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How to cancel cable and save with free internet TV

This article has been updated since it was originally published to reflect changes to media streaming services and costs. Digital Trends’ staff writer Drew Prindle and managing editor Nick Mokey contributed to this article.

Some years ago, after much premeditation, I stepped out my backdoor– hatchet in hand – and severed the single line of coaxial cable that wired my house to the universe. I killed the cable TV.

Okay, I lied. I don’t actually own a hatchet. Cutting the cable with a hatchet would have some unintended consequences, considering the coaxial cable is the only vein that delivers sweet, lovely Internet to my home. But my roommates and I made a decision– a decision that aligns with the overwhelming sentiment about cable TV. We decided to ditch cable TV. We decided to stream all of our media online.

These days, streaming devices are inexpensive and popular, compared to the steep monthly price of a cable subscription. In 2011, the average cable subscriber paid $86/month, according to the NPD Group. In 2014, cable TV is losing out to sites like Hulu, Amazon, and Neflix. Those steel receptacles outside cable company’s brick and mortar stores are filled to the brim with old cable boxes and remotes. No longer does ditching cable seem like an intrepid maneuver.

There are variety of ways to get TV without a cable provider. Most can end up saving money. But making the switch isn’t the best for every situation. This guide will help help you make the decision to switch to cable-free TV.

Related: Cord cutting 101best media streaming services, best devices for streaming TV.

Test the waters before you dive into internet TV

Internet TV has a reputation for providing the same service at a lower cost than cable TV. But that’s not always the case. Before you make the switch to online streaming, it’s best to take several streaming sites for a test run. Testing the waters before you dive headfirst into online streaming will give you a good sense of how a streaming service can serve your viewing habits. Options like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu Plus all offer free trials .

For starters, make a list of the shows you watch. If you’re mostly watching TV shows, it’s likely you’ll be able to do without a cable provider. Many streaming sites like Amazon and Hulu offer a huge library of TV shows and movies. But, there are, however, still some content that’s only widely available through cable providers. For instance, the nightly news. Even now, streaming local syndication is nearly impossible. If you’re looking for the ten o’clock news, you’ll most likely have to stick with cable subscription.

Roku 3

Do the research

It’s best to arm yourself with research. The prices of competing services will give you some leverage with your cable service. Negotiating a discounted rate by mentioning other services in the area is always a good strategy. Your service provider will want to continue retaining you as a customer, so it’s obviously in their best interest to adjust prices accordingly. If you were utilizing a bundle deal with Internet service, it’s likely that you will pay slightly more for an Internet-only service package. The increase in cost is likely between $10 to $20.

What’s more, going cable-free will require you to research online streaming services. Our aforementioned picks for the best media streaming services and TV streaming devices will help you get a sense of what’s out there. Purchasing a video streaming box, like Amazon Fire, Roku, or Google Chromecast, will cost money but will likely save in the long run. Even if you have a gaming console or you have an old computer you can turn into a home theater PC, you’ll probably need to invest in a streaming device.

It should also be noted that many Smart TV’s come equipped with software that allow access to Netflix and Hulu Plus (you’ll still need to pay for a subscription). If you’re in the market for a new TV, you might be able to save a few bucks by getting a Smart TV and skipping the set-top streaming box. Do some shopping around though – even the best streaming boxes aren’t more than $99 dollars, and you might have to pay considerably more than that to get streaming functionality built directly into your TV.

Streaming services aren’t free either. Netflix will run you $7.99 per month, as will Hulu Plus. Amazon Prime costs $99 a year (approx. $8.25/year), but in addition to their video streaming services, you’ll also get free two-day shipping and instant access to thousands of Kindle books. Take note: each streaming device has limitations. It’s likely you just won’t be able to find certain shows anywhere other than an obscure website. For this reason, I recommend getting a streaming box that’s equipped with an Internet browser. This will fill in the gaps, and ensure that if it’s on the Web, you can get it on your TV.

Make the call

Most cable providers will try to hold on to your subscription by offering a discounted rate or a free month of HBO. Our recommendation is to pass on this offer. In most cases, the most economical plan bundles a basic cable package with high-speed internet. Showing the cable company that you have a good sense of the competitor prices will make your switching experience easier.

Hulu Plus chromecast screenshot

Live sports and local news aren’t easy to get just yet

Unfortunately, live local news broadcasts and sports events are still relatively difficult to get on your set-top streaming box. In this vein, downgrading to the lowest priced cable option will be a benefit. Major national networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX) do stream just about every professional sport event online and the service is available to anyone with a verifiable cable account.

Rather than waiting around for local news syndicates to make local new on streaming sites, I suggest re-structuring the way you get news. After years of going without cable, I generally get all of my news via RSS, and my TV has become more of an entertainment-oriented device than an information portal for current events.

Major sports networks have also dropped the ball when it comes to offering live streams comparable to those seen on cable, but they’re slowly getting better. Currently, there are a handful of ways to stream games, but they typically can’t match live TV broadcasts when it comes to quality or speed. This is likely to change in the years to come, however, as services like WatchESPN and MLB.tv become more common.

Prepare for a fundamental change in the way you consume media

Gone are the days of channel surfing and mindless media consumption. If you ditch cable, watching TV will no longer be a passive activity in which you click a few buttons and get random stuff beamed into your eyeballs. Instead, you’ll generally have to spend more time locating the programs that interest you. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, and there will definitely be times where you miss the brainless convenience your cable box offered, but that’s really the only thing you’ll miss.

Ditching cable will force you to become a more active consumer of media. Sure, this means a bit more time spent locating the programming you want, but it also means that you’ll cut back on junk TV that you only watch because it’s on. In the words of Digital Trends’ managing editor Nick Mokey, “ditching cable allows you to declare psychological independence from cable programming just as much as it allows you to declare financial independence from it.”

All in all, switching to streaming is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Cable is doomed. Outside the outrageous fees, inflexible bundles, and horrendous customer service that most scum-sucking cable providers have become famous for, the existing cable system doesn’t provide the freedom or variety that the Web does, which makes cancelling cable an increasingly attractive option for the discerning consumer. Ten years from now, cable will be a relic akin to AM radio, so why not be ahead of the game and cut the cord today?