This is Part 1 of my 3 Part Series
Part 1 Examines Our Reasons to Cut The Cord
Introduction to “Cutting the Cord”
‘Cutting the Cord’ has become kind of a catch phrase which means ending the relationship with your current TV and oftentimes Internet service provider. The second part of this implies that you procure your own hardware to provide similar services. The state of technology has finally improved enough to make this possible for TV service…Internet service however, is still a service that generally requires an outside provider.
- Part 1 | Our Current Environment
Part 1 is a fairly detailed analysis of what we currently pay and what we get for our money. It’s an overview of our services and usage, as well as a bit of historical information to set the context. I’ve also included detailed data about how much we currently pay, some of the problems we experience, and how much we could potentially save. Future posts will include:
- Part 2 | Our Options & Costs for Cutting the Cord
Part 2 will look at the options available to us as cord cutting alternatives as well as a detailed look at the costs involved.
- Part 3 | How to Cut the Cord | A Step By Step Plan
Part 3 will describe the steps we’ll take to accomplish our cord cutting strategy. I’ll include links to the equipment we chose, I’ll reiterate costs when necessary and lay out a step by step plan for how we’ll setup and begin operating our new inhome OTA (over the air) television viewing system.
In this article I describe in fairly intricate detail (probably in way too much detail!) what out current setup is for cable television and Internet service. Our provider is Time Warner Cable (TWC) and I’m going into this kind of detail so that we as well as other people can recognize many of the hidden costs involved, and also so everyone can understand what they should really expect to receive from a cable provider. Our circumstances are fairly normal I think, therefore relatable to most families in the US.
Photo credit: mhiguera via Visual Hunt / CC BY
We’ve been considering ‘cutting the cord‘ for several years now. Why? First & foremost because our cable bills are ginormous!
Currently our combined cable television and internet service runs about $300 a month. (TWC) Time Warner Cable is the only cable provider in our area. Other than TWC we have DIRECT TV and Dish as the 2 satellite dish alternatives here. There aren’t really alot of other choices. AT&T does offer a UVerse option, but it’s extremely limited in both TV and Internet options. Also AT&T merged with Dish not too long ago, so that may dramatically change the environment.
The really sad news about our ginormous monthly cable bills is that currently we’re operating under an annual discount program! That program will run out very soon, (maybe in 2 months time) and our bills will jump up to almost $350+/month when our plan ends.
What Do We Get For $300 a Month from Time Warner Cable?
- 3 DVR’s – these are ‘whole house’ DVR’s which essentially cost double the price of a typical cable box. You need to have a box of some kind to be able to order any ‘on demand’ content, like ‘Pay per View’ movies…although we rarely use this feature. The DVR’s are supposed to work together to share recorded content across our whole house. In reality it’s a very buggy, glitchy system which has never worked well. We waste so much time trying to get the DVR’s talking to each other. Also several DVR’s don’t allow us to fast forward through commercials anymore…kind of defeating the purpose! (When we try to do it the show goes back to the beginning!) We spend too much time meeting with repair guys and the end result is always the same…nothing changes!
- ‘Ultimate-High Speed’ Broadband Internet – our published speeds should be 50 Mbps down and 5 up
That’s it! That’s what we get for our $300 (soon to be $350) a month expenditure! Oh…I forgot, we have HBO too. We should cancel that since we really don’t use it anymore.
How Much $ Money We’d Save:
- According to our extremely confusing bills we pay nothing for our ultra high speed internet!
- According to online price advertisements this probably should cost us around $65-75 per month.
So if we take the higher (more conservative) $75 per month estimate, we’d save at least:
- $225 per month
- $2700 a year
- So in just 5 years we’d save $13,500
- $27,000 is how much we’d save in 10 years time assuming no price increases by TWC (Time Warner Cable)
That of course is a worst case scenario…in reality we’d be saving much more. Because don’t forget our discount package is running out…and prices just keep going up even when nothing changes. So in a still safely conservative estimate of $350 per month the final numbers are even more significant.
Truer Reality-Based Estimate
- $275 a month savings
- $3300 a year savings
- $16,500 for 5 years
- $33,000 over 10 years (that’s assuming no other price increases…which is clearly not going to happen!)
