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Friday, 13 February 2015

Stop Paying for Cable When You Can Get it Free - Legally

The cable broadcasting industry has always been less than stellar when it comes to value for your money, and in their business practices. It always starts out with that infamous introductory package where you can get basic cable for a low monthly rate for the first three months or so, but then the price goes up. Sure, they're usually legally required to list in the fine print what your rates will go up to after that introductory period is over, and they have to tell you how long you need to use their services in order to get that temporary low price, but so much of our society is based on instant gratification and add-ons (otherwise known as up-selling) that it really isn't hard for them to rip people off.

Almost everyone who subscribes to cable or satellite gets hooked into taking so-called specialty channels. Usually the one channel you actually want is grouped with several other channels, so you have to pay for the package rather than a la carte services. Even when they allow you to pay for a single channel's subscription, the group price seems like it would be a much better deal. So, in addition to 'basic cable' which doesn't seem to give anyone any of the channels they like, you go for the enhanced services.

Now, of course, we have high definition TVs, and even Ultra HD and 3D. Let me explain to you how high definition works. It's exactly like the analogy about chains being only as strong as their weakest link. You will most likely never have true HDTV, because there is always a weak link in the signal chain. Somewhere along that chain there is a flaw where in one tiny little place (and often in many places) there is a wire or piece of equipment that is not HD-capable. Maybe it's your neighbourhood wires, and chances are good you're not among the 1% who live in fancy neighbourhoods with the best of everything. Most local cable outfitters do not have the money to replace the old, out-of-date equipment with HD. Small towns, people who live out in the country, poor neighbourhoods in every city, etc. You're also going to have general signal loss, and if you're paying for HD I bet you've noticed that it didn't live up to your expactation. You were probably hoping it would be like watching a movie on Blu-ray. It should be, but it's not.

It's not uncommon for people to be paying up to $200 every month for their cable subscriptions. How much value are you getting for your money, do you think? Are you even aware that there's a better way? Don't forget all those additional fees and service charges they tack onto your bill that make absolutely no sense to you - and there's a good reason they make no sense, since they're total BS. If you watch 10 hours of television every month, you're paying $20 an hour for your entertainment. Granted, most people watch a fair bit more than that. 5 hours per week is almost bare minimum for the average person, so you're paying $10 even at that. I won't bother calculating average number of family members. Most people at this point would say this is a reasonable price to pay for entertainment. Is television as good as a movie? That's a highly subjective thing, so I can't answer that. I just know that I have zero interest in watching TV, but I love movies, so I wouldn't pay that much for TV since it isn't worth it to me.

For those who love television programming, however, they're still getting ripped off in a big way. Many of the shows broadcast on cable networks are available online. If you do not have a computer or internet access, then by all means do what you like regarding TV programming. If you're paying for both cable/satellite TV and internet, however, they're double-dipping into your wallet. A lot of networks stream their shows right on their own websites. Yes, there are commercials, because that's how they pay their actors the big bucks, but it's completely legal and you can watch it whenever you press the play button for the video to stream. All you're doing is cutting out the middle man.

So, what about those who don't like watching TV on their computers? Well, almost every computer now has an HDMI output that goes directly into your TV. Think of your mouse as your remote, and you're all set. HDMI was a huge step forward in connectivity, because the wire acts as 2-way communication between devices, and a lot more than one signal is being sent at a time. All audio and video can be transmitted this way, and your computer will know it's connected to a TV, and your TV will know if a signal is being transmitted. Like the old fax machines that almost no one has a need for these days (yes, there are free fax services available online, too), there is a handshake signal between devices. Kind of a, "Hi! How ya doin'?" in machine-speak. Except now you don't need to hear those annoying squealing sounds as it sends frequencies across the line.

One big benefit to this is that any show you watch online, streaming from the original network, the resolution is usually very good. Like YouTube, there's a lot of stuff shown in 1080p (which is literally 1,080 lines of resolution broadcast all at once - the little 'p' stands for progressive scan, as opposed to a little 'i' which means interlaced, where only half the lines are showing at a time). You're really only limited by your own computer, and the cable that you use. Both are things you have control over, rather than some crappy cable line that might be a thousand miles away. The video is sent as a data packet, rather than a broadcast signal, and so it behaves more like a DVD or something similar.

If you really, really do not like connecting your laptop or PC to your TV, there are other alternatives to standard cable companies. Things like Hulu and Netflix. If you're interested, I would suggest further reading here. Or simply do a Google search for 'cable tv alternatives' and lots of stuff will come up. In my case our major phone company does an internet TV service, in addition to the satellite service they already offer, but it's Bell Canada, and I'll never recommend them to anyone. They're one of the worst price-gouging companies in my country. (They still haven't realized that I can get cell service for about half the price they charge for a landline, and at least one cell provider is unlimited in both Canada and the US for everything including data.)

What it boils down to is this: Are you sick of paying for things you can get for free, or for reasonable amounts like $100 per year? That cable bill adds up, especially when you're paying rental charges on receivers for every room in which you have a TV - and they charge more for the ones that have on-demand capability, like PVR/DVR boxes. When I had cable so I could watch the basketball games, it cost me a fortune - that sports package had an insane price attached to it. Now those games are broadcast online, and I've been watching them that way for years. It's not just NBA games either. They have pretty much everything, including European football. The games are live, and they broadcast the ones that you can't get on cable, too - you know, those ones they black out in your area to encourage people to go to the local games in person.

I don't know about you, but I got really tired of them charging me almost $10 for licensing fees, $20 for equipment rental, $15 for the sports networks and enhanced cable, $5 for each additional channel pack, taxes, distribution, basic cable rates, etc. Never mind the sudden jump in price after the three months were over, or the pre-billing most cable companies do. That's the reason your first bill is so high. They prorate what you've already used that month, and bill in advance for the next month. Not to mention the service fee for 'installing' your cable - ahem - that's calling typing a command into their computers, usually, since it often doesn't require a visit from a technician unless you're technically inept enough that you can't screw a cable line onto the threaded peg of your wall outlet. When you move, of course, you're usually charged a service fee for 'installation' again. They have to shut off service at your old house, and turn it on in the new one. Woopee. I'm sure you can sense my sarcasm.

The fact is, cable and satellite TV are luxuries. They're not necessary for us to survive. However, we live in a consumer society and we can't stand being bored. We will go to any lengths not to have to entertain ourselves, apparently, and that means TV for most people. So, if you're broke, or just interested in keeping the money you've worked so hard for, this is one way of lightening the monthly load on your wallet.

Most people need internet service (in North America at least), for one reason or another. In my case I make part of my livelihood online. Even for those who do not work online, there's the simple fact that it's impossible to even find a job now, if you don't have internet. Most employers want resumes e-mailed, most job-finding can only be done online, and even the government (in Canada anyway) uses the internet as its main source for helping people find work (they have a Job Bank online), as well as for people using government services such as employment insurance (similar to UI in the states). Here we file reports every two weeks, and they encourage you to go online to do it. Even changing the address on your driver's licence, or renewing it, is done online here. Same with our health cards. We can file our taxes online, and Revenue Canada prefers it that way since they're stored more easily as data. Plus you get your refund a lot faster if you file online.

The internet is now an intrinsic part of our lives. TV might have been at one time, but so many of us get our entertainment in different ways these days that it seems pointless to be paying those ridiculous fees. If you're anything like me, and any of what I've said here has sunk in, you're probably pretty annoyed right now about how much money your cable company is getting from you. So, don't just stand there - do something about it once your contract is up, and tell them why you're leaving. Maybe they'll pay attention if enough people get fed up. Probably not, but it's always worth it to be honest.