December 23, 2006

I'm already starting work on my first new year's resolution: I'm cutting cable out of my expenses.

Comcast quoted me a promotional rate of $30 a month for digital cable, plus $10 per month to rent a high definition DVR that is crashes and malfunctions nearly as much as the model I had in Pittsburgh. Including taxes and fees, that worked out to $45 a month through the end of the year. After the new year, my rate was to have risen to as high as $80, or perhaps as low as $60 had I kept only the bare minimum needed for HDTV.

It was at this point that I realized that I'm not watching $80 worth of television a month -- not even $60 or $45 worth. I watch two series, Heroes and The Office, that put out new episodes no more often than four times a month. I occasionally watch The Colbert Report, which puts out up to sixteen shows a month. Next month the sixth season of 24 starts, and I plan to watch that as well. Were I to buy all these shows on iTunes instead, at $2 an episode for all the serial dramas and at $10 for a package of 16 Colbert Report episodes, that works out in the worst case (all new episodes all month long) to about $37 with sales tax. When the shows go into reruns or finish their seasons, I stop paying for them.

About the only killer app for cable or satellite is sports. Although I get no fewer than six ESPN channels, I rarely watch them. The 7-7 Steelers are getting passed over for national coverage so I end up watching their games at a local sports bar instead. Major League Baseball offers live audio for about $15 a season or video for about $85 a season; I've had the former for the last two seasons and it has worked well for Yankees coverage.

Comcast's Internet access is up to 6 Mbps for $46 per month with cable TV, or $56 per month without. I decided to try Qwest's DSL instead if only on a lark; without a voice phone line ("naked" DSL) it's $47 per month for the first year for the first year and $60 per month thereafter. Despite Comcast's customer service pleading otherwise, Qwest claims speeds of up to 7 Mbps in Seattle. That ought to be fast enough to download what few TV shows I watch.

This is an experiment in reducing the amount of TV I idly consume. Over the years I've become used to having the TV on in the background at all times. By making watching TV a more active process, maybe I'll instead devote energy to other projects and other media, like my growing pile of books to read. There won't be any need to watch shows to either justify the monthly expense of cable or to avoid their deletion to reclaim space on my DVR's hard drive.

This plan also removes the general price tag associated with having a service I don't care to use. For example, consider the natural gas bill on my house in Pittsburgh that you can rent for a low, negotiable rate. With no one in the house, my natural gas bill arrives with a monthly usage of 0 MCF. Total cost for 0 MCF of natural gas: $11.65 per month for a "customer charge." On the other extreme, I drive my car at most two days a week, but the costs of ownership (parking, insurance, depreciation, etc.) work out to over $300 per month. I just signed up for a Flexcar account with the hope that it'll save me money and remove another financial liability for me.

Here's to media independence.