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Tuning Out: Why I Canceled My Expanded Basic Cable TV Service

And now a short break from my recent stream of running/evolution posts…

If you’re like me, you’re probably appalled by how much you shell out each month to your cable television provider. If you take a moment to consider what you get in return for your money, and the number of unwatched channels streamed to your TV through that little wire, it seems like we spend way too much for the small amount of content that we actually sit down and watch. Throw in the fact that cable companies keep increasing our bills, and often hold regional monopolies over content delivery that prevent pricing competition, it’s enough to drive anyone into a fit of rage when the topic of your cable company comes up.

TV WarImage by Midnight-digital via Flickr

Unfortunately, given the lack of choice among cable providers in many areas, our options if we absolutely want to keep some form of cable service are to either suck it up and keep paying large bills, or to scale back and cut our packages down to the bare minimum (the dreaded Basic Cable). I’ve struggled with this very choice for several years now, and I’ve finally made a decision – today I said goodbye to my Expanded Basic cable service, and in doing so will trim over $40.00/month off my cable bill. So how does a formerly avid TV watcher survive on only the major networks and public broadcasting, and how did I come to making what for me was a pretty big decision (just ask my wife – I think she almost dropped the phone when I called her from work to tell her I was willing to cut back our service – she’s been pushing this idea for a long time)? The answer is pretty simple really – the internet allowed me to do so.

In my opinion, TV content on the internet has matured to the point where the future of cable television is really up in the air. We have already seen the internet fundamentally change the music industry (think Napster and Itunes), the video rental industry (think Netflix), and the book industry (think Amazon and free digital downloads from your local library). With on-line services like these, I can get just about any book, video, or song/album I could ever want with just a few clicks of the mouse. Cable television should be the next to fall. Over the past few years, I’ve begun watching more and more of my favorite shows and getting almost all of my news on the internet. I have a decent laptop, and an LCD TV that I can hook it up to in order to project on-line content from network websites or the Netflix library of on-line movies and TV shows. Instead of having to be on the couch at a specific time on Wednesday nights to watch Lost, I can now watch the show at my own convenience and without the excessive number of commercials on If I miss episodes for a few weeks, it’s not a problem since they’re all stored in digital form somewhere in cyberspace. Furthermore, with the money I’ll be saving each month, I could go to Itunes and download just about any show that I want and still come out ahead in terms of monthly cost. Watching free content on-line and downloading things that are not available for free from Itunes or Amazon is simply more cost-effective than paying $40+ dollars per month for a bunch of channels that go largely unwatched.

One of the few reasons why I’ve held on to expanded cable this long is that I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and I have two small children. I like to watch the Sox on TV, and the kids like channels like Cartoon Network (my son likes the Clone Wars and Transformers) and the Disney Channel. I can still listen to the Sox on the radio for free, and as mentioned above I can download an entire season of the kids favorite cartoons for the price I paid for one month of expanded basic. It’ll be hard to give up baseball on TV, but it seems like poor justification to keep my service just for that. So now I embark on a future where traditional TV is no longer going to be a huge part of my life, and to be honest, it doesn’t scare me nearly as much as I initially thought it would.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.


  1. I recently made the same decision. I have far more cable than I need and I increasingly catch up on missed shows by watching them on the net. I just wanted to keep basic for new channels, but even that is available online. I do however wrestle with the new problem of spending way too much time on the computer as it now substitutes for newspapers and tv.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I discovered when I dropped to Basic that I have access to more channels
      than I thought by allowing the TV to auto-program the digital line-up. I
      actually have a few new PBS channels that I didn’t know about (eg. PBS World
      and PBS Kids), and a bunch of HD stuff that I didn’t have before (all of the
      major networks). Not bad for $15.00.

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