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No More Cable TV For Me

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Well, we went and did it. As of today, the Verizon FiOS TV service we’d been mostly enjoying for almost three years is suspended. We’re not replacing it with cable or satellite television, either. The normal TV service is effectively turned off.

I’m scared and nervous and excited all at once. It’s been nearly seven years since I didn’t have a reliable 100+ channel TV service, and back then I was literally eating pancakes for dinner most evenings (and for lunch, when I could afford it, I was having McDonalds).

I say “suspended” because it’s not actually canceled just yet. I suspect we’ll go through with canceling it, but in the meantime we have two (or possibly nine) months to decide without being charged for the service (or the DVRs, or the multitude of taxes…). I was prepared for a termination fee upwards of $200, but I got another option when I called to make the change.

Calling the TV company

When making any changes to your TV (or phone, or Internet) service, always call instead of clicking around online. I have a near phobia of talking to strangers on the phone, but I force myself to do this, because the results are always better. Kelly recently wrote about how persistence pays off, and I have no doubt it’s all true, but I also find that being polite and patient can work wonders.

So I called Verizon and described the situation: “we’re interested in turning off the TV service for at least six months as an experiment to see if we can live without it”. I made an initial call to get a price estimate and check out all the options, since we still wanted to keep the home phone and Internet service. I called back later and was pleasantly surprised to talk to someone who mentioned that if we simply suspend the TV service instead of shutting it off, we can avoid the early termination fee. (I’m sure the business objective here is “more than 0% of the TV suspenders will simply forget they didn’t cancel, and we can start charging them again”. The gentleman I spoke to wasn’t sure if the suspension was good for two or for nine months, so I set a reminder on my calendar to call back and check in 48 days.)

We’ll avoid the fee even if we still do decide to turn it off before the suspension is over, because they’ll only penalize you with the early termination fee within the first four months of the start of a new contract, which we started almost four months ago.

NOTE: Anything in the previous two paragraphs might turn out to be false. I trust Verizon’s Billing Department as far as my dog can spit. Furthermore, I will not be surprised to come home later and find that the Internet and phone were shut off, and that Verizon has lost all record of me ever being a customer. They’ve done that to me before, and it’s one of the reasons I had a black mark on my credit report for years and years.

Multiple replacements

This isn’t to say that we’ll be without TV. I’m finally happy with the way I’ve got a computer hooked into the TV, and between:

I honestly don’t think we’ll be missing any of the shows we currently enjoy.

By the way, have you heard of Boxee? I’ve been experimenting with it for months, and next month it’ll finally be in Beta. Here’s an intro video:

That’s what the alpha Boxee looks like. The beta screenshots are quite different, but it looks even more usable.

Yesterday, I also hooked up an over-the-air tuner to the computer, in case we need to watch live TV for some emergency reason like a tornado or what-have-you. I suspect our plan of “watch almost nothing live” wouldn’t work well for people who enjoy watching sporting events, but even so, there have been occasions when an event is big enough that Boxee will carry it live. In a pinch, we could always watch something in a browser window, though that’s not very elegant.

How much are we saving, then?

Remarkably, this will save us about $100 a month (although it remains to be seen how much we’ll spend through iTunes). That’s a stupid amount of money just for TV service, and I’m hoping our experiment works out, because I’m looking forward to saving that money for a long time hence.

What else will change?

I also suspect that this will change our watching habits somewhat. Currently, we’re not a family who sits down in order to watch anything at all that we can find. We’re not channel-flippers. We have a list of shows we like, and we don’t watch things we don’t like. Of course, you have to give new shows a fair audition (four episodes maximum, I’d say), and sometimes my wife will want something on in the background while she’s working at the house, which I suspect will largely be filled with Netflix offerings.

But I think that we might gradually tend toward even more careful viewing. I suppose we’ll have to: there will no longer be an on-screen guide of “what’s on now”. We’ll have to think harder about what we want to watch. Or we might decide in a few months that no, in fact, this is not for us, please give us our TV back. I will, as always, keep you updated.

Incidentally, two nights ago we watched some TV shows without skipping commercials for old time’s sake. It was just as maddening as I remember.

Published or updated December 11, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeff@MySuperChargedLife

I haven’t had cable or anything besides “free” television for several years now. The good side-effect is that I spend way less time watching it. This frees me up to do more important things like spending time with my family and being creative. It is scary at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll probably never go back.

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avatar James

Nice. No need to pay for cable when so much content is free on the internet these days.

