Ready to live cable-free? Here's what it takes


Let this story in no way serve as a defense of cable, the so-called customer service provided by its overlords or what it costs to keep, but amid all the reports of millennials and others now watching all of their TV online we wanted to examine at least some of what it takes to live cable-free in 2017.

"I've been trying to have Spectrum come to my house for about two months to repair my Internet," a woman outside the Time Warner Cable store on 23rd St. said, Tuesday.

Search -- often not very hard -- among those you know and you will almost certainly find someone eager to complain about their cable service, often threatening to cancel it.

"Absolutely," that same woman said. "This is my last and final time. If they don't show up, I'm going to Verizon."

"Cable providers are losing [subscribers] at a trickle pace," Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer said, "so maybe about 700,000 or so this year, but it's accelerating and it's something they need to worry about."

Spoonauer cited a report from the research firm eMarketer estimating 95 million fewer pay-TV subscriptions in 2020 than in 2015, a 4 percent decline over that span.

"What's cool about cable replacement now is that it kind of feels like cable without the expense," Spoonauer said.

Netflix, Hulu and HBO all offer streaming-only services, as do Slingbox, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and -- Tom's Guide Favorite -- PlayStation Vue.

But after convincing the cable company to allow you to cancel your subscription, dodging its offers to lock you in at a cheaper one-time-only promotional rate available only to you, and returning its equipment to a never-that-convenient drop-off center, after all of that, choosing with which service or services to replace your cable provides its own challenges.

"You need to know if the shows you want to watch are going to be there," Spoonauer said.

And in this era of peak TV, predicting which network or streaming service or once-online-bookstore might release America's new favorite show seems near impossible.

Also, not every home, zip code or building offers affordable, stand-alone, non-bundled Internet, leaving many paying the same cable company they attempted to cut from their lives an exorbitant rate for the ability to get online.

And if the FCC abandons net neutrality as some either fear or welcome, said Internet provider might intentionally slow down your Netflix or YouTube or HBO NOW because it recognizes them as competitors.

"You can go to a site like and see your actual bandwidth and if it measures up to what it actually says on paper," Spoonauer said.

But for Spoonauer, none of those potential drawbacks will save cable. Neither will the frustration of acting as one's own IT specialist when streaming services malfunction nor a drastically cheaper cable bill.

"My mom pays it, so I don't know and I don't want to know," a young man outside that Time Warner store said.

Ultimately, what may guarantee that cable companies exist forever is human laziness.

"Only because of a very powerful ally [the cable companies] have in their corner," Spoonauer said, "which is inertia."