How “Cutting the Cord” Cut Me Back

By sethmsparks

Getting Out the Wire Cutters
In January, I suspended my DirecTV service. If you’re with DirecTV, you can actually turn off your service while maintaining your account. You don’t pay any bills for the selected duration (max of 6 months), you keep all of your equipment, and when the service comes back on it’s like nothing changed.

I suspended my service for a couple of the most common reasons: 1) I wanted to cut my monthly bills, and 2) I wanted to try out the cable free lifestyle. I’m a sucker for technology movements, so being one of the cool kids on the block that went cable free was right up my alley.

My plan was to replace local stations with free antenna tv, and replace cable shows and series with Netflix. The only problem, as cited over and over by hundreds of curious cord cutters of others was not being able to replace sports with any quality online option. While there are some ESPN options, the internet only sports content is mostly hogwash.

The good news is that (to date) we’ve been happy and have hardly missed TV at all. We’ve found that our need to DVR dozens of shows was unnecessary I’ve learned that there are few specific shows (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc.) that I care about investing my time in. Because of this, the purpose of TV in my mind is less about “needing to watch my shows” and more about “wanting to just watch something”. And once you realize you’re just watching something, the whole prospect of TV in general is less appealing.

Oh, Hello Bill. Wait, What are These Charges?
Every month we get our bill and it’s something like $70. That’s the internet only no-promo rate, which is way too much for the service. However, since it’s the the quickest speed I can get in my area I stay with it. I’d had a promo price to begin with years ago, but I haven’t bothered comparison shopping since the promo expired because CenturyLink can only offer 7 Mbps to my home. Pretty sad for a neighborhood that is only a decade or so old.


So when my March bill arrived, it shocked me. The total due? $110. Not enough was the already overpriced $70 bucks a month. I now had $40 of surcharges on the bill too. WTF?


I decided to do some research into why I would have usage charges and found out that my ISP has had a rate cap on internet bandwidth since Aug 2012. The package I have available to me allowed me to use 250 GB. According to their pricing, for every 50 GB over that, they add a $10 surcharge.

At this point I realized that I needed to research how much data I’d been using since I cut the cord. Unbeknownst to me, my ISP does offer a feature-weak “Usage Meter”. I went to the site which requires more info about my account than I knew or had immediate access to. By the time I’d gotten all the required info, I was fired up at the process. The good news? None. The site didn’t just “work” after logging in. Evidently it needed time to calculate my usage, so I had to go back the next day.

HOW MUCH Data am I Using?
Once I made it into the Usage Meter I gasped. My actual usage was WAY above my expectations based on what I had been charged. My usage in January was a seemingly paltry 150 GB. But Feb and Mar were almost 800 GB EACH. That means according to standard pricing, my bill should have been something like $170 for February. OMG! I haven’t seen my March bill yet, but I’m hoping whatever they used to calculate February applies to March too.


Let’s pause for a moment to think about that pricing. A “should be” price of $170 a month, for internet service with an average download speed of 6-8 Mbps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that for whatever reason my bill was for far less, but wow.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Data Allowance
So as it sank in that I was going to be paying $170 a month ($2,100 a year), I decided I should be looking at ways to cut the cost of cutting the cord. Either that, or completely alter our media consumption patterns.


My first stop was to check out my ISP’s internet only packages. I was actually excited for a minute to see that there were options bigger than my “Prime Internet 15 Mbps” service. My ISP’s Ultra package offers faster speeds, and bigger data allowances. Surely I could just pay more for the Ultra package, even without the speed increase? Nope. Il nes possible. Unfortunately for me, My ISP maintains that data allowances are tied directly to the high speed packages. There’ll be none of that “satisfying for 800 Gbs of HD video delivered at 7 Mbps. You can only have THAT big of allowance if I know you’re going to unnecessarily suck it faster at 20 Mbps! Mwwaaahahahaha” (Mwwaahahahaha added). I tried to talk with my ISP’s Twitter support personnel (which I also blogged about), but their responses were canned, scripted, and aside the point. It was a really good example of how to use social media to run your customers in circles though, so they have that going for them.


The Cord is Going to Be Harder to Cut Than I Thought
So what have we learned Sethy Brown?

  • Because higher speed packages are only available in certain geographies, and because my ISP offers no way to allow lower speed customers to have higher allowances, the only options for cutting the cord are paying ridiculous overage fees, or changing your consumption patterns.
  • I thought that cutting the code would be a simple financial savings each month for my family. Turns out that we could actually waste our time watching DirecTV content for the same price.
  • The big warning to anyone cutting the cord is to check your rules first. Don’t think you’re guaranteed to save money each month. Research your usage, data caps, overage pricing…. all of it. Be informed!

The biggest decision facing me now has three options: 1) Watch far less streamed video content, 2) Keep watching the same and pay for the overages (approx $100 p/month), or 3) Turn DirecTV back on and go back to old consumption pattern (Hello Tara Perry).

I’m learning towards option 1. Not having cable/sat has helped me come to realize that if I could replace what we’d watched for years with little pain, what we were watching must not have been that valuable. It’s starting to sink in that “TV” is merely the most passive media experience we tend to enjoy. And while passive media has a purpose, I’d much rather my family spend its evenings and weekends reading, playing, and/or creating.

So what do you think? Do you have an experience cutting the cord? Been bitten by data caps or something else? Let’s year about it.