Free at last- almost



I’ve blogged once before about how much I dislike cable tv packages. Basically, you don’t get to choose which channels you receive. You’re sold a package, which includes your local channels and a bunch of cable channels, many of which you never watch. It’s like going to the grocery store to buy some apples and grapes and being forced to buy liverwurst and anchovies also, even though you know you won’t eat them. As a consumer, that makes no sense at all. What would make sense is a cafeteria system that allows you to buy  just the channels you want. But the cable companies are never going to do that. Why should they when they get your money for a mixed bag of goods?

So for years now, I’ve been plotting to escape my cable company. As my bill kept rising, almost month by month it seemed, I became even more determined to dump Cox Communication. But how?

Here’s how I did it. First of all, I’m proud to say that several weeks ago, I called Cox and canceled all my cable tv from them. It felt pretty good. And yes, my tv options have changed, but, on balance, I couldn’t be happier with the new way we’re watching tv.

I now stream my cable channels from Sling. It’s $20 a month for 25 channels. It’s yet another package deal, but most of the Sling channels are the ones we watch anyway, like CNN, ESPN, History, TNT, TBS, HGTV, and A and E. With Sling, changing channel takes a little longer, but the price is way less than I was paying before for most of the same channels. Of course, you have to have the ability to stream to do Sling. If you don’t have a smart tv, you can get something like an Amazon Fire Stick  and plug it into the HDMI slot on your tv and presto, your tv now comes in on your wifi.

For local channels, I bought and installed an outdoor digital amplified antenna. Getting it up was a trip. The antenna cost less than $20 on ebay, but it came unassembled. I spent most of a day putting it together, puzzling over the enigmatic instructions obviously written by someone with a limited knowledge of English. Yes, it was made in China.

Once I had it together and up, I connected it to my tv and it picked up 34 channels with a sharp picture, including my local ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, FOX and CW stations along  with a bunch of other channels, mostly broadcasting anciently old stuff like Andy Griffith, Gilligan’s Island and Newlywed Game. But it was all free tv, coming in on the airwaves, just like in the 1950s. It was like I’d come full circle.

To replace our premium channels, we’ve subscribed to Amazon Prime and Netflix. They are well worth what we pay for them, less than $20 a month. They offer a vast selection of movies, tv and  music.

We now spend about $40 a month on TV, about one-third what we were paying before. And we have better viewing options than before.

I’d like to say we’re free of Cox at last, but we still buy internet service from them. But by early next year, we hope to change providers and be completely free of the cable company. That will be a good day.

The truth is, cable tv is rapidly become old technology, and will soon be relegated to the same place as cassette music tapes, VHS video and buggy whips. The  cable companies  should be moving toward streaming, but they continue to flog their service, which has remained basically the same for 50 years. Cable tv is a dinosaur, about to become extinct. If you want to save money and have a better entertainment experience, streaming is your bright new future.

Cable Snarl

Not me, but an excellent simulation

Not me, but an excellent simulation

Cable Babble


Imagine this. You go to the grocery with a list of the exact items you want. But when you go in to shop, you discover your store has a new marketing plan. You can get the items you want, but only by purchasing them in a package deal with a bunch of items you don’t want, don’t need and won’t eat.

Crazy? Outrageous? Nobody would put up with paying for stuff they won’t use, you say. But isn’t that precisely how cable tv is sold?

Take my case. I have about 80 channels, a modest selection of channels. But I doubt I ever watch over half of them. Mostly I’m watching movie channels, CNN, local news, the Weather channel, HGTV, AMC, FX, PBS, and Investigation Discovery. I stray off the beaten path to a few other channels, but there are some channels I never watch, though I’m paying for them.

Why does it have to be this way? Why not have a cafeteria system? You select and pay for what you want, and don’t have to pay for what you don’t want. But because of the immense power of the limited number of cable providers, Cox, Comcast, Dish, Direct and AT&T, I predict we’ll continue to be forced to pay for products we don’t want. This is economic tyranny, plain and simple.

I’ve been thinking about this, I guess, because I’ve been trying to figure out a way to spend less on cable and internet. In the past year, my monthly bill for these two services has inflated by one-third. I’m now in the process of calling all the major providers in my area to try to figure out a way to lower my costs.

I’m not alone in feeling the pain of the cable bill. Last year, the number of cable subscribers declined for the first time since cable came on the scene decades ago. When I first signed up for cable tv, I remember it was $7 a month. Now the monthly bill for my modest plan (the next to smallest tv channel package and the slowest high-speed internet) is more than $160 a month.

I know inflation is a fact of life. Everything costs more as time goes on. That’s just the way it is. From gas to candy bars, it all costs about 10 times as much as it did when I was growing up. Yeah, I’m old. But the cost of cable has gone up faster than other things. Where I live, we didn’t get cable until the seventies, so it’s only been around for about 40 years, and in that time, it gone up about 20 fold. That’s runaway inflation.

