Cord cutting—ditching cable or satellite TV and watching stuff online instead—is great. It’s also not for everyone.
Cable TV is expensive, which is why millions of people are opting to stop paying for it every month and subscribe to various online streaming services instead. People often save money doing this, and for most tech savvy people, we highly recommend it.
Having said that, it’s not for everyone. There are a few reasons that cord cutting might not be for you—here’s a few to think about.
Your Broadband Options Suck
Streaming online video only works if you have reliable broadband access, and millions of Americans don’t—78 million by one estimate. This is true in rural areas, as most people know, but a shameful number of urban and suburban areas also don’t have broadband access.
It sucks, but if you’re one of those unlucky people, cord cutting might not work out for you. Services like Netflix need to buffer a lot on slower connections (and often reduce image quality), which is annoying but not necessarily a deal breaker. But anything streaming live events is going to be basically unusable, because you’ll end up missing a lot to stutters and buffers.
And if you have multiple people in your home that like to watch different things at the same time, forget about it.
Your ISP Has Low Data Caps
This is related to the previous point, but it’s worth thinking about on its own. Many ISPs cap the amount of bandwidth you’re allowed to use in a month, after which they either slow down your connection or cut you off completely. If your ISP caps your data, cord cutting might not be a good idea, because streaming a lot of television can cause you to hit this cap quickly.
Look into this before cutting the cord. Your provider might offer an unlimited data plan for a fee, or you might consider switching to an ISP without caps if you have that option.
Antenna Reception Isn’t an Option Where You Live
Many cord cutters use an antenna to pick up local stations, or even use Plex to record free TV broadcasts. This lets you watch shows on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS affiliates free of charge, but it only works if you can get a decent signal. This is even more important in the age of digital broadcasts: there are no fuzzy signals anymore, the picture is either perfect or it doesn’t come in.
If you live far from the nearest broadcast tower, or simply somewhere with a lot of interference, it might be hard to get a signal. Check out TVFool: they have a a tool for checking your reception complete with antenna recommendations.
There are things you can do to improve your HDTV reception, of course, so give those a shot before you make a decision.
You’re Getting a Decent Deal From Your Cable Company
In much of the country, the only broadband provider is your local cable company, and those companies tend to offer discounted broadband to people who are cable subscribers. Often this “bundle” is a rip-off, but in some places it really is the best deal available.
If you have a bundle now, find out how much your ISP charges for an Internet-only connection. Compare the price of that, along with any web-based streaming services you’d add after cutting the cord, and see if you’d come out ahead.
You Have a House Full of Constantly Used TVs
Watching Netflix doesn’t take up that much bandwidth, but if there are eight TVs in your house that all need to be streaming something at the same time, you might run into problems. For one thing, Netflix caps the number of simultaneous streams per account, as do most streaming services. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s worth thinking about. Bandwidth might also be an issue: too many people streaming could eventually slow down your connection and will certainly run you up against data caps more quickly.
Cable TV, meanwhile, works fine on multiple TVs, even if renting that many cable boxes gets expensive. This won’t apply to most people, but it’s worth thinking about.
You Obsessively Watch Multiple Sports
Not paying for sports is one of the main reasons you can save money by cutting the cord. Channels like ESPN pay absurd fees for broadcast rights, then demand money from cable companies. These fees are no small part of why cable bundles cost so much, meaning they’re a ripoff if you’re not a sports fan.
If you are a sports fan, however, the bundle might still be a good deal, because you actually want the thing others are cutting the cord to avoid paying for. Your sports are still being subsidized by the cable subscribers who don’t watch them.
Sports isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. I watch hockey online without cable, for example, and it works great. It would be different if I wanted to watch multiple sports leagues the same way, because all of those league-specific services add up quickly. You can offset this with online TV services, like Sling TV, that offer access to sports channels. But there’s a chance all of this will add up to roughly what cable is costing you now.
There’s also a chance it won’t! It all depends on your needs. Do your homework before cutting the cord.
You Simply Must Watch New Shows Immediately
The nice thing about Netflix, and services like it, is that there’s always something to watch. They’re less useful if you want to watch a specific show as soon as it airs.
This isn’t a tech problem so much as it is an economic one: cable companies own the rights to most shows, and they have an interest in getting you to sign up for cable.
Most of these shows end up on some streaming service eventually, but you might have to wait a bit. There’s way more TV out there than you could possibly watch, of course, but for some people patience isn’t an option they’re willing to consider.
There are services, like Sling TV, which give you access to TV channels over the web, giving those people a way to watch new shows right away. But unlike cable, you can’t record every show from every network: Sling has to work out the rights on a per-network basis. This means some shows will only be available live, which isn’t going to work for everyone.
Cord Cutting Is Great, But Not For Everyone
Cord cutting works for me because my entertainment needs are modest. I’m perfectly happy recording whatever I can using an antenna, streaming hockey online, and occasionally borrowing movies and TV shows from the library. Cord cutting isn’t a magic spell that lets you save money without losing access to everything you had before. It’s a choice you make to pay less for your entertainment, and that choice means accepting compromises. That was never going to work for everyone, but it’s still worth thinking about.