IN THIS CHAPTER
Figuring out the shows you want and equipment you need
Making a budget
Test-driving your cable-free life
Cutting out cable once and for all
This book is your complete guide to cutting the cord of your cable subscription. At this early stage of the journey, your head might be filled with questions: “Can I get there from here?” “Where do I start?” “What's the next step?” “Is it normal to be talking to myself like this?”
Excellent questions all, and this chapter is where you get some answers. Think of this chapter as a map with a big, bright line marking the path to take. Yep, sure, the path meanders a bit, but the seven steps you learn about in this chapter will lead you from wherever you are now to a life that's gloriously cable-free.
As the philosopher once said, the map is not the territory. The steps you read about here are the bird's-eye view of the entire process. You get more details about each step as you progress through the rest of the book.
Psst. Yes, you. Over here. Can I tell you a secret? Can I tell you why some people are happy cord cutters? Sure, everyone's tickled various shades of pink when they first say “so long” to cable. But some folks manage to stay happy even after their cable subscription is a distant memory. What's their secret?
You might think the secret is something esoteric involving a complicated setup and a wide variety of streaming services. Nope. In fact, the secret is the opposite of all that. Ready? Here it is:
Don't try to replicate your current cable lineup.
When people think of cutting the cord, the first path they think of taking is to use streaming services to clone their existing cable channels and content. Is that even possible? Yep, it certainly is, and you're free to go that route if you like. However, duplicating your cable content will almost certainly lead to post-cable dissatisfaction. Why? Because replicating what you have now will probably be more expensive than cable and will definitely be more complicated than cable.
What's the alternative? There are three paths to long-term post-cable happiness:
Let's take a closer look at these three options.
Do you have a few shows that you couldn't possibly do without? Or do you have a few content categories — such as movies, live sports, or news — without which cutting the cord is unthinkable?
If you answered “yes” to either question, make a list of these shows or categories. To keep your costs in check, keep the list as short as possible. I'm talking just your A-list shows or content.
When the list is complete, research which streaming service offers each show or content category. These are the services you'll want to subscribe to when the time comes (see Step 5 later in the chapter).
Making a list of “must see” shows, as I describe in the preceding section, is the route for folks who have specific TV tastes. If you're more of a generalist, a better method is to choose a small number of streaming services, each of which has both of the following characteristics:
For example, you could combine a subscription to Netflix with one or two other general services such as Amazon Prime Video (lots of free content if you’re an Amazon Prime member), Apple TV+, or Hulu. That combination will give you more TV shows and movies than you could ever watch, all for a monthly cost that's less than three or four extra-shot, non-fat, soy lattes.
Unless you live in an extremely remote area, chances are you can access a decent collection of live over-the-air (OTA) TV channels. This will get you live sports, news, and whatever primetime shows are available on the channels that come your way.
Going with OTA live TV is such an easy and popular post-cable route that I devote three chapters to the topic. To find out everything you need to know, check out Chapters 3, 4, and 5.
No matter how you plan to get your TV jollies after you cut the cord, you're going to need some equipment. What you need depends on what you have and what services you're going to use.
Here's a quick equipment list, with pointers to where I talk in detail about each type later in the book:
In Chapter 1, I mention that although cutting the cord to save money is a laudable goal, it's not the only one. Quite a few great reasons to thumb your nose at the cable company exist.
That said, even if saving money is far down your list of reasons to cut the cord, you shouldn't take streaming costs for granted. If you go with only free streaming services (see Chapter 8) or just a few paid services, you probably don't have much to worry about, financially. But note that it's awfully easy and tempting to keep adding new services. It's $10 a month here, $15 a month there, and $5 a month somewhere else. Pretty soon, you're forking out more per month than you did in your cable days.
What's the answer? First, decide how much money you want to spend each month on streaming. That number might be a fraction of your cable costs, or it might be the same as what you now pay for cable. The amount is up to you, but it's important to write that number down and take it seriously to avoid having your streaming costs go through the roof.
