Design Con 2015

Cable Cutting? Suddenlink May Give You A Reason To Re-Think

-July 31, 2012

I've long been a fan of free (i.e. advertising-supported) television. Four years ago, for example and ironically in preparation for the last Summer Olympics, I initiated what ended up being a lengthy series of blog posts (culminating in a print cover story with online supplements) that discussed my struggles to obtain solid and consistent ATSC reception at my High Sierra mountain residence. I've also discussed how to bypass the $7.99/month charge for Hulu Plus, along with snagging television-displayed access of other online content sources, by means of a one-time PlayOn purchase.

But a recent experience with Suddenlink (my local cable service provider) has me rethinking my past wisdom, echoing the thoughts of a few-days-back Slashdot discussion thread...although admittedly, Suddenlink's seeming screw-up is one of the factors in my enthusiasm. By means of background info, a few months back I switched from AT&T DSL to Suddenlink cable Internet service, in search of higher downstream and (particularly) upstream bandwidth. I was slinging a lot of video around for my primary job, supplying raw content to and reviewing edits done by contractors, and posting the final material on YouTube.

Suddenlink, like many ISPs, blocks port 25 access to SMTP servers other than its own as a spam-suppressing move, which caused me a bit of angst until I discovered that my work email provider alternatively allowed the use of port 587. About a month after I activated service, Suddenlink instituted a monthly bandwidth cap, although the 250 Gbps/month threshold in my case is fairly generous compared to some other ISPs. And I encountered substantial latency issues especially when remote-connecting to the servers at work over the VPN, until Suddenlink's tier-one technical support folks (with whom I eventually came in contact with) discovered that:

Our local routers were being overworked because they were downloading routing tables for the entire Internet instead of letting our regional routers do the work. We corrected that and the entire system is benefiting. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

These minor initial hiccups aside, I've been pretty pleased with Suddenlink's cable Internet service over the past six-plus months that I've had it so far. More recently, I gained a tenant at my residence, and she requested subscription television access (at her expense). Instead of investigating a satellite TV provider, and since AT&T's U-verse fiber service isn't available at my location, I decided to just tack cable television onto my existing Suddenlink account.

Specifically, my tenant wanted the "limited basic" plan, which when bundled with cable Internet service, costs less than $20 more per month beyond the $50/month I'd already been paying. Even better, an Internet-plus-television promotion cut my cable Internet bill by $5/month, along with giving me a free bandwidth upgrade from the 10 Mbps (down)/1 Mbps (up) tier I'd had before to the faster 15 Mbps/1.5 Mbps service grade. Limited basic cable television service supposedly only gave us access to channels 2-18 (PDF) but because these channels were delivered "in the clear" (i.e. unencrypted), a dedicated set-top box or CableCARD wasn't required. Instead, all I needed was a TV or tuner adapter with an integrated 64-QAM demodulator. After activating the service via on-line chat with customer support, I installed a splitter at the coax feed coming into the house, with one splitter output going to my cable modem and the other going to my TV tuner.

An automatic channel scan produced some surprising results; not only was I getting the 17 channels I'd paid for, I was getting a whole lot more. 90 channels total, to be precise. Granted, I don't have access to "premium" encrypted content such as HBO and Showtime, nor to HD channel variants except for the local broadcaster affiliates, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. There's also no pay-per-view capability, but I can alternatively obtain that via Amazon Instant Video, the Apple iTunes Store, Sony PlayStation Store or Xbox 360 Video Marketplace, through a game console, Apple TV or Roku Player intermediary. But with 90 channels' worth of material to peruse, I doubt I'll be doing much pay-per-view watching, anyway. More generally, quite frankly, I'm pondering putting my Netflix online streaming subscription on hold, as a first step toward potentially shutting it completely down ...

... which leads to the primary point of this particular post. As I earlier mentioned, Hulu Plus is $7.99/month, doesn't dispense with the ads found at the free and supposedly computer-only Hulu counterpart, and doesn't even encompass all of the content offered by the base Hulu service tier. Netflix is an additional $7.99/month. Combine the two and you're already beyond what my tenant is paying for cable television service after the aforementioned $5/month "bundled" discount, and keep in mind the free cable Internet "bundling" bandwidth upgrade that Suddenlink tossed in, too. Where are those cable-cutting savings, again?

By the way, as long-time readers may recall, I'd historically been obtaining my ATSC reception via a Dell laptop running Windows Vista Ultimate, mated to an ExpressCard TV tuner adapter. More recently, I'd migrated to a "headless" mini PC running Windows 7 Ultimate (mine's all-black):

 

 

Ethernet-mated to a SiliconDust HDHomeRun Dual two-tuner setup:

 

 

Even though I was adding cable television service, I wanted to be able to retain higher-quality ATSC reception for the channels I was able to reliably tune in over-the-air; CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS. And I accomplished this quite easily, at least from a hardware standpoint, by supplementing (not replacing) the HDHomeRun Dual with a LAN-connected HDHomeRun Prime three-tuner adapter:

 

 

Stay tuned for more on my trials, tribulations and ultimate (fingers-crossed) triumph in my next post.

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