Breaking Up (With Cable TV) Is Hard to Do

As the recession deepened two years ago, Taraneh Foster and Joe Fultz decided to do without cable. Like many Americans, the Portland (Ore.) couple had signed up for a "triple-play" deal, where for about $100 a month you get basic cable TV, broadband, and phone service. "It was crazy," Foster says, "but cheaper than buying TV and Internet separately." Foster, 28, and Fultz, 30, both had cell service and hadn't even bothered to buy a home phone. Plus, they were already watching many of their favorite TV shows online. So they canceled the TV and phone service and began paying their cable company, Comcast (CMCSA), about $40 a month for Web access only.

At first, the new arrangement seemed to work out fine. The couple began surfing the Internet for their TV shows. Fultz was a big fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the quirky FX comedy starring Danny De Vito. He began watching it on Hulu for free 24 hours after it appeared on TV, with only minimal commercial interruptions. Foster was hooked on America's Next Top Model. They didn't have a way of connecting their computer to their big-screen television, so they turned Fultz's 24-inch Macintosh (AAPL) screen toward their couch and watched that way. "We could get a lot of what we wanted," says Foster. "Better yet, it was free."

Before long, however, the couple began to realize that "a lot of what they wanted" wasn't enough to satisfy their television cravings. Foster couldn't find enough recent episodes of the Lifetime show Project Runway. Fultz missed the left-leaning political talk show Countdown with Keith Olbermann that airs five nights a week on MSNBC. It began to dawn on Foster and Fultz that they couldn't live without cable after all. "We decided to be friends again with Comcast," says Foster.

Last fall the couple moved to a larger apartment and called the cable company. The good news was that their building had a deal with Comcast (CMCSA) that allowed residents to take cable and Web service for only about $20 more than the Internet alone. The couple declined to pay extra for premium channels like HBO. Instead, they pay $9 a month to Netflix (NFLX) and stream online movies to the television through Foster's Xbox game console. "We liked it better when it was free," says Foster. "But we've gotten too used to the convenience." Families all over America are making the same kind of calculation. Breaking up with the cable guy is hard to do.

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