Tired of cable TV disputes, bills? More are cutting the cord

The dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable was the last straw for at least one subscriber, who found setting up a high-definition antenna took little tech savvy.

A lot of people are sick of the money-grubbing spat between Time Warner Cable and CBS, which has resulted in CBS, Showtime and other channels being unavailable to the cable company's subscribers since Aug. 2.

For Alan Ehrlich, this was the last straw. He decided to cut the cable cord.

More and more people are doing the same. The U.S. pay-TV industry lost about 316,000 subscribers in the 12-month period that ended June 30, according to Moffett Research.

"Cord cutting used to be an urban myth," said analyst Craig Moffett. "It isn't anymore."

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But many people still may view cutting off cable or satellite as a radical step, just as setting up a high-definition antenna to watch free, over-the-air signals may seem like the kind of thing only a bona fide techno-geek can pull off.

Ehrlich, 49, of South Pasadena, told me he's not the most technologically savvy person you'll ever meet. He placed his level of technical competence at being able to get the VCR to stop flashing "12:00" over and over.

"I've heard stories of people cord-cutting," Ehrlich said. "I always wondered how hard it was, or if I would miss cable."

When CBS-owned channels were pulled from Time Warner Cable because the two companies couldn't agree on how much money should change hands, he decided he'd had enough. He contacted Time Warner and canceled his TV subscription.

Ehrlich had been paying roughly $95 a month for TV and Internet access. He kept the Internet portion of his service, which runs about $58 monthly, but he can certainly do better.

Time Warner offers lower Internet-only rates, such as its "Essentials" service that current customers can get for $27 a month. AT&T offers high-speed Net access for as little as $15 a month. Verizon offers Net access starting at $20 monthly.

But these are bargain-basement plans. To handle video streams, you'd want something with more digital oomph, which would cost more. Time Warner's recommended plan for streaming videos will run you $55 a month.

After canceling his TV service, Ehrlich went straight to Best Buy and bought an RCA high-definition antenna for around $30.

"Hooking it up to the TV was easy," he said. "Any 5-year-old could do it."

The HD antenna allows Ehrlich to receive all the usual local channels, plus a bunch of additional channels broadcast digitally by local stations that he couldn't receive with cable. These give him mostly older shows and movies.

There are also a number of foreign-language channels, including Spanish, Korean and Japanese offerings. The Home Shopping Network is available. So is QVC, Ion Television and some religious channels.

Many cord-cutters use a Blu-ray player or a game console such as the Xbox or PlayStation to access Netflix, Hulu and other online entertainment services. Ehrlich has a "smart TV" capable of receiving a signal from his Wi-Fi Internet router.

He signed up for Amazon Prime to watch movies and recent TV shows. That costs him about $7 a month. He watches "The Daily Show" for free on Comedy Central's site. He can watch "Breaking Bad" on AMC's site.

Ehrlich may have to wait a little longer than cable subscribers to catch episodes of some of his favorite shows, but he doesn't particularly care. In the long run, it's all the same.

"The programs I'm interested in, I'm watching," Ehrlich said.

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