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Cut your cable bill

Gail Johnson
Pay Day
Watching TV is a public health problem comparable with issues such as smoking and obesity, warns report

Lindsey Pinto hasn’t had cable TV since 2006. The Vancouver resident was going to university at the time and got rid of the service to save money. She hasn’t missed it.

“There was no way I could afford it on top of my tuition and living expenses,” says Pinto, the communications manager at OpenMedia.ca, a grassroots organization that works for open and affordable Internet. “I called it a day and got used to living without it. Considering how expensive TV is, if you can cut costs in this economy, that’s a good place to start.”

Pinto and her fiancé now get their TV fix from online sources. “We still have a TV but it doesn’t hook up to cable; we use an HDMI cord to hook up to our computers. There’s tons of stuff available online. We’re not starved by any means.”

She says it’s a trend that’s only going to grow.

“ A lot of Canadians, especially younger Canadians, are cutting the cord and moving toward the over-the-top system where they get the type of content they want, when they want it, not necessarily with commercials, while saving money.”

Cable subscribers spend an average of $71 on cable, adding up to $852 a year, according to Centris, a research group. Add in premium viewing like HBO, and the monthly bill can creep up toward $100.

According to a 2010 study by research firm Yankee Group, one in eight consumers cancelled cable that year.

Its study “Consumers Consider Axing the Coax” pointed to three main factors driving the trend: a new wave of HDTVs that are Internet ready, increasing pay TV prices, and the proliferation of connected consumer devices that can act like set-top boxes, such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming consoles.

Research before you pull the plug

There are potential drawbacks when it comes to ditching cable. Pinto notes that Internet companies can easily increase rates or slow down connections. If your connection isn’t fast enough, videos can stop and start or appear grainy. Usage caps can be restrictive too. Using an Internet service with a low download limit can lead to outrageously expensive  fees.

With those caveats in mind, there are a few alternatives to cable to consider. Pinto reminds to access only trustworthy sites and to ensure there’s no copyright infringement.

Netflix
Besides offering flat-rate DVD and Blu-Ray disc rental by mail, it also streams movies and TV shows over the Internet. A trial month is free; from there, packages start at $7.99 per month.

Be warned: Netflix in Canada offers different programming and access than Netflix in the United States. If you’re tech savvy, there’s a way around that. As a Canadian subscriber, you can subscribe to Netflix USA by accessing a proxy tool like Hotspot Shield to assign an American IP Address to your computer.

Network sites
CBC, CTV, Discovery, HGTV, the Comedy Network, CityTV are just some sites that have shows available online. American networks do too, but often Canadians are blocked from seeing them (unless you try that Hotspot Shield trick from above).

iTunes
Some shows are free, while others start at $0.99. Entire seasons run around $29.99.

YouTube
The Google owned site is best for clips of TV shows as opposed to full episodes, though some short films and music videos can be found.

Over-the-air (OTA) digital television
If you live in a big city and happen have a TV with a digital tuner as well a powerful antenna (outside your home), you can usually pick up local stations for free.

The library
The what? It doesn’t get cheaper than this, unless you have a habit of returning DVDs late. Then it can cost a fortune.