How To Be A Sensible Streamer

Streaming Channel Portal on Amazon

Streaming your choice of video channels is what the future holds. I spend a good chunk of my day job looking at the prices of Internet services across the county.

I studied cable, DSL, and fiber services in dozens of counties and communities last year.  That along with my personal experience with prices and as an early streamer starting several years ago has helped our family to continue to save money after switching from cable and its expensive packages to fiber and streaming services.

However, it is easy to go overboard with streaming.  The grandchildren show up and their favorite shows are on Disney+, so you subscribe. An older child comes home and wants some Apple TV channels.  It only takes three or four spur of moment decisions added to your regular streaming services and you will be paying more than you would be for a cable package.

The way we handle our streaming services is to keep them on a budget.  We budget $40 monthly for streaming services.  We are Amazon Prime members so I am not sure we would allocate the full $8.99 (stand-alone cost) for Prime video but as you will see, even when we do that, we are still well under budget.

Our four current services for a fee are Prime Video at $8.99 monthly, Paramount+ $5.99 monthly, Britbox $6.99 monthly, and PBS Masterpiece $5.99 monthly for a total of $32.96 for all our streaming services.  We also subscribe to the free version of Peacock.  I recently canceled Netflix and Acorn  while adding Masterpiece and Britbox.

We stream so much that it is easy to run out of new, watchable programs in two to three months.  I manage all but one of our channels on Amazon prime so it is easy to see them and the costs  all in one place. You also have the advantage of being able to snare some Amazon specials like HBO Maxx or Starx for $1.99 a month for two months.  You just have to remember to cancel them.  The picture at the top of the post is what you see in Amazon’s Video channels management console.

My studies across the country along the current Hulu and YouTube pricing I see tell me that about $70 a month will get you full range of video services.  So if you are paying $70 or more for your streaming services, you are not saving money and it is time to go on  a streaming budget. 

Adding Fiber to Your Life

Fiber connectivity can make a huge difference in your life. When we started planning our move, my first requirement was that we find a home with fiber connectivity. It was not a snap decision. My work career in technology will hit four decades in 2022, and all of those years have revolved around a home office. Recent changes in what is expected from home office workers have reinforced the lessons learned from years of trying to stay connected enough to do my job.

Like many people who have been on a cable modem for decades, my experience has been a roller-coaster with some very frustrating experiences. Our most recent home before the move was in a new subdivision serviced by a national cable company. By the time we moved in February 2021, our speeds had increased to 488 Mbps down and 24 Mbps up. Because of bundling our phone service also was delivered by cable modem. The numbers looked impressive on the surface.

However, with a job that involves clients in over twenty states and a home office over seven hours driving away from our corporate office, experience had taught me that I could still expect problems with video conferencing which had become critical to meeting the needs of our clients since the pandemic.

Video conferencing with our cable modem, even with the best speeds that my cable modem company could deliver, involved using both the phone and my computer to establish a video conference link. Other collaborative tools like Slack were not consistently reliable when making phone calls or sharing screens. Even worse, sharing files was anything but instant since many of the proposals I prepared often reached sizes that were unimaginable just a few years ago. I depended on tools like Box for sharing files and an unreliable Internet connection is a nightmare when sharing files or screens in real time.

When we got to the point of making an offer on a new home, we had two homes with fiber connectivity and one with DSL. We quickly discarded the DSL home and bought one of the fiber homes. Having a symmetric 500 Mbps fiber connection provided by our local telephone company has taken connectivity worries out of my life and office. Now when I am joining a video conference whether through Zoom, Teams, or GoToMeeting, all I do is click a link for crystal clear voice and video. I no longer tie up our home phone line for audio in what can only be described as often frustrating video conferences where my participation was often flaky because of connectivity problems.

My biggest worry beyond office connectivity in making the switch to fiber was my wife and how she would take to streaming. What we could get through streaming turned out to be far more flexible and entertaining than I expected. While my wife cannot see all of her favorite shows live, she has not had to give up any shows and and she has found a far broader choice of shows. We get local live television through Paramount+. We rotate through a number of streaming services, cancelling them sometimes for several months until their content has been refreshed. My wife who is somewhat reluctant with technology changes has learned how to stream the shows that she wants without help from me. 

In our previous home, our cable service had the most basic TV service, the best Internet, and nationwide phone service. It took constant vigilance and regular arguments with the cable company to keep our bills under $180 per month. By the time we moved, our efforts to stay within the $180 meant we not longer had PBS, and saw only a very few sports events. Even the Weather Channel had disappeared from our service.

