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Home Op-Ed Tech Wise by Peter Vogel Consumers continue to sever cable

Consumers continue to sever cable

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Readers tell The B.C. Catholic about their cord cutting stories
(Caption: The Telus HQ in Burnaby. Peter Vogel continues his series on consumers striking back against the cable companies. Photo credit: Shwangtianyuan, Wikimedia Commons)
It seems that my previous column, "Viewers cut cords as cable and Internet bills rise" resonated with some readers. In particular the reference to the $150 fee for a typical TV and Internet package seems to be a touchstone. 
Although there was public grumbling at the time when the typical fee crossed $100, there wasn't too much accompanying cord cutting, that is, the abandonment of wired household television.
However, at the $150 mark there is much more discussion about eliminating television to the home altogether. Not only is there discussion but there is action, and cable companies must be feeling some financial pain as the pace of this cord cutting picks up steam.
Of course, by "cable company" I mean any company providing television content over wires, so I'm lumping together Shaw and Telus, the major providers here in Greater Vancouver, along with a host of smaller service providers.
Among millennials it is now commonplace to find many without any home television service whatsoever. They are content with a variety of streaming services, some commercial and legal, such as Netflix, others, such as PopcornTime, definitely skirting copyright laws.
Shaw and eastern Canada cable operator Rogers recently combined forces to create their own streaming media service under the Shomi label. The Netflix-like service offers an impressive content library as well as exclusive access to certain popular TV series, but it requires an existing cable TV subscription.
Last week that changed as Shomi executives announced that, come summer, the service will be offered to anyone who wants it. Might that be a further blow to cable TV? I suspect it will be. It is unclear if Shomi was a financial success in its initial rollout, but the haste with which it is being offered to non-cable-users suggests it was having difficulty gaining traction.
Shomi, like Netflix, is priced at under $10 a month. The Canadian service debuted with more than 300 TV series and some 1,200 movies. Shomi also includes some original series content. One of those series will be carried by Netflix outside Canada.
Reader Jim Stevenson shared an all-too-common tale of woe over his bill for Shaw services, which had at one point reached $150 or so. He managed to drop that down to $90 by going for an HD-only package for his TV service component.
However, what he hadn't counted on was that a number of those HD channels were not viewable using his particular digital box and PVR. He'd run into the MPEG-4 matter, where newer channels are encoded in a manner that the older boxes cannot decode.
It's a most annoying problem. I have experienced it myself. The channel's audio component will come through but there is simply no video signal.
Mr. Stevenson's digital box had cost him $600 a few years earlier, and the company was not offering any trade-in value against a box that could handle the missing channels. Nevertheless, he had managed to cut the monthly bill down to $90, or so he thought.
As he relates it, a series of rate increases, beginning in March 2013, soon began clawing back the savings he'd managed to effect. When he decided to cancel his TV subscription he was offered a $5 a month rebate against a new PVR rental.
Four months into the new PVR rental there was a notice of yet another price increase. That did it for Mr. Stevenson. He cancelled his TV subscription. He reports that he now pays $50 a month for Internet-only service and adds that he doesn't miss TV at all.
"I now read much more and I have a collection of movies on DVD & older VHS should I wish to watch something," he notes.
Cord cutting is clearly a phenomenon that is gaining ground, and the cable companies are spooked. How this will play out over the next five years or so remains to be seen.
Are you planning to cut the cord? Have you put up a small antenna and gone back to the days of over-the-air television reception?
Let's hear about your experiences in lowering those pesky cable bills.

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