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avatar Ray

Hi, I was just reading up about the netflix streaming on xbox 360 and had a few questions for you. I was wondering if on top of your netflix subscription do you have to pay an extra $5.95 a month, or whatever it is now, for xbox live gold membership? Or can you stream without it? Also I have heard the Playstation 3 has netflix as well and from what I understand the online is free. Maybe someone could do a review of them both?

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)
avatar Marc

For 4 months this last summer I was working a project out of town. I had OTA Digital in a poor reception area and received NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS from a rooftop antennae.

Got used to it and did not miss the 100+ channels that I have now and probably only watch 10-12 on a regular basis, if that many.

Plus only Internet was Dial up, unless I wanted to go to a local coffee shop for wi-fi. With images turned off in Firefox I could do the basics – e-mail, banking and so forth.

I learned I could go back in time without a problem.

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avatar Forest

I have been without Tv as such now for nearly 3 years and I hardly miss it at all. The net has pretty much enough entertainment for me and I can choose what I read / watch easily.

I will have to try out Boxee, it looks great.

Thanks,
Forest.

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avatar wayne

there is also Amazon Video On Demand for content. I have not used it myself. I did receive a $3 credit toward it if I choose to for buying some mp3.

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avatar mdnola504

“I suppose we’ll have to: there will no longer be an on-screen guide of “what’s on now”. We’ll have to think harder about what we want to watch.”

You might want to look at MythTV for digital over the air TV. It’s free but with a $10 per YEAR subscription to zap-2-it you CAN have an on-screen guide. MythTV also has DVR auto-recording of shows, and commercial skip as well. I use MythTV for PBS and the major networks and Boxee for anything I can’t get over the air. The combo works really well for me. Can’t wait for the new Boxee beta next month, as well. Over the air is HD as well and looks way better than anything my local cable provide offers with their horrible compression ratios.

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avatar Julie

We ditched our cable a few months ago and have been nothing but happy. We have a Mac Mini plugged in to our TV and can use Hulu, Boxee, or any content available in a web browser (without having to hack into the OS or hardware, the biggest reason we avoided the Apple TV). We also have been ripping all our DVDs (ones we own, not ones we rent) to an external hard drive connected to the Mini so we can watch our hundreds of movies and TV show show seasons on demand without even having to change a disk. The only thing we miss is sports, and that’s maybe a couple hours a week or so tops of viewing so… not a huge loss. We only turn the TV on when there’s something we have consciously chosen to watch on (as opposed to surfing or watching whatever happens to be on), and we spend a lot more time reading, talking, visiting friends, working on personal projects, etc. We’re much more productive now – there’s always something else to do besides watch TV, and now it’s even less of a distraction.

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avatar RainyDaySaver

One word of advice with Verizon — we did the same thing with our phone service last year, “suspending” it, so we could hold our phone number just in case we decided to reinstate the service. What they neglected to mention was that there was a MONTHLY FEE for suspending it for a few months. Make sure you’re not being charged for this!

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avatar Anthony

I’m always surprised to hear how much people are paying for their television service. My TV, Internet, and phone bundled are $80 a month. I have digital and HD TV with 100+ channels, unlimited area code/local area dialing, and decent speed for the Internet.

But to the point here, *I* watch only NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS anyways. I could probably get rid of my TV service although. However, my wife likes some of the extra channels… so we still have the service. And it’s comparatively cheap from what I can tell.

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avatar conedude13

i have basic “antenna service” from comcast for $10 a month. this gives us channels 2-23. and, since i have the internet package, comcast gives us a $10 a month discount because of the 2 packages we have with them.

The most major piece of equipment i bought, however, was a d-link media lounge. this, i LOVE!! Any thing that is on my computer can be wirelessly played on my tv with this thing! that means no running cables, no extra flash programs and no watching something off of a laptop.

check it http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=438 feel free to ask plenty of questions. i recommend this to everyone that is cutting the cable.

Oh, and i have netflix. we got the $18 plan with 3 dvd’s at one time. and the beauty of netflix is that you have have sub-accounts. so i have my own queue, then the wife with hers and then the 2 kids with there’s. each queue gets 1 dvd at a time and all the ratings are separate AND we have the streaming feature!! but we only have a wii and there isn’t a streaming disc for that one just yet. but were ok with the laptops for the streaming for now.

GOOD LUCK!

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avatar Financial Samurai

Donno Smithee, it’s not worth saving $100/month for me. I LOVE the home theatre, surround sound experience. Watching an awesome TV show or movie on a computer just sucks.

It’s easier to focus on making $100 extra a month in this case.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

We’re not watching it on a computer, we’re watching it through the computer, projected via our used HD projector onto a cheap-o $75 92″ screen.

