Last year, I got tired of paying Comcast $14 a month to rent a modem and router, especially because the Wi-Fi service I got at home was so spotty. So I purchased my own modem and router for $290.
I now have better Wi-Fi and lower monthly cable bills. What I am saving monthly will soon exceed the cost of my new equipment. After that, it will be like getting a $14 discount every month.
I continued, however, to pay a very steep price to rent three digital adapters, which I need for the three “extra” TVs in my house. In December, Comcast hiked the fee for each adapter to $8.50. How can I justify paying $25.50 a month for adapters to TVs my wife and I only occasionally use?
I can’t. And so began my long-overdue quest to free myself of those infernal adapters, spurred on by Comcast’s latest round of price increases. I finally figured it out, and I will soon be rid of them. In the process, I realized cutting cable altogether isn’t such a scary prospect, even for a somewhat technophobic baby boomer like me.
I’m not convinced there are huge savings for me if I drop cable, given the increasing cost of streaming services that come over the Internet instead of over cable. But I do believe I can find ways to pay less, while possibly getting more, by taking charge of how live TV and other video content gets into my house.
I’m currently paying Comcast about $180 a month, including $111 for my “Standard+” package, which includes cable TV and Internet (but does not break out the cost of each). The remaining charges pay for equipment rentals, fees, and taxes (I get no premium channels from Comcast).
Even if I cut cable TV, I will still need Comcast for Internet, which alone costs almost $100, according to a separate price list. Comcast’s two big competitors in Massachusetts, Verizon Fios and RCN, aren’t available in the city where I live.
Comcast dominates in Massachusetts, with almost 70 percent of the market, or almost 1.3 million customers (its numbers are steadily declining). In about 130 communities, Comcast was the only option for cable and Internet in 2019, according to the most recently available state data.
What I am finding out about cable and streaming services and all the rest is a work in progress. But maybe by sharing what I’ve learned so far I can inspire others to take their own “hard look” at their TV costs.
Here, then, are some of the basics:
Q. Should I buy my own modem and router?
A. You may be surprised how quickly rental fees add up. I spent almost $700 in fees in the five years before buying my modem and router. Mind you, Comcast increased its monthly rental fee by 40 percent in that five-year period. And the quality of my new “mesh” router is superb. It’s actually three routers, one connected to the modem and two placed elsewhere around the house. No more annoying delays waiting for a connection.
Q. How much do they cost and where can I buy one?
A. I paid $90 for an Arris modem and $200 for an Eero Wi-Fi system at Best Buy. I’m sure there are plenty of brands to choose from.
Q. Why do you need so many digital adapters?
A. My wife and I have four TVs: the main one in the family room, plus ones in the bedroom, kitchen, and home office. We use the three “extra” ones by attaching Comcast cables into digital adapters, which attach to the TVs. We don’t use the extra TVs a lot, but we don’t want to give up having the news on while we prepare meals in the kitchen, for example.
Q. Has Comcast increased the rental fee on the adapters?
A. Back in 2014, Comcast charged $2 per adapter. It has increased its fee by more than 300 percent since then. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve paid more than $1,200 for adapters in the last five years. At the current rate, it would cost more than $300 a year.
Q. Can’t you buy a piece of equipment of your own to substitute for Comcast’s adapter?
A. No, there is no substitute. Periodically, I would call Comcast to ask. The answer from Comcast was something called Roku, which sounded beyond my technological grasp. I gave up. It was a costly mistake. As I recently found out, Roku allows me to watch everything I get on Comcast (aka, Xfinity) on any TV without a digital adapter.
Q. What is Roku?
A. Roku is a streaming device, often referred to as a stick. It’s a slender cylinder about 4 inches long. It comes with a remote and a power cord. I paid $30 for one (on sale) at Best Buy. Other streaming sticks include Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV. They are portable, meaning you can move them from TV to TV, and take them with you when you travel for use in a hotel room, for example. They are loaded with the software you need to get streaming services over the Internet to your TV.
Q. What exactly do I do with a streaming stick?
A. You stick it into an HDMI port in the back of your TV. You can power it one of two ways: by fitting the USB cable attached to the stick into a USB port on the back of your TV, or by attaching the USB cable to a power adapter and plugging it into a wall outlet (the latter is the recommended method). Now turn on your TV with the remote that came with your TV.
Q. What happens when I turn on the TV?
A. Most TVs have multiple HDMI ports. Find the “source” or “input” button on your TV remote and toggle to the HDMI port that corresponds with your streaming stick. The screen will display Roku, Chromecast (aka, Google TV), Fire TV, or other streaming sticks.
Q. Do I have to do any setup?
A. Yes. Roku will first look for and find your Wi-Fi network. Click on yours and put in your Wi-Fi password. That will connect your TV by Wi-Fi to the Internet. A screen will pop up from Roku asking for your e-mail address. When an e-mail arrives, click on the “activate” button. A new screen from Roku will display a six-digit code on your TV. Once you enter the code provided by Roku on your laptop or phone, the screen will refresh and Roku will ask a series of questions, including whether you are a cable or satellite TV subscriber.
Q. What difference does that make?
A. The point of a streaming stick like Roku is to get access to your streaming service apps on any TV — Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max, for example. Remember, they come over the Internet via Wi-Fi to your streaming stick and onto your TV. Comcast has its own streaming service, called Xfinity Streaming Beta. If you tell Roku you are an Xfinity subscriber and you log into your Xfinity account as directed you will be able to open the Xfinity app and use it by clicking on the Xfinity icon that appears on your Roku home page. When the Xfinity Streaming Beta app opens you will have access to everything you get on Xfinity on your “main” TV, including live TV and shows you have recorded and saved.
Q. What about my other streaming service apps?
A. Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max all appeared on my Roku home page when I first set it up. I followed the prompts to log in to each app with my username and password. After doing that once, I can open my apps with a single click.
Q. How much do streaming services cost?
A. Netflix recently upped its monthly fee to $15.50, an almost 11 percent hike. Hulu’s monthly fee is $13. It costs $15 a month to be an Amazon Prime member, which includes its streaming service. And the fee for HBO Max is $15 a month. None of it is cheap.
Q. What’s your next move?
A. Getting streaming sticks into all my “extra” TVs and returning all three digital adapters to Comcast for a monthly savings of $25.50. I may also investigate buying my own “TV box,” which I now rent, along with an Xfinity remote, from Comcast for $5.70 a month.
Q. Are you still thinking about dropping cable altogether?
A. If I could live on streaming services alone I would drop Comcast while maintaining its Internet service. One good reason to do that would be to avoid some of Comcast’s other rapidly increasing fees, like its “regional sports” fee (now $14.10 a month, up from $1 in 2015) and its “broadcast TV” fee (now $22.25 a month, up from $3.25 in 2015).
But I sometimes want to watch live TV. And happily, there are ever-more options for doing so without cable. CNN, for example, is preparing to launch a live-TV streaming service called CNN+ this spring. It will require a monthly fee, which hasn’t been announced yet. More for me to investigate (and share).
Another thing I’ve recently learned is how easy it is to add and drop streaming services because there are no contracts. Many consumers cut costs by constantly adding and dropping services, based on what multi-part series they are bingeing at the moment.
Sounds good to me.
Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.