How To Cut the Cord in 2020: A Primer

how to cut the cord - cord cutter

The following is a step-by-step, how-to tutorial for would-be cord cutters. After you have completed each step, you will be able to call your cable or satellite provider and cancel all of your video subscriptions. Before we begin, you need to understand the following:

  1. The behavior you now know as “watching TV” will cease to exist. From this point on, channel surfing (the practice of lying on the couch with an adult frosty beverage, a bag of salty snacks, and a TV remote control and figuring out what you’re going to watch) is over. From here on in, you will need to know what you want to watch or be adept at searching for it (Google-style). For more information, see “The Slow, Painful Death of Channel Surfing.”
  2. You will save money only if you currently have multiple cable or satellite accounts. For example: You have multiple homes and pay for cable/internet & phone in each. Or, you have one home, but one or two children in college dorms where you pay for cable/internet & phone. If you live in one place and have one cable/internet & phone provider, this is a lifestyle choice, not a financial choice. In other words, the more you currently pay for these redundant services, the more you will save when you cut the cord.
  3. Unless you just bought new versions of everything, you will probably need a bunch of new tech to make this work. It will come at a cost (a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) depending upon your current infrastructure.

As you keep the above in mind, after you read the rest of this article, I suggest a short test. Go to tv.youtube.com/welcome and try the service for free for 14 days. It will be $50/month after that. If you like watching TV on YouTube TV, go ahead and sign up for real, and then follow the instructions below.

Terminology

People who cut the cord don’t actually cut any cords. In order to economically stream video to the television sets in your home (and to your laptops, desktops, and handhelds while in your home), you still need a broadband (internet) connection. So, there is still a cord (cable) coming into your home.

Cord cutters generally get their internet service from their cable company, which is why, in the industry, all of the services we are talking about here are said to be “over the top” (OTT). In this case, OTT means over the top of your cable television connection. If you’re super-interested in this topic, Google it.

The Internet

To cut the cord, you need a reasonably good to very good internet connection. If you live alone (one person), and you have an HD television (2K), a computer, and a smartphone, you can probably get away with a connection that is 30 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up. This can be very inexpensive.

However, if you live in a house with a bunch of people, say, two adults and two kids, or if you have an UltraHD (4K) television and like to watch movies in 4K, you are going to need a more robust broadband connection. 300 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up (or higher) is recommended. 1Gbps (gigabit) would be my choice (but it is expensive — at least $70 to $90 per month, depending upon your ISP).

If your internet speed is too slow, or if your provider sucks, or if your contract allows the provider to throttle your internet speed if you watch too much video, you are going to be very disappointed in your decision to change your TV viewing habits.

So pay attention here: you need great internet connectivity to make this work. There is no substitute for a great broadband connection. 300 Mbps is offered by Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, and a bunch of others. Start there. If you can afford 1Gbps, do it. And make sure (very sure) that there is no provision in the contract that allows the provider to throttle your bits after you hit a certain threshold.

Old habits die hard. If you like to turn the TV on when you get home and use it for background noise, that’s fine – as long as you don’t have to worry about connection speed when you sit down later to watch a new episode of your favorite 4K streaming video.

The Modem

If you currently have internet connectivity through your cable provider, there is a very good chance that your provider is renting you a modem. In Vermont, Comcast was renting me one of their modems for $13/month. You don’t need to keep this modem. (Return it when you return your settop boxes and save your $13/month.)

Comcast and every other cable company have a list of approved third-party modems that will work perfectly with their systems. You can buy them on Amazon, at B&H Photo, or at Best Buy. Get a modem that is top-of-the-line and DOCSIS 3.1 compatible (a standard used to transfer data over cable TV systems, which allows any cable modem to work with any cable TV system).

Internet-only Modem vs Internet/Voice Modem

If you currently have a video, voice, and data package from your cable company, you will need a modem that is voice compatible if you want to keep the phone service from your cable company. (If you have an alarm system in your house, it may use the phone service even if you don’t use it for voice. Check for that!)

The WiFi Router

Part of the joy of cord cutting is taking advantage of high-speed wireless access to the internet from everywhere in your house on every device. To do this, you need to make sure you have a good wireless network in your house.

This is a pain in the neck on the best of days. There are two easy (that is, pretty easy) solutions: Google Nest WiFi 3-pack (approx. $340) and Eero Pro Mesh 3-pack (approx. $500). I have experience setting up both of these systems. They are as close to plug-n-play as I have seen. Why a 3-pack? Both of these systems create mesh networks in and around your home or apartment. You can cover up to 6,000 sq ft easily with a 3-pack. A 2-pack or even a single router may work if you have a smaller home or apartment.

