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I get a lot of questions from family and friends about cutting the cord. I’ve even got an ongoing Nextdoor conversation with my neighbors who are having trouble wrapping their heads around the concept of giving up cable.
If you’ve decided you’re ready to cut the cord, but don’t know where to start, then this guide is for you. It’s the same advice I share with people close to me who ask for advice.
Before making any drastic changes or decisions, start by adding an antenna to your current setup without changing anything else. It’s a one-time investment of about $50 that will start your cord-cutting adventure with no other commitment.
Step One: Go to NoCable.org
First, go to nocable.org and enter your street address. You’ll receive a free report about which stations you receive, what antenna is recommended, and which direction to point it. If you live near an urban television market, you can access local network broadcasts from ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, and Telemundo for free.
With this information in hand, you’ll know what broadcast channels you’ll receive for free once you have an antenna. You should be able to get all of your local broadcast stations (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS) with a $40 antenna that you mount on the wall behind your TV. By the end of 2019, most channels will broadcast in Ultra High Def, so if you can’t receive them clearly yet, you will within a year.
Step Two: Purchase a digital TV antenna
TV stations currently broadcast shows in either standard or high definition. All digital antennas, also known as HD antennas, receive the same picture and sound quality. The broadcast signal is higher quality than the compressed signal you’ve been receiving from your cable or satellite company. There are also sub-channels that you never knew existed.
If you’ve looked into antennas, you know that they come in every shape and size. Modern antennas don’t look like the foil-covered rabbit ears you’ve seen in pictures. They resemble a piece of cardboard or a loop of plastic. The science of receiving a signal is the same as always, but like cell phones and computers, the antenna has improved components which makes receiving the signal more reliable.
Most people in metro areas end up with a small, multi-directional antenna that receives every channel nearby. These antennas can pick up signals regardless of which way they’re facing and are categorized by 20, 30, 40, or 50-mile reception ratings. The rating is just an estimate of the antenna’s capabilities. If you’re on the cusp of the rating, it’s best to go up.
The most important thing is to avoid a cheaply manufactured model with sub-standard parts. There’s not much of a price gap between a quality antenna and a cheap model that breaks easily, so price isn’t the best way to choose. Weed out the junk by choosing a reputable brand with solid customer service and a fair return policy. We’ve had the best results using NoCable, Winegard, and Mohu.
Step Three: Install the antenna
Attach your digital antenna to your TV through a coaxial cable and find the best place for it. Check the your NoCable report to see which general direction is recommended, and place the antenna on that side of the house. Because they work on a line-of-sight, installing the antenna in a window, high on a wall, or behind the TV will get you the best signal.
The antenna will automatically scan for the strongest signal it can find. Once the scan is complete, you should see what channels it’s receiving. If you aren’t receiving channels that NoCable said you would, move the antenna slightly and try the scan again. Repeat the process until you’ve found the best place for the antenna.
So it’s all going well, and you’re ready to proceed with cutting the cable cord. Before you call the cable company and cancel your service, you’ll need to arrange for internet service. Any other service you sign up for will require high-speed internet connectivity. Once that is established, you can search for a live TV provider or over-the-top services like Netflix or ESPN+.
Step Four: Find an Internet Provider
Most cable companies don’t want to lose your bundled service, so you’re unlikely to save much with an “Internet only” plan. See other options by visiting our high-speed internet page to see what providers, speeds, and prices are available in your specific area.
There are different ways to deliver internet service. Satellite, fiber, cable, and DSL all deliver high-speed internet solutions through different methods. Unless you have a specific reason to choose one method over another, the best idea is to choose one by speed and price.
It would be simple if the price were measured strictly in dollars. The problem is that you have to consider contracts, termination fees, monthly equipment costs, and activation fees.
Speed is measured in average Megabits per second (Mbps). It’s generally referred to as “bandwidth,” and internet providers state the maximum rate at which you can download data. Some providers will allow a certain amount of data to pass with high bandwidth and then will bottleneck the flow for additional data used during the month.
The bandwidth you’re allotted is shared among all devices on your connection. Streaming video requires about 3 Mbps for one standard definition (SD) video and 5 Mbps for an HD stream. If you’re just surfing the web, reading email, or checking Facebook requires 1 Mbps. To determine the speed you need for your household, add up the number of simultaneous streams you’re want to serve without your service degrading.
Step Five: Choose a live TV provider
This step isn’t required, but many people prefer to keep a service that streams a similar channel lineup to their previous cable setup. There are a lot of options for live TV, and you’ll want to consider cost, channels received, and DVR capacity. If you decide to stream your live TV service, you’ll need a device to deliver it. Devices like Roku, Chromecast, TiVo, or Amazon Fire TV will deliver the streaming service.
If you would like to be able to watch your local channels online (as opposed to using an antenna), you can see which channels are available on streaming services in your area by clicking here.
Step Six: Add some over-the-top (OTT) services
Almost everyone has a Netflix subscription. Depending on what shows you follow, you might consider signing up for Hulu, ESPN+, CBS All Access, or HBO. If you have Amazon Prime, take advantage of the included Prime Video content. New niche services like Filmstruck, MoviesAnywhere, Crackle, and others pop up every week.
Theoretically, cutting the cord is easy to understand. Once you add in all of the choices, options, and decisions, it becomes a bit more complex. If you’re ready to cut the cord, these steps should pave the way for you to start your adventure and save a few bucks along the way.
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."
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