Steps I Took to Save Over $3,000 Per Year 
On My AT&T / DirecTV Bill

Part One of Three

Prelude

I’ve been looking for a reason to get away from my DIRECTV plan for several years now. Last year I attempted to transition to an Xfinity account when to the horror of all horrors I discovered I was going to be paying as much with Xfinity (or more) as I was with DIRECTV (!!!) so I chose to remain a DIRECTV customer for the time being.

Cable cutting saves $3,000 per year

Before being absorbed by AT&T, I was annoyed that DIRECTV was constantly making efforts to nudge total fees for service to amounts in excess of $200 per month. Some time between three and six months there would always be a need to call their customer service, complain bitterly about the sudden price increases and urge the reps to try to get those totals down to about $150 a month and leave them there.

It was a lofty goal, but with the adjustments I generally had to settle in the $170 to $180 range without making major package or equipment changes. Once AT&T grasped its talons firmly into DIRECTV’s operations, they were able to stabilize fees at $170 per month and they remained steady until I shed the satellite service.

I also evaluated how I was using my AT&T wireless service and considered options for reducing those fees as well. Total savings including eliminating DIRECTV’s plan are about $255 per month, or $3,060 per year. It is my hope that I can guide some of you to find your way to similar savings without enduring some of the headaches and roadblocks I encountered on my end.

We Are Spoiled Customers

Believe me, we have no idea how good we have it from an equipment and channel package standpoint with the satellite and cable companies until we try to break free from them. They have all their bundles, equipment, and installation procedures streamlined and finessed to near perfection. It doesn’t take much in the way of personal brain power to begin using their service. Point the remotes, punch the buttons … or you can even talk into them now, and you are off to the races. The receivers serve up all the channels we expect to get in numerical sequences that seem to make sense and we quickly adapt to them.

It's an entirely new game when you’ve decided that you have paid more than enough for that service and start taking the necessary steps to break free. Becoming a "cord cutter" and pulling free signals from local television stations from over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts is not necessarily as easy as it might sound. First you need to evaluate the receivers you intend to use and consider their capabilities. Since June of '09, all television stations broadcast digital signals. If you have a television or receiver equipment that is more than eight years old … or one that doesn’t make advertising boasts about being a *Smart TV*, you may need to budget for buying a receiver capable of translating broadcast signals streaming into your antenna.

Familiarize yourself with the broadcast resources in your television market. The FCC has an extremely helpful map utility able to tell you the distance and direction to the broadcast signals in your region (view yours by clicking here). It is helpful for two reasons. One, it will help you determine how much of an antenna you need to buy, and two -- it will tell you which direction to point the directional antennas to get the best signal.

OTA Antennas

Antennas, yes … you may need to buy an antenna if your residence doesn't have one already. They range in price from comfortably affordable to “You’ve got to be kidding!” on the absurd side. There are several types of antennas to consider. Variations include indoor, indoor/attic, or even indoor/outdoor varieties. They can be directional ... meaning point your antenna toward a specific spot on the compass and slurp up signals originating from that direction, or omnidirectional -- able to snag signals from a variety of originating directions and sources. Another important variable in OTA antenna equation is the range or distance they're able to receive signals.

If you live within a metro area and your television is situated near a window with a view directly towards the signal towers ... well, you might be able to use an indoor antenna. Some antenna manufacturers make claims boosting projected signal ranges beyond their real world capabilities. Read reviews if they are available, and consider avoiding the brand if there aren't any reviews for the product. An antenna which claims it can receive signals for stations 150 miles away may not be able to provide you with a clear signal for a station only 20 miles from your home. Read the specs and have reasonable expectations for the product you are considering to purchase.

I live in northern Colorado, just outside the 50 mile broadcast radius for Metro Denver stations and not too terribly far from Fort Collins. I have two smart televisions I planned to convert to OTA usage, both sitting on stands located near windows with expansive south-southwest views. I initially purchased a highly rated indoor antenna for just under $30. The smart television was able to detect as many as 43 channels depending on the direction the antenna was pointed, but was notably missing the ABC, NBC and Fox affiliate channels. It was impractical and aesthetically unappealing to consider moving the antenna from the window to some other location in the room and moving it into the attic was not an option. I returned the indoor model and placed an order for an outdoor antenna.

Knowing that I needed to install an outdoor antenna, it was important to determine where it would go and how to install it without violating rules of the HOA. DIRECTV's installer did an outstanding job setting up the antenna two years ago and I decided to use that as a foundation. The base the dish was set upon was approximately four feet tall. I only needed to loosen three bolts, unplug the cable and lift the dish off the post -- which DIRECTV's installer set in concrete. There are a number of excellent how-to videos available on YouTube.com which can provide additional details for those who might be a little squeamish about performing similar procedures themselves without more information.

I placed the outdoor antenna atop a new ten foot post and anchored that about a half foot inside the existing post. The existing cable ran through a wall and into the home's basement and by using the existing cable, all smart televisions inside the home were able to begin receiving OTA signals from an antenna sitting a couple of feet above the roof-line, or just under 15 feet high. But I wasn't finished yet, and there are things you should anticipate as potential issues when completing your own project.

The living room television (approximately 60 cable feet from the outdoor antenna) was able to detect 77 channels, but the signal was extremely choppy -- with breaks in the signal every three to five seconds, and others -- including the ABC and NBC affiliates -- were still black screen. I went to the FCC's site, determined the direction I needed to point the antenna (about 181-182°) and downloaded a compass app for my smart phone to point the way.

Once properly pointing the antenna, all the major networks produced images ... many clear but severe chop on some remained an issue. I remembered I hadn't plugged in the amplifier for the antenna side so I ventured into the basement to do that. Reviewing progress in the living room, most of the channels now had clear reception with a few notables (CW, NBC, and Fox) still encountering notable chop.

I was getting frustrated. Thoughts of returning the antenna were prominent. Notice that I'm not talking the brand up ... or even mentioning it for that matter. It was my belief that it was an omnidirectional antenna and that I wouldn't need to fret with pointing it towards the television towers. It is a unit enclosed in what I believe is terribly cheap plastic with a single plastic rod for UHF signals on either side that I am concerned won't survive one of our 70 mph wind storms. I probably would have done better with a unidirectional brand, but I was determined to find a solution without returning the antenna if possible.

Success!

Remember I said YouTube.com videos could be really helpful. Right? Well, one of the individuals I watched setting up his home for OTA reception used amplified cable splitters to spread the signal out to the different receivers. It made sense. All of DIRECTV's equipment is using amplified signals at the receiver end. I was back into the basement, removed DIRECTV's unamplified cable splitters (which are really good), and plugged in the home's original amplified splitter into a nearby electrical socket then plugged the cables into open outlets. Voila! Clear, outstanding signal on all the stations that matter ... including and especially the HD stations.

The further I went into the process, the more other painful realities began to avail themselves. I've recorded my favorite programs for years so that I could watch them on my schedule. Was I going to turn my world upside-down and watch television on Madison Avenue's schedule and not my own? What about other network channels that I've grown comfortable watching on occasion? How was I going to be able to tune into USA, SyFy, HGTV, DIY, History, Discovery, or any one of many other great channels to be found on any cable network and DIRECTV? How could I do this and not undo my goal of saving all this money?

My efforts to achieve those goals without resorting back to the cable or dish are covered in parts two and three....
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