Most people have seen the headlines, advertisements, tweets, blogs all with a similar headline to mine — “Cutting the cord”. Generally it refers to people who have ditched cable TV. Unfortunately, every article comes with 500 comments that say “I cancelled cable, and I don’t regret it, I never watched TV anyway.” Congratulations, you cancelled something you weren’t using. How very strategic of you. Perhaps you can also cut off your head for the same reason. Once you get past the idiots, the next wave is the holier-than-thous who say, “No one should ever watch TV anytime, anyplace, anywhere, it’s all crap.” Again, they can join the idiots with cranial extraction. I have no time for either group, and neither have anything to do with what “cutting the cord” is all about.
The primary goal of “cutting the cord” is to be able to generally access whatever you want, whenever you want, without having to pay for things you don’t want. In other words, TV bundling. TV bundling is where Rogers or Bell or Shaw or LocalMonopolyProvider says, “Great, you can have TV, but you have to take these 30 channels where 15 of them are things you’ll never watch”, and charge you $30-$50 for the startup bundle. After that, you usually can’t do complete a la carte ordering of the rest of the channels you are interested in as often they are bundled too — such as “Speciality channel package 1” that will come with Bravo and Showcase, plus three others I’ll never watch for $5.00. If I take Bravo and Showcase separately, they’ll charge me, say, $3.00 each. So I take the bundle to save a $1 on buying them individually but then I start wondering about the business model. How can they charge me $3 each for five stations, how can they bundle all 5 and reduce it from $15 to $5? Easy. The other three stations are worthless to most subscribers. They’re the toys in the Extra Value meals at fast food places…most of them are worthless, interesting for about ten seconds and then your kid has moved on.
The CRTC has been pushed and are now pushing for TV providers to change their bundling options to reduce the initial bundle cost as well as reduce the overall cost of bigger bundles. In the meantime, a bunch of people have said, “Umm, you know you can find most shows online now, right? There are other ways to get the feed without paying bundled pricing to one company.”
And that is where the movement started. It has blossomed since then to be more about “what services are you paying for that you can get cheaper through third-party providers?”. In general, this comes down to five areas for most people — internet service itself, cable TV, home phone, cellular service, and if applicable, internet hosting. Let me talk about my experience.
I live in Ottawa, and that pretty much meant up until a few years ago that you either went with Bell for phone internet or Rogers for cable internet. Lots of deregulation happened, and lots of little internet providers started cropping up to offer phone-based internet. I had Bell for awhile, and then switched to the National Capital Freenet. In theory, I could run NCF with a static IP address which would allow me to run my own server at home to host my personal website. I played with the setup a bit, ran some configs on a couple of Linux boxes, got things to the point where I could start playing with it. And then reality hit me. I had no real interest in running my own server! 🙂 Put differently, I have no support behind me. If I screw something up, I have no “better geek” to call to say, “I need this fixed asap, here’s my chequebook.” If it went down, it would be down until I figured out why and how to get it back up. I’m an okay geek, I can install routers, set up Windows, wire things from A to B, do some basic troubleshooting. But if WordPress suddenly crashes, I probably have no chance of finding where the problem lies if I can’t even get online and reset the setup. So I gave up sometime ago on running my own server setup. It’s just a layer of tech I’m not willing to take on. I’ll come back to internet hosting at the end, I just mention it in passing as I tried NCF for sometime.
Then, NCF started messing up, my connection wasn’t that stable, and I experienced what is frequently the challenge with third-party providers. Sure, they’re cheaper. Why? Because they don’t pay the overhead all of the big guys do. Like 24/7 extended support. Like people who can visit your house to fix the problem on short notice. They did the best they could, but it was looking like a wiring problem, something they can’t fix. Bell owns the phone wires, and did the wiring in the house. So eventually I bundled it back up, went back to Bell (they were providing my home phone and satellite service anyway), got it all resolved, etc. A few years later, I moved to a new house, hadn’t liked the Bell dish going out in bad weather or high winds, and switched to Rogers. Along with Rogers cable internet. Worked fine, rarely any issues, even in a house where I had to run some extra wires from the first floor router to the basement office (I really prefer not to go full wireless in the house for main computers if I can avoid it). Worked fine, and when I moved again, I moved everything to Rogers.
I have a small secret. One of the biggest complaints for any of the companies is that the Customer Service Reps are frequently horrible for tier 1, first level support. Just as I was about to move, a Rogers agent called me to ask if I wanted home monitoring — I didn’t, but while she was calling anyway, I asked her if I was going to do the move, who I needed to speak to in order to make all the changes. She said she could do it. Here’s the secret — she was flat-out, hands-down, awesome. At this point, I had Rogers cable, Rogers internet, I added Rogers home phone, and I had Rogers cellular too. We reviewed ALL of it. And I do mean all of it. We went through each and every service, talked about options, and each and every time I asked a question, she either already knew the answer or clicked four buttons somewhere and came up with the options. All that bundling was complicated, it pushes even my limits, and she kept it all straight, understood exactly what I wanted and didn’t want, gave me options, recommended certain choices and explained why. It took just over an hour, and I never phased her once nor did I ever lose confidence in her performance. She didn’t oversell, she didn’t undersell, she was a customer’s dream representative. And when we finished the call, she gave me the office direct number and her name so that if I had any other questions, I could call her again. She still works there, I’ve spoken to her twice since. And no, I won’t tell you her name or give you the extension. She is MY secret and I am NOT going sharesies.