Regardless of which wireless (WiFi) router you choose, you MUST have a wireless router attached to your cable modem for this to work. Alternatively, you can purchase a cable modem that has a wireless router built in. I am not a fan of combined modem/routers. I like dedicated devices.

If you live in a small home or apartment and you have no problems getting WiFi everywhere with a single WiFi router, then you can consider a combination modem/wireless router. Otherwise, purchase the modem and WiFi mesh network separately. The setup is not terrible. (I did not say good or easy; I said not terrible.)

Enabling Your TVs

Many television sets are sold as “smart TVs.” If you purchased your smart TV in the last 12 months, it may already have everything you need to cut the cord already installed. However, there is a better-than-average chance that your set is too old or outdated to support current streaming services.

Not to worry. Go to amazon.com and purchase a $35 Fire TV Stick (for HD sets, aka 2K) or a $50 Fire TV Stick 4K. (If you have UltraHD 4K sets or plan to get them, the 4K version will work fine with HD 2K sets.) These are super easy to set up, and they turn any TV with an HDMI input (check the back of your set before you order it) into a smart TV.

“HELP! My set is so old it does not have an HDMI connection on the back.” The solution for that is simple: go purchase a new set. You can get an HDMI-to-Component adapter, but don’t. Just buy a new set. Yes, I’m serious.

There are other solutions from Roku, Chromecast, SlingStudio, TiVo, Nvidia, Apple, and others. Each solution is slightly different and may work better in some cases. Apple TV (the box, not the new Apple TV+ service) works great if you’re an Apple person. Roku is amazing no matter what you use as a smartphone or computer.

I have found Fire TV Sticks to be incredibly simple to set up, so I recommend them to people who are not super-technical. I also recommend them to people who like to “hack” their tech. You can Google “Jailbreak a Fire TV Stick” to get a sense of the possible (not that I would ever recommend you do anything but play by the book).

When Your Home Is Internet Ready

When you have installed your new, robust broadband connection and your robust WiFi mesh network and everything is awesome, you are ready to do your cord-cutting test.

Live TV – A Virtual MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor)

I wrote an article (“Making Sense of Streaming“) that lists the most popular “live TV” providers you subscribe to over the top. For this article, I’m just going to talk about YouTubeTV. (I’m not endorsing or recommending YouTubeTV. There are several other choices. That said, I use it and I like it. I asked you to test the concept of cutting the cord by signing up for a 14-day free trial. If you followed that recommendation, you should be familiar with it by now.)

Your multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) choice will ground your new streaming video world in the old metaphor of a grid guide. It will look familiar and work sort of like your old cable set-top box.

Apps

You probably already have a Netflix account. You may have Prime, too. The “Making Sense of Streaming” article I referenced above lists most of the other popular content choices.

A reasonable setup would include YouTubeTV (or another Live TV service), Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Now (soon to be HBO Max), and whatever sports networks you care to subscribe to. Comcast announced that Peacock, its new streaming service, will be available later this year. It will certainly be worth a look when it comes out.

Enjoy

That’s basically it. One subscription works everywhere on every device. There are no taxes or tariffs on the internet connection. My cable bill went from $292/month to $49/month in Vermont. Add in $50 for YouTubeTV, and I’m saving about $200/month. Now, I already subscribed to CBS All Access, Disney+, Apple TV+, Netflix, YouTube Premium, HBONow, Amazon Prime, and a few others, so I could not count them against my savings or add them to my costs.

My guess is that you already subscribe to a few OTT streaming services now. But again, unless you were paying multiple cable bills for multiple locations, this is more of a lifestyle choice than a cost-saving choice.

One Last Thing

There is an added plus we did not discuss yet. In preparing your home for cord cutting, you will have also prepared it for all of the IoT (Internet of Things) devices you might want: Alexa, Ecobee or Nest Thermostats, alarm systems, home security, drop cams, etc. All of the stuff the “cool kids” have will work over your new, robust, awesome WiFi network.

There is no “right way” to cut the cord. I’ve tried to offer a super-simple approach that I know anyone can accomplish with a minimal amount of pain. Everyone you speak with who has gone through the experience will offer a “suggested method.” Go forth unafraid! I’m happy to answer questions, so feel free to reach out.

 

Take the Survey

If the survey is not visible, click here.

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is a business advisor and technology consultant. He helps Fortune 500 companies with digital transformation, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn's Top Voice in Technology, he is the co-host of "Think About This with Shelly Palmer & Ross Martin." He covers tech and business for Good Day New York, writes a weekly column for Adweek, is a regular commentator on CNN and CNBC, and writes a popular daily business blog. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com

Topics in this Article

PreviousIs that available on Netscape? NextWhat is a "Smart TV"?

Get Briefed Every Day!

Subscribe to my daily newsletter featuring current events and the top stories in technology, media, and marketing.

Subscribe