I can not. And so began my long-awaited quest to free myself from those hellish adapters, spurred on by Comcast’s latest round of price increases. I finally understood, and I will soon get rid of it. In the process, I realized that cutting the cable wasn’t such a scary prospect, even for a somewhat technophobic baby boomer like me.
I’m not convinced there will be huge savings for me if I ditch cable, given the rising cost of streaming services that go over the internet rather than cable. But I believe I can find ways to pay less, while perhaps getting more, by taking charge of how live TV and other video content enters my home.
I currently pay Comcast about $180 per month, including $111 for my “Standard+” plan, which includes cable TV and Internet (but doesn’t detail the cost of each). The remaining charges pay for equipment rental, fees, and taxes (I don’t get any premium channels from Comcast).
Even if I cut cable TV, I’ll still need Comcast for Internet, which alone costs almost $100, according to a separate price list. Comcast’s two major competitors in Massachusetts, Verizon Fios and RCN, are not available in the city where I live.
Comcast dominates in Massachusetts, with nearly 70% of the market, or nearly 1.3 million customers (its numbers are steadily declining). In about 130 communities, Comcast was the only option for cable and Internet in 2019, according to the most recent state data available.
What I’m discovering about cable and streaming services and everything else is a work in progress. But maybe by sharing what I’ve learned so far, I can inspire others to take their own “critical look” at their TV costs.
So here are some basics:
Q. Do I need to buy my own modem and router?
A. You may be surprised at how quickly rental charges add up. I spent nearly $700 on fees in the five years before buying my modem and router. Note that Comcast increased its monthly rental fees by 40% during this five-year period. And the quality of my new “mesh” router is superb. It is actually three routers, one connected to the modem and two placed elsewhere in the house. No more annoying delays waiting for a connection.
Q. How much do they cost and where can I buy one?
A. I paid $90 for an Arris modem and $20 for an Eero Wi-Fi system at Best Buy. I’m sure there are plenty of brands to choose from.
Q. Why do you need so many digital adapters?
A. My wife and I have four televisions: the main one in the family room, plus ones in the bedroom, kitchen, and home office. We use the “extra” three by connecting Comcast cables to digital adapters, which attach to TVs. We don’t use the extra televisions very much, but we don’t want to give up having the news while we prepare meals in the kitchen, for example.
Q. Has Comcast increased adapter rental fees?
A. In 2014, Comcast charged $2 per adapter. It has increased its fees by more than 300% since then. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve paid over $1,200 for adapters in the last five years. At the current rate, that would cost over $300 a year.
Q. Can’t you buy your own equipment to replace Comcast’s adapter?
A. No, there is no substitute. Periodically, I would call Comcast to ask. Comcast’s answer was something called Roku, which sounded beyond my technological reach. I dropped. It was a costly mistake. As I recently discovered, Roku lets me watch anything I get on Comcast (aka Xfinity) on any TV without a digital adapter.
Q. What is Roku?
A. Roku is a streaming device, often referred to as a stick. It is a thin cylinder about 4 inches long. It comes with a remote control and a power cord. I paid $30 for one (on sale) at Best Buy. Other streaming sticks include Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV. They’re portable, meaning you can move them from TV to TV and take them with you when traveling for use in a hotel room, for example. They come loaded with the software you need to get internet streaming services on your TV.
Q. What exactly do I do with a streaming key?
A. You plug it into an HDMI port on the back of your TV. You can power it two ways: by inserting the USB cable attached to the dongle into a USB port on the back of your TV, or by connecting the USB cable to a power adapter and plugging it into a wall outlet (this latter is the recommended method). Now turn on your TV with the remote control that came with your TV.
Q. What happens when I turn on the TV?
A. Most TVs have multiple HDMI ports. Find the “source” or “input” button on your TV remote and switch to the HDMI port that matches your streaming stick. The screen will show Roku, Chromecast (aka Google TV), Fire TV or other streaming sticks.
Q. Do I need to do any configuration?
A. Yes. Roku will search and find your Wi-Fi network first. Click on yours and enter your Wi-Fi password. This will connect your TV via Wi-Fi to the internet. A screen will appear from Roku asking for your email address. When an email arrives, click the “activate” button. A new Roku screen will display a six-digit code on your TV. Once you enter the code provided by Roku on your laptop or phone, the screen will refresh and Roku will ask you a series of questions, including whether you have cable or satellite TV.
Q. What difference does it make?
A. The purpose of a streaming stick like Roku is to access your streaming service apps on any TV – Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max, for example. Don’t forget that they come to the Internet via Wi-Fi on your streaming stick and on your TV. Comcast has its own streaming service, called Xfinity Streaming Beta. If you tell Roku that you are an Xfinity subscriber and log in to your Xfinity account as instructed, you will be able to open the Xfinity app and use it by clicking the Xfinity icon that appears on your Roku homepage . When the Xfinity Streaming Beta app opens, you’ll have access to everything you get on Xfinity on your “main” TV, including live TV and shows you’ve recorded and saved.
Q. What about my other streaming service apps?
A. Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max all appeared on my Roku homepage when I first set it up. I followed the prompts to log into each app with my username and password. After doing this once, I can open my apps with one click.
Q. How much do streaming services cost?
A. Netflix recently increased its monthly fee to $15.50, up almost 11%. Hulu’s monthly fee is $13. It costs $15 per month to be a member of Amazon Prime, which includes its streaming service. And the fees for HBO Max are $15 per month. None of this is cheap.
Q. What’s your next move?
A. Obtain streaming sticks on all my “extra” TVs and return all three digital adapters to Comcast for a monthly savings of $25.50. I may also consider buying my own “TV box”, which I now rent, complete with an Xfinity remote, from Comcast for $5.70 per month.
Q. Are you still planning to ditch cable altogether?
A. If I could live off streaming services alone, I would ditch Comcast while maintaining its internet service. A good reason to do so would be to avoid some of Comcast’s other rapidly rising fees, such as its “regional sports” fee (now $14.10 per month, up from $1 in 2015) and its “television” fee. (now $22.25 per month, up from $3.25 in 2015).
But sometimes I want to watch live TV. And thankfully, there are more and more options to do it without cables. CNN, for example, is gearing up to launch a live TV streaming service called CNN+ this spring. This will require a monthly fee, which has yet to be announced. More for me to investigate (and share).
Another thing I learned recently is how easy it is to add and remove streaming services because there’s no contract. Many consumers cut costs by constantly adding and removing services, depending on the multi-part series they are consuming at the moment.
Sounds good to me.