We pay $163 for cable TV and high speed internet service. That bothers me, because, for every month we pay $163 now, it means one month we won’t have $163 after we retire. When my wife and I get too old to work and only have a fixed income, we will probably wish for all those frivolous dollars we once spent.
I know quite a number of young people earning little and older people, either retired, or near retirement age, earning little, that have given up cable and/or Internet access. I’ve also read it’s one of the first bills to cut when families are downsizing because of the economy. A lot of young people I know never seemed to develop the cable addition that folks my age have acquired. So they will spend big dollars on cell phones and Internet, but scrimp on TV. I also know a number of people now that have no cable TV at all. Others have given up house phones and Internet too.
If you combine the house phone bill, cell phones bills, Internet access and the cable/satellite TV bill, telecommunication becomes a huge piece of the monthly budget pie. In our household, it’s bigger than the utility bill or car notes we had in the past, second only to the mortgage. Last night I watch ABC World News, three episodes of Weeds from a Netflix disc, and recorded an old black and white movie off of TCM. We pay $4 a day for our cable. Much of what I watch could be had from over-the-air TV or Netflix.
I have helped a number of women in their fifties set up digital TV boxes so they could watch free TV. This is the absolute cheapest way to have TV, but you only get a handful of channels. Depending on signal, indoor antennas can be easy to use or annoying. So far I haven’t met anyone wanting to spend the money on an outdoor antenna. If you’re lucky, you can get ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, FOX and several other digital stations in HD. This free option does make life much simpler. And when the antenna works well, I’m very impressed with the quality of the picture.
Free TV + Netflix
Upping the budget to $8.99 a month, you can get a Netflix subscription and see nearly all movies and a good selection of premium cable shows like Big Love, Mad Men and True Blood, but just delayed by several months. Most cable TV shows now come out on DVD, so if can wait for your favorite shows, you can watch them in order and without commercials. This offers the best selection for the least money.
Free TV + Netflix + Internet
If you’re willing to budget another $25-50 for DSL or cable Internet, you can expand your options even more. If you must have the Internet, then this option is a no-brainer. Trying to find low-cost Internet access is hard. There are $10 monthly modem services, but they require a house phone, and many people have ditched landlines to save dough. I have heard it’s possible to get low-cost DSL without local phone service but it’s a difficult option to arrange since AT&T and Baby Bells push bundled services. And if you crave the Internet, then you usually crave fast Internet, and that’s about $50 a month.
Now, if you have fast Internet, and you’re willing to be a Do-It-Yourselfer, you can buy or build a Home Theater PC. This gives you a DVR plus access to streaming TV and downloadable video, including high definition videos. Think of this as free, on-demand, Internet TV. Hundreds of thousands of people are experimenting with this now, and cable companies are getting worried. Internet video quality is constantly improving, with HD becoming common.
With free services like Boxee, Miro and Vuze and a HDMI or DVI cable from your laptop or computer to your HD TV, you can develop your own free on-demand TV library or select from a large lineup of streaming network shows.
Video is quickly becoming the new medium for communicating over the web. People have been watching video on their computer screens for years, but now people are finding ways to make their computers into set-top boxes connected to their TVs and controlled by remotes, so they can watch TV as God intended, from the comforts of their La-Z-Boy.
Cable and satellite TV providers are worried that the Internet will soon provide people with all the TV they want and they will be out of business. You’d think they’d want to offer a better service for less money to compete. Follow this link to a Google search for many articles about living without cable TV. A lot of people are doing it. I like the concept of cable TV, so I won’t be abandoning it just yet, at least not until season 2 of True Blood is finished. I just want to find ways to bring down the cost of cable, but if I can’t, I’ll consider abandoning it completely.
Cable/Satellite TV “a la carte”
People often wonder why they can’t lower their cable bill by just buying the channels they love to watch. Most people watch a handful of favorite channels but have to wade through hundreds of TV and other cable services they just don’t want. I get 200+ channels but probably watch less than 12.
There’s two obstacles to this problem. One, if people bought only what they wanted, many cable networks would go out of business, so cable providers fight this option. Second, as long as cable companies must provide analog channels, those stations you get when you plug your cable wire directly into your cable-ready TV and scan the channels, then they can’t sell channels separately. When cable companies go to 100% digital, a la carte buying will be technically possible.
Right now, a la carte channel buying is not possible, so it’s only a dream option to save money.
My Dream TV and Cable Internet Service
I don’t mind paying for what I want. I think my current $163 cable/internet bill is too high! It should be closer to $75. What I would love is a perfect convergence of TV and Internet. I want to buy a la carte just the exact TV networks I want, and I want to own my own equipment so I can customize it. I’d like a Home Theater PC that played and burned DVDs/Blu-Ray discs, was a DVR recorder for 2 terabytes of shows, played all my own digital media, including MP3 songs, JPG photographs and any collected videos I made or bought, plus streamed music and videos from the Internet. That means my entertainment system would consist of a TV, home theater PC and speakers, all controlled by one remote. That would simplify my setup greatly, and save electricity. Right now I have:
- HDTV, with remote
- DVR/cable box with remote
- Receiver with remote
- Media player with remote
- Blu-ray player with remote
- CD/SACD player with remote
My wife bought me a very nice Logitech programmable universal remote, but I never liked it. Life was so much easier back when I was growing up. We had one TV, three channels and no remotes. Life has gotten too complicated. I dream of living with one remote and no more than 12 fantastic high-definition TV channels with no damn commercials. Infinite variety could come from Internet TV. With fewer TV networks, the quality of TV production should go up. I would get better shows for my time and money.
JWH – 8/14/9