How “Cutting the Cord” Cut Me Back

Getting Out the Wire Cutters
In January, I suspended my DirecTV service. If you’re with DirecTV, you can actually turn off your service while maintaining your account. You don’t pay any bills for the selected duration (max of 6 months), you keep all of your equipment, and when the service comes back on it’s like nothing changed.

I suspended my service for a couple of the most common reasons: 1) I wanted to cut my monthly bills, and 2) I wanted to try out the cable free lifestyle. I’m a sucker for technology movements, so being one of the cool kids on the block that went cable free was right up my alley.

My plan was to replace local stations with free antenna tv, and replace cable shows and series with Netflix. The only problem, as cited over and over by hundreds of curious cord cutters of others was not being able to replace sports with any quality online option. While there are some ESPN options, the internet only sports content is mostly hogwash.

The good news is that (to date) we’ve been happy and have hardly missed TV at all. We’ve found that our need to DVR dozens of shows was unnecessary I’ve learned that there are few specific shows (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc.) that I care about investing my time in. Because of this, the purpose of TV in my mind is less about “needing to watch my shows” and more about “wanting to just watch something”. And once you realize you’re just watching something, the whole prospect of TV in general is less appealing.

Oh, Hello Bill. Wait, What are These Charges?
Every month we get our bill and it’s something like $70. That’s the internet only no-promo rate, which is way too much for the service. However, since it’s the the quickest speed I can get in my area I stay with it. I’d had a promo price to begin with years ago, but I haven’t bothered comparison shopping since the promo expired because CenturyLink can only offer 7 Mbps to my home. Pretty sad for a neighborhood that is only a decade or so old.

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So when my March bill arrived, it shocked me. The total due? $110. Not enough was the already overpriced $70 bucks a month. I now had $40 of surcharges on the bill too. WTF?

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I decided to do some research into why I would have usage charges and found out that my ISP has had a rate cap on internet bandwidth since Aug 2012. The package I have available to me allowed me to use 250 GB. According to their pricing, for every 50 GB over that, they add a $10 surcharge.

At this point I realized that I needed to research how much data I’d been using since I cut the cord. Unbeknownst to me, my ISP does offer a feature-weak “Usage Meter”. I went to the site which requires more info about my account than I knew or had immediate access to. By the time I’d gotten all the required info, I was fired up at the process. The good news? None. The site didn’t just “work” after logging in. Evidently it needed time to calculate my usage, so I had to go back the next day.

HOW MUCH Data am I Using?
Once I made it into the Usage Meter I gasped. My actual usage was WAY above my expectations based on what I had been charged. My usage in January was a seemingly paltry 150 GB. But Feb and Mar were almost 800 GB EACH. That means according to standard pricing, my bill should have been something like $170 for February. OMG! I haven’t seen my March bill yet, but I’m hoping whatever they used to calculate February applies to March too.

Usage

Let’s pause for a moment to think about that pricing. A “should be” price of $170 a month, for internet service with an average download speed of 6-8 Mbps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that for whatever reason my bill was for far less, but wow.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Data Allowance
So as it sank in that I was going to be paying $170 a month ($2,100 a year), I decided I should be looking at ways to cut the cost of cutting the cord. Either that, or completely alter our media consumption patterns.

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My first stop was to check out my ISP’s internet only packages. I was actually excited for a minute to see that there were options bigger than my “Prime Internet 15 Mbps” service. My ISP’s Ultra package offers faster speeds, and bigger data allowances. Surely I could just pay more for the Ultra package, even without the speed increase? Nope. Il nes possible. Unfortunately for me, My ISP maintains that data allowances are tied directly to the high speed packages. There’ll be none of that “satisfying for 800 Gbs of HD video delivered at 7 Mbps. You can only have THAT big of allowance if I know you’re going to unnecessarily suck it faster at 20 Mbps! Mwwaaahahahaha” (Mwwaahahahaha added). I tried to talk with my ISP’s Twitter support personnel (which I also blogged about), but their responses were canned, scripted, and aside the point. It was a really good example of how to use social media to run your customers in circles though, so they have that going for them.

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The Cord is Going to Be Harder to Cut Than I Thought
So what have we learned Sethy Brown?

  • Because higher speed packages are only available in certain geographies, and because my ISP offers no way to allow lower speed customers to have higher allowances, the only options for cutting the cord are paying ridiculous overage fees, or changing your consumption patterns.
  • I thought that cutting the code would be a simple financial savings each month for my family. Turns out that we could actually waste our time watching DirecTV content for the same price.
  • The big warning to anyone cutting the cord is to check your rules first. Don’t think you’re guaranteed to save money each month. Research your usage, data caps, overage pricing…. all of it. Be informed!

The biggest decision facing me now has three options: 1) Watch far less streamed video content, 2) Keep watching the same and pay for the overages (approx $100 p/month), or 3) Turn DirecTV back on and go back to old consumption pattern (Hello Tara Perry).

I’m learning towards option 1. Not having cable/sat has helped me come to realize that if I could replace what we’d watched for years with little pain, what we were watching must not have been that valuable. It’s starting to sink in that “TV” is merely the most passive media experience we tend to enjoy. And while passive media has a purpose, I’d much rather my family spend its evenings and weekends reading, playing, and/or creating.

So what do you think? Do you have an experience cutting the cord? Been bitten by data caps or something else? Let’s year about it.

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11 thoughts on “How “Cutting the Cord” Cut Me Back

  1. Why won’t century link work for you? We pay $16 for Internet and that includes the modem lease. We don’t have cable. We always have Netflix on. I don’t know what speed we have but we can stream Netflix just fine.

