Tech Talk: Is it time to cut the cord?

PHOTO: Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

As monthly costs of our home internet, smartphone plans, and cable TV packages continue to rise, many people are looking for ways to cut back. Customers with three to four services coming into their homes from companies such as Bell or Rogers are often paying more than $300 per month. Meanwhile, most young people do not have home phones or cable subscriptions and have no interest in getting them. So what are our alternatives to avoid spending so much of our hard-earned cash every month?

Home phones are usually the first thing to go. Unless people are using them heavily for a home office through the daytime, smartphones can generally handle the average person’s phone needs. The main drawbacks of cutting a landline are spotty cell service reception in your home and the responsibility of keeping your phone charged and nearby. In addition, some families with small children keep their landline so that if a toddler dials 911, it is easy to trace their location. Other people simply keep home phones around for power outages, as a non-powered landline phone will still function if the electricity is out. That said, sometimes phone lines go down and cell service stays up, so neither option is guaranteed.

Much less straightforward is the decision to cut your cable TV.  Bell and Rogers have built their packages brilliantly to wall off the specific channels in their “Better” package which is one step up from the basic service. However, many of the most commonly watched programs are offered on network websites for free without commercials. These can easily be viewed on tablets, phones, computers, and televisions connected to computers by simply visiting these websites.

HDTV antennas have also become incredibly useful to those who decide to cut their cable. Recently I set one up for a client and they were able to receive CBC, Global, City, CTV, PBS, Fox, and a host of American broadcast stations coming from Buffalo. These connect through the old coaxial cable to the TV in beautiful high definition. I find it interesting to see such a clear picture arriving through a connection that we associate with old tube televisions and VCRs. One drawback to these is that reception quality can vary based on your location and the building materials used in your home. Your newer TV may also not have the necessary coaxial connection, which would also complicate things. However, it’s worth trying out. You can always bring the antenna back to the store if you’re not getting a clear signal. Decent HDTV antennas retail for around $80.

Streaming services like Netflix have also greatly reduced the necessity of cable TV. You can often find them in the menus of modern televisions and they can easily be connected to any TV through a device like Chromecast or Apple TV. These services are usually around $10/month and offer plenty of on-demand programming that is ad-free. Even YouTube has become a hotbed of quality content, with thousands of creators making their living posting weekly or daily videos about every topic you can imagine. Search for a subject that interests you and you’ll most likely find a specialist in that area. All of this content is free, and you can “subscribe” to each channel to get updates when they post new videos.

So what is impossible to get without cable? I would argue there are only three factors keeping the cable TV model going in 2018: Sports, 24 hours news networks, and HBO. If you don’t have cable, it’s pretty much impossible to view any of these without resorting to insecure and illegal streaming websites or bittorrent.

It will be interesting to see how content will be delivered in the future. PVR’s have made the experience much more flexible and accommodating, but will it be enough to continue the ‘all or nothing’ strategy cable companies have used up to this point?

Alex Webster offers computer coaching and support for the Beach and Toronto East. Connect with him at or 416-550-7873.

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There’s a very helpful website for cord cutters at It compares all the TV service options and shows which one fits with the channels you watch. Saves many hours of time researching and comparing all the options! And it’s free.

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