Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Free TV"

A new house, a new test of our addiction to television.

Actually, Michelle and I aren't addicted to TV. We have our favorite shows (Parks & Rec is currently tops for us), and Lord knows I love my sports, especially college basketball. But we watched selectively, and we took full advantage of the DVR, almost always watching programs after they aired and forwarding through the ads. I even DVR'ed most sporting events. The truth is, I find it hard to sit in one spot (except if I'm in a bar, but, let's face it, that just doesn't happen anymore.) for an entire game, match or event, most of which go for at least three hours. Fast-forwarding cuts that to an eminently watchable hour or so.

Speaking of, I read somewhere that most sporting events are something like three-quarter to four-fifths non-action (stoppages in play, idle time, commercials, etc.). So, if you're really adept with your remote, you can zip through a contest in a half-hour. I'm not that good, and there are times when I like to hear the crowd noise, the color commentator and announcer and other sights and sounds of whichever sporting event I'm viewing. But I can't stand to sit through the commercials, especially for basketball and football. It drives me nuts.

Well, we had the DVR and many of the bells-and-whistles channels in Rhode Island. And we paid pretty dearly for it: About $170 a month (with taxes) for cable, Internet and local phone service. When we moved into our new house in Iowa, we decided to find out whether we can live without the full TV enchilada.

Actually, our package is more like ordering chips and salsa. We've opted to go basic, no-frills TV. We get the networks; Fox; PBS; several religion channels (I mean, how many do you really need?); all the CSpan channels (who knew there were three?), WGN and Comcast Chicago (I thought this was cable, and what's up with getting stations out of Chicago, which is more than three hours away? But I'll take it.), and oddball channels like MeTV, County Music, Inspiration and public-access. It is truly a bare-bone package, but there are more channels than I expected, which has been a nice surprise.

We also opted to get the lowest-speed Internet connection. More than the TV, we feared this may be a bad decision, and we'd be upgrading faster than you can say D-S-L. But so far, so good. The speed, while not lightning quick, is perfectly reasonable. We can stream video no problem. And Skype passed the test this evening, which, is important considering it is a major way by which we keep in touch with  many relatives.

After some deliberation, we decided to get phone service. I guess you can say that either we remain nostalgic about land lines, or, more accurately, in my mind, we don't trust our cell phone service enough to be completely dependent on it.

Back to the TV. So, we're conducting an experiment to find out whether we'll be fine without the channels to which we've become accustomed. I admit that I miss the sports channels, like ESPN, but I was OK with it, because I figured I could stream ESPN3 on my laptop. That turned out to be wrong. I mean, I can stream ESPN3, but I can't access anything that's airing on ESPN or ESPN2. Why? Our Internet package is too cheap. So, I'm learning to live with waiting for any live event to be completed, and for the replay to become available, when I can watch it. It is a transition for a sports fan like myself.

So, that's life in a house that needs a lot of work and is costing a fair amount of coin to fix up. Some things have to go (within reason), and for us, we couldn't justify forking over $100, $150 a month for TV and the fastest Internet.

We've survived so far. I watched a great college football game, Stanford's upset of USC, last night on a "free channel." I'm glancing at a NFL game on another "free channel" as I write. So, yes, I'm getting my sports fixes for now.

And our monthly bill? $45 a month.

I can live with that.

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