Cable vs Streaming: Cut the Cord or Buy a Bundle?
The Bottom Line: If you want to get internet without cable, you should consider all of the factors before making the decision. Many Americans can benefit from cord-cutting, but some families might not be saving very much by getting rid of cable — if anything at all. If you decide to cut the cord, there are many WiFi options without a cable company to choose from.
When you call to order Internet service, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll hear a sales pitch about why you should add TV, phone, and even home security to your order.
The trend towards Internet-only service has reduced cable TV subscriptions significantly in the past few years, especially among younger customers. So, it’s no surprise that providers are keen to lower the rates and keep people hooked on TV.
But will cord cutting actually save you money? Actually, for many customers, bundling TV and other services from the provider is cheaper in some situations — it all depends how much TV you watch, and what type.
Cable Vs. Streaming: Which is Better?
If you’re thinking about cutting the cord with cable and want to know how to get internet without a cable company, you might be wondering if there are any benefits or drawbacks of internet-only service that you might have overlooked.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to which viewing service is better. It largely depends on how much TV you watch.
Cable bundles make the most sense for customers who have large households or families, with a large number of users streaming simultaneously. Unlike internet streaming, your cable TV won’t slow down or buffer no matter how many televisions are on at the same time.
“Over the Top” (OTT) streaming services are great, but with streaming, you’re basically going “a la carte” on TV.
If you only subscribe to Netflix, sure, it’ll save you money; but if you also need NFL Sunday Ticket, HBO, YouTube TV, local sports, national sports, etc., the cost of adding each item individually adds up fast.
Internet-only service makes the most sense for customers who only share their home network with one or two other people, and who don’t watch much TV.
Netflix and streaming services like DirecTV NOW and Sling are slim on programming compared to cable, but they have some pretty good exclusive shows (like Stranger Things) and can easily be shared between family members.
Why Bundling Might Be Cheaper Than “Internet-Only”
As mentioned above, if you’re going to sign up for every streaming service on the market, you’re not going to end up saving money. Likewise, if you have a large household, you will likely need to upgrade your internet package to compensate for the increased number of simultaneous streams.
Here are some reasons why bundling internet and cable can be cheaper than streaming alone:
- Some cable “Smart TV” packages come with Netflix and extensive viewing libraries included for free! So, if you wanted it all, now you have it! This is certainly cheaper than buying every streaming service that could cover all the channels you might watch with a Smart TV bundle.
- Data caps. A high number of users and streaming devices will mean that you will likely need to upgrade your internet service or change your internet service provider (ISP) if they try to cap your viewing.
- Sports aren’t cheap. If you need specific channels, such as sports channels like NFL, your price is going to increase substantially if you try to avoid cable.
Internet Without Cable: Data Caps
One of the biggest worries when it comes to an internet-only plan is the chance of getting capped by your ISP.
Gamers and heavy streamers are the two groups that have to worry about a data cap the most.
Learn more about data caps with this guide.
Essentially, most ISPs have an “upper-limit” to how much internet bandwidth they will allow you to consume each month. Once you reach that limit, you will get “throttled” — or significantly slowed down — by your ISP.
Interestingly, a staggering 37+% of peak traffic in North America is taken up by Netflix.  In some cases, as much as 70% of the internet “pipe” is taken up by streaming video.
Those stats make it clear that heavy Netflix users are among the most likely to hit their data caps.
What About On-Demand and Smart TV?
As of 2018, some providers have begun cutting deals with streaming services like Netflix. This means that Netflix is sometimes bundled with your Internet service as a perk for TV customers.
To make things even more complicated, some providers have “smart TV” options that include perks like mobile viewing, extensive on-demand libraries, and other things that used to be streaming-only.
Overall, this is good news for consumers, since it means more flexible options. The trend is beneficial for customers who would have bought TV bundles anyway, since it basically throws in Netflix and streaming options for the kids, while Dad can keep watching local channels and sports just like before.
Broadcast TV for Cord Cutters
Without cable, you’ll probably have to rely on over-the-air broadcasting for your local sports and news. Broadcast TV is actually surprisingly good as of 2018, and is undergoing a bit of a renaissance as picture quality improves and window-mounted receivers become viable.
Broadcast TV used to be a pain for renters and apartment dwellers, since it required a large antenna on your roof. These days, you can just search for window-mounted models on Amazon and you’re good to go. Some of these devices are the size of a dinner plate — it’s really remarkable that they work.
You can check broadcast channels available at your address here to see what your options are.
The Bright Side to Getting Internet Without Cable TV
Even though we have mostly been considering reasons why you might want to give cable-cutting a second thought, it really is possible to save a lot of money by getting internet without cable TV.
If one or more of the following things are true for you, you probably stand to save a lot of money by getting rid of cable:
- You don’t watch much TV. If you don’t watch much TV, you probably won’t be signing up for every streaming service out there — and you’ll save a lot of money in the cord-cutting process. You can get Netflix-only streaming for as low as $9 per month!
- You don’t have many people living with you. With a small number of users, you don’t need as much bandwidth. Another perk is that you can sign up for cheaper streaming deals that charge you less for a lower number of simultaneous users. For example, if you want four users on Netflix at the same time, your bill goes up from $9 to $16 monthly.
- You’re not much of a sports nut. Streaming sports is what kills the cable-cutter. For example, NFL streaming services can be very expensive; the 2019 full-season pass is regularly $293.94.
- You want the fastest internet available. Without cable, you will have more budget to increase your internet speeds.
Will Cord Cutting Save Me Money?
If you’re willing to compromise on the amount of shows you watch, then yes, cord cutting is the best budget deal.
Now that providers are finally starting to “sweeten the deal” on cable bundles with perks like free Netflix and on-demand content, TV bundles are a more appealing option than they used to be.
Our recommendation: if you’re on the fence, try Internet-only and see how you feel about it. You’ll almost certainly get a sales call from the provider pushing you to add TV service in the months after signing up. If you decide you want TV after all, it will likely be cheaper to call and add it on than it would be to call and cancel it.