Cord Cutting Not New

On one of the Talking Head news shows they stated that the prevelence of “cord cutters” was rising with the younger group and this didn’t bode well for the traditional Cable Companies.

I’m here to say that “cord cutting” isn’t new. Not by a long shot. Some history and a bit about “why?” follows.

First up, I bought a house somewhere around 28? years ago. When I moved in, both the power and telco were fairly neatly “lead dressed” in that they came off the pole almost along the property line to the corner of the house. Straight run, about 5 feet in from the fence. The cable company, however, had decided to take a wire directly over the middle of the back yard from that same pole, substantially to the far corner of the house. So I had this absolutely ugly cable that was drooped right over the center of my yard, on a diagonal.

Frankly, it bugged me.

Want to plant a tree? Where’s the cable…

Want to set up a BBQ with a nice heat plume? Where’s the cable…

Want to just sit in the yard and look at the sky, stars, sunrise, whatever? There’s that damn cable…

So one day I just got sick of it. Dikes in hand, up a ladder, SNIP! at the house. Over to the pole, up the ladder, SNIP! about 10 feet off the ground.

That stump of a cable hung there for about 2 years. Eventually they realized I was not going to change my mind and removed it. I’ve had a very nice yard with a nice clear overhead ever since.

Along the way I installed one of the first DirecTV offerings. Back when you bought your own reciever. I got the Sony model (that I loved – until it was forced from my hands by DirecTV stating it would not be able to recieve broadcasts anymore… they sent me a ‘free’ replacement). For a couple of years I had The Dish installed in one of the bedrooms. (When DirecTV would not give a bulk discount for more than 2 recievers… so I just went with the competition for #3…) All in all, I’ve been quite happy with both satellite providers.

BTW, all trademarks used are the property of their respective owners and are put here for educational reference direct quotes only.

Lately

So in the mail I get Yet Another Nag Pleading To Buy Cable Again… I look through it. It actually looks like it might make sense. Nice package of both cable TV and WiFi. All the channels I tend to watch are in the package. For $90 / month I get 220+ channels ( I presume the “+” means they can’t quite count…or are nore sure they were sober when they did the counting…) a “Free Z1 DVR Service” (with in small type “included for 12 months”), and HBO & Streampix (again with small “included for 12 months”)… or I can add “unlimited nationwide talk and text” for another $20 / month (though it isn’t clear on what system… and it might just be over WiFi?). I notice under price some more small text “per month FOR 2 YEARS with a 2-year term agreement.” (Bold and all caps theirs).

Now I’m noticing that the agreement is for 2 years and the HBO / Streampix and DVR are all for 12 months. Hmmmm… I think. There’s a giant block of fine print at the bottom of the page. Finding my glasses I go hunting…

Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. Limited to new residential customers. Requires subscription to the following offers:

There then follows a list of no less than 4 things. One is the HBO / Streampix, another is the DVR, something called “Preferred XF Triple Play with Digital Preferred TV, Performance Internet and Unlimited® Voice Service and Z1 DVR service”.

Now at this point I’m starting to remember why I’ve just round filed these things for the last quarter century. So I’m contractually obliged to 2 years, and after one year I’m going to get some kind of an “uplift” on those “free” services whos price has not been mentioned so far…

But moving on…

Two-year contract required. Early termination fee applies. Includes standard installation fee on up to four outlets, Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, including regulatory recovery fees,Broadcast TV fee (up to $3.50 / month), Regional Sports Fee (up to $1.00 / month) and other applicable charges extra,and subject to change during and after the promotion. After 12 months, regular monthly charge of $19.95 a month for DVR service, HBO® is $19.99 and Streampix $4.99. After applicable promotional period, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular charges apply (pricing subject to change). TV and internet service limited to a single outlet.

OK, so if I don’t keep everything in the bundle, I’m going to be screwed to whatever degree they like with “subject to change” pricing. Got it. And I’m on the hook for about $45 / month for the HBO, Streampix and DVR. So now I’m up to about $135 / month (not including whichever of all those fees, caveats and all get ladled on) and all that (including the installtion to up to 4 outlets) gets me ONE OUTLET THAT WORKS. Oh, and it isn’t clear to me if the $3.50 and $1.00 are included in the price quoted, or will be tacked on as they are “included” in what the package requires.

At this point we are over what I pay for DirecTV with a bunch of stuff added in ( I’m not sure exactly, but at least HBO is in there, though I’ll likely be taking it out as the daughter wanted it and she is now living on her own.)

But Wait! There’s More!

Skipping over a bit of ‘may not be combined’ and ‘not available in all areas’ and ‘required to recieve’ packages… It turns out that what I might be buying might not be what is in the “package” anyway.

Not all programming available in all areas. On Demand selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. INTERNET: Actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed. VOICE: $29.95 Activation Fee may apply. Service (including 911/emergency services) may not function after an extended power outage. Text messaging requires XFINITY Internet subscription. Standard data rate charges apply, check with your carrier.

Bold and caps theirs. So I might not get at all what is being offered, the service can be crappy anb I just have to take it, and it doesn’t have a big enough battery in the system to handle power fails. I get to sign up for more things (prices not stated) and get to pay data rates to my telco for using their “free” unlimited text?! Oh, and I may get to cough up another $30 to use the voice feature. Skipping over the requirements to get their promotional debit card or Samsung Galaxy tablet…

Early termination fees apply.

So you can get out of the contract, but for an unspecified pound of flesh.

Inside the front cover are some more ‘fine print’ weasle words:

Not all Android™ devices are compatible with XFINITY apps.

On the page touting sports features with “Stream thousands of live games online and through the XFINITY TV Go app” we find out:

Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. Not all programming services available in all areas. Availability of programming and features varies depending on level of service.
[…]
APPS: Standard data rates apply. Check with your carrier. Not all Android™ devices are compatible with the XFINITY apps. Not all apps available with Google Play Store. Call for restrictions and complete details,

So it might not work, and it isn’t clear where to get it anyway, and if you can get it, and it does work, maybe not in your area; but you will be paying ‘standard data rate’ anyway…

They have also scattered all the caveats and restrictions through all the pages. A little here, a little there. Makes it damn hard to figure out just what is being said, and I’m certain nearly nobody is going to read ALL the pages. Just mostly figure each is a clone of the other. But they are not. On page 6:

Additional charge may apply to Streampix® depending on level of service. Ability to watch Streampix® content on TV not available in all areas.

Page 10 has:

Not all features compatible with Macintosh systems. […] Hotspots available in seleted locations only. Requires compatible WiFi-enabled laptop or mobile device. Data charges apply.

Page 14, talking about phone service, has this gem:

Money Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service and standard installation charges up to $500.

But at least we’re starting to get a clue how much ‘standard installtion charges’ might be.

And there are more bits, scattered onto other pages.

But at this point I’ve been oh so fully reminded just WHY I was a cutter long before it was trendy. No idea what the service might be, things that don’t work, prices that get jacked up after you are in the pen, you can’t get out without paying a heafty bit of “stupid tax”, and so much more.

With DirecTV, I’ve always had decent service. You can change what you buy at any time (and I have). Old plans have been “grandfathered” so I didn’t get hit with an uplift charge as “my plan” went away (it does uplift if you change to another plan, but frankly, I’ve never seen much price disparity. More what ‘freebee’ channels were in a promotional package). Oh, and when you buy a channel, you get it. Within minutes. They know what they are selling, you get what you buy, and the price has always been known. Somehow I kind of like that.

Only real downsides have been that in Florida the torrential rains can cause signal loss. Oh, and AT&T is trying to “do a deal” to buy them. My experience with AT&T has been “less than stellar” so if that deal happens, I expect that I’ll fairly quickly be moving over to Dishtv… I still have the antenna installed and the reciever. Just a phone call away…

Now I think I’m going out to lay in the hammock under my tree in the middle of the back yard and look up at a clear blue sky while sipping something cool… and tossing the Cable Company brochure in the ’round file’. Likely for the next 1/4 century as there is little evidence that they have changed their behaviours in any way. Oh, then when I come back in, I think I’ll cruise Netflix for some movies or series to watch with dinner tonight. I REALLY like Netflix. Dirt cheap and I get to choose what I want from a very large smorgas board… Zero installation costs, too… But now, a bit of clear sky gazing is calling my name.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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8 Responses to Cord Cutting Not New

  1. Larry Ledwick says:

    Cable companies are interesting critters. I live in an area where there is really only one provider available. Comcast is the “preferred provider” to my apartment complex. I live on the north side of the building so I cannot put a small dish on the balcony and hit any satellite.

    When they took out the direct tv (roof top mounted dish which got blocked by snow several times a year) and went to comcast, I opted for the cable and internet package and had exactly the experience you described. Reasonable rates during the lost leader period at the beginning of the contract than a large price increase. Due to my work schedule I seldom am even home to watch any of the high rated programs and I find all of them very low quality for what you have to pay, so a couple years ago, I pulled the plug on the cable TV and just got the slowest internet offer they had at the time (5 meg/sec). I don’t stream videos or play games and have no problem going into the kitchen to make a sandwich while some large file loads. In addition my place is literally line of sight to most of the broadcast antennas for over the air TV of the local stations. I get very good reception on a 4 ft long dipole antenna made out of some old TV 300 ohm twin lead.

    Finally the other day I decided to upgrade to the next higher service level, as band width required has increased for even routine news web pages due to higher graphic content. I opted for the 25 meg/sec service. Upgraded on line, and started running speed tests on my system to see when it would bump up to the new speed. Turns out on a nominal 5 meg/sec service I was actually getting 7.22 meg/sec down and 1.25 meg up load speed. After several days the data rate had not changed so I called them to ask why I was not getting the speed I was paying for. The service tech assured me It was because my modem was “end of life” and it could not handle the higher speed. It had no problem running 100 meg full duplex on testing but they assured me it was the modem.

    They promised to send me a new modem.

    It arrived the other day and I just left it in the box, still have not connected it. Yesterday my connection tested out at 35 meg/sec down load on the old modem. Somebody actually got around to checking a box on an app to enable the faster service.

    I will be returning the new magic modem which increases data rate without ever being connected.
    Waiting to see if they will be increasing my modem lease fee. If they do, both modems will go back and I will by one of my own and they lose the modem fee too.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    WE have been using Direct since 97. It has always been a pleasure to work with them, specially over the phone. Any question or problem, they get right on it for a satisfactory solution.

    Now Cable Companies! What a pain, We are fighting with one at our business building. They are demanding payment for services we have never had, used or agreed to. Just because a previous occupant in the building did not pay and the landlord did not cut down the cable line.

    Still Direct Service is satellite and you must have a “window” to get the signal. Really bad weather will disrupt the signal and SNOW is a real pain. I mounted my dish where I can brush the dish clean without too much trouble. pg

  3. omanuel says:

    I lost faith in commercial radio and TV and found that my personal life improved in their absence.

  4. Lynn Clark says:

    I was really hoping Apple would announce a la carte TV programming today, but alas, they didn’t. My Comcast cable bill just jumped $30/month with no warning and no reason given. I suspect it happened because about six months ago one of the Comcast DTA boxes stopped working. Actually it was the wall-wart power supply that stopped working; it provided the specified 5-volts but apparently not enough current to run the DTA. (Since then two other DTAs failed exactly the same way.) Anyway, when I took the first one to the nearest Comcast store to get it replaced, the nice girl told me she also “gave me a deal” that would lower my monthly cable bill by about $10. “Gee,” I thought at the time, “that was nice of her.” Now it’s clear that whatever “deal” she gave me included a six-month expiration that kicked in a $30/month premium. If it weren’t for my addiction to Fox News Channel I would have cut the cord last week (after 7-8 years of having FNC on about 18 hours a day I still haven’t heard or seen any of those “Faux Lies” that progressives everywhere yammer on about but can never identify). I still might do it.

    I bought a Roku 2 box a couple weeks ago to give it a try. Unimpressed, as it only enables you to enjoy your choice of hundreds of channels, none of which include much of anything I’m interested in watching, not even the high-end subscription services like Hulu Plus.

    I cancelled my Netflix subscription a couple years ago when they changed the user interface that made it impossible to easily navigate the list of shows you’ve marked for future viewing. The change just made it too annoying and difficult to work with.

    SlingTV is the closest I’ve seen to an a la carte experience, but it only includes CNN in the cable news category. The thought of being dependent on CNN for news is enough to make me ill.

    The old VHF antenna in the attic pulls in most/all of the local OTA broadcast channels and I have a couple 25.5” HDTVs that tune them just fine, so I’d be in good shape for watching the four (or six, if you count PBS and the CW) major broadcast networks in stunning HD. Trouble is, there just isn’t enough there that I like to watch. I pretty much can’t stand the vast majority of the nonsensical and mindless comedy, action and police crap that the majors turn out (I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the entire film school I attended a few years ago who hadn’t see more than one or two movies in the previous five or so years).

    My plan for the immediate future (if I can actually bring myself to put my house on the market — I realized a couple months ago that I’m way too attached to all my *stuff*) is to move somewhere warmer by the end of the year (I’m in Colorado; Thailand is at the top of the list of potential destinations; Puerto Rico is #2; Nevada #3), so switching to satellite isn’t a viable option.

    So yeah, finding decent “TV” content at a reasonable price is a total b*tch. It amazes me how TPTB in the local city government can think they are doing all their constituents such a big favor by entering into exclusive cable contracts with a single cable company. Nothing but bad service, bad choices and bad prices. Everything you can expect from a monopoly.

    Sigh…

  5. Lynn Clark says:

    BTW, in case you’re wondering, Puerto Rico got added to my list of potential warmer destinations just a few days ago after my brother sent this to me:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2014/07/04/hate-taxes-move-to-tax-free-puerto-rico-stay-american-avoid-irs/

  6. Wyguy says:

    Cut the cable several years ago, now have pen pals for life.

  7. Larry Geiger says:

    It is surprising what digital broadcast channels are available in Orlando. We actually turn on the TV to watch something besides a DVD about twice a year (ok maybe 3 or 4 times). Usually it’s to watch reports about one of those deluges you mentioned. We also watch WunderGround on the internet. No commentary though.

    One day last winter it was cool and raining so we turned on ME TV (Channel 2-2 here in Central Florida) and watched two re-runs of MASH. That was fun. Cheap too. The outside digital antenna line plugs directly into the 32in digital flat screen TV. That thing has a bunch of inputs.

    We had the grandkids over last weekend and I decided to entertain them Saturday morning. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that there are no longer cartoons on the broadcast networks on Saturday morning. Huh! Who knew that? When did that happen. Channels 2, 6 and 9 all had weird, funky stuff on. So much for that. We found an old Jetsons DVD. The boys (3 and 5) thought that was the coolest thing. They are so tired of watching their sisters “Frozen” DVD I think that anything would have been exciting :-) Anyway, they are now Jetsons fans. Cheap $5.00 DVD from Walmart. I have 5 or 10 of those for emergencies (Tom and Jerry, Foghorn Leghorn, Bugs Bunny, Jetsons, Veggie Tales, etc.). You don’t need a lot of variety. They will watch one DVD 20 times.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry Geiger:

    I think the tape / DVD era killed Saturday cartoons ( along with Sesame Street indoctrination )

    We still have a shelf full of VHS and DVDs from our kids, and they are not at the “married and having kids” stage… so maybe they will inherit some old favorites ;-)

    Along with an antique VCR ;-)

    I have a little external antenna that I would use with a digital tuner on the HP Laptop to get TV. Yeah, lots of stations in downtown Orlando. (Reception not so good at Four Corners with dinky antenna inside…) They ‘layering on’ of several channels per main channel was an interesting new feature for me. So take 3 old channels (call it 2, 4, 5) and you might have 15 channels of digital (depending on city and what the channel owner chose to do). If I ever get a new TV, I’ll likely get a real outdoor antenna for it too.

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