Confused about why TV is so expensive? It may be time to “cut the cord” from cable TV. I created this guide to explain what cord cutting is, why it works, and how to do it yourself.

What is cord cutting?

The “what”: Cord cutting means subscribing to TV services like Netflix or DirecTV NOW that are delivered over your Internet connection, rather than subscribing to TV from a cable provider like Comcast or Spectrum. Watching TV over the Internet is called “streaming.”

Illustration of cord cutting phenomena.
Paying for hundreds of cable channels you don’t watch? Cut the cord and use a Roku instead.

Why does cord cutting save money?

The “why”: Cord cutting can save money because most cable TV plans come with hundreds of expensive channels you don’t watch.

Cord cutting, on the other hand, is “a la carte.” You only have to pay for the specific shows or networks you enjoy.

Illustration of cable tv vs streaming.
Cable TV offers hundreds of channels for one high price. Streaming lets you pick and choose among smaller video services over the Internet.

How do I cut the cord?

The How: Here are the basic steps you need to take. I’ll walk through each of these in detail below.

  • Step 1: Call and cancel your cable TV plan (this is the fun part)
  • Step 2: Choose a platform that lets you stream on your TV (this is way easier than you think)
  • Step 3: Decide what shows and “channels” you need
  • Step 4: Find and subscribe to streaming services that offer the shows you need (this is the complicated part)
Drawing of streaming channels vs cable channels on TV.
Sports fans can still get live sports access by purchasing services like DirecTV NOW or FuboTV. Netflix and Amazon create their own drama shows like Stranger Things.

Step one details: How to cancel your cable plan

Keep in mind that you aren’t canceling your plan completely. You are just canceling the TV part of it.

All you have to do is call your current provider and ask them to remove your TV plan. They will probably put you on hold a long time and then try to sell you cheaper TV. Don’t do it — just keep repeating that you want to cancel until they give up.

While you’re doing this, do not cancel your Internet service. You will still need Internet service to deliver your Netflix, Hulu, and other video sources.

Internet and TV usually come from the same company. (Think Comcast Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, Frontier, etc.). All of these companies offer “Internet-only” plans that are much cheaper than your cable TV bundle.

Triple Play plans include TV but it’s really expensive. Internet-only plans let you get TV over the Internet from Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming websites.

If you really despise your provider, you can cancel completely and switch to a new one. Here are the most common options:

  • Xfinity offers Internet-only plans in the $29.99-49.99/month range.
  • Spectrum offers Internet-only plans starting around $49.99/month.
  • Verizon Fios plans start around $49.99/month.
  • Frontier offers Internet-only plans starting around $30/month.

If it’s available in your area, Verizon Fios is the best Internet-only plan for streaming video. Virtually any Internet connection can work, but it’s better to have fast download speeds.

Choosing an Internet-only plan: how much Internet speed do I need for streaming video?

Short version: pretty much any Internet plan will work, unless you live waaay out in the country.

Long version:

Internet speeds are measured in Megabits per second (Mbps), AKA how much data they can download to your laptop or TV per second.

In my experience, anything above 10 Mbps will work fine for HD streaming on a TV. That said, Internet speeds go all the way up to 1,000 Mbps in some areas.

Here’s a quick visual guide to Internet speeds, as they relate to your desire to binge watch TV after work:

Illustration of streaming internet speeds.
3 Mbps is the absolute minimum I’d suggest for streaming. If you can afford it, 50 Mbps is much better for avoiding “buffering” and disrupted video.

Step two details: How to choose a streaming device

The problem with streaming is that since the video is coming over the Internet, it’s probably going to your laptop.

If you’re like my kids, maybe you don’t mind just watching on your laptop in bed with a bucket of ice cream.

For those of us who are more civilized, there are two ways to get that video off the Internet and onto your TV screen:

  1. Connect the laptop to your TV with an HDMI cable
  2. Use a streaming device such as a Roku or Chromecast that connects to the Internet directly.
Illustration of how to watch netflix.
The easiest way to stream on your TV is to connect a streaming box such as a Roku. You can also simply connect your laptop to the screen with an HDMI cable.

Using a streaming device is by far the preferable option. The Roku is the dominant option, but there are dozens of companies that make similar devices. I’ve written up a detailed guide to streaming devices in a separate guide to help you decide.

Step three details: List out the channels and shows you “have to have”

Basically, you have three categories of TV: dramas, sports, and local TV.

Dramas like Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and etc. come from networks like HBO, or from streaming providers like Netflix directly.

Sports networks can be tricky and expensive to get without satellite or cable TV. For cord cutters, your best options are the streaming services that come from traditional TV providers. DirecTV NOW and Sling TV are the main ones, although FuboTV also has a solid sports package for ESPN, CBS, and etc.

Local sports are a bit more complicated. Local games are available “over the air” for free, so if you only care about seeing your local team’s games, you can get most of them by installing an antenna on your roof and connecting it to your TV. This is a bit complex, and I will update this with a dedicated guide shortly.

Local TV isn’t included in streaming plans like it is with cable. My recommendation if you want local news, local team games, and channels like PBS is to install an “over the air” antenna on your roof to pick up broadcast TV. This is a hassle to do, but broadcast TV is free — so once it’s installed, you’re golden.

Step four details: Find and subscribe to services that offer the shows you want

Once you’ve canceled your cable and established a way to display video on your TV, the final step is subscribing to streaming services.

There are dozens of these, with Netflix, DirecTV NOW, and Sling being the big names. I’ve written a complete guide to the best streaming services that runs through the pros and cons of each in a separate guide.

For sports fans, I’m also working on a dedicated guide to streaming sports. Stay tuned! (well, not literally now that you’ve cut the cord 😉).

Big picture: The Internet is your TV, and Netflix is a channel

Your average cord-cutting setup isn’t that different from cable TV when you get down to it. Rather than a Comcast box, you have a Roku. Rather than channels, you have Netflix and Sling and an HBO subscription.

Photograph of Roku home page options.
The Roku displays all your streaming options in an easy-to-understand way. You control it with a simple remote, just like your old cable TV. But cheaper.

So long as your viewing needs are simple, cord cutting is quite a bit cheaper than paying for hundreds of cable channels you don’t watch. However, if you watch a lot of premium TV and sports, traditional TV services like DirecTV or Fios TV often have the best monthly price. Do the math before you pull out the scissors… but I have a feeling you’ll be “snipping” soon!


  • Image of Lee Ann Cummins
    Lee Ann Cummins says

    great article for understanding Internet and TV services and how to save money


    Leave a Comment: