Rich Warren: Cable options on the rise - and so is the cost
Can you believe a technology columnist who wrote a high school term paper explaining why pay TV would never succeed? Of course, back then pay TV consisted of an experiment by Zenith to broadcast one channel of pay TV in Chicago.
Today, except for the indigent, misers and renegades, nearly everyone pays for TV. (Please don't take this pejoratively if you're a member of this cableless or satellite-free club.) Brace yourselves, or your checkbooks (do people still write checks?), because although you now have more choices than ever, they're going to cost you more than ever.
Premium entertainment enters your home in three ways: cable, satellite or Internet. Satellite is a one-way technology that beams programming down to you, but thus far is not very effective in the other direction. Thus, the return link of satellite connectivity is by telephone line, which is not broadband.
At the moment, DirecTV and Dish Network charge less than the cable company, which explains the proliferation of satellite dishes around town.
If you read the fine print (it takes a rather high-powered magnifying glass), once the seductive introductory offers expire, the satellite rates cost only slightly less than cable.
Recently, Dish Network once again began making overtures to acquire DirecTV. The government blocked this when originally proposed a few years ago. Now with Comcast acquiring Time-Warner and other cable companies merging, the merger of DirecTV and Dish is gaining altitude. It doesn't take an economist to figure that eliminating competition raises prices.
A lot of people figure they can outsmart the cable company by viewing their favorite programs via the Internet.
Amazon recently jumped into the fray along with Apple, Roku, Google, Microsoft and Sony (not to mention most TV manufacturers) in offering streaming media boxes (or built-in connectivity) that bring the Internet to your TV.
Microsoft and Sony incorporate it in their gaming consoles for considerably more than the $30-$100 cost of the "dongles" and set-top boxes offered by Apple, Roku, Google and now Amazon. The $99 Amazon Fire Streaming Media Player also doubles as an inexpensive limited game platform.
Amazon, along with Netflix, offers exclusive programming, although you don't need a specific streaming media player to view it.
Depending on your TV and home computer or tablet, you also can use one of these to stream media to your TV.
The same company that provides cable TV in most cases provides your Internet connection. AT&T U-verse is not available everywhere and it's generally slower than Comcast or Medicom.
Rest assured that Comcast and Mediacom will not endanger their cable TV revenue by fostering less expensive Internet streaming of the same programming.
Netflix already signed an agreement with Comcast, at no small cost, allowing it to connect to the Comcast system at an advantageous entry point.
Netflix currently is negotiating a similar arrangement with Verizon.
It's likely others, such as Amazon, will follow suit.
This means that you will pay for more reliable Netflix either in your bill for Internet service and/or your subscription fees for Netflix and other Internet programming providers.
In places such as Champaign County where Comcast, in the cities, and Mediacom, in the smaller towns, are the best games in town, your choices are limited.
One other point concerns bandwidth, or the speed of your connection.
While Comcast provides good bandwidth, especially if you're willing to pay the premium for higher speeds, it pales in comparison to Google Fiber in places such as Kansas City.
Google, in the very few cities it serves, provides 10 times more bandwidth than the local cable company for the same monthly fee.
If the Big Broadband project in Champaign-Urbana ever becomes fully realized, the same thing would happen here.
While that kind of bandwidth is unnecessary for most daily Internet tasks, it is highly desirable for streaming HD video and essential for streaming forthcoming 4K (Ultra-High Definition) video.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.