Cutting the Cord (the Saga Ends)

Four weeks ago, we began the convoluted process of breaking away from Comcast, the cable TV giant that is one of America’s least admired companies. We had a package deal for television, internet and phone service with Comcast that wasn’t worth the monthly fee, especially since we weren’t watching much live television. With the arrival of Verizon’s fiber optic internet service in our neighborhood, it was a good time to consider alternatives.

First, I called Comcast to see if there was a way to lower our monthly bill. They told me that was impossible. Even if we completely eliminated our cable TV service, we wouldn’t save money (the combined price of Comcast’s internet and phone service bought separately would be almost as much as what we were paying for internet, phone and television as a bundle). 

Like Comcast, Verizon offers its best deals to new customers. Unfortunately, most of these deals weren’t as good as they first appeared. For example, to get TV through Verizon, you pay an additional fee for every television you hook up. That makes sense, except that Verizon assesses this additional fee even if you’ve only got one television! I believe this is known as “chutzpah”. (“Since you don’t actually have a television, you can get Verizon cable TV for the advertised price!”)

It turned out that even with an introductory offer, we’d pay Verizon almost as much as Comcast if we got Verizon’s phone and television services in addition to the internet. So our best option was to buy as little as possible from Verizon. That meant getting their internet service and nothing else. The good news was that Verizon offered a faster internet connection than Comcast for the same amount of money (and installation was free).

Not wanting to give up our current home phone number, we then signed up with Ooma, an internet phone company. Ooma doesn’t charge a monthly fee. You buy one of their boxes up front. You also pay a fee if you want to keep your old number. After that, you pay Ooma a few dollars each month (in our case, $4) to cover federal and state taxes. 

Finally, there was the television problem. Many people don’t realize you can still get a lot of channels free with an antenna connected to your TV, kind of like the old days. It’s called OTA (“Over The Air”) television now. The bad news is that the broadcast signals aren’t as strong as they used to be. I looked at a Federal Communications Commission website to see which channels are available where we live. There weren’t very many. even though we’re only 20 miles from a big city. A quick experiment with a borrowed antenna confirmed that we would need an expensive antenna up on the roof to get more than one or two channels. 

That led us to Roku, an internet streaming service. Like Ooma, our new phone company, you buy one of their boxes up front. If you stick with the free channels, there is no monthly fee. And the free channels could be sufficient, since Roku has more than 2,000 of them. The bad news is that maybe 1% of Roku’s free channels are worth watching. For example, about 1/3 of them are devoted to religious programming, and looking at their many “special interest” channels didn’t reveal anything interesting.

The Roku website isn’t very clear about it, but what you get free is easy access to loads and loads of videos that can be played whenever you want. Very few channels have live feeds. For instance, you can watch videos from PBS and the Smithsonian Channel. You can also watch video segments from the network news shows.

For live news, you have the BBC and Sky News (also British) and a strange collection of American stations (in case you want to watch the local news from Sacramento or Little Rock). If you want to watch much live television or so-called “premium” cable channels, Roku says “the service may require additional fees”. However, so far as I could see, the “may” in that sentence always means “does”. If you already subscribe to something like Netflix or Showtime, you can access those channels through the Roku device.

In conclusion, we’re happy so far. We may eventually spend a bit more to add some live television (some sports, in particular), but for now our total monthly payment is $90 less than before. Taking into account the Ooma and Roku boxes we bought, the Ooma phone number transfer fee, and some new internet security software (Verizon doesn’t include security software in its standard package like Comcast does), and then spreading those costs over two years, we’ll still be saving $75 every month.

One other note: I didn’t have to tell Comcast that we’re moving to Iceland in order to easily disconnect our account. Fortunately, once I told them we’d already switched to Verizon, there wasn’t much to talk about.