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avatar Steve O.

I like Financial Samurai’s take on this one.

As much as I continue to see good arguments for ditching paid TV and switch to web based solutions for a while, I never see a good solution for watching live sports. Fact is, they don’t really offer live streams. Even if they did I’m not sure I’d want to do it that way.

Sports really is the deal breaker for me. If it wasn’t for that, I might just make the switch Smithee made.

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avatar Financial Samurai

Steve O – Of course, how could I forget SPORTS! Nothing is better than watching my favorite college football or basketball team on ESPN or whatever. It’s apart of Americana, and watching sports is a must for me.

In fact, I would argue that those who don’t watch sports, and don’t know what’s going on have a large career and monetary disadvantage. It’s all about finding common grounds and building relationships. Sports is one key way!

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

I don’t doubt that finding common ground over sports is a key way to build relationships. But it’d better not be the only way, ’cause that won’t be happening in my lifetime. This isn’t out of stubbornness, please understand. I simply don’t care who wins. I never have. It’s just not in my DNA.

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avatar MBAbriefs

Good for you. I still have cable but never watch cable TV, I prefer to use Hulu, Netflix On Demand, and Comcast On Demand. My kids are getting used to watching shows on demand and now my 2 year old can’t understand why he can’t watch Diego and Dora anytime he wants to. I also don’t have any use for live local news because I can look up whatever I want online (plus the news is always bad anyway!).

I hope your experiment works for you and your family. I’ve heard it takes 28 days for a new activity to become a habit, so after a month without cable TV it should feel normal to not have it anymore.

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avatar Evan

Is there nothing between $0 and $100 for Cable TV? If not I am going to have to agree with FS…NFL is just to important!

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avatar Scott

You may also want to try WebTaps (www.WebTaps.com). It turns Firefox into an HDTV web browser for people with a PC connected to their TV. You can navigate the web using a wireless mouse from across the room. It even has a integrated virtual keyboard that automatically appears or hides depending on the website you are currently viewing.

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avatar Andrew @ Earn Give Save

We’re always trying to figure out this problem! AT&T U-verse is currently our TV and internet provider, and it’s really an excellent product. We’d only get rid of it if we thought we could live without the Food Network and Golf Channel. Every point you made about content available online is totally accurate, and what I’m really hoping is that content providers will make this decision for us. I enjoy aspects of a la carte programming and of the traditional TV channel format, but I don’t want to pay for 200 channels, 95% of which I don’t need. Boxee, Roku, etc. are all very promising.

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avatar G

We had comcast with hbo, showtime, two hd dvrs and were spending $165 a month until four months ago. that is $2,000 a year.

Here is the alternative we implemented: Boxxu, Hulu and netflix streaming like you. Also I got a PC to make into a HT PC, which was actually dirt chap, it streams OTA, Netflix, our own collection of about 2 TB of movies, and anything off the internet to any monitor in the house, not just out two TVs but also to our two PC, our laptop and even my HTC touch pro phone! I got a $40 winegard 1080HD antenna at amazon, and a good OTA signal splitter.

Cost of all the new equipment and yearly subscriptions is about $1,100. We already had an xbox and a legacy blockbuster subscription.

We are saving $900 per year this year (after equip purchase) and $1,650 next year!

Out two year plan is to get comcast for two months each year with hbo and shotime to catch series we miss if they are not out on DVD. Comcast reinstall is just $30 and we can get hbo and showtime for $80 a month.

Costs:
Four months of comcast hbo+showtime HD for two month pop: ($30+80+80) $190
Dedicated HT PC with Digtial HD OTA Tuner/DVR and a TB: $650
OTA outdoor antenna, cabling and distributed amp splitter whcih gets us 50 HD and Digital channels: $100
Netflix streaming through existing xbox with xbox live: $150/year
Blockbuster subscription: Existing already N/a

yearly recurring costs (netflix, two months of comcastHBO/SHO): $340

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avatar Jim

Personally, I think that we are all being played for fools by paying the going rates for cable, satellite, etc. In the end, it’s just some TV shows we are talking about after all.

And really, is there really anything on TV that you “can’t live without”?

We currently have Dish Network (and an antenna for our local channels). I have been trying to convince my wife that we need to dump the dish and just use the antenna and our laptop that I already have hooked up to the TV. Everything we watch is either off of the antenna, or available for free (at Hulu, etc) or available on itunes for a price that is much less than we are paying a month for TV.

Maybe someday I will talk her into trying a “pay-TV free” lifestyle. :)

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