Have you considered cutting the cord?

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Shawn Sensiba
Friday, August 17, 2012

In recent years, I have become tired of cable televisionís rising costs, inflexibility and spotty service. These are not uncommon complaints. According to one report, more than 400,000 American homes have cut the cord and gotten rid of their cable or satellite television service in 2012. Thatís a big number. A lot of us are frustrated at the escalating costs of subscription TV and are unhappy with the hundreds of channels we rarely, if ever, watch.

A colleague of mine at The Gazette, copy editor Andrew Reuter, recently took the leap and dropped cable. I am keenly interested to see how it goes for him. Watch for his updates on the process on PopCon.

At the dawn of my reporting career in the 1970s, I had the chance to cover public negotiations for cable television franchises. I thought it was a very exciting time. This new industry was boasting that it would offer 18 or 20 channels of television instead of the five or six we had at the time in the Milwaukee area. The cost was about $15 a month as I recall, but some officials worried that once the company got the cable franchise, the rates would grow. The franchises generally lasted 20 years and were basically a monopoly. Consumers at the time didnít have access to the options we have now.

Those officials were right to worry.

In 2005, the average cable bill was $43.04, according to a 2009 FCC report. My bill indicates that I pay $65 a month for cable, and that price includes several incentives that supposedly reduce the cost.

But the relevant question here is how much television do you watch? Does that time justify what you have to spend?

I use my television primarily to watch movies and sports. I have a large library of my own films and favorite television shows. In addition, I have an Apple TV and a ROKU player. Both of these devices allow me to stream content from Internet services.

For that $65 per month, I use the television about two hours a day to watch TV programming. Some days I use it more and some days I never turn the device on. That means I pay a little more than $2 per day for that cable television connection. At first, that doesnít seem so expensive. But if I look at it as almost $800 per year, well, now that cost gets my attention.

Aside from sports, I cannot remember the last show I watched on network television on a regular basis. I used to watch "60 Minutes," but now I work at that time on Sundays. I used to watch "Fringe." My work schedule knocks that out as well. I use my cable service to watch sports, a few video-on-demand items and the occasional guilty-pleasure reality show about ice-road semitrailer truck drivers or lumberjacks.

Realistically, I can change those habits. I can watch "60 Minutes" on my computer. Likewise, I can obtain "Fringe" episodes from iTunes or Amazon.com. In fact, virtually all shows are available from iTunes, Amazon or some other service.

The challenge if I cut the cord is twofold: replacing sports and the one premium channel that I really enjoy, HBO.

To a growing, extent sports can be obtained through streaming services. If I get a good digital antenna, I should be able to get local stations, which carry a lot of the sports events, on my television. And, lucky for me, HBO shows are available at iTunes.

Whether cable companies acknowledge it or not, the age of a la carte television is here. I donít want 600 channels. I want the 10 channels or so that I actually plan to watch. The rest are just clutter. In a 1992 song, Bruce Springsteen noted he had ď57 Channels (And Nothiní On).Ē The only thing that has changed is that now we have hundreds of channels.

Whatís stopping me from dropping cable? I really donít know. This reluctance probably has something to do with Newtonís three laws of motion, but my brain is just too furry to understand. The fact is, I could use my television exclusively to watch movies and streaming content. I could use my computer to get news and sports and, to be honest, it would do me some good to turn the damn box off. I could read, walk, listen to audiobooks, listen to my giant music library or write.

Next time my agreement with Charter ends and my monthly price jumps, the company has every right to be very nervous.

Have you considered cutting the cord on cable television? How much TV do you watch? Do you use Netflix, Amazon Prime or another streaming service? Share your opinions about cutting the cord with us.

Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.

Last updated: 10:06 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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