Homemaking: Going off the cable grid

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As I write this column, I am getting ready to cut the cord. In a day or so, I am getting up my courage, picking up the phone and telling my cable provider to go jump in a lake.

We live in a hilly area where TV signals don't get all that far, so without cable, we get one station and only once in a while. Three years ago, we upgraded to one of those package deals in which the cable company would provide all our electronic entertainment needs for one low, low monthly price. Because it was such a low, low price, we signed up for a whole slew of movie channels. I remember very clearly telling my wife what a great deal this was, and I pictured sitting on the couch every weekend flipping channels from one blockbuster movie to another. We'd get movie channels I'd never even heard of. We already had more TV screens in our house than mission control, but I even installed a TV in the bathroom, so we'd never have to go without, even when we had to go.

It turned out a little differently. We have somewhere around 37 "premium" movie channels, but we never watch any of them. And that low, low price? Somewhere along the line, our cable bill inched up, bit by bit until we now pay more for cable than some people pay for rent. I pulled up my bill last month, and it's a laundry list of charges, fees and billings that would require a certified accountant to sort out.

I read a few weeks ago, though, that people all across the country are giving up on cable. They're walking away from 527 channels, watching only what they can scrounge up over the airways and turning to the Internet for the few shows they can't miss. I made the mistake of mentioning this to my wife, who has never liked paying for cable -- each month when it comes time to pay the bill, you would think she had to personally extricate and then donate a kidney -- and that was that. We were unplugging.

Then we announced our intentions to our teenage daughters. It was as if we were telling them we were giving up electricity or indoor plumbing. A big part of it was the shame of going to school and hearing other kids talking about some show and having to admit they hadn't seen it because we ... don't have cable. One asked when they'd have to start going to school in a horse and buggy.

I tried to do it before, about a year ago, but when I called the 800 number, and told them I wanted to cancel, the operator went into overdrive mode. I pictured red lights flashing at the command center, and operators running to consoles and donning headseats. "We're about to lose someone to the dark side! Battle stations!" I'm pretty sure the guy in command was walking around with a Darth Vader helmet on.

The operator would not take "no" for an answer. Every time I tried to tell him I wanted out, he'd drag me back in, throwing another special package my way. How would I like, he said, to get all the stations I currently get, plus three more movie channels, and pay the same low, low price? Doesn't that sound like a good deal? He started rattling off the packages available to me, including the "Prime," "Extreme" and "Ultimate" deals. He was talking so quickly that at one point, I think I almost signed on for another two-year contract and had to pretend to have another call on call waiting so I could hang up. (I'm pretty sure he knew it was a ruse. They also provide our phone service and can probably listen in on our calls if they want.)

I asked my wife whether she'd consider going to a package that only delivers your local stations plus CSPAN (also known as the "Geezer" deal.) She pointed out that if we had saved all the money I had wasted on cable I hadn't watched over the past three years, I'd probably be able to buy a new car. So this weekend, I'm calling the cable company guy, and before he can start wooing me with his fancy offers of unlimited entertainment for low, low prices, I'm letting him know it's over.

If you live near me and see a guy on the street wearing plain clothes and a straw hat, and sporting a neck beard, don't be surprised if I come over and ask you for updates on "Mad Men," "Homeland" or maybe even "Dexter."

I might also be able to get you a good deal on a used TV. Or seven of them.


Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.


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