Quick Tip: Save An Extra $20-$150 A Month

While significantly improved, gas prices are still extremely high.  The stock market and economy as a whole are MIA, and people everywhere are looking at ways to save money.  My suggestion? Cancel your cable/satellite TV subscription and switch to watching all of your favorite shows and movies over the web. It’s a much better option than you might think.

If you just can’t give up your TV, you don’t have to.  Many of today’s computers can be connected directly to your TV allowing you to watch streaming web-based content in your living room.  All with minimal, unnoticeable quality loss…for free.

If you’re a die-hard sports fan, just laid out a few thousand dollars for a TV, or have a slow internet connection this tip probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy getting home from work/class, kicking off your shoes, and settling in to watch your favorite TV series, the news or a movie, start watching a few of your favorite episodes online.  Give it a month, and if you think you’re ok with the switch, cancel your cable.

It’s a relatively new option.  If you wanted to watch your favorite TV shows online a year ago you would have had to be fairly tech savvy, have a lot of patience, and be willing to invest a fair amount of effort and energy locating and downloading the latest and greatest episodes. Luckily for you and me these trailblazers set a precedent which major media has started to adopt in a big way. With advances in video compression and broadband streams you can now watch full screen video in high resolution…all for free.  Not only is it free, it’s on-demand.  You can pause it, load it, and stop it at will AND all the while you’re only exposed to periodic brief 30 second advertising spots instead of 15 minutes of advertising an hour.

I haven’t subscribed to cable TV in a year which has saved me nearly $600 in subscription costs (based on Cox’s pricing). I still watch Dancing with the Stars, House, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, the John Stewart Show, Stargate Atlantis, Eureka and others on a weekly basis (when new episodes are airing).  More of a movie person? New websites like Hulu and Joost are constantly adding new movies and episodes to their already sizable collections. If that’s still not enough…a $8.99 monthly subscription to Netflix includes unlimited access to their database of more than 12,000 movies all of which can be streamed online.


Hulu.com – Relatively new but by far one of the best online movie and TV episode sites around. It is backed by NBC & Newscorp.

Veoh.com – Also relatively new, but with a pretty decent selection of movies and TV episodes.

Joost.com – Just launched a new web-based flash version of their player and while still fairly limited, it is making a major push to add a lot of additional content.

YouTube.com – Has just launched a full episode/movie platform.  However, it’s still very early stage/low quality.

You can also go straight to the horses mouth:

ABC.com – Offers most if not all of their shows online.  They even offer most of them in HD.  Just select ‘Full Episodes”.

Fox.com – Not to be outdone Fox offers a wide variety – some of which is duplicated on their partner site Hulu.com

NBC.com – They’re right there with the rest of the pack.  Get your Conan, Heroes, etc. here.

SciFi.com – Far more stingy with their content, SciFi has been experimenting with streaming episodes.  Expect more from them soon.

HistoryChannel.com – Yep, they’re online too.

Discovery/TLC/Animal Planet – All three offer streaming episodes.

PBS.org – Full length episodes available.

C-Span.com – Watch it live.

Concerned about news?  All of the major news providers offer streaming video. However, instead of watching it, I’d suggest reading it. You’ll get access to a lot more newsworthy information than the 3 news stories the major news outlets repeat every 15 minutes.

One word of caution.  A number of major ISPs have begun metering bandwidth. While most of the caps far exceed what average/heavy users will be using, it is advisable that you double check that your monthly bandwidth allotment is over 20gb download a month.

The list above is assembled off the top of my head.  Have a favorite streaming episode or movie site?  Please share it in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

*EDIT* – 11/3/2008 – Todd Spangler, Tech Editor for Multichannel News -a part of the Reed Business Network – contacted me a bit over a week ago with an interest in setting up an interview after reading this post. I agreed, and have been featured as one of the interviews in this edition’s cover story “Breaking Free”. You can view the complete article online here.

Generation Cox – A Brave New World…of Hypocritical Crap

Generation Cox – Audio

I have to confess.  There is a special place in my heart for Cox Communications. Few things leave a mark in a consumer’s memory like the distinct pleasure of spending hours on hold with a company on multiple occasions, only to be told boldfaced lies. As if that wasn’t enough, their disgusting version of – it can’t be us, it must be you – tech support has definitely scored them points. Despite my previous low estimation of the company, the revelations I’ve had and discoveries I’ve made over the last 6 months have shredded any remaining respect I had for Cox. I’ve debated making a post outlining some of these experiences in the past, but it took their new advertising campaign combined with concrete testing, rankings done by the P2P community, to really push me over the edge and today’s announcement by Japanese ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that they would start throttling upload bandwidth…on users that use over 30gb…a day.

I’ve discussed it previously and as a result will only briefly mention it here, but what makes the ISP/Bandwidth debate all that much more pathetic is that the U.S. – the founders of the internet – is now ranked 15th for broadband penetration.  This fails to even realistically consider how far behind we are with respect to broadband speeds. The US is talking in single digit gigabyte connections while foreign nations are offering as much as triple digit connections for the same price…or less.

You may or may not be familiar with the current struggle being waged in Washington and throughout the U.S. between consumers, visionaries and ISPs. In brief, the argument is that P2p (Peer 2 Peer) users are using a disproportionate amount of the bandwidth available driving up ISP costs and heavily impacting the quality of the connections of their fellow users.  Ever notice how your internet slows down distinctly after 5:00? Thus far the ISP’s chief argument and technique for lobbying tech-oblivious lawmakers has been to claim that not only is the P2P network traffic unfair, it’s illegal. As a result they have pushed for laws banning P2P altogether, while simultaneously secretly operating software that blocks certain types of high bandwidth applications and hinders your connection.

The catch is P2P isn’t illegal. Don’t get me wrong – a fair amount of the content transfered through it is – but the software itself is not. From the distribution of open source software, to video game patches, to authorized music, ebooks, photos and home video, it has a multitude of uses all of which are being legally employed. Beyond that, certain other types of high bandwidth content that’s getting throttled is also completely legal.  Things like massively multiplayer online games (think World of Warcraft), and even streaming video resources like Hulu.  ComCast just got in a fair share of legal and PR trouble for the techniques they employ. Not to be outdone, Cox has been ranked as the 2nd worst bandwidth throttler in the U.S.  Very little action is being taken against these groups in large part because the average consumer doesn’t realize just how badly they’re being screwed. ArsTechnica reported:

Of the nine ISPs in the US found to block BitTorrent, Comcast and Cox were far and away the most aggressive. Both blocked more than half of all attempted BitTorrent tests on their networks (82 of 151 tests on Cox were blocked, while 491 of 788 tests on Comcast met the same fate).

What makes it that much more agitating is that not only does Cox block certain types of streaming high bandwidth traffic, they will also reset your cable modem secretly forcing you to power down and reboot before the system will recognize you again…All the while blaming it on your hardware or other failures.  In recent months techs have started fessing up if you ask them directly, but as little as 3 months ago they would blatantly lie to your face about it blaming software, the network, outages or faulty routers. I can’t even begin to guess how many customers spent hundreds of dollars replacing hardware for no reason or how much money Cox made off tech support calls (if they don’t find a problem you get charged).  Again, this doesn’t only apply to LEGAL P2P use, it applies to gaming and some types of streaming video.

It gets worse. Not only will they throttle/kill your service illegally they also limit your alloted traffic without bothering to tell you, all the while using deceptive advertising that leaves you thinking that they’d be doing the exact opposite.  Before I outline the details, let’s take a look at their advertising and weboffering:

Keep in mind that this video is one of several in their current “A Brave New World” campaign.  All of which make equally deceptive and ludicrous claims and implications.

To recap the video, the advertisement states that “soon virtually everything they watch will be in HD and available at any time.  They’ll even watch TV on their cell phones” The second advertisement depicts streaming video conferencing and again talks about the future.  In addition to the ads there are two pages on the website in particular I want to take a closer look at.

Page 1 – PowerBoost: One of the cornerstones of Cox’s advertising is their PowerBoost technology. About which Cox claims, “When extra bandwidth is available on Cox’s local fiber-hybrid network, you will experience a faster download. Speeds will be boosted up to 29% faster for Preferred customers, and up to 33% faster for Premier customers”. So, while you may think you’re buying a 9mb connection you’re really getting 7mb. The page describing powerboost references all sorts of wonderful uses for your bandwidth such as video, music and even photos.

