Cut The Cord

How to free yourself from cable and satellite TV

Cutting Cable TV Cord
Cutting Cable TV Cord. Image provided by Getty Images - GoodLifeStudio - Collection E+

As a result of frustration over cable and satellite customer service and costs, many TV viewers have "cut the cord." Cord cutting means that a TV viewer can cancel cable or satellite service and receive TV programs via a different option.

What You Need to Cut the Cord

There are three cord cutting options available:

  • Antenna - The antenna is the way TV started. You connect an indoor or outdoor antenna to your TV and receive programs from over-the-air local and network affiliate TV channels. This is a great way to receive free programming from the major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB, and PBS). It is important to note that older analog TVs, and many HDTVs made before 2007, will require the use of a digital converter box that is placed between the antenna and the TV. 
  • Streaming - If you have a smart TV, media streamer box or stick (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, others....), or smart Blu-ray Disc player, and subscribe to an internet service, you can access TV program and movie content without an antenna or cable/satellite service. Popular streaming services include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, Vudu, and YouTube.
  • Combination of Antenna and Streaming - This is the most comprehensive cord cutting option as you can access local TV channels without paying a fee, and also access additional content via the internet.

The availability of the above alternatives to cable/satellite service make cutting the cord definitely attractive. However, there are both benefits and drawbacks to cord cutting.

Cord Cutting Benefits

  • Lower costs and no contract - You are no longer tied to expensive cable service or locked into a satellite contract.
  • A la carte channel selection - You can choose what channels and services you want. You don't have to pay for channels and programs you don't want.
  • Lower equipment costs - Although you still have to pay for a smart TV, media streamer, and/or antenna in order to receive the channels and programs you want, but that is a one time cost, not a recurring monthly fee that is required for a cable/satellite box rental.

Cord Cutting Drawbacks

There are some great benefits to cord cutting - but there are also some drawbacks to keep in mind.

  • Not everything is free - Although over-the-air TV reception and many streaming channels are free, there are many streaming channels and services that require a monthly subscription or pay-per-view fee. If you only pay for one or two subscription-based or pay-per-view services, you can save money over cable/satellite. However, if you keep adding more pay services, those fees can add up, and you might again find yourself with a hefty monthly subscription or pay-per-view bill that could rival that old cable/satellite bill.
  • You may still need cable or satellite - Access to some streaming channels require that you are also an active cable/satellite subscriber. What this means is that although some of the channels you enjoyed on your cable or satellite service are available via streaming for free, when you try to access some streaming channels, you may be required to provide verification that you also receive that channel via a cable or satellite service.
  • Not all media streamers offer the same channels - Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, as well as standalone media streamers, don't all offer the same selection of channels and services. Roku devices are the most comprehensive with up to 4,500 possibilities, but there are other media streamers available (such as Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, and others) that may not have the channels and services you desire.
  • Streaming limits - If you choose to access all your TV viewing through streaming, be aware of any limits on the amount of video you can stream each month. If you go over your limit, your internet bill will go up.

The Bottom Line

Before canceling your cable or satellite service, make sure your planned cord-cutting options will work for you. For the antenna option to work well, you need to be in a location where it is easy to receive over-the-air TV broadcast signals. A good idea is to connect an antenna to your TV and see what local channels you can receive. Also, check your smart TV, Blu-ray Disc player, or media streamer to see if they offer the streaming channels and services you desire.

Basically, check the antenna signal, check the capabilities of the smart boxes you have, and run the numbers to see if you are actually saving money. Then you'll know if it's smart to cut the cord and cancel cable.