This month marks two years of independence for me. Twenty-four months ago, I cut the cable cord to my TV and never looked back. I save an estimated $600 to $800 a year and have more completely legal televised programming available to me than I can possibly watch.
But it doesn't come easily. When I had cable TV, I had a single supplier for all my TV content. I turned on the TV and the cable box and used the remote to select channels and on demand movies. It was simple, reliable and robust. Now my content comes from subscription Internet-based services like Netflix, a la carte online services like iTunes and even over the air broadcast reception through an old-fashioned rabbit ear antenna. It's functional, and fun in a pioneering way, but there's no getting around the fact that it's work. Cable TV is being served breakfast in bed, albeit for a price. Cutting the cord is having to go into the kitchen to make breakfast yourself.
That might explain why by last year in Canada a mere 100,000 households had cut the cord, with a similar number expected to follow this year, according to a December 2011 Canadian Press story. According to that report, more of us are intrigued about becoming cord cutters, especially to save money, but we're a fragment of the overall 11.7 million TV subscribers glued to their screens across the country. In the U.S., where cord cutting is more popular and started earlier thanks to a dazzling array of online video choices, the number of cord cutters is proportionally not much higher.
So why cut the cord? Do the math and consider the cost of a decent standalone high speed Internet connection versus the cost of that connection combined with a very basic television programming package. Shaw offers a High Speed 20 Internet connection with a cap of 200 gigabytes per month for $55. Its Plus Bundle with modest Internet of only 125 gigabytes a month and a "Personal TV" package of basic channels is $114.90 a month, or twice as much as simply having the High Speed 20 plan. That's roughly $660 extra a year.
Telus offers a high speed turbo plan for $52 a month unbundled giving you 250 gigabytes a month, with $2/gigabyte overage charge. The most basic TV package from Telus bundled with either Internet and or phone would be $26 a month. That's an extra $300 a year. The next tier up for a better selection of channels that most people would actually want is $65 a month or an additional $780 a year.
That's a lot of cash adding up annually that could be better spent on RRSPs, nice lunches or airfare to somewhere warm. But before you cut the cord, consider the other cost. You will save money. But you also will say goodbye to most live news, sports and reality TV. Netflix doesn't carry sports. iTunes does not broadcast the live finale of The Bachelorette. Few TV news outlets broadcast live online. (Global B.C., incredibly, runs the online version of its popular News Hour the day after it airs.) Those news outlets like the CBC that do offer live online news deliver their programming through clunky websites with inferior video quality meant to be viewed on conventional computers. Piping that content to your living room TV, which is ultimately where you want to watch, is next to impossible. The same goes for sports programming streamed online.
If you have an impatient spouse or children, you should also think twice about cutting the cord. You will have to buy one or more new devices to get your content and find a place for them and their connecting cords under your TV. Your living room coffee table will be covered in multiple remotes the kids will lose or the dog will chew. And when your partner comes home from a hard day of work and simply wants to watch tonight's episode of Criminal Minds by pushing a single button, have fun explaining to them that, well, we don't do it like that anymore.
Cutting the cord is not for everyone. But here's one final thought: The money saved and the inconvenience accrued aside, telling the cable company or telco to stuff themselves is a rare feeling of freedom for a consumer in our culture. There should be more moments like it.
Next week's column: The hardware you will need to cut the cord. Chances are you already own it.