The TV cord-cutting debate continues with a reader who is flummoxed with all the fuss of bringing back old-school TV antennas. It’s a viewpoint I infrequently see in reader emails but I’m sure more of you are out there. Keep those questions coming and to avoid missing a week, sign up for the new Tech+ newsletter at dpo.st/mailbag.
Q: I mostly have a comment. With the cut-the-cord discussion you often suggest getting a rooftop antenna. Curious that time seems to go backward on that. I tried many options, styles of antenna for a TV in a bedroom that was just to see the news before sleeping, but it was horrible reception. Unreliable and easily affected by anything from weather to neighbors to wind and just cuz it felt like it. I have Comcast and finally broke down and got an extension and it costs me about $4 extra, plus I get all the cable channels. If technology is supposed to help, it shouldn’t be this difficult, cheaper and not going backward! There has to be better options than rooftop antenna. — Mary Habas, Denver
Tech+ Very good point Mary! This is going backwards.
Cable was a godsend to people who really couldn’t get decent reception. And 20 years ago, the price tag was a livable trade off for good reception. Back in 1995, the average price of expanded basic service was $22.35 a month, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Today, or at least as of 2015, the same basic service has tripled to $69.03, according to the FCC. Add in internet (which, of course, is essential for cord cutting) and TV bills have become a bigger chunk of a household budget.
Here are historical cable TV prices, according to the latest FCC report:
People may hate dealing with their cable provider, but this has to do with price. I get why people want to delete $70 out of their monthly budget.
And way back when cable TV wasn’t an option, you needed a good TV antenna. So, yes, rewind to the days of bunny ears and spotty reception.
But with better antenna technology (omnidirectional, amplifiers), there is consistent praise from readers and experts that a rooftop antenna is the way to go here in the Denver area. Not so with indoor antennas, though I’m sure they do work for some people, especially if you live on the west side of Denver and have a clear view of Lookout Mountain where most of the TV stations transmit.
Of course moving to an antenna means you’re juggling a variety of different online video services, different payment plans/accounts and even sometimes different set-top boxes just to watch what you kind of want to watch. That hassle isn’t worth it for a lot of people — and that’s why there are cable and satellite TV services, which have millions and millions of paying customers.
The amusing thing (for me) about your question Mary is that you are on one end of reader extremes. The other extreme are those who gave me a tongue-lashing because I mentioned TV antennas aren’t perfect (“…you did a disservice to your readers, especially economically disadvantaged readers, by stating that over the air (OTA) reception of OTA HDTV signals is ‘spotty, especially in Denver’,” emailed reader Michael Mason).
My advice remains to talk to the staff at your local electronics store because they know what antennas are selling and what may be best for your neighborhood. Talk to neighbors who have an antenna. And talk to antenna installers.
I’d also recommend not climbing on top of your roof to install an antenna. HomeAdvisor says its average cost of antenna installation is $231 in Denver.
If your monthly bill sans internet costs is $100 or more a month and you are able to live with newer streaming TV services like Sling TV or DirecTV Now, you’ll break even well before the end of a year. And after that, your monthly cost is either free or $20 or more per month.
And if that’s too much hassle, by all means, keep cable! If it’s doing the job, seems like a fair price and you adore its customer service, there’s no need to mess with cutting the cord.
Saving that kind of cash each month may not be worth it for you Mary, since you shared with me that your monthly Comcast bill is $300. But at that price, Comcast should be offering you a concierge service and, at minimum, a whole-home video system so you wouldn’t need to pay $4 extra to split the cable line in order to add an extra TV.
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