What's the best way to respect your streaming cost ceiling? Make a streaming budget. I know, I know: You'd rather get a root canal. I get it. But creating a budget is not that much work. In fact, you already made a good start when you wrote your list of “must-have” content (in Step 1). Add a second column to that list and use it to record the monthly subscription price for each streaming service.
Don’t put your pencil down just yet. You also need to write down the extra cash you’ll likely pay monthly for Internet service:
Now what? Two things:
If you're not sure about a streaming service, surf to its home page and look around. You'll get a good sense of what the service has to offer. However, even the best streaming service web page is no substitute for using the service itself. But how do you do that without spending a bunch of money, especially for services you might not like?
Two words: free trial. Every streaming service worthy of the name offers some kind of free trial (see Figure 2-2). The idea is that you sign up for the service and give them your payment info, but the first payment doesn't go through until after the trial period expires.
This gives you a week, a month, or sometimes even longer to ring the service's bells and blow its whistles. Getting hands-on with the service for a while should be enough to let you know whether you want to continue with it after the trial period expires.
Back in Step 1, I had you make a short list of shows or content you wanted to take on your post-cable journey. With your list in hand, the next stage on that trip is subscribing to the streaming services that offer those shows or content.
I talk about paid streaming services in just enough detail in Chapter 9, so that's the place to go to get ready to make your streaming commitments. For now, though, I offer the following pointers, which apply to folks who are new to the streaming business:
Okay, you're almost there. By this leg of the journey, you know which services you want; your equipment is set up and configured; you're sticking to your streaming budget; you've tried (or are trying) a bunch of free trials for streaming services; and you've possibly subscribed to a few services.
Surely this stage of the path is when you get out your metaphorical cord cutters and break free from the cable company, right? Not so fast! Before you launch your post-cable life, give everything a test drive to make sure it all works as advertised. Call this your pre-post-cable life.
For this test drive to work, you first need to do two things:
Why disconnect the cord? I suppose it's not strictly necessary. But if you want this test drive to accurately reflect what your TV-watching life will be like AC (after cable), cable TV itself must be off-limits for the duration of the test. If you leave the cable connected to your TV then — admit it — you won't be able to resist the temptation to switch inputs and check out something available on cable that won't be available when you go cable-free for real.
Now you're ready to test-drive your streaming life. For the next week or two (or however long you think you need to give the new setup a fair shake), try out your services, configure settings, and run experiments. This is the time to really push your services to the limit to make sure everything works.
Note that this experiment might not be a perfect test of what you'll experience on the other side of cable. In particular, after you cut the cord, you might decide to opt for a faster Internet connection speed or to upgrade your Wi-Fi. If you plan on doing either (or both), bear in mind that your test-drive experience will be a little slower than your experience after you've made your upgrades.
Well, I'm sure you've been dreaming about this day for a long time, and it's finally here: It's time to call your cable company and cancel your service. It's time, in short, to cut that cord!
I wish I could tell you that the ensuing phone call will be simple, take just a few minutes of your time, and be completely stress-free. Nope, sorry, but this is the cable company I'm talking about. Nothing they do is ever simple, quick, or relaxing.
That's fine. You've got this. To help, the rest of this chapter takes you through the process and offers plenty of tips and advice for getting out the other end with your sanity (relatively) intact.
Dig out your cable subscription contract, if you still have it. If you don't, you should be able to find it online using the cable company's website. Peruse the contract for a clause that states that the company can charge a fee for an account cancellation. You need to know this going in so that it doesn't come as a shock if the rep informs you, which might cause you to lose your cool — or even change your mind about cancelling.
The good news here is that you might have some leverage for asking the company to reduce — or, ideally, waive — the fee if you're going to stick with them for Internet access.
