Cable TV was once the ultimate entertainment necessity. The over-the-air days of VHF/UHF television signals couldn’t keep up with voracious viewers who needed more, more, more channels. Having a cable directly pumping all that content into your home became the norm, and the cable providers—which likely provide your high-speed broadband internet access as well—knew they had you on the hook.
But cable providers didn’t factor in that the internet they provide would become their worst enemy via access to streaming video. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video are the most well-known names in what’s become known as “cord cutting”—doing away with pay TV and using over-the-air (like the old days) or internet-based services to get all your “television” programming. That means no more paying a huge monthly fee for thousands of hours of TV you don’t watch (in theory). Instead, you pay individual services for a la carte programming. It’s a lot like paying for just what you watch. Almost.
Cable companies, of course, are freaking out: eMarketer says 22.2 million US adults cut the cord by the end of 2017, a trend that will continue for all age demographics below 55. In a November 2017 survey, Leichtman Research said that in the third quarter that year, the top six cable companies lost 290,000 subscribers, compared to 90,000 in Q3 of 2016. It’s worse for the satellite providers Dish and DirecTV, which lost 475,000, while internet TV services (specifically via Sling TV and DirecTV Now) gained 536,000.
What’s ironic is, the cable companies don’t always lose those customers entirely; only on the pay TV side. People need a hefty internet pipe to get the same quality of TV programming over the web. If you don’t have high-speed internet, cord cutting is probably not for you.
In 2015, the FCC redefined what really constitutes “broadband” speed in the US as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds, up from 4Mbps, which was the standard since 2010. At the time, that put 17 percent of the population (55 million households) without true broadband. According to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 34 million US citizens (10 percent) lack access to such speeds; 23 million are in rural areas.
The FCC toyed with lowering the broadband threshold number again, but backed off that plan in 2018 amidst backlash. However you define broadband, a 5Mbps download connection should be enough to handle your binge watches. But more is always better, especially as services role out high-definition offerings like 4K streaming.
Here’s what else you need to become a full-fledged cord cutter with access to (almost) everything you’d get via regular cable TV.