Fast forward three years, and I have had no problems with my Rogers cable Internet service. It just plain worked from Day 1. Well, maybe Day 2, I did have to do some setup. Rented the modem, and upgraded at one point in there to stronger modem/router combo when we finished the basement so that I could get a stronger wifi signal down there. Other than that, happy with just about everything.
Except the price. I was paying about $80 (excluding some bundling discounts) for unlimited internet, 5 Mbps upload speed and 25 Mbps download. Lots of deals were out with other companies, even Bell. But all of them were for phone internet. I honestly don’t care whether it is phone or cable, generally, just whether it works, and I have a theory about most people’s experiences with one or the other.
Most people are probably average users and are fine with either one. Maybe even 80% of them. It will work fine. Maybe some tweaks, etc., but both will work. Then there is another 5% who cannot work well with either setup…either their own computer setup is wrong, or they’re just idiots, the service isn’t going to work because the problem isn’t the service. And that leaves 15% where there is a definitive difference in quality of service. For example, there are pe ople who are with Bell, have problems with their service, undergo repeated attempts to fix it, and it just keeps being a problem. No matter what they try, it’s just a pain. So they switch, often to someone like Rogers. And suddenly it works. They think it’s a Bell problem, the whole company is the devil’s spawn, blah blah blah, and they like to complain loud and long about it on every forum they can think of, often with a very clear message “Rogers is better and anyone who is still with Bell is just an idiot.” Sitting right next door to them is a Rogers customer. They too had a problem, tried repeatedly to fix it, got nowhere, finally gave up, switched to Bell, and are now the voice of the newly-converted. Bell can do no wrong, Rogers is the devil’s spawn. Sound familiar? It has nothing probably to do with either company. It was just the wires in the house, local config, neighborhood, maybe local interference that was the problem. Not Bell vs. Rogers.
So when I saw all these “cheaper” companies, I balked. Mainly because they were only offering phone internet, and I’ve never tested the wires in the house. The phone wiring looks like it was done by a nervous and forgetful squirrel. Some of the jacks didn’t even “register”. It didn’t fill me with confidence. And if Rogers was working relatively perfectly for me, why mess with a good thing?
Well, here’s the kicker. I decided to make some other changes (discussed later), and I found out something kind of exciting. TekSavvy offered cable internet. In my neighbourhood. Cheaper, but with a slightly different configuration. I looked into it, basically all I would have to do is swap physical equipment, no need for anyone to come to my house to do anything with wires, it would be the identical setup as with Rogers outside, and they would just throw a switch somewhere. It sounded very enticing. Yet I hesitated.
So much of what I do in the house for other stuff, and the future changes, would depend on the internet working reliably. My wife is doing a semester of education this fall, and she needs internet access. Was now REALLY the right time to consider the switch? She was willing, partly for the cost savings, and because we also have our phones or wifi nearby. If it was messed up for a few days, I could get it fixed or working or just go back to what we had. I pulled the plug.
My new package with TekSavvy had same upload speeds (5 Mbps), which was interesting only as Rogers speed tests had never pushed above 3 Mbps. I don’t do a LOT of uploading, but occasionally when I’m backing up to the cloud, some reliable speed is good. TekSavvy’s tests have me at 4.9 Mbps every time, and a couple of times, I broke 5 (5.1, 5.2). No idea why, but it did.
Download speeds with Rogers was theoretically at 25, I would regularly top out at the 20 Mbps range. No biggie, I’m not a huge torrent freak, but I like to get what I pay for when I am downloading. TekSavvy is rated to 30, and I top out at…29.7 so far. Yep, almost exactly as advertised.
The big change is that I am no longer on unlimited transfers per month. The limit is 400 GB. I could drop it to 150 GB and save $10 a month, but thought I would start with 400 for the first few months while I’m figuring out backups to cloud storage too for some other stuff. I might leave it there, I might drop it. I could go up to unlimited for about another $10. Instead, I’m paying $55 a month. In other words, $25 a month less than I was paying for Rogers, although with slightly faster speeds and lower monthly bandwidth allowances. Rogers gave me a counter-offer, would have only been about $10 more than TekSavvy, so within the ballpark.
In the first year, that’s only $300 savings, and the new hardware cost me $200 (I bought the modem / router rather than renting it). I also added another switchbox to the mix, cost me $25 or so, but that was something I had been meaning to do for awhile, just hadn’t gotten around to it. When I had the basement finished, I had wires run from my 2nd floor office to the basement TV area and to the front-room TV area. Internet wiring to each. Actually two to the basement (one for TV, one for games). So, I kind of feel like I come out even for the first year. After that, $300 less per year isn’t a bad savings.
I know there are lots of people who will say, “Oh, TekSavvy sucks, you should be with x”. For me, it’s a lot like the Rogers/Bell fanatics. The only thing that matters is if it works, and mine does. If it stops working, or slows down drastically, I can always switch to someone else. And I’ll be a lot more willing to do that after I made a lot of other changes with Rogers setup already (more to come later). I’m with TekSavvy for my ISP, and that’s it. No other bundling with them. As such, I feel much more in control of my setup and costs.
As long as it works, no need to drastically change. The rate is pretty good, the service is excellent. I didn’t “cut the cord” and get rid of the internet, but I did trim the cost a bit. On to the other areas…