Cutting the cable

 

My experience with cable, why I canceled and what I use now instead

When I moved into my apartment in 2006, I signed up for high-speed internet and digital cable with Comcast. In Atlanta, the only other cost-effective alternative is DSL through AT&T bundled with satellite through (I believe) DirecTV, and it really wasn’t as good of a deal. Not to mention, because of the location of my apartment, mounting a satellite dish would have been a problem. So in short, Comcast was really my only option.

Over the four years that I was a Comcast subscriber, the problems I had with the service and their support could fill a blog post of their own–extended outages without explanation, maintenance downtime without notice that was clearly scheduled, billing problems, increasing rates for fewer and fewer channels (unless, of course, you paid even more to rent equipment from them), bait-and-switch with the digital transition…the list goes on. I probably should have cancelled almost two years ago when a technician cut our cable instead of that of a neighbor with a delinquent account and it took almost two weeks for Comcast to send out someone to fix it.

Cancelling cable TV

Back in May, when I realized that I was being charged $26 per month for limited basic cable, which didn’t even include C-SPAN, and I assessed my watching habits and realized that everything I watched could be had over the air (and in better quality since Comcast compresses its HD channels so much) or on the internet, I cancelled my TV service. This caused the cost of my internet service to increase, since I was no longer bundling services, but it still saved me $9 per month.

In all fairness, the increasing prices for decreasing product really only applied to the TV service. Over the four years I had internet service with Comcast, I saw a speed increase from 6 Mbps down to 12 Mbps down on the same price tier (which did increase somewhat, but I feel that it was pretty fair for the speed increase). However, over that time, Comcast instituted “network management” practices such as traffic shaping, speed throttling and data caps that effectively made my shiny, new 12 Mbps connection behave as if it was still a 6 Mbps connection (or less) most of the time. I was mostly happy to keep my internet service with Comcast, though, since no one else really offered the speed I was getting for a comparable price, despite the occasional reliability problems.

Cutting the cable entirely

When Andrew and I were looking for a solution that would allow us to share a single internet connection bill between us while I finished grad school and he took a job in another state, we looked into Comcast’s “High Speed To Go” option that would provide moblie internet (through 4G) and wired internet at home. I would keep the wired connection that we’d always had in Atlanta, and he would take the mobile internet dongle for connectivity until I moved also. Checking online, the advertised price for this would have kept our bill at the same rate as for just the home internet, we presumed because we’d technically be bundling again. (This didn’t strike us at all as strange, since when we cancelled digital cable, we decided to keep limited basic since it was only a dollar more at the time. This, of course, had increased to $9 more when we cancelled cable TV altogether.)

Depending on which customer service representative you talked to, the advertised rate for the home and to-go bundle was either for new customers only and we couldn’t get it at all, or it could be offered to us if we cancelled our service and immediately re-subscribed or we’d have to cancel our service for at least 90 days to be able to get the introductory rate. We spent two days talking with local customer service reps, national reps and online reps, and we never got the same answer twice. This got us seriously considering other options, specifically CLEAR, which appeared to have great coverage in both places we’d be living, offered essentially the same home and on-the-go option for the same price as Comcast’s supposed introductory rate, plus the price would not increase after six months like it would have with Comcast.

One thing that weighed heavily on our minds in making this decision was that the average speeds offered by CLEAR were much lower than what we were accustomed to with Comcast. Also, the latency is much higher (since it’s essentially a wireless, mobile connection, even as a stationary installation), which would make any potential online gaming activities pretty impossible. But we were so frustrated with Comcast at this point, and we needed a multi-location solution pretty much immediately, that we figured that we could sacrifice some speed and the ability to play games online for at least a few months. After some glowing reviews of CLEAR’s service from some trusted friends, we decided to drop Comcast once and for all and sign up with CLEAR. So far, I don’t think we regret the decision.

TV without cable

As I mentioned before, pretty much everything I watch on TV is available either over the air (through antenna) or on the internet. So at this point, an internet connection is much more important to me than a cable TV connection. Most TV channels offer a lot of their programming for free on their websites anywhere between a few hours to a week after they air. If you don’t mind being a little behind the world on episodic programming, this is a great substitute, and you can watch your shows whenever you want.

Hulu, of course, is another place where you can find a lot of programming. They offer new episodes (usually a week after they air, but it varies by show) and old series, movies and some web programming. You can also use their search to find shows on the websites of most TV channels. So, for example, even though Hulu doesn’t host episodes of The Daily Show, if you search for it on Hulu, it will give you a link to where it’s hosted on Comedy Central’s site.

Justin.tv is another great resource for replacing some of your cable programming. Most cable news channels (MSNBC, Fox News, CNN International, plus several others) are available live on this site, as well as sporting events and a variety of other things. I’ve been using it for my MSNBC fix, personally.

A couple of other sites that have lists of available TV channels online are wwiTV and ATDHE.net. They don’t host anything, but they keep pretty updated lists of available TV broadcasts and programming online.

Internet with CLEAR

In short: so far, so good. I’ve only used the home connection in Atlanta for a couple of days so far, but Andrew and I have been sharing a connection off of the mobile dongle for the better part of a week, and that’s been working out pretty well for my standard browsing activities. We’re averaging about 3 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up on this shared connection, which is plenty for streaming video, web browsing, small downloads, blogging…

The thing I probably like most about CLEAR so far is that they let you set everything up yourself. This is in stark contrast to Comcast, which insists that you schedule a service appointment to have a “technician” hook up your cable modem to your computer and install a bunch of useless crap, all of which you have to undo when he leaves anyway, because he did it wrong. With CLEAR, not only do you do it yourself, everything just works.

Also depending on when you’re reading this, this blog may or may not be served up to you using my CLEAR home connection. So far, the connection has proved to be impressively reliable. I know, I know…I’m not technically supposed to do that, but this blog has so little traffic that it barely registers a blip on my overall usage. I’m lucky if I crack 100 hits a month. In fact, I think I went almost a month with no traffic to my blog whatsoever. But any CLEAR people potentially reading this be assured: if the world ever takes a liking to my blog, I will find other hosting. I won’t take advantage of your unlimited data in that way if you don’t want me to. 🙂

Unintentional cable

So after all of this, it turns out that the apartment Andrew and I found in Fort Worth has cable TV and internet included in the rent. The service is through Charter this time, so at the very least we’re still free from Comcast once and for all. For right now, though, since we don’t have all of the necessary equipment on hand to set up the internet here, we’re still sharing the CLEAR mobile connection. But in Atlanta, we’ll still be cable-free until we move entirely to Fort Worth in December. From there, we might keep CLEAR just for mobile internet, or for everything, depending on how reliable the Charter connection in our building is.

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2 Responses

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