I think I’ve just convinced myself…WE NEED TO CUT THE CORD!
How Did Our Monthly Bill Get So Big?
Prior to our ’empty nesting years’ we slowly added services. As our kids got older they wanted or needed better internet speeds for gaming and homework or TV’s in more rooms for viewing alone or with friends. But now we don’t need all that, so in recent years we’ve cut back our services just to lower our bills. It used to be that $200 per month was the breaking point for me…now apparently it’s become $300 per month!
I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN THAT CHANGED!
The whys and how’s of it elude me too!
It seems like I took my eyes off of it for a brief moment and BAM!!! $200 changed to $300! So we’ve eliminated some DVR’s. But now there’s not much left that we can get rid of…we have 3 TVs that we use.
- Our main floor has a family room and a study. We got rid of the family room DVR the last time we needed to get our bills below $300….so now we just have the study DVR left. This is the DVR that we use the most…at least once per day.
The other 2 TV’s are used less but we really like having them.
- One DVR is in the basement in our work out area…it’s a huge incentive to actually work out, and if we removed it I think our physical fitness might deteriorate. Watching TV makes working out bearable!
- The 3rd DVR is in a room we call the library…it’s sort of like a 2nd family room really. It’s a place someone can go to watch something if someone else is watching the main TV in the study. The basement workout room is less desirable for general TV viewing…especially since the mice moved in! (ok, I began writing this a while ago…the mice problem is solved!)
Personally, I don’t think 3 TV’s is an excessive number. Growing up we had more and my elderly parents also use 3 TV’s. But they do live in a condominium association that includes ‘free’ cable for everyone. We don’t.
Details About Our Free Ultra High Speed Internet Service
Our internet plan is the highest bandwidth plan offered by TWC in our area. It’s stated speeds are 50 Mbps Up and 5 down. In the screenshot below our plan is the top one on the left…its currently $65 per month but I’m going with $75 because TWC always adds on a ton of extra charges on top of their basic rates…so even $75 per month is probably a conservative estimate.
Hidden Costs Related to Hardware |
TWC is widely known for publishing online prices which don’t bear any resemblance to reality! In addition to nickel and diming their customers for every minute charge they can think up, they also pass on mind bogglingly small amounts that accrue to become big ones which they attribute to ‘government fees and surcharges’. Existing TWC customers know that the $64.99 shown above is really just a suggested starting point for TWC to build upon for billing purposes.
They charge for every piece of equipment that you may use and oftentimes there’s a separate monthly charge for each little bit of code or software that runs each. Knowing this we decided to purchase our own modem rather than renting theirs. An added benefit was that ours would allow better speeds overall (improvements to our throughput were noticeable) and reduced costs even more.
My Side Note (you can easily skip)
TWC employees, in general, seem to be cut from a very unique kind of cloth. Rarely have we failed to be impressed by the innovative solutions suggested to us by their field reps and sometimes even their phone support! I think that the kind of people who last there have learned the ins and outs of working within the confines of the massive corporation. So, while I’d like to take credit for the modem idea…it wasn’t mine…it’s really attributable to one of their employees.
Actual Internet Speeds | General Factors Which Impact ISP’s Speed
Neighborhood Factors |
You may be wondering why we need the highest level of service that TWC offers for just the 2 people. The first reason is that we tend to have visitors frequently…so the ‘2 people rule’ doesn’t always apply.
But the main the reason why is because the published speeds we should receive aren’t actually our reality. Meaning that oftentimes those published speeds don’t even remotely resemble our actual speeds. Below is my highly simplified explanation for the actual speeds that we get from our plan.
Roughy 10 years ago TWC buried a humungous cable in our backyard that connects to the closest telephone pole serving cable to our neighborhood, At the end of this monster cable they put a little lock box. There are maybe 5 to 6 neighbors that all hookup to the connection in this lock box…at least that’s what we’ve been told…in discussing this with neighbors there are some discrepancies making us think that this may not be entirely true. But, there are at least some other households sharing our cable lines…even if we don’t know exactly how many that may be. So the main cable serving what originally was intended to be just our house is now immediately divided up several ways…quite possibly up to 5 or 6 ways.
