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.

The Fear

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.

Our Needs

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.

Our Criteria

For us to cut the cord our criteria were:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Home media server software had to work reliably and on all the devices we have.

Our “Kit”

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):

  1. OTA HD antenna. Cost of $69 US and arrived within a week.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

The Specifics:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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/
  2. Unlimited Internet – www.iTalkBB.com. $44.95 includes modem ($39.95 for first six months).
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

The Gotchas

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.

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Andrew
5 years ago

Hi,

Don’t know if you are still monitoring this post but I am only now looking at cutting the cord. My problem with going ahead and doing it is that it appears for both Canadian Network Channels available via the Internet (CTV GO, Global GO, etc) and U.S. Networks available via UnoTelly again on the Internet (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) you have to log into their site as a subscriber to a television service provider i.e. Bell, Rogers etc or you cannot get their live or on demand content. Is this not the case and if not how do I avoid this?

Thank you

Andrew

Mrplanb
6 years ago

Larry
Great article. Like you i am an IT dinosaur from the 70’s and like shinny new tech. The only thing I would add in the way of hardware is a TABLO to the antenna system. This allows you to use their epg (electronic program guide) to record OTA shows to a harddrive. They also have an app for roku so that you can view recorded Harddrive shows anywhere in the house that you have a roku attached to a tv. This TABLO and Roku pairing is very “wife friendly tech” my wife loves it. She has her DR Phil, Greys anatomy, and Songza.
She is no longer living in fear that I will die and she has to go back to Rogers and Bell BANBITS
Tablo 2 tuner 250
epg lifetime 149 or 49 a year

Robbee
6 years ago

Just found this link and I also am in Ottawa. I actually cut the cord over a year ago. IHave Teksavy as an internet suppiler and also voip . Cost for this is far less than Ma Bell that I had previously. If I find something cheaper I will switch.
The problem that I have is that I have been dabbling and bumbling around in nearly everything that has been mentioned in this post, I am not really computer savvy and for me the real problem is coming up with a central “remote” , “system” or “application” that pulls all this stuff together
Where the big guys have you is that their systems are simple to use…point the clicker and watch the show.
All the systems I use do work but for me but they are so much work to try and remember where I am or which remote or input to use. There is a lot of stuff out there but is there a system that would control them all??
Larry, I do think that there is a great opportunity for someone to put it all together.. Old farts like me seem to be aware of everything that is out there but find it crazy to come up with a system that makes things simple.
Your idea of an instructional e-book sounds great to me and I would be one of the first in line to sign up.

Brian
6 years ago

No need for an expensive OTA antenna.
Buy an RF remote control antenna for about $10 or less.Hook it up with a short length of CATV cable to back of your TV.If you want surround sound hook up TV to AVR with an optic cable (OTA signals are digital)
Ottawa has few OTA signals available but I get all 14 crystal clear with 5.1 sound.

Rob
6 years ago

For those looking for a good OTA antenna. I bought a Antenna’s Direct DB4e and a Channel Master preamp (best combo that I found after doing some research) for about $200. I live in the east GTA , mounted the antenna on my chimney and get 40 HD channels from Toronto and Buffalo.

A Frugal Family's Journey
6 years ago

Great post…Our family is about a week away from canceling our cable. Before we do, we want to know exactly what we are missing and also how can we go about getting some of our favorite shows. We have been doing some research and found that the two devices you named, ROKU and CHROMECAST is really all we need.

Believe it or not, we already have both so I’m not really sure at this point why we even pay for cable. We’ll probably pick up another ROKU and CHROMECAST for a second TV, but with the money we are saving by canceling our cable, it will essentially pay for itself within the first month!

SST
7 years ago

“KILLING TIME!” roared the dog—so furiously that his alarm went off. “It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.” And he shuddered at the thought. ~ Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

:)

The Satellite Doctor
7 years ago

You forgot to list free legal satellite TV as an option. With a 36 inch satellite dish and an HD Free To Air (FTA) receiver, you can receive about 85 English channels with over 10 of those in HD on Ku Band FTA satellite. If you have room for a bigger dish to receive C band FTA satellite, you can get even more with over 200 additional English channels and over 50 of them in HD. All currently available FTA satellite channels are listed at http://fta.channels.drsat.ca

In addition to these full-time channels, you may also receive temporary “wild feed” channels which don’t appear on the above list but carry many sporting & special events along with breaking news coverage. You may find these channels yourself by rescanning certain satellites on your receiver or by following a few feed hunting groups such as the Dr. Sat SatHunters Club at http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=170234.

These channels are unencrypted so they are legally available for free with no monthly subscription and complement nicely the channels you may already receive using an OTA antenna. However unlike OTA, FTA satellite offers near-nationwide coverage which is great for people who have a limited amount of OTA channels available in their area.

Josefa
7 years ago

Hi Larry, I would be very interested in an ebook on this subject. As I write this I have now been on the phone with Rogers for 2 hours (no lie). Have talked to the Loyalty Dept and Cust Relations. On Feb. 17 I talked to the Loyalty dept. who promised me 35% discount on Cable TV and Internet. On my March statement all discounts were removed…I previously had 30% discount on Cable and Internet. My bill which includes Internet, Cable, home phone and 1 wireless phone has gone from $176 to $244 per month. If this is how Rogers treats loyal customers…I want out. Told them that I am going to be shopping around. I too am in Ottawa.

SST
7 years ago

Detailing the state of affairs:
http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Digital-Set-Surpass-TV-Time-Spent-with-US-Media/1010096

10 hours a day = 40% of your life.

As the journalist puts it:
“What have we disengaged with in order to become more engaged with our gadgets? What price have we paid in the name of user engagement?”

The (now even steeper) price is outlined in post #19.

“Cheaper” is no reason to continue consuming the same empty goods.