I assume that your cable company or Internet service provider offers an online customer portal that enables you to access your account data and history. If so, go ahead and sign in, and then navigate to the page that shows your Internet bandwidth history. This page should tell you not only how much bandwidth you used each month but also how that usage compared to the usage cap on your account.
Why do you need this info? If the data shows that you're consistently close to or even over your bandwidth ceiling most months, you're certainly going to blow that ceiling out of the water every month when you start streaming full-time. Knowing this will help you negotiate a new (read: much higher) bandwidth ceiling with whatever company you use for Internet access going forward.
I know, I know, it's just a phone call. What could you possibly need to gather? You'd be surprised:
Before you even pick up your phone, remember that one of the reasons many people want to sever their relationship with their cable provider is the atrocious customer service I mention in Chapter 1. When the cable company treats even its paying customers with disrespect and disdain, how do you think they're going to treat you, the account canceler?
So, before dialing, give yourself a talking-to. Remind yourself that the ensuing conversation will almost certainly be frustrating and stressful. Remind yourself that you're making a solid decision here. You did your research, made your budget, ran your trials and tests. You're ready. Remind yourself that, ultimately, this is your decision, so it doesn't matter what some customer service rep has to say about it.
Every company has a different procedure for handling customers who want to cancel their account, so it's hard to be definitive on the exact steps of the phone call. However, the progress of the call will probably go something like this:
The rep answers the call.
The customer service rep will almost always answer the call by stating his or her name. Be sure to write down that name so you can refer to it later.
You state your business up front:
“Hello. I want to cancel my cable TV subscription effective immediately.”
The rep will probably ask you why you want to cancel.
This is the first stress point in the call because, secretly, you were hoping the rep would say something like “Why, of course, I'll do that for you right away.” Instead, you're forced to justify your decision. That's fine, just keep your answer short and to the point:
“I've decided I no longer need cable TV and therefore I no longer need your company cable TV services.”
The rep will now likely ask if there is anything the company can do to improve your service.
This is another stress inducer because, again, you're not getting what you want right away. Shrug it off and restate your intention:
“No, thank you. I just want to cancel my cable TV account.”
The rep will now either offer you a special promotion or some other deal if you stay with the company. Alternatively, the rep will pass you over to the dreaded customer retention agent, a cable company employee whose job it is to convince people like you to not cancel their accounts.
Whatever anyone offers or says, remain calm, be polite, and stay firm:
“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks. I'd like to cancel my cable TV account, please.”
If you still want to use the cable company for your Internet access, at some point during the call you should ask the rep about that. Find out what the monthly cost is for an Internet-only account, particularly one that has a suitable bandwidth cap (or even unlimited bandwidth). Feel free to ask the rep if the company can offer you a deal on Internet access.
The rep — particularly the retention agent, who probably gets a bonus for each retained customer — might double down and either make you a better offer or lecture you on the alleged evils of cord cutting and streaming services.
Let the person have his or her say. What do you care? When the lecture is over, politely but firmly restate your intention:
“Thank you. I'd like you to cancel my cable TV account now, please.”
If the rep is particularly nasty, you'll get put on hold — for a very long time. Why? Because the rep is hoping that you'll lose patience and hang up!
Remind yourself that this sort of treatment exemplifies why you want the cable company out of your life. Stay patient, do your crossword, read your book, or find some other pleasant way to pass the time, and wait the person out.
At long last, the agent will cancel your account.
Say “Yes!” to yourself, pump your fist a few times, and then get back to the business at hand. Before you hang up, ask the rep the following questions:
You probably have some cable company property in your house in the form of an Internet modem/router or a cable TV set-top box or both. As soon as possible after you cancel your account, return this equipment to the cable company. From the cable company agent who cancelled your account, you should know how long you have to get the equipment back to them. However, don't wait as long as that because you don't want to give the company any excuse to hit you with charges related to missing or late equipment returns. The sooner you get that equipment back — be sure to take the equipment back in person and to get a receipt for it — the sooner you can say the cord is now officially, blissfully, cut.