Furthermore, there’s a huge and noticeable difference in speed depending upon the time of day. The most noticeable difference occurs between daytime hours when schools are in session and the hours after school kids have arrived home. This difference averages around 50%, meaning that our daytime speeds are roughly double what they are in the late afternoon and evening hours when kids are home from school.
Internal Factors | What Impacts Speed Most Inside Our Home |
Hardware Firewall Appliances |
Everything on our home network runs through a hardware firewall. The overall impact is this takes another big hit to the speed that we ultimately experience. Our actual speed, also called our real throughput by the firewall people, is almost halved by our firewall.
Why do we use a firewall? Because the firewall blocks most viruses, malware, crypto locking stuff as well as lots of other dangerous things that typical antivirus software might not recognize. These bad things never even make it to our antivirus software…because they are blocked from entering our home network at the main gateway. This is by far the safest scenario possible to operate a home or small office computer network in.
Anyone who’s ever experienced a major network intrusion be it a botnet, a network-wide virus or crypto-locking event in which their data is locked an attempt to exhort a fee to unlock it…understands why a hardware firewall makes sense. But it does adversely impact speed from the get go…that main gateway is sort of a bottleneck because every bit and byte has to be examined before its allowed to enter. We understand the consequences and feel that they are well worth it for reasons much to lengthy to get into here.
Wired Versus Wireless Connections |
Back to speed issues…next of course our speed is further reduced by splitting it up amongst several devices. Those devices that are lucky enough to be hooked up with an Ethernet cable (called hardwired connections) enjoy the fastest speeds or throughputs. Those that connect up to our network wirelessly, using the wireless network created by access points which connect to our firewall (or most people’s modem in a more typical environment) lose some additional speed because data traveling through the air is slower than data which travels through wires.
Since we primarily use iPads at home, we are generally connecting via the wireless network. Thus on any given day when most kids are home from school, our network throughput averages about 11 Mbps.
So, as you can see, although 50 down and 5 up is what we pay for, that’s not even close to the speeds we actually experience.
Speed Test We Used
SpeedOf.Me Lite speed test This is how I measured our average speed.
Additional Costs Buried Within Billing Statements |
More Hidden Costs in TWC Bill’s |
I’m certain that companies like TWC who provide comprehensive services, go out of their way to make their bills as confusing and frustrating as possible. If customers can’t even read and understand their bill, they tend to not question them. They don’t want to come off looking ignorant by asking questions about it. That plus the fact that it’s just plain time consuming is the reason that most people won’t bother to call big corporations out on their obnoxious billing practices. We use the ‘1/2 day rule’ as our general rule-of-thumb in deciding whether or not we should call up TWC to discuss any problems…if we don’t have at least 1/2 of a day available, we don’t call or we’ll wait until we do.
Additional Outside Costs Incurred |
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu & Showtime
These are the extra costs we incur above and beyond what we pay to TWC on a monthly basis. We subscribe to Netflix streaming which costs us $7.99 per month. We pay from Amazon Prime which costs $99 per year, or $8.33 per month. We just subscribed to the new standalone Showtime streaming service which, after our 30 day free trial will run us either $9.99 or $11.99 a month…that’s a little unclear. More recently in anticipation of our realizing our ‘cord cutting’ goal, we subscribed to the commercial free Hulu plan which costs us $7.99 a month.
The total monthly costs we pay for outside streaming services are $34 per month.
In any given month our extra fees for on-demand viewing, which are primarily incurred via Amazon or M-Go (M-Go is another streaming service that’s become pretty popular amongst Roku users for streaming TV shows and movies on demand…but is also available via Samsung TV’s and others I’m sure,) are around $10-20 per month.
Additional Considerations |
If the services that we receive from Time Warner Cable were exemplary I don’t think that we’d have as much of a problem shelling out $300+ a month to watch TV and have an Internet connection. Unfortunately, the services that we receive from TWC are far from exemplary. I wish I could say that things are generally great…but that’s just not true.
We have such slow internet speeds that frequently we find it to impossible the stream something from HBO or Showtime. In the last 2 months there have been a few times when even Netflix said it couldn’t stream!