But the heyday of the cable companies may be coming to an end. They may have priced themselves out of the market. The decline in cable customers is because of new competition from systems like HULU, Amazon Fire TV, ROKU, Netflix and the like. They all stream programming off the internet to your TV, and it’s content you choose to watch. No more paying for the BYU channel you never watch. And you watch what you want when you want. not on your provider’s schedule. And after you pay about $50 to $100 to buy the equipment, there’s a lot of free content to access, and if you want to watch a premium pay-for-it program, like a movie, you choose it instead of your cable provider.

So I’m looking at those options too. I’d love to tell my cable provider that there’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s gunning for them.

Sticker Shock

I can tell I’m getting older because I’m constantly shocked at how much things cost. A few years ago, I noted that just about everything was about ten times what it was when I was  growing up. Now everything has crept up to about twelve to fifteen times as much.

When I was in elementary school in the 1950s, candy bars cost a nickel, and so did Cokes, and ice cream cones and comic books were a dime. A chili dog was fourteen cents. Gas was thirty cents a gallon. Paperback books cost thirty-five cents.

When I was in junior  high in the early sixties, I had a paper  route. My profit on a daily paper was a penny and half, but I really made out big on Sunday because I made four and a half cents on every paper. I had about forty customers. I could make a little over five dollars a week if nobody stiffed me on their paper bill.

After I was old enough to drive, I got a job in the summers as an ice cream man. We had two classes of products, the basic cheap ones like popsicles, ice cream bars and fudgesicles went for six cents and I made a penny profit, and the deluxe items like ice cream sandwiches, drumsticks and sundaes were twelve cents and I made two cents. On a good day, working ten to twelve hours, I could sell maybe seventy dollars worth of ice cream and make fourteen dollars profit, less what I spent on lunch and what ice cream treats I ate.

In high school, I usually ate lunch at McDonald’s. My standard lunch was two hamburgers at fifteen cents each, fries for twelve cents and a Coke for a dime. State sales tax was two percent. Total lunch cost, fifty-three cents.

Those prices sound almost unbelievable now, but wages also were low. My dad was a floor sander and finisher. He charged nine cents a square foot to finish new hardwood floors and that included two coats of finish. It took two days to sand and finish a house, and he charged about ninety dollars. Of course he had to buy all the materials to do the job out of that. The same work today would probably cost about two dollars a square foot.

My first job, other than helping my dad sand floors, was in 1964 working at a Woolworth’s in the evening sweeping and moping the place clean and taking out the trash. I made a dollar and a quarter an hour. There was a girl who worked in the soda fountain I liked. When she quit, on her last day, I decided to impress her by leaving a big tip. I left her a silver dollar. She still turned me down when I asked her out.

My first car cost $75. It was a 1952 black Ford sedan. My dad went with me to the bank and co-signed a loan for $125, borrowing extra so I’d have money to get auto insurance. My next car was nicer, a 1958 Chevy that was only five years old when I bought it for $500. I drove it for two years, wrecked it twice, and traded it in for $500 on a new 1965 red Triumph Spitfire convertible. After my trade-in, I owed $1,100 and was driving a brand new sports car.

I remember when I was in college in 1965 I was working part-time at a city library making eighty dollars a month. I got paid once a month. One month I foolishly ran though nearly all my pay with about ten days left. I only had a few dollars to make it to the first of the next month, so I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of cans of Campbell’s soups, which at the time cost about fifteen cents a can, and a box of saltines. I’d set a can on the radiator in my dorm room to heat it up some, and then mix it up with hot tap water. I made it through the rest of the month on a solid diet of soup and crackers.

Once in the early seventies, after I’d bombed out of college, a guy I was working with was quitting and moving out of town and he asked me to come over and help him load up. I went over on a Saturday and worked several hours getting him packed up. At the end of the day, he offered to sale me his 1958 VW bug and a metal jon boat. All I had to my name was  sixty dollars. I bought the car and boat for sixty dollars. The VW was dead, but after I put some gas in it, and gave it a jump, it started and ran. Wish I still had it. The boat I later sold at a yard sale for fifty dollars.

In the seventies, cable TV became available. It cost seven dollars a month at the start. Now we spent well over a hundred a month on cable and lots of nights we can’t find  anything to watch. I was married and had two kids by then, and we were renting a two-bedroom house for eighty-one dollars a month.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, weirdly, things don’t go up, they go way down. Instead of inflating, they deflate.

In 1984, I hungered for one of the new VCRs. I ended up spending about $1,500 for a Sony Betamax. I see VCRs at yard  sales all the time now for five dollars, and nobody wants them  The same thing happened with CD players and then DVD players.

In the early 90s, I longed to have my own home computer and spent about $1,600 on an Apple Mac Classic with a tiny black and white screen and a printer.

Microwave ovens cost about six to eight hundred dollars when they first came out. Now they’re a tenth of that.

My brother had a digital camera before I did. He bought a Sony Mavica for seven or eight hundred. You can buy a digital camera now for thirty dollars that’s far better than the Mavica.

Inflation isn’t gong away. I have a three and a half month old grandson named Kade. I can easily imagine Kade earning two thousand dollars a day when he grows up, and driving a car that costs a half million. He’ll live in a modest three million dollar house and spend five hundred dollars going out to dinner with his family. And when he gets old, he’ll probably be writing about how cheap things were when he was growing up.