Cord cutting: A beginner's guide

Cord cutting: A beginner's guide

Everyone’s looking to save money on TV entertainment, and there’s never been a better time to cut the cable cord. Instead of paying upwards of $100 per month for a bloated channel bundle, you can replace it with streaming TV services—and perhaps a TV antenna—at a fraction of the cost.

Sorting through these new options isn’t always easy, though, especially if you aren’t tech savvy. Whereas cable made everything simple, cutting the cord requires picking from a dozen different hardware options and an ever-growing list of streaming services, from Netflix and Sling TV to newcomers such as Disney+. Adding an over-the-air TV antenna to the mix creates even further headache potential.

I’ve been a cord-cutter for more than a decade, have written a weekly column on the topic since 2014, and I write a cord-cutting newsletter for more than 25,000 subscribers. With so many people being priced out of cable, now seems like the perfect time to create a definitive cord-cutting guide for folks who don’t know where to start.

[ Further reading: The best streaming TV services ]

I’ll talk you through how to approach cutting cable or satellite TV while answering some of the most common questions, concerns, and pain points I’ve heard from readers over the years. I hope that by the end, you’ll have all the information you need.

Should I cut the cord?

Before we dive into how to cut the cord, let’s step back and think about whether you should in the first place. Consider the following:

Are you paying at least $65 per month for TV service? Most live TV streaming services start at $60 to $65 per month, so cord-cutting might not save you much if your TV provider is giving you a great deal. It’s possible to spend less with cheaper services such as Netflix, but not without giving up a lot of what’s on cable. (Don’t forget to factor cable’s sneaky fees into your math.)

Do you already have home internet service? If you’re paying for internet and use it often, cord-cutting will probably make financial sense. Adding home internet service just to cut cable TV, on the other hand, will likely be a wash. I don’t recommend using your phone’s mobile hotspot for internet service if you’re cutting the cord.

Are you just tired of cable? Some arguments in favor of cord-cutting aren’t strictly about saving money. It’s also a way to see fewer ads, unclutter your living room, set up TVs anywhere in the house, and avoid the annual ritual of haggling for lower rates.

Are you willing to be flexible? Despite its many virtues, cord-cutting is not a magic solution that gives you the exact same experience as cable for less money. You’ll need to be comfortable using new technology or new apps, and you might want to consider sacrificing some of what you watched with cable. The more you’re willing to adapt, the better your experience will be and the more money you’ll save.

Cord-cutting basics

At a basic level, cutting the cord requires several elements:

Internet service: You will almost certainly need home internet service to cut the cord, along with a Wi-Fi router, so your streaming devices can get online from any part of the house. As a rule of thumb, home internet speeds should be at least 15Mbps (megabits per second) for each device you plan to have running at the same time.

If you tend to have three TVs playing at once, you’ll ideally have home internet speed of at least 45Mbps. That’s tough to get with DSL or satellite service, so you might need to stick with your cable company for broadband service (unless you’re fortunate enough to have access to fiber broadband or a similar fat pipe).