking Bad,” and I’ll have to do the same for “Mad Men.” It’s $1.99 per episode or less if you order the entire season. (Netflix carries older seasons but not the most current episodes.)
What I lost in TV quantity, with hundreds of cable channels to choose from, I gained in TV quality.
Thanks to Netflix, I’ve gotten caught up on some series that I didn’t watch the first time around. I’m through five seasons of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” half of the original run of “The Twilight Zone,” three seasons of “Friday Night Lights” and two years of “West Wing.”
Roku and Apple TV have functioned relatively the same, although Roku has a CBS News channel and Apple TV doesn’t, and Apple TV’s PBS channel has a Resume Play feature that Roku lacks. (That’s helpful if you’re coming back to a show and want to easily find where you left off.)
• I haven’t seen a single Buffalo Sabres game on TV. And I’m sure missing the pain of a rebuilding season has boosted my emotional health.
I’m a huge Bills and Sabres fan, with the Yankees, college football and the major golf and tennis tournaments in my next tier of interest. So live sports are a big part of my TV viewing.
I could live without every Yankee game, especially in a down year – and if I had a better antenna, I also could watch a few dozen Yankee games on WBBZ-TV. There also is enough college football on the broadcast networks to keep me from being completely shut out – but it was annoying to find golf’s British Open and tennis’ Australian Open, for example, were only on ESPN.
At the start of this experiment, I worried that it would be hard to go cold turkey on the Sabres. And I’ll admit that after Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston were shown the door, and Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought in, I found myself wishing I could watch a game every now and again.
But even then, I didn’t try any of the semi- legal ways in which people can find Sabres games online.
Most Bills games were available over the air, so I could watch the team’s woeful 6-10 season in all of its high-definition glory.
Beside the games that were blacked out, I missed the Bills-Browns game because it was a Thursday night game, on the NFL Network, with the local broadcast on WBBZ. But even with my antenna, I couldn’t pull in that signal over the air, so – sad as it sounds – I listened to the game on WGR 550.
• Over-the-air TV is pretty good, most of the time. The quality depends on the quality of your antenna, where the antenna is positioned in your home and the strength of the signal you’re trying to pull in.
My main TV, in our living room, is near a window, and I set up the antenna on a DVD stand, because the closer to a window and the higher off the ground, the better for an antenna.
It took several attempts at adjusting the antenna’s position to bring in the best signal for the channels I watch most frequently – NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS and FOX – and even then ABC has issues with the screen freezing on occasion.
For the Super Bowl this month, I was having trouble with FOX earlier in the day, so I went to the TV Fool website, which tells you what direction to point your antenna to pick up a particular station. I adjusted the antenna and, like the Seattle Seahawks, had no trouble whatsoever during the game.
My second TV, in our office, is in the middle of the house and has more trouble picking up good over-the-air signals. After I wrote my first cord-cutting article, a representative for Mohu sent me two of the company’s antennas to test out.
One, the $149.99 Mohu Sky, is installed on a roof or in an attic. I didn’t want to go through that much trouble, so I didn’t use the Sky. But I did try out the $39.99 Mohu Leaf, which is incredibly thin and lightweight. I pinned the Leaf to the side of a bookcase in the office.
The Leaf’s signal quality is good, but after I return the demo model to the company I’ll still go back to the RCA rabbit ears I bought on Amazon for $7.79.
• A lot of people want to do this. My original article on cable cutting generated more response than anything else I wrote in 2013.
Some readers who have cut the cord said they missed sports, and 24/7 news, and others commiserated with me on how difficult it is to find the perfect spot to place the antenna.
A few had concrete advice. One reader pointed out that Apple TV offers AirPlay, which allows you to stream to your TV anything you’re viewing on a Mac, an iPad or an iPhone. It’s good, he said, for watching shows that a network posts on its website but not on a Roku or Apple TV channel.
Another suggested going further and getting my own modem, which I eventually did.
And another recommended watching ESPN through an Xbox app, though that requires an Xbox, an Xbox Live Gold annual membership and a cable subscription, so it wouldn’t help me.
And one guy was motivated after reading my article to start offering his services as a cable-cutting consultant. I bet there would be demand for that.
• Seven months in, I’m sticking with it. Until the cable providers switch to à la carte pricing for channels, or the Sabres make a Stanley Cup run, I’m not going back.