The first in a series of posts about getting the best bang for the buck in your home entertainment center. These posts are dedicated to the prospect that every dollar saved from your local cable provider is a dollar that is better spent anywhere else. I decided to use the move to my new apartment to try out some new viewing paradigms and technology, to try and get as much flexibility, and content, as I can, for the most affordable price.
Hey remember that time when Cable TV and Internet was about $55/mo. with EVERYTHING? Yeah, and everything included all your pay movie channels, all those channels that nobody watches but the cable company insists on giving you, and stuff like that?
What? You don’t remember?
Well, it has been a while…I think it was right around 2000-2001 when cable bills started skyrocketing, seemingly doubling every year for a few years. These days a generic deal for HD service plus off-the-shelf consumer broadband Internet will run you about $100. Wait, you want HBO? Add another $15-25. But there’s a bundle you can get if you lock in to a 2-year deal that just…
Yeah, exactly. It has gotten bloody ridiculous. Not that we weren’t warned…The independent movie theaters (something you see very little of these days thanks to corporate acquisitions, Reagan era deregulation, and the genesis of the multiplex) warned us in the early cable days that we were getting loss-leader pricing, and that eventually the cable companies would be charging us big money for what we were getting (broadcast tv) for free at the time. Okay, so it’s not exactly what we were getting for free…There are lots of different programming options out there now that was never available through broadcast, and, let’s face it, how many people in 1975 would have predicted that they’d need a line-item in their monthly home budget for Internet access and bandwidth? So yeah, we have more content options and consumption options than ever before, but we also have bloated pricing, extremely poor/indifferent customer service from all the major service providers, coupled with a cable industry mentality that insists it will give us what they want, they way they want it delivered, and we will pay up and like it, or live in the land of the broadcast-only have nots.
I’d like to live in a world of ala’ carte cable provisioning, services like HBO that I can purchase directly from the provider, or through alternate distribution channels like Netflix or Hulu, and be able to watch things on whatever device(s) I choose without being joined at the hip to the cable company’s black box.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
Like lots of other people with the same gripes about the cable companies, I’m looking for options to pare-down my monthly bills, and still be able to watch the stuff I want to watch where ever…I just don’t want to deal with a $200 bill for services that include 200 channels that never get watched. My recent move provided the opportunity to move away from my old, almost-entirely provider-based services (Internet Router, Cable Box/DVR, IP telephone) with something a little leaner.
First off, I purchased a Motorola Bit Surfer cable modem so as not to incur the $10/mo. charge from the cable company. It’s a fairly state-of-the-art Docsys 3.0 modem with 4 GigE connections and a multi-band wireless router built in. It will meet most of my needs, and has been doing really great work with 3 direct connections and about half a dozen wireless clients. The router cost me $135 so it’s going to be 13 months before I see break-even. I anticipate using the modem for 24-36 months, as there are some tech advancements that will probably require an upgrade by then, so, over the life of the product, I expect to save between $105-$225. Not a fortune, but it still counts as money not going to Big Cable, so win.
I also got a decent deal on 5up/30down Internet with basic broadcast TV channels from Time Warner Cable for about $95/month, including a basic cable box without DVR.) Internet-wise this more than meets my needs right now, including video streaming, uploads, webcam streaming, etc. The TV portion of it not so much.
Going into this I was firmly committed to giving up cable tv entirely, relying on local broadcast and my stable of Apple TV, ChromeCast (a future blog to come on this, as it is very cool), Roku, and XBox360 devices (all of which I’ve got because there has never been “one box to rule them all…” The big hitch? It was about $25/month MORE to get the Internet package I wanted without basic tv…So okay, I got basic TV with HBO free for a year as a sweetener.
The basic TV package has most of the local broadcast which wasn’t really enough…If I’m paying for TV, I want my BBC America, and a couple of other channels I really don’t want to live without.
Now here’s a tip for when you want to save money with the cable company: Don’t deal with the sales department. If you can’t get what you want from the sales department, tell them to transfer you to the user retention department. All of the major providers have this department, and they have one purpose, which is to keep you as a customer, and keep the cash flowing from you to the provider.
User Retention Specialists have access to all kinds of modifiable pricing and discount packages that their counterparts in sales don’t have…In fact they are the people to call when your free/discounted HBO/whatever deal is expiring, as you can re-negotiate your deal and save money. When I was with AT&T U-Verse, I spoke to these guys every six months, and keep re-negotiating my rates to keep the price down. Yes, it is an exercise in frustration, and a time-suck, but it’s one way of keeping costs down, so, again, it’s worth it.
On this occasion, I had asked to upgrade my basic tv to full digital cable, adding my cable-only channels—My goal statement to the CSR was “I want to keep the bundle/services I have now, and just add the digital channels.” The TWC sales rep went through all kinds of gyrations and recalculations of my bundle…He kept on offering me packages that downgraded my Internet, added premium channels I didn’t want, or killed my free HBO deal (Winter is coming my friends, and I want my GoT for free!) The best they could do in matching what I was looking for was a package that added close to $50/month—Not nearly worth it just to get the 3 channels that I care about (BBCA, FX, and SyFy.) I asked for user retention and, about 30 minutes later (a record in cable customer service time) I got my extra channels for $12/mo., and he through in the Cinemax channels for free for a year. Bueno. Again, user retention should have been my first stop.
So there I am: Full Digital Cable with 400 Channels, upper-tier broadband Internet access, HBO, and Cinemax…$111/mo. Not too bad…Most of the cost is for the Internet, and that’s one area I’m less reluctant to spend money than cable content. The biggest downside right now? The no-frills, no-dvr, cable box. But then W00t! stepped in to the rescue with a special on refurbished TiVO units, and another opportunity was seized…
TiVO, DIY DVRs, and Cable Cards.