“Cutting the cord” has become all the rage. By that, of course, I mean the cable cord.
Maybe you want to cut your cable bill significantly so you can put more money towards debt. Or maybe you just want to offload the landline you never use. Either way, technology is making it easier to cut the cord, and the savings can be substantial.
I have thought about it for a long time, particularly when I receive my monthly all-in-one bill from the cable company. But there didnt seem to be a viable option that included sports. And I just couldnt bring myself to give up the live action. Until a couple of months ago, that is, when I talked to a good friend of mine who used to work at ESPN. Having built his career around sports, he is the biggest sports fan I know. He told me that he cut the cord two years ago and wished he had done it even sooner. I was floored!
He's a Mets fan, and the Mets had just been in the playoffs and World Series! If he could do it, I could do it. So off I went.
Cutting out cable has been quite a journey,by turns fun, frustrating, vindicating, and a great learning experience. I recently made the leap, and when all was said and done, I cutmy phone/cable/internet bill by $180 per monthjust in time for the big college basketball tournament.
You know, that one wheregames air on CBS, TNT, TBS, and Tru TV. What better way to test out life without cable sports than to cut the cord right before March Madness?
But here's the thing:I didnt miss a single game!
Here's how I ended up doing it. It actually took me a while and several false starts. So learn from my mistakes, and follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Determine whether or not to keep a landline.
I've considered abandoning our landline for years. We hardly use it, and we know lots of people who have gotten rid of theirs. Clearly, cutting the landline altogether is the right choice for some people.
But with a nine-year old in the house, I preferred to hang onto it for a while longer. Then, one day on the soccer field sideline, one of the other parents told me about the Ooma Telo. Ooma sells a voice-over-IP phone device ($79.99 on Amazon as of this writing). Then they give away local telephone service for free. All you have to do is pay applicable taxes. In my case, this amounted to $4.24 per month. This was the perfect solution for our needs.
If you do need to keep a landline for whatever reason, I’d recommend this option. It’s much cheaper than anything you’ll find with a local provider, even as part of a package deal.
Step 2 (if you're keeping a landline and want to keep your existing phone number): Port your existing number to the new provider.
We could have picked a new phone number when setting up with Ooma, but we preferred to keep our existing number. There isa $39.95 fee for this. It can take a week or two, depending on the degree to which your existing provider is willing to cooperate. Once complete, we had transitioned our landline, and arenow paying $4.24 per month for local phone service.
So to recap, we paid $79.95 for the device and $39.95 for the phone number transfer. For a total of just under $120, we got into a $4.24/month landline bill.
Step 3: Investigate and select your new TV landscape.
While I was waiting for my phone number to port over to Ooma, I turned my attention to TV. There are so many different choices out there and with lots of online reviews for each. Whether it is Roku, Apple TV, Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon Instant Video, or others, you may be surprised at the number of offerings at your disposal. In my case, I wanted to:
- Watch NFL football;
- See as much live sports as possible;
- Maintain as much of my family's favorite content as possible.
We already had a Netflix subscription. And our Amazon Prime subscription included access to Amazon Instant Video. So to round out our service, I did four things:
- Bought an antenna and embraced the world of free HD channels: There are lots of different antennas. Indoor vs. outdoor, amplified or not, different geographic capability. In my case, I chose the Mohu Leaf 50. I installed it in my attic, connected it to my existing cable line, and voila! ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and other over-the-air channels were at my disposal in pure, uncompressed HD. For free!
- Signed up for Sling TV: Sling TV is a streaming live TV service owned by Dish Network. For me, this was the key piece to the puzzle. Having the network channels was nice. But this didn’t provide enough access to sports. Sling TV fills in that gap to a degree. It provides access to ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and TBS. In addition, its 20-channel Best of Live TV package includes HGTV, Food Network, CNN, Disney, and other channels. All for $20 per month, with no long-term commitment. I went ahead and signed up for the Best of Live TV package. But there is one catch you need a device through which to stream the feed.
- Purchased an Amazon Fire TVStick for each TV in the house*: This may or may not be necessary for you, depending on your existing setup and whether you want Sling TV. But in my case, I needed a device from which to stream Sling. And the Fire TV Stick worked just fine for me.
- Investigated alternative internet providers: This is where things got dicey. I knew that my cable company would not be cooperative when I called to drop cable TV and phone. So I wanted to know what my options were if I needed to switch to a different internet service provider. At first glance, the options weren’t great. There was a satellite internet provider, which I feared wouldn’t provide a strong enough signal to enable streaming. And there were DSL providers. But their user reviews were nearly as bad as my cable company’s. At first, I thought I was stuck with my current provider. But then I discovered that Earthlink provides broadband coverage in my neighborhood. Even better, they provide it using my current cable company’s infrastructure. So I could switch to Earthlink, get a low initial promotional rate, and settle into a more attractive long-term rate at the end of the promotional period. And I could do all of this without anyone coming to my house and without changing equipment. I’m still not sure how or why this was an option. But I pursued it, and it worked!
And with that, I said goodbye to the cable company.
*Note: After this article’s original release date in 2016, Amazon released a new version of its Fire Stick, the Amazon Fire TV. It supports 4K resolution and retails for $69.99. It also offers a bundle with an HD antenna for just $74.99. So if you have or are considering getting a 4K TV, you might just start with this bundle from the get-go.
The March Madness Trial-By-Fire
What better way to test out my new phone/cable/internet infrastructure than through the prism of March Madness? Since the games were on CBS (antenna), TBS (Sling), TNT (Sling), and Tru TV, I would be able to see 75% of the games.
But then imagine my delight when I realized on the first day of the tournament that March was Tru TV free preview month on Sling TV! A marketing promotional sure to delight new Sling subscribers who happen to be sports fans like me! As a result, I’ve watched every single game of March Madness that was important to me.
This setup has exceeded my expectations and then some. Honestly, I haven’t missed traditional cable for a single minute since making the switch.
Getting Down to Dollars and Cents
Making this transition involves some startup costs. Here is how my overall situation adds up:
One-time startup costs:
- Amazon Fire TV: $39.99 (per TV, unless you take it around the house with you)
- Ooma Telo: $79.95
- Mohu Leaf 50 TV Antenna: $69.95
Monthly cost before:
- Cable company all-in-one package: $246.78
- Netflix: $7.99
- Total: $254.77
Monthly cost after:
- Netflix: $7.99
- Broadband internet access: $41.95 (after the promotional offer expires)
- Sling TV: $20.00
- Ooma VOIP phone: $4.24
- Total: $74.18
Total monthly savings: $180.59
Total annual savings: $2,167.08
Total annual savings invested over 10 years, earning 8%: $33,905
What I've Learned
Cutting the cord isn’t perfect, but for me, it’s certainly worth it. Sling TV has a good picture, but you cant change channels as fast as with regular cable. I don’t have a DVR (although there are similar devices available). And I cant see the main local sports teams (in my case, the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins) unless they’re on a national broadcast. I will be able to see Celtics playoff games (on ABC, ESPN, TBS, and TNT). But I may be spending time at friends’ houses or the local sports bar if the Red Sox or Bruins make a deep playoff run.
But is this a price I am willing to pay to save over $2,000 per year? Absolutely! In the big picture, I’ve retained most of the value I got out of my previous package at a fraction of the cost. And I fully expect choices and service quality to improve over time. Who knows? In a couple of years, perhaps I’ll be able to purchase a Red Sox subscription for five or ten dollars per month!
I would gladly sign up for that, but for me, the days of car-payment-sized cable bills are over. I encourage you to give it a try!