Page 2 – Tiers and Pricing: This page describes the 3 tiers that Cox offers outlining important numbers like your download speed, upload speed, and price. Then they go so far as to offer a wonderful ‘features section’ telling you what you can/should use that added speed for.  If we overlook the fact that most of the numbers for the first tier are complete lies, we can see that in the standard mid-range tier they have the gall to list Multimedia Web Surfing, Streaming Video/Music, and Downloading Large Files and Online Gaming, Telecommute/Remote Office as “You could, but…”. If they were actually delivering the 7mb connection (which in my experience they usually actually only provide 1.5-4mb connections) you should have more than sufficient bandwidth for any of the activities on the list. While they’re starting to catch up, most webhosts can’t offer more than 400kb/s.  In actuality the lion’s share of sites you probably use peak out at about 75kb/s. Keep in mind that there are 1,000kb in a mb, and 1,000mb in a gigabyte. For my part I’d LOVE the ability to actually pull data at 7,000,000kb/s wouldn’t you?

In fact, if they weren’t meddling with your connection and were actually delivering what you paid for, the 1.5 mb connection would be more than sufficient for playing online games, downloading at 400kb/second, and watching streaming video…simultaneously. What makes the whole thing that much more deceptive is the upload rates which are horrible.  THAT is where a large part of the bottleneck occurs since even while accessing a website you are both sending and receiving information.  It’s also what complicates things with P2P networks and to a lesser extent online games in which you’re sending data symmetrically instead of the classical asymmetrical way you access the WWW. In this way they effectively reduce that 7mb connection with “power boost” to a 512kb connection. Slick, huh?

That’s not the extent of their misinformation though. You see, Cox also has monthly bandwidth caps. Even if you’re fairly tech savy and a capable consumer you probably didn’t know that, ehh?  They don’t mention it ANYWHERE on either of the order pages.  In fact, to find it you have to select the “Policy” link (which is super fine print) in the footnote of the page.  Then navigate down through the legal speak to point 13: “Bandwidth, Data Storage and Other Limitations” and select the link to “Limitations of Service“. This page is so obscure they don’t even bother keeping it up to date.  As of this post, it was last updated 11/7/07 and outlines the following for the “Preferred with Powerboost” option:

  1. Maximum downstream speed : 5 – 9 megabits per second
  2. Maximum upstream speed : 512 kilobits – 2 megabits per second
  3. Maximum monthly consumption cap : 40 gigabytes downstream; 10 gigabytes upstream
  4. Personal WebSpace account size : 10 megabytes of disk space per User ID
  5. Personal WebSpace traffic : 300 megabytes of traffic per month (for visitors viewing your pages)

That’s right, you no doubt had no clue, but there’s a 40gb monthly cap associated with your account. Please recall that the Japanese ISPs just adopted one of these with a 30gb DAILY cap for UPLOADs. So the individual’s subscribing to that Japanese ISP are recieving 90 times more bandwidth than you are with your Cox account. Still think that the American ISP’s argument that they can’t provide the bandwidth is valid?

I rest my case. On a parallel note:

I don’t subscribe to Cable TV anymore. Frankly, there isn’t really a point.  I run dual 22 inch wide-screen monitors and the ability to surf the web, pause, start, fast forward, and chat while watching a film/show in full screen far outweighs sitting on my sofa in my living room staring at a slightly larger monitor.

In addition to the lack of flexibility, I’ve always found the business model abusive. In what other delusional reality would it be acceptable for a service that costs $30+ a month to sell you a service, for which you have to purchase all of the peripherals to use it, in which you pay for a set continuous service, and then have to sit through 15 some odd minutes of advertisements every hour?  Do the math – 15 minutes, is 25% of an hour.  So in reality, I guess that $30-50 is really only buying you 45 minutes of programing an hour.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they then have the nerve to sell you channel packs full of useless crap. I appreciate the sentiment, but I really, really don’t need the biblical channel or the Latino vibes channel and since you’ve already acquisitioned 25% of my time, I’d rather not spend any more of what’s left flipping through channels than I have to.  In fact, all I really want is 5 or 6 channels that don’t suck.  With all that said, I suppose it’s not really a surprise that I jumped ship as soon as possible and switched over to services like Hulu.

It’s time we hold these crooks accountable.  Sadly, our representatives are either too corrupt or inept to protect us and look out for our best interests.  Write to them, demand accountability from them, and don’t swallow the pigswill they’re trying to feed you.

With friends like these ushering us into the digital age, who needs enemies?