Cutting cable TV has become so common that since I first did it in the summer of 2012, it took me more than a year to realize the easiest way to watch TV on the cheap: Reconnect the cable cord.
I was too focused on finding other ways to watch TV — Hulu, Netflix, Redbox, Amazon, Apple, MLB.TV, hooking up an antenna, and visiting friends with TV cable during major live events — that I didn’t think to check if the cord that the cable repair guys left attached to the wall still worked after cutting cable.
It turns out that the cable company workers didn’t go to the curb and turn off the cable connection to my house. They basically unplugged it, removed the equipment except for the cable in case I later decided to return as a customer, and drove off. It was only when I was trying to decide if $20 a month for local broadcast cable from my cable company was worthwhile so we could watch the Oscar telecast live about a year ago when I decided to plug the dusty cable back into the TV and run the channel scan to see if it still worked.
It did, and we’ve been watching free basic cable ever since.
Live events hard to find when cutting cable
Live events are one of the advantages of cable TV that are difficult to find elsewhere when cutting cable. You can’t pay a few dollars to watch the Oscars or a football game as you would to rent a movie online.
Want to watch the Olympics? Until NBC starts charging U.S customers a flat fee to just watch the Olympics, we’re stuck with cable.
There are some ways around it, one of which I’ve tried and is legal. For less than $30 a year, I became a user of a virtual private network, or VPN, that allowed my computer to look as if it were in another country, say the Netherlands, or the United Kingdom.
My goal was to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics in Australia through the BBC’s website, which broadcast live events to BBC members in the UK, but not elsewhere. If my computer looked like I was in London, then I could watch the BBC live feed of the Olympics, or so I thought.
I never got that far, but I did use the VPN when we bought the MLB.TV season package for $100 to watch baseball. The only problem is that MLB blacks out local teams, so the Oakland A’s games I wanted to watch weren’t available after cutting cable — until the VPN allowed my computer to be in Amsterdam or Miami, where A’s games weren’t blacked out.
That was a cheap enough solution, but it required the extra hassle of hooking up my computer to the TV. Again, no big deal, but not as easy as free cable where almost every A’s game is broadcast during the regular season.
No antenna, either
But why not just use an antenna and get the local broadcast channels for free over the airwaves after cutting cable? That works if you’re home is within sight of the airwaves.
I live behind hills that block airwaves from two major broadcast areas: San Francisco and Sacramento. I couldn’t get signals from either area, though one antenna I bought did bring in a handful of PBS stations.
Some websites will help you find the best antenna to buy for the signal strengths in your area, but even if I put one 30 feet above the ground I don’t expect I’d get a good reception.
For now, we’re doing well with Hulu Plus and Netflix at about $8 each per month after cutting cable — though honestly I don’t know the exact cost because it’s automatically charged to my credit card each month and I don’t pay close attention to it (and that’s a bad idea, I know). We occasionally buy a series on Amazon or Apple at about $15 or so a month, so I estimate we pay about $30 a month for all of our TV needs after cutting cable.
Would it be worth an extra $20 a month to pay the cable company for the basic channels we’re getting for free? Probably not. But until that day of reckoning comes, it’s an expense I won’t have to consider.