    • It’s mostly because we have multiple devices streaming at the same time. When I had CenturyLink before, I only got about 4 Mbps down. I can get around 8 now, which can support a few iOS devices.

  2. I noticed their capping a few months ago when I was researching their business class internet. I can’t say I was surprised with what the mobile carriers started in the last couple years.

    I just watched this video last week that explains why the US is in the middle of the pack when it comes to speeds and pricing. It’s really criminal what ISPs are doing.

    It’s absolutely absurd that you couldn’t pay more for slower speeds and a higher cap. Profiteering at it’s finest.

  3. Mediacom doesn’t service us north of 36th so we’re stuck with Directv/Century Link BUT for $110/mo and decent speeds for 2 iOS devices and an android phone… I can’t complain. I think ours is up to 7 Mbps. We’d gladly kick Directv too if there was a good sports option available.

  4. We use Century Link with 2 iPads, 3 iPhones, 1 MacBook Pro and a Dell desktop. The only problem we have is with Netflix restricting how many devices can stream at a time. We mainly stream Netflix thru our blu-ray on our big TV but the kids use their TVs and blu-rays too. We have been cable free for 11 years.

    • Very cool Megan. Do you know what speed you have from CL? I’ve heard from others on a different channel that they still deal with Netflix constantly buffering when using multiple devices.

      11 years is impressive! My mom, an old school rural Southern Iowan, has gone years and years without it too. Do you have any secret tips for accessing different shows, or coping skills for going without?

      • The only time I had cable was in college and that was because my tuition paid for it. We stream Netflix constantly (almost don’t even watch antenna tv any more) and it never buffers. We also have our 2 iPhones and 2 laptops running 24/7. We’d be screwed if we had a cap. Also if you have Verizon for cell service you can bundle it with century link it Saves $5 a mo. If there is a show we watch we usually just watch it on our laptops. We are usually gone in the evening so watching it as the episodes air is almost impossible anyway and I haven’t come across a show that’s not online so Dvr isn’t needed.

      • We just have 7mbps as the faster speeds aren’t available yet. We have never been surcharged for usage and pay just $47/month. We supposedly locked in a price for life while it was still Qwest.

        Coping – well fortunately we aren’t huge sports buffs that need the extra channels to see games we want. When there are games that we really want to watch – we usually head to a local sports bar where it’s bound to be on or hit up a friend who’s got it. With twitter or sports apps – it’s usually just as fast with a play by play – my dad makes fun of me because it reminds him of listening to it on the radio…only I’m constantly refreshing my MLB app (baseball is the one sport I would really like to have available) And if I wanted – I could pay for MLB.tv as I have it available thru my blu-ray. And actually – I do use the MLB app to listen to the games occasionally. When the StL Cardinals are in the playoffs (so most years) – I upgrade my free MLB app.

        Back when we first cut the cord – I was really nervous as I was the TV watcher – but after a week or so – just as you experienced, I didn’t really notice that I missed it. Just found better things to do like read or just sit and enjoy the silence. We also got rid of our land phone line at the time and our house became very quiet – which was weird for about 5 minutes and then we got used to it. It’s hard going to a house now that constantly has noise in the background – with 3 kids we have enough noise.

        Now – there are a ton of apps available. I have about 3 or 4 shows that I like to watch and all are available on iPad apps that are free. And I just wait for the new season to post on Netflix and usually watch a whole season (commercial-free) at a time. Only occasionally and this is maybe once or twice a year – we have issues with Netflix re-buffering while multiple people are watching. But that hasn’t happened to us in months. I can’t remember the last time it happened.

        The other coping mechanism is when in a hotel or visiting my parents (who have cable) – we just realize how much we are NOT missing at all. Most of the time it’s hard to find something to watch anyway and end up on the shows we have available to us. It’s a good reminder that we really aren’t missing out at all.

        The BIGGEST benefit I have seen has been in my kids (who are now 11, 9, and 5). All they have ever watched is PBS and Netflix. They aren’t exposed to commercials and therefore haven’t got caught up in commercialism. When we do occasionally watch a TV show together (and that’s rare cause I don’t think there’s really anything on network TV that I want my kids watching) – I don’t fear for the show – but for the commercials. We frequently watch golf in the spring – 3 years ago I had to explain to my then 8 year old what viagra was as the commercial came on every 5 minutes. We loved the golf – couldn’t stand the commercials.

        Anyway – this was a really long response. I’m a huge advocate of no-cable/satellite – but we’ve had nothing but positive experiences. We started without streaming anything and did just fine. So if one day Netflix stops working or if we start getting charged for usage – we’ll probably just stop again. At the time we gave it up – I gave myself about a month – that’s how long I thought I would last…I was a huge TV person. But here we are 11 years later – and couldn’t be more pleased with that decision.

        Good luck!

  5. This won’t help in the very near future but I just sent the following to the City of Ankeny’s Management and Info Sys department:

    I happened to come across this event being hosted in Kansas City about planning and successfully deploying fiber to the home.
    http://www.ftthcouncil.org/e/in/eid=3
    I enjoy living in Ankeny and would greatly enjoy ultra high-speed internet availability. I believe the topic of Google’s successful deployment will be discussed and some details may align with the possibility of Ankeny getting the ball rolling with fiber. There don’t appear to be any state laws preventing a community from taking this action on themselves as Cedar Falls has successfully deployed fiber in their community ( http://www.cfu.net/utilities/communications-utility/fiber-to-the-premises.aspx ). Being of similar size and population as Ankeny, they would be an excellent study of the benefits, costs, etc.
    Not sure if this is even a possibility but figured it wouldn’t hurt to point it out.
    Thanks and have a great day

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