I fought the cord, and the cord won

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I had it all planned out. Inspired by Macworld contributor Joel Mathis’s recent piece on the subject, I was finally motivated and ready to cancel my cable television subscription. It didn’t work.

The research phase

I’d done my homework. I’d calculated that I was paying $60 per month for a relatively basic cable package. Once I canceled cable, I’d still need the same company for my VoIP phone service and my Internet. Because my cable provider, Optimum Cablevision, employs a “triple play” bundle, I knew that I’d lose the $5 monthly discount that subscribing to all three services afforded me. So, by canceling cable, I’d save $55 per month on my bill.

To make up for the loss of cable television, my plan was to keep my family’s Netflix streaming subscription and add in two other services: We’d pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime, which includes instant streaming of many TV shows and movies, including a variety of kids shows that Netflix doesn’t yet offer. And we’d pay another $8 per month for Hulu Plus so that we could continue to watch current-season television programming from the major networks.

Because I concurred with Joel’s argument in his piece a few weeks back, I’d also invested about $90 in a new Roku box, since—to Joel’s point—the Apple TV just doesn’t offer support for enough services. Having a single set-top box to stream Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus struck me as a superior offering to the Apple TV, especially when you factor in other channels you can add to the Roku for live 24/7 news programming and the like.

I was mentally steeling myself for the hardest thing: my impending loss of access to next season’s Philadelphia Eagles football games. I hadn’t yet decided what I was going to do about that, beyond “suffer” or “frequent sports bars on the weekend.”

At any rate, my newly-added monthly costs would total around $14.60 per month. All told, that meant we’d be saving nearly $500 a year, with minimal impact: We could keep on watching the shows we love. We’d even calculated that for certain shows that don’t stream online—and which we wouldn’t want to wait extra months or years for Netflix to start streaming (The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad)—we could purchase episodes from iTunes and still come out way ahead.

So I called the cable company.

Baby, I can change

After waiting on hold for just shy of one hour, I was finally greeted by a kindly Cablevision representative. I knew I’d reached the retention department, and I knew they would try their best to keep me, but I assured my wife ahead of time—we’re making the right call here, and I’m going to reject their silly “don’t leave us!” entreaties.

I explained that I was calling to cancel my cable subscription, and answered the rep’s questions regarding why, and what I intended to do for television going forward. The rep asked whether she could convince me to keep cable if she added a few channels gratis—the Showtime channels, Encore, and Starz. I said that it was kind offer, but that I’d still be spending $500 a year that I would prefer to save.

“Well sir,” the rep explained, “your combined cost for phone and Internet without TV will actually increase, so you’ll be paying $95 per month.” Yes. That’s still a savings of $500 per year over what I’m paying now, I responded again.

After about six minutes of this back-and-forth, she asked what my goal was. I told her that I wanted to spend $95 a month on my phone and Internet, so that I could pursue other, Internet-based options for television. I added further—with utmost sincerity—that my plan was to switch to a third-party VoIP provider after the call, and then cancel my phone service, too. (Optimum was quoting me about $39 a month for phone service without television; competitors like ViaTalk charge about $8 per month.)

She asked if I could wait on hold again while she investigated what she could do about my phone service; when she eventually came back on the line, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Part of the Internet charge involved for my family includes a $15 monthly fee for Optimum Online Boost Plus. That add-on gets us about 50 megabytes per second download speeds, with about 8Mpbs for uploads. When the rep came back on the line, she proposed keeping Boost Plus in place but waiving that fee; and upgrading our channel lineup to include the aforementioned movie channels, along with more kids channels and other stations. All at a monthly rate of $90. The entire rate, she said, would be good for one year.

In other words, my cable company’s proposal was this: Instead of me canceling my cable, they’d give me many more channels and have me spend more than $60 less per month than what I’d been paying. The monthly rate of $90, in fact, meant that at this point in the phone call, it would have cost more money to cut the cable cord than to keep it.

So, we kept it.

Meet the new TV, better than the old TV

I was excited to cut the cord and live cable-free. I was excited for Hulu Plus (despite its unskippable commercial breaks), Amazon Prime (with its other perks like fast, free shipping and free Kindle book loans), and the general knowledge that I’d beaten the cable company.

Of course, I think I actually did achieve that last goal. Presumably, Optimum’s hope in giving me such steep discounts for a year is that I’ll forget about it next year, and not notice when the monthly rate skyrockets. I set a reminder in Calendar for next year, so that I definitely won’t forget to call back the cable company and cut the cord in 2014 instead. I mean, unless the company convinces me to stick around for another year.

This story, "I fought the cord, and the cord won" was originally published by Macworld.

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