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Cutting the Cord

There is much discussion about “cutting the cord” – ending your subscription to television delivered by cable or satellite. If you have considered cutting the cord, there are a few things you need to first ask yourself.

1) Do you have access to a good over-the-air television signal?

Not having cable or satellite means that you will need to begin receiving programming from local stations through the use of an antenna. An antenna can be an inexpensive, one-time investment that will provide you years of uninterrupted service. You need to make sure that you are located in an area where you can receive local TV signals, and that you choose the correct kind of antenna to use. SDPB has a detailed guide about free, over-the-air TV reception available online here. You may also call our Reception Specialist during regular business hours (Monday-Friday 8am-5pm Central) at 800-456-0766. Unfortunately, not everyone can receive over-the-air television signals due to distance or terrain – in which case cable or satellite is still your best solution.

2) Do you have access to reliable broadband Internet service?

If you want to utilize digital streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling or Amazon, or devices like Roku, Apple-TV, or Amazon Fire, it is important that you have access to fast, broadband Internet service. Dial-up Internet service will not work, since it does not have the capacity to allow TV shows and movies to stream. If you do not have reliable Internet service, streaming is probably not an option for you.

3) Are you confident in your technical skills?

The advantages to cable and satellite is that they initially installed your system, and have a help line you can call when you have interruptions in service. By cutting the cord you become your own technician. Most of the streaming services that are available are relatively simple to install, but they do require some basic computer and technical skills. If you panic when looking at the back of your TV set, you might want to consider keeping your current set-up. But if you are confident in your ability to navigate the web, have enough knowledge to know a coaxial cable from an HDMI cable (or have a friend who is willing to help you out), over-the-air and digital streaming might be your best bet.

4) Are you “plugged in” to a social circle?

Often you learn about a new show that might be of interest through your circle of friends. One of the nice things about having cable or satellite is that, in addition to learning about shows from friends, you can discover programs simply by surfing through the channels. Not having cable or satellite means that you’ll need to be a little more proactive in order to see what program are available and what new shows might grab your interest.

5) Will cutting the cord save you time and money?

It sounds attractive to think that you won’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for cable or satellite. But if you are going to stream programs via the Internet you will still need to pay for Broadband Internet service, pay monthly fees to streaming services, and need to be able to negotiate the technical issues that will occasionally emerge. Also, depending on your current set-up, there might be some hefty one-time, upfront expenses – from purchasing a streaming device and a wireless router (if desired), to perhaps purchasing a new digital television set. Do the math, figure out how much your time is worth, and see what kinds of programs are available to see if cutting the cord is the right choice.

If you answered “YES” to the preceding questions,

you might be a good candidate for cutting the cord. But before you pick up the phone and cancel your service, there are a few things you need to do to prepare.

1)Get an antenna and have it properly installed. Many stores sell TV antennas, but not every antenna is perfect for your situation. Make sure you do your homework and ask a lot of questions. In some cases you might be able to use a set-top antenna, or mount your antenna in your attic. But some viewers live farther away from TV broadcast towers and will need to have an antenna mounted on their roof. For more about over-the-air reception, refer to our online Reception Guide. One good (free) resource is the AntennaWeb website.

2) Check your contracts. In some cases there are disconnect fees or cancellation fees. Make sure you take these fees into consideration. You will also need to disconnect and return some of the equipment to the service provider. You should know that the wiring inside your home remains yours – you do not have to remove all the cable that is run through the walls. Check your account to make sure you know whether you own or rent the cable boxes, descrambler, modem, DVR and other equipment associated with your cable or satellite account.

3)Check your bundles. Many times your cable, phone and Internet service is bundled in one package. If you cancel one portion of the bundled service, the costs for the other services provided by the same company might go up. Check to make sure you understand the consequences of cancelling service.

4)Test your Broadband speed. Most service providers have a system by which you can test your speed. In order to prevent endless buffering, or interruptions in streaming your shows, you should make sure that you have enough bandwidth to support your streaming. (A good starting point is at least 50 MBps.) Remember, if you have more than one device streaming Internet service and digital programming, you will see a drop-off in speed – sort of like when more than one person turns on the water in your home at the same time. Make sure you receive the level of service you need to insure uninterrupted streaming.

Remember – even if you remain a cable or satellite subscriber, you can still set up an antenna to receive free over-the-air programming offered on multiple channels by SDPB and commercial broadcasters. Having an antenna will serve as a back-up when your cable or satellite service is interrupted. And because your over-the-air signal isn’t as compressed, the picture is more vivid. Again, for details about setting up an antenna to receive free, over-the-air signals refer to our Reception Guide.

These articles provide more information to help you transition from cable and satellite:

Cutting the Cord 2015: A Special Series on Streaming TV (via PBS)

Should I Cut the Cord?

Are you ready to Cut the Cord?

Why I Cut the Cord

Evaluating Whether it’s Time to Cut the Cord (via NPR)

A Simple Guide For How to Cut The Cord on Cable TV and Get More Content for Less

SDPB Specials

Cutting the Cord

Rating: NR

Now there are more ways than ever to get TV programming. SDPB can help you "cut the cord!"