Cable TV is an Enormous Ripoff

Cut the cable cordWelcome to the future of television. (Photo via Thinkstock)

There are few things I’ve done in my life as satisfying as calling up Comcast and telling them to piss off. While Verizon recently got me fired up, I generally reserve my corporate hate for Comcast, a company that excels in luring customers in with a cheap rate, jacking up the prices, and then, when they call to try to get it reduced, they need to fight their way through a phone bank labyrinth. Little surprise that they’re a perennial contender for Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” and are regularly mocked as “Kabletown” by 30 Rock, one of their very own shows.

On Monday, the FCC slapped down Comcast, ruling that the city of Boston could re-instate regulations on the company’s basic cable rate, which only includes local stations and PBS. Why, pray tell? Because, according to the Globe, Comcast basically has a monopoly in the city and had raised their basic cable price 80 percent in just three years. Granted, that rate is just $16.58 a month, and only 15,000 customers in Boston use the service, but still: an 80 percent increase in just three years?! That’s absurd.

Then, yesterday, research market company NPD Group released some frightening news: Cable bills, which are already averaging $86 a month, are expected to top a $123 a month by 2015. By 2020, cable will cost a stunning $200 a month. That doesn’t include internet or phone service — that’s just for cable television. One more time: Two Benjamins a month for television.

So, here’s what we should all do: Cancel cable television. Seriously, everyone should call up Comcast today and tell them to stuff it. Trust me: If you have internet service, you really don’t need cable anymore. I made that call three years ago, and haven’t regretted it since. I’m not the only one: 2.65 million Americans have ditched cable since 2008; that’s expected to hit 3.58 million this year.

Fret not: You can still watch just about all the TV shows you want. Here’s, a step-by-step guide to cutting the cord:

1. Buy a digital antenna. Yes, an antenna. They work great, and you get all the local stations — NBC, ABC, FOX, etc — in high-definition. I have this one, which costs less than $40 and sits next to my TV. If it looks too goofy for you, there are loads of options.

2. Dust off your old computer. You’ll need a couple cables to connect it to your television. (Lifehacker has a pretty great guide on what you’ll need; the cords shouldn’t cost more than $15 or so). Boot it up and connect to your internet service, preferably through a speedy ethernet cable (wifi is slower). If you haven’t updated this computer in a while, you should do so; also, download a good browser, like Chrome or Firefox.

3. Get Hulu Plus and/or Netflix. They’re both under $10 a month, and have lots of great TV shows and movies.

4. Buy shows from iTunes. Can’t find the show you like on either Hulu or Netflix? iTunes offers many shows for $20 to $35 a full season, which seems like a lot, but you’re saving $86 a month on cable, remember? You could buy three or four full seasons of any show for that price! I just bought a season pass to the fifth season of Mad Men and download the latest episode the day after it airs.

5. Go to the library. Boston Public Library has loads of movies and TV shows you can borrow, for free.

6. Sports: Sigh. This is the biggest downfall. Sure, you get any live events on CBS and NBC over your antenna, but there’s no way to get NESN or ESPN. My suggestion: Go to your local bar, have a beer, and watch the game. Isn’t it better to support your neighborhood pub than Comcast?

7. Count your money. Even if you have a Netflix subscription, are regularly buying TV shows from iTunes, and are hitting the bar for sports, you’re still going to be saving money. Spend it on something fun. Think of Comcast while you do so.

That’s it: You’re cable free!

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  • Kate Tieuli

    We are currently going on 2 years with no cable! It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. My husband and I got 2 Sony blue ray DVD players each about $150. One for the bedroom and one for the living room. With the blue ray we have access to Netflix, Hulu plus, pandora, youtube, amazon (we have the prime so we watch several shows and movies for free) with the digital antenna it’s perfect!!! I’m really surprised more people don’t do this!! We have saved so much money.

  • Frederick

    +1 on that Kate!! We cut our cable AND our land line when we moved back to Boston this year, and used the savings to pay off all of our credit cards. We are now totally debt free and enjoying fantastic shows on demand by streaming to our internet-enabled TV.

  • MCB

    You are forgetting that in Boston, Comcast internet pricing is directly related to whether or not you have cable. So even if you want the cheapest option, it is cheaper to have the $16 cable + internet than to have just internet. By having a “bundling discount” for internet+cable, they are in effect mandating cable purchase. Which, I imagine, is one of the ways they are keeping many people from cutting the cord entirely.

  • cordawg89

    So if the only thing you watch on TV is sports then you’re screwed? Thanks

  • Amanda

    You can order season packages To stream your favorite team online! MLB.tv NHL.tv etc and almost all NFL is on your network channels.

    • Mike

      Unfortunately those sites have a blackout rule so your local teams (ie the Red Sox) are not available in the Boston market.

  • Jean Berko Gleason

    I bought those cables and for a while used my laptop to stream shows to my television set, but for about $50 you can buy a Roku box, which is a dedicated streaming player the size of a hockey puck, connects via cable to your tv and wirelessly to your home network. If you have Amazon Prime, huge numbers of free things are available, and you can also sign up for Hulu and other applications. In order to do this I canceled my pokey DSL and signed on with Comcast for fast Internet only and they were fine.

  • Ely Spears

    While I appreciate the spirit of this article, it has many flaws. For instance, most web content from ESPN requires that you also have a cable subscription. The article suggests going to the local bar, but then who do you think you are supporting? If you watch sports at a bar, you are just incenting the bar to pay a faceless cable provider like Comcast.

    This also doesn’t address the Internet problem. Sure I can switch my content viewing habits to Netflix and Hulu, but I still am at the mercy of Comcast, which is the only Internet provider in my area.

    Now that Disney has committed to go all-Netflix, expect to see cable companies drop billions to lobby for the right to restrict bandwidth and restrict access to that content over their cable lines.

    Expect it to get a lot worse before it gets better.

  • Brian Goodridge

    Comcast has figured out a way to mislead the FCC and the public with its recent scrambling of basic TV services. Requiring you to have a set top box for every tv in your home, and plug it into the wall where it will be powered 100% of the time using electricity, not to mention having to find a place for clunky boxes which by the way require another remote control for each device. I cannot believe the FCC allowed this, or more likely they have fooled them along with the cable paying consumer. Digital tv is not new yet they keep finding new ways to gouge you. I’m only surprised they don’t try charging for color TV over black and white. When a new standard is accepted by people, companies shoud not be allowed to render your device inoperative and require a special adapter for each TV! Could you imagine if the power companies just decided to require a special plug for each outlet in your house for a small fee, and then actually have the nerve to tell them it’s a benefit to them and will enhance their experience! It’s ridiculous. What’s next? Will they require special viewing glasses which they will say enhances the users experience and improves their vision! Give me a break, STOP THEM! We need to all complain about this. It’s corporate greed. I am already flirting with a $200 a month cable bill (yup it’s. true) this will send me soaring over that. Please help me with this issue. Comcast customer service has been programmed to parrot out statements like, enhancing service, convenience etc… When in reality they punish you for having newer tv’s with qam tuners.

  • Tim

    Don’t count on Comcast internet service either. They have some very shady practices! Read about their self install kit scam here: http://helpfromtim.com/comcast-self-installation-kit-sik-scam-high-speed-internet/

  • Raj Gohil

    6. Sports – you can replace ‘sigh’ with ‘cricfree.tv’ where you can get every sport in the world for free :)

  • Paul Brighton

    By an antenna can we watch all local channels?

    http://www.tvmagic.com.au/

  • Brady W

    I can go to my buddy’s house in the fall and watch his ESPN that he’s paying out the nose to watch.