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Jason Ogaard: Cutting the cord, yet again

How many of us pay for high speed Internet? How many of us pay for that via our cable TV provider? How many of us pay for cable TV and bundle it with our Internet plan? The answer is, a lot of us.

That number is actually decreasing, though. An increasing number of people have been “cutting the cord,” a term used to describe people who are paying for high speed Internet but not for cable TV. “Cutting the cord” has become so popular it has spawned Internet communities helping others who are thinking about doing the same.

Two years ago, when I moved into my current apartment, I made the choice to cut the cord. The choice saved me a lot of money every month and I don’t miss the channels I used to get. What I found odd though, was that it was cheaper to bundle the basic TV package with my Internet than it was to get Internet alone. The basic package only included channels that I could get over the air and they were non-HD, so I don’t utilize it. It didn’t take me long to figure out why it would be cheaper to bundle TV with Internet than pay for Internet alone.

Of course, people would choose the cheaper bundle even if they don’t want the basic package. The cable providers do this so that they can quote statistics that people aren’t giving up cable TV. That’s been their argument for years now to try to debunk the cord-cutting trend. But the reality is that people are choosing to watch less and less cable TV in favor of other options. Why would I spend an extra $30 to get a channel that I want and 25 channels I don’t. These bizarre channel packages of ever-increasing prices paired with the fact that there is usually only one option for cable TV means the customer experience is often sub-par. The providers know if you want to watch cable TV, you only have one option, so they can charge (almost) whatever they want.

Over the past five years, several companies have carved out a new market for TV watching. Instead of watching it via a cable box, stream it over the Internet. Netflix is the best known company for streaming television and movies, though there are a lot of players now in the market. You can also stream content from companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Hulu and many more. There are so many options for streaming now that having access to a lot of good content is (almost) not an issue anymore. Just about every show can be streamed either via a monthly subscription like Netflix or one time purchases like Apple. Combine these options with the free HD TV you can get with an antenna and you have a lot of good options.

Some of these providers are actually producing their own original content. Netflix has aired four original shows so far this year. Three of them garnered high praise. The first, “House of Cards,” had more than 10 Emmy nominations. Amazon is testing the same waters by letting users watch pilots and then vote on which shows get made. Not only do you get a lot of content with these providers for a very reasonable fee (Netflix is about $8 per month, Amazon streaming is included with Amazon Prime at $79 per year) but you also get access to quality original content.

There is another issue, however. Getting that content to your TV can be a pain. There are various options. You can buy one of the three major gaming consoles. Each console will have an app for all of the major streaming networks with the exception of Apple. I bought a PS3 for this purpose, which also has the added bonus of being a Blu-Ray player. With an Apple TV you can watch any content that Apple has available through iTunes as well as Netflix and a host of other TV options, but you won’t be able to watch Amazon. Roku, a small box similar to Apple TV, has all of the major players except Apple. Google just released a tiny device called Chromecast.

Chromecast is ingenious. You plug it into your TV and it hooks up to your Wi-Fi network. Then you can pair any device that runs the Chrome browser to it. This includes Android devices, iOS devices,  anything that is on the same network that has the Chrome browser. What Chromecast does is mirror whatever is playing in the browser. For example, if you’re watching YouTube in Chrome it’ll also display on your TV. Chromecast also has an app store, and it includes apps such as Netflix, so you don’t even need to hook up a device to Chromecast to watch some content. The best part of Chromecast is the price, it’s only $35.

I plan to eventually own a computer that is just hooked up to the TV with a wireless keyboard and mouse. This way, I’ll be able to watch any service I want, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc. without worrying about what device to get. If you‘re interested in saving money every month just search for “cutting the cord,” you’ll find there are a lot of good communities with guides on how to get it done.

JASON OGAARD was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis-based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.