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Summary:

Michael Kennerknecht cut the cord in more than one way when his first son was born a year and a half ago. He decided that $150 per month for triple play simply was too much and got rid of cable. And then he discovered Netflix.

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What’s it like to cut the cord from pay TV? What’s working, what’s missing, and what kind of equipment does the best job replacing the cable box? Every weekend, we’re asking cord cutters to tell us about their experiences. This week’s featured cord cutter is Michael Kennerknecht, who was using a VPN account to access the BBC’s iPlayer long before he got a Roku.

My wife and I decided to cut cable in summer 2009. She was pregnant with our first son, so we were looking for ways to save money. Cable was among the first things to go.

With our digital phone, Internet and digital cable package with DVR, our Time Warner Cable bill was just shy of $150. We were able to save nearly $100 by going down to just RoadRunner and basic cable (the broadcast stations). Our bill is now about $56.

The Setup

The key to our success without cable has been our PC. It’s nothing special – an HP Pavilion a6030n we bought in 2007. I did modify it with a TV tuner and it was also upgraded to Windows 7 from Vista. Other than that, it’s pretty basic: 2GB of memory, 320GB hard drive, AMD Athlon duo core processor and an Nvidia graphics card.

We have a 22” Proview monitor and a 2.1 Logitech sound system, which help make it ideal for watching content. Plus, the computer is in our living room in an armoire. We can easily close it up and hide it away, but since we don’t have a TV in the living room, it functions as our entertainment hub.

The Switch

At first, we were so busy with projects around the house to prepare for our first-born that we really didn’t have much time to spend watching TV anyways. If we really needed something to watch, we would rent a movie from Redbox for a dollar or watch something on Hulu.

Then came Netflix, which we signed up for around the end of the summer. That changed everything. Not the movie rentals though; we still occasionally rent from Redbox. For only $9 a month, though, we got access to a massive library of movies and TV shows. We’ve primarily used Netflix to watch movies and TV shows instantly on the computer. We do have the one DVD at a time plan, but we sometimes go weeks before we get around to watching them.

Netflix and Hulu have been indispensable for us since we got rid of cable. However, the absolute icing on the cake is a VPN service. For $6 a month, we are able to hide our IP address and use a proxy in the UK. This allows us to access the BBC iPlayer. A really nice feature of the iPlayer is the ability to download shows and watch them offline. Plus, with the BBC being public, there’s no commercials – not even for sports!

The Lifestyle

With Netflix, Hulu and the VPN, we’ve gone almost a year and a half without cable. We actually take great pride in that. The savings is easily $50 a month. To us, that’s just money we’d be wasting. Between work and our son, we really don’t have much time to sit around and watch TV anyways.

My wife and I aren’t big big sports fans, so we didn’t have much to worry about when we cut cable. Although we’re thinking about the NHL GameCenter package, which would allow us to watch all the games online, live and archived.

Children’s programming hasn’t been a concern either. Our son is a big fan of Fraggle Rock, which is available to watch instantly on Netflix. At just 14 months, he doesn’t need to watch much TV at all. But if he does, we’ve also got PBS and Saturday morning cartoons. We can also rent or add family and children’s DVDs to our Netflix queue too.

What’s Next

As I was typing this post, our Roku XD arrived in the mail. It was a Christmas present from my wife. I wanted to be sure to start writing this before we really started using it. Now, I have This Week in Google playing on the big screen while I type away.

With the Roku, we’ll be able to access Netflix on the TV in our family room. I’m a big fan of This Week in Techand they have a dedicated channel. We have a one month free trial for Hulu Plus, which we’re anxious to try out. We also got a $5 credit for Amazon’s Video on Demand too. NHL GameCenter Live is now a more attractive option, with it’s Roku integration, but it’s expensive, so we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s Pandora, Blip.tv, Crackle by SONY and so much more to discover.

I’m really looking forward to our next few months with the Roku. We’re taking cord-cutting to a whole new level.

Michael Kennerknecht is a self-described politics and tech enthusiast from Endwell, New York. His Twitter account can be found here.

Want to share your own Cord Cutters survival story? Then send us an email (cordcutters (at) gigaom.com) or get in touch with us on Twitter (@cordcutters). And while you’re at it, also check out the latest episode of our weekly Cord Cutters web series:

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  1. set the roku to a 16:9 setting please

    1. I got it set right now. LOL

      1. I can tell you that we love our Rokus

  2. otherwise congratulations!

