The PopCult Bookshelf will return next week as this week, my time has been preoccupied with a different medium. Television has become an issue for me. I’m talking about cable television. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I cut short a rant in the hopes that Suddenlink could help resolve some issues with the recent upgrade of their high definition cable boxes. The time for ranting has passed and today, I took a rather drastic action.
First, let me give you a little background. I live in the house I grew up in. This house has been wired for cable television since 1971. Back then, our company was Capitol Cablevision. With cable, we got six or seven channels and the bill was, I believe, less than five dollars a month.
As the cable industry grew, more channels were added and the rates increased accordingly. In May 1977, Capitol Cablevision introduced HBO. This brought uncut, uninterrupted theatrical movies into our home and it also tripled our bill. Since then, cable service has exploded. Capitol Cablevision was bought up by Charter Communications, who then sold the West Virginia operations to Suddenlink. Suddenlink now offers hundreds of channels and a bill that still grows at a much faster rate than inflation.
Late last year, Suddenlink sent out an upgrade to their HD boxes that made the onscreen guide much harder to read and removed something that I consider a necessary function, the “VCR Timer” function. My suspicion was that this move was undertaken in order to force customers to upgrade to the more expensive DVR box if they wanted to retain the ability to record anything.
Coming hot on the heels of the second rate increase of 2013, this was not a popular move. My Facebook feed was filled with complaints from people who despised the new guide and were upset that the boxes were no longer compatible with their home theater systems.
I contacted Suddenlink repeatedly about this. It seemed like every customer service representative had a different story. Some did not know what the VCR timer feature was. Some insisted that it was still available. Others told me that technicians were working to restore the feature while finally, a very rude customer service rep said nobody important uses that feature anyway.
I even contacted Suddenlink spokesperson Michael Kelleman who, after three weeks of trying, could not provide me any answers. The last I heard from him was a voicemail saying that the engineers needed to know what brand of recorder I was using.
There is no logical reason anybody would need to know what brand of recorder I was using. (For the record, it’s a Magnavox DVD recorder.) The frustration in dealing with this uncharacteristically inept customer service from Suddenlink was enough to make me visit the Direct TV website to see what kind of deals they offered. I was shocked at how much lower their prices were.
Direct TV’s prices are so much lower than Suddenlink’s that I really had no choice.
Today, I begin a new era. A grand experiment, if you will. I am venturing forth from the land of the tethered and into the wireless age of satellite communication.
I’m keeping Suddenlink’s internet service. I’ve always been happy with their high-speed interet and I don’t hate the company just because they dropped the ball on cable. Unbundled, my internet bill is supposed to be $48, and that most likely means that after taxes and fees it’ll be North of fifty bucks a month. However, even with the higher rate for my internet services, the combined total of my internet and satellite service is going to be around seventy dollars less per month.
Let me put that in perspective. Ten years ago before I had high speed internet service, my cable bill which included every premium channel they offered was less than seventy dollars a month. The Direct TV package I signed up for will probably run seventy five to eighty dollars per month, which is a huge improvement because after the latest rate increase from Suddenlink and even after dropping the Starz premium channels, my Suddenlink bill was rapidly closing in on the $200 per month mark.
So, you may ask, what is the difference in the channel lineups that I will be getting? Well first of all, I will lose access to MyZ and any other locally broadcast digital subchannels that might pop up. I will also lose the HD feed of The Hub. Which is a shame, because I really enjoy that channel.
What channels am I gaining for essentially half the price of what I was paying Suddenlink? To be honest, too many to mention in this column. To give you the quick version, I now have Starz again. In fact, I have Starz, HBO, Showtime and Cinemax. I get every HBO channel offered by Suddenlink, but they are all in high definition. I also get every Starz and Encore channel offered by Suddenlink with all of the Starz channels in HD, plus Encore and Encore Action in HD. With Showtime, I get every Showtime and The Movie Channel channels in high definition.
With Cinemax, once again I now get every channel Suddenlink offers in high def, plus three additional Cinemax channels that Suddenlink does not offer.
I also get every channel that Suddenlink offers in their ludicrously expensive HD package, plus I get channels that Suddenlink does not offer such as Sony Movie Channel, The Smithsonian Channel, a channel that shows nothing but short films in high def and an entire slate of sports channels (thirty eight of them) which I will likely never watch.
What about other channels that Suddenlink does not offer, you ask? Well first of all, there’s a plethora of West Coast feeds, which are really handy if you miss something. But that’s not all. We get Al Jazeera America, Chiller, Cloo, the Tennis Channel, Univision, NASA TV, NatGeo WILD, Pivot, RFD TV, Sprout, and many others.
And that is just scratching the surface. There are approximately twice as many “Sonic Channels” offering music as there are Music Choice channels on Suddenlink.
As you can see, I’m pretty excited. I’m getting a boatload of new channels. I’m getting full high definition television all over my house without paying for an extra box. And I can record anything I want. But I’m not going into this with an uncritical eye.
I know Direct TV is not perfect. I know they tend to stick mystery charges on your bill. And I understand that the weather can play havoc with your signal. With a snowstorm happening on the first day of service, I’m definitely going to get to experience how severe that situation can be. However, if I do have any major beef with Direct TV, you can be sure you’ll read about it here in PopCult.
It’s a little bittersweet ending a forty-two year relationship with cable television, but it had to happen. Even the most exceedingly patient person in the world reaches a breaking point when faced with declining service and increasing costs over a period of many years. I have to wonder if the business model of wired cable television, with such huge infrastructure costs, is going to even be feasible in a few years.
Thus endeth my story of how I cut the cord. Let’s hope the eye in the sky does not let me down.