Cutting the Cable TV Cord in Marin County
THE COMPLETE GUIDE
“Cutting the Cord” in Marin County Was Easier Than I Thought
Over the last month we joined the thousands of Marin County residents who have “cut the cord” over the last few years. The phrase “cutting the cord,” is actually a bit misleading as many of us still rely on a cable (a.k.a. the “cord”) to bring internet service into our homes. However for most people this refers to dropping traditional cable-tv service in lieu of a la carte streaming packages which don’t include the contracts and ever-increasing fees which often accompany traditional cable TV.
Many friends have asked me about this lately so I thought I would share our recent experience.
Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Paramount+… There are so many choices!
First, Identify What Services You Actually Use
We had a “triple play” package from Comcast which included a variety of premium channels, home phone service (which we need for our security system), and gigabit high-speed internet service. Many people when they take an inventory of their services realize they haven’t, for example, used their land line in months yet keep paying for it.
In my case, my objective was to keep all our services (phone, internet and TV) while lowering our monthly bill and frustration level with contracts and fees.
Wine Tasting Room at 61 Gold Hill Grade in San Rafael (Sold)
The Problem With Traditional Cable TV Service: Fees and Contracts
Our cable package has hovered around $175-$200 per month for the past few years. While the base package for the Comcast “triple play” has been $149-$159 with premium channels for as long as I can remember, the fees that are added after the contract price have increased much faster than the rate of inflation.
For example, what is termed the “broadcast fee” has increased from just a few dollars to $20.25 per month in Marin County, and the “sports fee” is now $13.80. Our cable DVR, which used to be included in our package at no additional cost, was $7.50 per month, and our cable modem, had we chosen to rent instead of purchase it, would have been $19.95 per month. That’s a lot of fees that for many of my friends add up to a monthly bill that easily tops $200 per month. (You can see Comcast’s full rate schedule for 2022 here.)
On top of this, if we forgot to call in every 24 months and threaten to cancel our service, the package would jump another $30-50 a month. No offense to Comcast, but I would much rather be talking to friends and clients than to my cable company!
Cable TV Alternatives for Those Looking for Local Channels
We enjoy watching the local news and wanted a “cable tv experience” without the addons, so decided to go with Youtube TV. The base cost is $64.95 and you can add premium channels from there. I love that the DVR has infinite storage and will save your programs for 9 months. I have all of the Million Dollar Listing shows saved as well as multiple seasons of many other favorite shows. And yes, you can easily skip commercials on the programs you record. Click here for more information on Youtube TV.
Another nice feature is you can put your subscription on pause from 4 weeks to 6 months and not lose your recordings or preferences. Great if you’re planning on a “digital detox!”
The other big service that provides live channels including locals is Hulu Live TV which currently is $69.95 a month. You may also choose to get a digital antenna and watch programming live “over the air” for free depending on your needs.
Cutting the Cord: You Will Still Need Internet
As I mentioned above, “cutting the cord” is a bit of a misnomer as you will still need internet service if you plan on streaming entertainment on your television and other devices. There are three primary Marin internet providers: Comcast (Xfinity), AT&T (slower DSL or their new high-speed gigabit fiber service where available) and Sonic, which in most cases in Marin re-sells fiber service over AT&T’s lines, though they are also laying their own fiber around the county.
How Do I Watch Different Services on my TV with One Remote Control?
Many people now own “smart TVs” which include apps like Netflix, Hulu and Youtube TV. You may also use an inexpensive Roku streaming stick, an Apple TV or Amazon Fire stick. We went with Roku as we like the simplicity and speed of the interface. The sticks plug into your HDMI port on your TV and are very easy to set up.
What About Data Caps?
During the pandemic, internet providers suspended data caps, which bill users when they exceed a certain amount of data consumption per month. Currently in Marin County, Comcast has implemented a 1.2 terabyte data cap. You can read more about their data cap here.
Sonic and AT&T have eliminated data caps, and they also offer higher upload speeds than Comcast does. Once they are available at my address I plan to switch. While I have never exceeded our data cap, I do not like having to worry about data and I assume between our security cameras and streaming that our data use will grow. Also, higher upstream data rates are great for zoom calls and video conferencing.
What About Landline Service?
If you would like a landline in your home, there are two inexpensive solutions you may want to consider. If your landline is mainly for your alarm or faxing, you may want to consider MagicJack, which currently offers a plan for $43 a year for unlimited domestic dialing.
We went with Ooma, which costs $79 or so for the Ooma box that plugs into your router, then you just pay $6 a month in taxes, with no other required fees. We have found the Ooma sound quality much better than MagicJack. Both services allow you to “port” your current phone number for an additional fee so you don’t need to get a new number. Also, if you are connected to WIFI during an international trip, you can use the Ooma app on your mobile phone to make and receive phone calls back home on your landline for free.
How Much Is This All Going to Cost?
Your cost will vary with the service provider you choose and with the services you require. I’ll give you my own example based on Comcast providing the internet with a purchased modem so we don’t have to pay a modem rental fee.
- Ooma phone equipment: $79 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00SZTR3UI/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
- Motorola cable modem: $180 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08DDFKXKC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&th=1)
- Eero wifi router $152 (https://www.amazon.com/Introducing-eero-mesh-WiFi-system-3-pack-/dp/B07WMLPSRL/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2FI0GQNVIV3QB&keywords=eero&qid=1651183791&s=electronics&sprefix=eer%2Celectronics%2C116&sr=1-3)
- Roku streaming stick $29 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09BKCDXZC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
Total one time costs: $440
You may choose to rent a modem / gateway from Comcast for $20 a month and avoid #2 and #3 charges above. If you have a smaller home, an Eero with just one transmitter may work fine. Those are $59.
- Youtube TV: $64.95 (https://tv.youtube.com/referral/r32c39j9abydv1)
- Youtube TV Entertainment Plus package (HBO, Showtime, Starz): $29.99
- Ooma phone service $6.00 or so depending on taxes where you live
- Comcast: We are paying $70 a month for our gigabit internet plan
Total monthly cost: $170.94
In some cases the above fees are less with Sonic / AT&T as they may provide some of the equipment without charge. As of this writing, AT&T is also offering HBO free with their gigabit fiber service so that’s a savings of $15 a month.
The Affordable Connectivity Program – Free Internet Based on Income Levels
Wait, Is This Really Easier and Less Expensive?
The beauty of traditional cable plans is they are a one-stop shop of convenience. However that convenience, like a mini-bar in a hotel, comes with a cost. Our monthly charges above are basically on “auto pilot” with no additional fees tacked on at the whim of a cable company. Because it’s easy to switch between streaming services, they should theoretically try to keep costs low and service levels high. Time will tell!
I also like that I now have the flexibility to add and subtract HBO/Showtime easily depending on what we are watching, and put the whole package on pause if we take a long vacation. I am not paying for a lot of channels I don’t watch (I’m looking at you, Golf Channel).
And yes, I am saving about $30 a month, but more importantly, I am saving time and frustration. Care to share your thoughts on cutting the cord in Marin County? Please add them to the comments section below.
About the Author
Thomas Henthorne is a top real estate agent in Marin County, working with clients in San Francisco and the North Bay. Call or text him at 415-847-5584 to discuss how he can help you attain your real estate goals.
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