In addition to the monthly expense, an average of once a month, I went through an often frustrating reset of my cable modem due to loss of connectivity. I also had to switch out my cable modem every few years. At least twice during those switches, I lost connectivity for a day or more due to problems getting the new modems configured.

I do not miss my cable bills or the headaches. I love our fiber connection.

Our current costs with symmetric 500 Mbps (which not everyone needs- we have 29 connected devices in our home), nationwide/Canadian VOIP telephone service and a monthly budget of $40 in rotating streaming services is $140. Every service that we have now is better than what we had before. The almost $500 in annual savings is certainly a welcome bonus. We experimented with streaming while we were on cable, and there is no doubt in my mind that streaming is far better with the fiber than what we had in our previous house. We just don’t have buffering issues now. I have also found that a simple large battery backup allows me to run our fiber network during power outages. There have been NO connectivity battles and I have not even talked to our Internet service provider since I signed up for service ten months ago.

With all that and what fiber to the home can provide now and in the future, I do not see us ever buying another home without fiber.

David Sobotta is a VP and Senior Broadband Analyst with WideOpen Networks which is currently building fiber to the home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He and his wife live in a very rural subdivision in Davie County near Mocksville, NC.

The Five Shirt Day

My Work Shirt

An overlooked challenge of the pandemic is that it has been very hard on clothing, specifically shirts. I have never been easy on clothing. I have a long history of getting dirty.  When we lived on the farm, my wife, Glenda, was known to sometimes hose me down and make me take my dirty clothes off in the woodshed before I could come into the house. Back in my lawn mowing days on the North Carolina coast, not only did I come in encrusted in dirt from a yard that was more dust than grass at times but I also ended up fishing, walking on the beach, gardening and working at my desk. It all required a lot of different clothes, but I am not sure that I ever had a five shirt day.

The pandemic has made it more challenging to do almost everything except work from home. The statement that clothes make the man or woman has changed to shirts make the man or woman.  With Zoom and Team conference calls, how you look on video is what matters these days and our video cameras only show us from us from the face down to our desks.  So we pay attention to the shirts that we wear.

(Read More)

Empowering Technology

Asus Chromebook

Technology that empowers you is more than just the technology.  To be really successful technolog has to be packaged in an affordable way and be easy to use to accomplish tasks that are important.

I was working for Apple Canada and living in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January 1985 when Apple introduced the LaserWriter, the first laser printer to be widely used. Ignoring the first home computers, this was also the first time I was involved with the rollout of technology that had the power to fundamentally change the way we did things.

The list price was $6,995 and more important to those of us lugging it around for demonstrations, it weighed 77 pounds.

I was happy that my previous career was running a cattle farm where I spent much of the winter hauling around 100 lb+ bags of feed.

It is a measure of how technology change accelerates that the third week in December 2011, just about twenty-six years later, I bought a Brother HL-2270DW laser printer for $99.98.  It only weighed 15.4 pounds.

The original Apple LaserWriter printed eight pages per minute of 300 DPI text and graphics using a 12 Mhz Motorola 68000 chip.

The Brother printer that I bought in 2011 printed at 27 pages per minute at up to 2400 X 600 DPI.  It had a 200 Mhz processor.  The Brother printer comes with Ethernet and wireless connectivity.  The Apple LaserWriter only had LocalTalk, a very slow but revolutionary network for 1985.

The original LaserWriter were heavy and expensive. Few of them made it into home offices in the early days. The most recent Brother Laser that I purchased was only $85. (Read More)

There is more to working from home than your laptop

The view from my office on the Crystal Coast

I recently wrote a post, Success from Working at Home. As I have seen people struggling with their first efforts at working from home, it occurred to me that people might need more suggestions, particularly with the things that I take for granted and the habits that I have developed over my thirty-five plus years of mostly working from home. Many of these things do not seem special to me.  They are just the way that I have learned to accomplish tasks for decades.

Once you take the step of working from home, the back end system that provides services to your office will become very important. 

VPNs allow us to access file servers on the corporate network. If you do not have a VPN that gives you file access, you will need some cloud services.

In order to get to those files on the servers or in the cloud, you need a good, fast, reliable Internet connection. DSL usually just does not work well enough to be useful. The fastest cable connections are okay but if you are uploading large files, you are probably going to wish you had a fiber connection.

A good phone that provides clear sound is essential and if you are getting your phone from your Internet service provider and have a flakey Internet, remember to not count on your phone.

If you do a lot of conference calls, a good microphone will help.

A good collaboration tool which let you talk, text, and share files is essential.

Of course you also need the right software, the knowledge to use it, and the discipline to use the cloud tools or VPN so that people can collaborate with you.

Read more detailed information on how to be successful working from home at the following link. [Read More Here].