Cutting the Cord – A Comprehensive Guide
$275 for cable, internet and phone? I could lease a car for that price. Over the past 12 years of being a Rogers customer I have watched my bill go up (to $275) and down (to $100). The reason for the price swings? Promotions. Promotions are good when they are in play ($100) and bad when then run out and you don’t notice ($275).
And then there is what I call the-charge-they-add-to-your-bill-just-because-they-can – like $7.49/month for each outlet more than basic 4 you are ‘permitted’. What ‘service’ are we really getting for that extra charge? Remember when they used to ask you how many computers you planned to hook up to use the Internet? It’s the same thing – wanting to charge extra for something that has no additional cost to them and no additional service being provided to you.
We had threatened to cut the cord a few times over the years but, like many among us, even though we knew the big guys did not really provide superior service for the premium prices they charge, we feared the little guys would be worse. That fear is partially valid but there is a way around the poor service from your provider– it’s called the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (http://www.ccts-cprst.ca/). The majority of the service providers are members and the CCTS does work based on my two experiences (can be a whole other article onto itself!). Just check that the one you are considering switching to is listed as a member with CCTS.
We have a main home theater downstairs and a mini-one in our family room and probably too many TVs elsewhere. But hey, most technology isn’t that expensive anymore – it’s the connecting it to useful things that’s the big expense. In reality whether you have one or ten TVs, the base price for connecting is the same. And basic cable really does not provide all that much unique content across the channel spectrum anyways.
We also have two teen-aged boys so we also have 4 of pretty much everything – smart phones, tablets, and computers. These toys consume a lot of bandwidth.
For us to cut the cord our criteria were:
- We had to be able to get unlimited Internet for streaming (Netflix, NHL.com, etc.) at a reasonable price. A number of providers can do that – we chose iTalkBB.
- Over the air (OTA) HD TV had to be as good as it was purported to be – it is. We live in the Ottawa area and get 14 channels of better-than-cable HD quality as the signal is not compressed. And the majority of shows are on one of City, Global, CTV, CTV Two, CHCH, or CBC. So no real drop off in the content we wanted.
- Home media server software had to work reliably and on all the devices we have.
Below is what we used to cut the cord (see list of links are the end of the article for where to get each item with the costs):
- OTA HD antenna. Cost of $69 US and arrived within a week.
- Unlimited Internet. We use iTalkBB which also includes an Apple TV-sized streamer for Chinese TV (wife is happy…). First six months is $39.95 and $44.95 after that. We get 25MB down and 2MB up speeds – speedtest.net confirms this to be the case pretty much any time of the day.
- Media streaming devices. Our main one is a ROKU 3 ($99). We also just purchased two Chromecast’s from Google that I am trying out ($35 each on recent trip to the US).
- Home media streaming software. We use Plex Server which is visible to or has Apps for all of our devices (except for Xbox). You can also repurpose old PCs/Laptops to act as a Roku-type device. I am trying that out in my main home theater. The Roku is in the family room as we use it every day.
We sold our 3 Rogers PVRs so that netted us about $300 which covered must of the one-time expenses above.
Our Experience so Far
Cutting the cord was not without its hiccups. The first came 4 days after we had switched. Rogers cut off our access through their network because iTalkBB had our home address as Toronto not Ottawa (even though they shipped the devices to Ottawa – go figure!). That led to a 3 week outage – not good. But the CCTS came to the rescue. Once we filed a complaint we were getting calls within 24 hours to get the issue resolved and got our installation and first month’s charges waived as well as our other out-of-pocket expenses.
The corporate side of iTalkBB was extremely polite and professional and went out of their way to ensure we were satisfied with how everything got resolved. Some lessons for the other guys there.
We also have a home phone at $5.99 month with them which includes 60 minutes of NA long distance any registered cell phone (simple process). You have to call a local number when making a LD call but there’s one in every major city in Canada.
- TV – Image quality is far superior on all our TVs and we get pretty much everything we watched before. The Rogers’ device for the low end channels produced really awful picture quality. I feed the HD antenna into my powered cable distribution splitter in my electrical room downstairs so I am using all of my existing in-house cables. We still have the antenna in our master bedroom but will move it to the attic in the spring.
- Video streaming – A hit against using NetFlix in Canada is that you can’t see US-only content. Simple solution is set up a US DNS entry in your router. We use unoTelly.com at $3.95/month. Works well for NHL.com as well for getting home market games that are usually blacked out. Video quality is very good for both. The Roku box has over 1000+ video channels – some pay, some free. A guide can on what is available by searching for “roku channel guide pdf “ in Google. You will also need to set up your Roku with a US address to access all of the US-only content. Some simple searches will tell you how to do that.
- Home media streaming – Plex is a “works every time solution”. There are Apps for Android, Windows and IOS. I have my Plex Server installed on a Windows server but you can also install it on a Mac. It’s pretty light on its needs for the server hardware but like any software works best with more RAM, faster CPUs etc. I use internal and external USB drives – again faster is better especially if you want to stream to multiple devices at the same time. Can handle all of your movies, music, and photos. It transcodes video formats on the fly so all video formats work on all devices. Plex also has Channels you can subscribe to as well which is how I get my fix of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. You can transfer your entire video collection to the Plex and then access it anywhere in your house without the need for the physical media.
Big change is that for some things we are no longer tied to specific times to watch like regular TV – the Daily Show and the Colbert report can be watched whenever I have the time as they are on-demand and available shortly after their regular broadcast times.
The Irony of the Rip-off
iTalkBB (and the other ISPs) use either Rogers’ cables or Bell’s fibe cables to provide unlimited Internet connections to your house. And they do it at less than half the costs in many cases. And they have to hire all their own people for sales and support and rent office space, pay for the gear, and pay the oligopoly that they use (Rogers or Bell) – all for less than half the cost of what you would pay for limited bandwidth from the guy whose lines they are using…great, huh?
Where to Get It
- HD antenna – http://antennadeals.com/HD2605.html price $69 plus shipping. Apparently there are equally good products from Winegard and ChannelMaster that can be bought at a number of local retailers in most major cities or on-line. To find out what OTA channels are available in your area go to http://tvfool.com/
- Unlimited Internet – www.iTalkBB.com. $44.95 includes modem ($39.95 for first six months).
- Roku 3 – www.bestbuy.ca price $99 during Christmas sale (regular price $109). Model comparison here http://support.roku.com/entries/20345913-Product-Comparison-All-Roku-Player-Models. The Roku 3 has wired Internet as well as Wireless.
- Plex – www.plex.tv – no charge for Plex Server. Apps cost $4.99 to $5.99/device but are free on the Roku our Samsung Smart TV. We bought a lifetime PlexPass for $75 which provides the apps for any device when you log in using your PlexPass account. PlexPass gives you access to your own content from anywhere you are that has an internet connection (suggest you be careful that your remote access is also from an unlimited bandwidth connection).
- Chromecast – $69 CAD or $35 US. You can get them at any number of on-line retailers but if you get a chance to cross the border to US you get two for the price of one.
The Price Breakdown
One-time costs (before tax):
- HD Antenna – $69
- Roku 3 – $99
- Chromecasts (2) – $70
- PlexPass (lifetime) – $75
- Total: $313
Off-set by $300 from selling our PVR’s so our net cost of the conversion was really only $13 plus taxes, shipping (Antenna) and exchange rates (Antenna and Chromecasts). Like all ISPs, iTalkBB also has changing promotions around contract/no-contract, term length, phone features, etc. We went for the basic at the time and signed up for one-year so they waived the phone activation fee.
On-going (after six months and before taxes):
- Internet – $44.95
- Phone – $5.99
- NetFlix – $7.99
- NHL.com ($99/12) -$8.25*
- unoTelly – $3.95
- Total: $76.94
* By having a US DNS, we get NHL.com/Gamecenter for $99 USD instead of $169 CAD – another way we get ripped off. Monthly savings before tax of about $23.00 compared to previous $100 cable/Internet/phone bill.
We now have:
- Unlimited internet
- Higher quality TV pictures and no surcharges for TV’s beyond the base 4 that were allowed by Rogers
- Movies on demand
- All the hockey we can watch
- More content on our own schedule
- AND our monthly bill is pretty much fixed
It feels good to think we are not quite as beholding to the oligopolies any longer and that we don’t have to be constantly checking our monthly bills to see what new charges have started appearing.
None, other than be careful if you want your phone number transferred – we lost ours in the process. It’s better to plan this a couple of months in advance and get all the kinks out of your new device setups before making the switch. If you go local for your purchases you also get to try out different antenna for example to see which one works best for your area. I kind of took a leap of faith on the antenna and bought on-line from the US hoped would be good. It is, but all that means is that it was pure luck more than good planning on my part.
The last point is the net neutrality debate in the US – if it filters over into Canada it could eventually mean that oligopolies will find a way to throttle or charge extra for IP video streaming. Check-out/sign up at https://openmedia.ca/ to make your voice heard.
About the Author: Larry is mid-fifties management consultant living in Ottawa. He has a computer science degree that he took in 1970’s when programming was done on punched cards – really. He has kept up with technology throughout his career and likes to play with shiny new toys as cost effectively as possible.