  3. I don’t know if I’m ready to cut the cord just yet. Maybe in a year or two. I’m waiting for more mainstream content to become available for streaming. Other than the content issue, viewers can do so much more with Internet-based video than with cable and satellite video. Most sites hosting video let you interact with other viewers in one way or another, and at least one — http://www.fargotube.com, my employer — lets filmmakers, bands and other content owners run their own social networks centered around their videos and music.

    1. Chris,
      “Interaction” is always interesting (proof that I am commenting here…), but I think many of us when “watching” TV just want to relax and not be bothered by “interactivity”. Time on the couch, watching a film, or a documentary w/o being asked to provide feedback, or “interact” with the producers or other viewers, is likely a priceless “feature” for many of us.
      That said, been thinking/talking about cutting the cord, but failed to act so far. Getting closer though.

  4. You have basic cable. You are not a cord cutter. Yes you downgraded your package, but you did not cut the cord. Headline is misleading.

    1. I felt a bit cheated when I read that, too… no actual cord was cut, just new internet-source cables supplementing the downgraded cable package. It doesn’t detract from the content itself — the BBC iPlayer apporach is smart — it’s just misleading.

    2. What was missing from the article was that the reception isn’t good in the basement (finished), where our primary TV is. We opted to pay $5.65/mo. for basic cable, which only includes the broadcast stations. Our big screen TV didn’t have a digital tuner either, so we would have needed a converter box to use an antenna.

      Honestly though, we hardly ever watch live network programming anyways. We watch shows like Modern Family and The Office on Hulu (and now Hulu Plus). This way we can watch what we want, when we want it.

      The way I look at it, “cord cutting” is about the customer taking control over over their media and programming. Sure, there’s a few channels and shows I miss from digital cable, but I never liked the idea of cable being an all or nothing deal. In absence of that, we found the next best solution for our family and I’ve been encouraging others to consider “cutting the cord” ever since.

  5. Michael (and other “cord cutters”),
    It would be interesting to hear how much data you guys are pushing (or rather pulling) on your broadband pipes. Cable(TV) cutting is always interesting, but the fear is also that we’ll run up the full allotment (in our case 250 GB/month) of of data transfer from our ISP, and most ISPs do not have a tier over and above that.
    Cable providers always make sure they get to your money somehow….

    1. That’s interesting. It would be neat to know how much data we’re using. I’m not really sure how to go about figuring that out though. Honestly though, with a one-year old, we don’t get much free time, so I would suspect we’re at the lower end of the spectrum of cable cutters.

      1. Michael,
        thanks for answering. Some ISPs (Comcast) does provide that information on their (billing) portal. I guess others with hacked routers could measure it.
        With two adults, not much free time, but a fair amount of Netflix viewing and a lot of iPhone streaming, we are pulling down between 20-40GB per month.

        So we’re likely in the clear, but never the less, this is an important factor to consider since the CATV Co (which might be your ISP as well) is not going to give up on the (CATV) revenue without a fight – possibly raising ISP rates or lowering the “cap”, if they see too much of cord cutting.
        And since most of us in reality do not have a choice of ISP…

  6. Hi Michael,

    Great article! We just cut the cord (DirecTV) 2 weeks ago and so far it has been great. I’m very interested in the VPN service for access to BBC for iPlayer access. Can you elobrate on this a bit more? My wife and I enjoy a lot of BBC programming and find some of the content hard to find.

    1. Hi Chris, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The service we’ve been using is HideIP VPN. They occasionally offer free accounts, but I got a paid one. It’s only about $6/mo. My wife and I are Formula 1 fans, so we’re able to watch the races live or achieved. We also like some other BBC shows, like Gavin & Stacey and Top Gear, so it’s a good deal. It was easy to set up and I haven’t had any problems (almost 1 full year now!). Just to play it safe though, I download most content, rather than stream it. With the iPlayer, once you have it on your hard drive, it doesn’t expire for 30 days. If you use a laptop, it’s a great way to travel with content!

      1. Great thank you! I look forward to getting this going this weekend. I have shared this article with several co-workers and they are excited about this as I am. Thanks again.

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