Cut It Out

For some time now, we have been seeking an alternative to ever-rising bills from our local cable monopoly, Comcast.  I know from comments and likes on Facebook posts that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Comcast ranks at or near the bottom in that most important of metrics, customer service.  It is also the featured company (a rather dubious honor) in an excellent book about the telecom industry, Captive Audience by Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

We are retired, living on an adequate but fixed income.  Our cable bill—t v and “high-speed” internet—was well over $200 per month thanks to Comcast’s  bundling of channels, most of which we neither watched nor wanted to watch.  My wife will watch “Survivor”, the only reality show to grace our t v screen—-in my humble opinion, reality shows are primarily constructs designed to disguise the lack of originality and creativity among programming providers.  Remember when TLC, a cable channel, offered some educational programming and billed itself as “The Learning Channel?” Please enlighten me as to what the intellectual value is of a show like “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo?”  The bulk of the channel’s offerings are drivel aimed at a very low common denominator.  Sorry if that sounds elitist but I really question whether there is any value in such trivial programming.  And I don’t keep up with the Kardashians either!

So we have cut the cable for t v.  Using our PlayStation PS3 and our computers, we have subscriptions to Hulu+ and Netflix.  We also subscribe to Amazon Prime which has benefits such as free 2-day shipping and streaming of movies and both original and network programming at no additional cost.  Total cost about $25.00 per month for all three ( Hulu+ and Netflix bill monthly, Amazon Prime is an annual subscription fee which I divided by 12  to include in the monthly cost).  We bought and installed an RCA CANT1650F flat digital amplified indoor antenna which allows us access to local digital programming over the air.  We get the local (El Paso TX) affiliates of ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC; the local PBS outlet broadcasting from NMSU here in Las Cruces; and a smattering of additional digital channels like the El Paso CW, FOX-RW, Telemundo, if one doesn’t mind some “snow”, KOB from Albuquerque.  Cost of the antenna was $38.19 including next day shipping, much less than the monthly charge for Comcast’s lowest bundle and it’s a one-time expense with a one month payback.  A considerable savings over the old cable bill and WE choose what we wish to watch and control our programming.

Of course, high-speed internet is required for streaming and the other functions for which we use our devices.  We consulted a local wireless internet service provider.  Their speeds were about 4-8MBPS (MegaBytesPerSecond) which allows streaming of services like Netflix.  Unfortunately, we do not have a direct line of sight to the nearest tower so the service would have been erratic at best.  There is no other choice in our area for high-speed internet than Comcast cable.  So we are stuck with an approximately $50/month payment to them for about 50MBPS service.  Some areas of the country can get 100MBPS for about $150/month and some areas, mostly urban cores, can get fiber optic cable for their internet services (Verizon FiOS is an example).  Google has laid fiber optic in a few communities like Kansas City KS. But the cable companies would really prefer their monopoly.  As Ms. Crawford writes,

“Some municipalities are trying to install fiber optic networks for themselves but their efforts are routinely squelched by lobbying campaigns and other tactics launched by incumbent network providers at the state level.  Because America has deregulated the entire high-speed Internet access sector, the result is expensive, second-rate, carefully curated wired services for the rich, provided by Comcast and Time-Warner; expensive, third-rate, carefully curated wireless services (or no services at all) for those who cannot afford a wire,,,None of this is good news for consumers or American innovation.”(Crawford, 259-260)

So we hope for and advocate for fiber to the home provided by local governments as a public utility to guarantee choice in the essential communication medium for the 21st century——high speed internet access for all individuals.  As far as our “cutting the cable” experiences, we are happy with the choices we have and only long for the day when we can get comparable speeds from a source other than Comcast so we can eliminate that service as well……..