As a General Rule: Your Internet Speed Has to be Really Awful for Netflix to Grind to a Halt!
Outside Factors Impacting Recent Speed Problems |
We believe that many of our recent speed issues are directly due to Apple and how iCloud aggressively hogs bandwidth inside our home. But even knowing that, if our actual speeds remotely resembled the published ones that we pay for, iClouds aggressive tactics would become a non-issue…or at least less of an issue!
Historical Information | Deterioration of Internet Speed Over Time |
Prior to TWC’s burying the monster cable in our back yard the cable to our house was buried under a very thin layer of rock and dirt on a little private road leading to our house. Frequently when large and heavy trucks drove down our road (and over the buried cable) it was severed…which meant that we had no internet and no television service until it was spliced and buried again. Most often this seemed to happen late on Friday afternoons so we entered many, many weekends with the knowledge that we’d have no TV and no internet until at least Monday…but more often until the following Wednesday or Thursday when a service person could be sent out.
Our setting is what I call metro/rural. We’re in a semi-remote suburb of a large city, surrounded by a lot of trees and woods in an area that’s generally flat topographically. The only other environmental factor that’s somewhat unique is that we’re bordered on one side by a Great Lake, so that cuts out one direction of potential service provider options.
The lightly-buried cable situation drove us nuts! It took perhaps 5 years for TWC to ultimately remedy that situation…but when they did, their efforts appeared to be impressive. They needed a special truck which arrived from a town located about 3 1/2 hours away which they used for burrowing beneath the ground going through or around tree roots and rocks, and, you name it…that truck burrowed under anything it seemed…to our back yard.
Initially we were thrilled to finally have a cable that wasn’t subject to the whims of heavy trucks…but overtime our service began to decline. Through a combination of decreased speed for unknown reasons, the addition of neighbors to our line and a new intermittent problem which arose…which appeared as deteriorated speeds or complete interruption of service during inclement weather (rain or snow) our situation degraded rather rapidly.
So, as it stands right now…if all of our neighborhood’s kids are in school and it’s not raining or snowing outside, we experience so-so Internet speeds.
Photo Credit: minoru karamatsu(柄松 稔) via Visual hunt / CC BY
A Few More Problems with our DVR’s |
One additional problem that cropped up with our whole house DVR system began about a year ago and its continued to frustrate us to no end for about a year.
When we were watching a television show that was recorded, we couldn’t pause the program. If we tried to pause it, when we tried to resume it, the screen flickered for a moment and then we were knocked out of the show entirely. When we went back and attempted to find where we’d left off, it was impossible to determine the point in the show that we had been at. There was no history showing us how much of the show we’d already viewed,
We had 2 different Time Warner repair people out to look at the problem, taking 2 entire afternoons of my time, yet they diidn’t seem to have a clue as to what caused the problem. Yet both concurred that we would need to return or exchange all of our DVR’S to remedy it!
Those are really drastic measures for what seemed to be a minor problem! Exchanging all of our DVR’S isn’t something we wanted to do because we’d lose all of our recorded content. And it wasn’t just one DVR…they said it had to be all of them. Everyone at TWC feigned ignorance of any knowledge of this problem outside of our home. We were told no one else in the entire TWC universe had ever experienced this problem…nor did any internet searches pull up additional information…so we kind of believed them.
However, a short time later, all of the software on our DVR’S was updated extensively…lo and behold, the problem disappeared!
This tells me that TWC acted in an Apple-esque manner. They denied a known problem leading us to believe that we were the only ones experiencing it. They provided only one drastic solution…a complete wipe of all data…and then they secretly fixed it after they figured it out!
Sadly, it wasn’t too many months later when our next problem arose. The one I mentioned earlier that doesn’t allow us to fast forward through TV commercials.
So, it’s those kinds of tactics and situations that really, really bother us. We deal with those types of tactics daily from Appple, and the knowledge that that’s how TWC operates too gives us even more fodder for advancing the argument that we need to cut the cable, and we need to do it asap.
We could keep our same internet speed from TWC and we could save about $3300 per year if we cut the cord from them for television programming.
Links to More Information: