Cutting the cord

At the end of last year, my wife and I decided to cancel our U-verse service and move to Xfinity internet only. We had talked about this for a while but ultimately decided that the cost (and overall lack of interest in watching TV most of the time) meant that we were throwing a decent amount of money away. Like most folks, we watch Netflix, Youtube and the occasional HBO or network show when friends or family recommend them to us, but we’re not really the type of people who sit down and spend any real significant time in front of the TV during the week.

There is one exception, however. I’m addicted to college and professional football. More on that in a minute.

We were paying over $150/month for U-verse and just didn’t’ see the value. The TV service was fine, but the internet was comically slow. So, we decided to check out Comcast. The speeds were drastically improved, and we landed a 1-year promotional deal of less than $50/month. All was well in our household until May rolled around, when I got a bill for nearly $200. Comcast, like other ISPs, have a monthly data cap in their terms & conditions but actually enforce them strictly unlike some of their competitors. The shocking thing to me was that we received notifications only at the email address issued to me, so I wasn’t aware that we had blown through our 3 ‘mulligan’ allotments earlier in the year and were now on the hook for a $10 per 50gb over the 300gb monthly cap.

Looking back, it’s obvious why we went over. We both used (have since cancelled) BackBlaze to back up our computers – my wife is a photographer so you can imagine the huge files going back and forth all of the time – and I had just bought a new computer which has a 500gb HDD and was backed up when I migrated over. On top of that, iCloud Photo Library had just come out and in the winter months we had been plowing through tons of Netflix shows. 300gb is a joke up against that tidal wave of data. I’m at a spot now where we watch what we use pretty vigilantly and have only gone over a few times since then. However, a new set of challenges have arisen: football season.

My plan all along was to use a service like Sling TV to allow me to watch most of the games that mattered to me as Sling gives you access to the ESPN networks for $25/month. It’s actually a fantastic service and also lets you use the WatchESPN app as you are technically using a cable provider. This means I can watch almost any game that’s not on CBS/NBC/FOX with ease. Since there’s no contract, I can just sign up in August and cancel after the season is over. Another angle was to sign up for the NFL Game Pass, which is a $99/year service promising you on demand (after the game is concluded) access to every game by every team. This is great for me, as I could never watch Tampa Bay Bucs games in Atlanta anyway. I’m ok with watching Sunday evening anyway.

I’ve run into a few issues though – the location of my house means I’m unable to get over-the-air HD signals from most major local channels. This means a lot of the marquee games NOT on ESPN are not accessible to me right now without investing hundreds of dollars in an antenna on my roof (and still no guarantee things will work). Also, this weekend was my first trying out Sling TV while games were on. I didn’t sit in front of the TV all weekend but I like to have the games (or ESPN Goal Line) on while I’m doing things around the house. From Thursday night to Monday evening I watched 4 full games and had Goal Line on for a few hours as well. After checking my data use on the long weekend, I found we had used 70 gigs! That’s roughly 1/4 of my monthly cap in a 4-day weekend.

There comes a point where cutting the cord isn’t cost-effective when you do the math on all of the services, antennas, overages, dongles, apps and more you have to deal with just to save a few bucks. In fact, you’re adding a lot of cognitive overhead, worrying about your use when you should just be enjoying whatever it is you’re sitting down to watch. If you’re not a sports fan I still feel like there are fewer and fewer reasons to pay for cable but live sports is proving to be a difficult landscape to navigate when a data cap is in play.

We have a few options we’re exploring right now – the easiest solution is to find a good promotional price for cable + internet service and just deal with it for a few years. Right now, this is what I’m leaning towards. I figure by the time the promotional price expires in 24 months, the landscape will be drastically different. Other options include switching back to U-verse for Internet and hoping they don’t enforce data caps but I still have to deal with a lack of local TV coverage. Obviously, another option is simply changing my consumption of football in the fall, but that ain’t happening.

I’m going to do a little more research before making a decision but I’m leaning toward going back to Comcast with my tail between my legs. I think that the next time my contract expires, the landscape will be drastically different.

Ok, now what?

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