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More cut the cable TV cord

Monday - 9/24/2012, 2:00am  ET

Eric Eckl streaming TV (Frederick News Post/Travis Pratt)
Eric Eckl displays his choices of streaming content at his home in Frederick. Eckl subscribes to Netflix and Hulu Plus and avoids paying for cable. (Frederick News-Post/Travis Pratt)

Jon Poletti of Middletown is from the same New York town as Nicole Polizzi, otherwise known as MTV's Jersey Shore cast member "Snooki."

Because he doesn't have regular television, he was unaware that he knew one of reality television's most recognizable faces until the show had already been on the air for three seasons. He found out about his connection to her through a news story he came across while skimming The New York Times.

But Poletti said missing out on the latest reality television, commercials and uninformative "sound bites" of broadcast news is well worth the saved money and his family's enhanced quality of life.

Since 1999, when he and his wife cut the cord, "we haven't looked back," he said.

They used to have cable, DIRECTV programming and specialty sports channels, to boot. Now, 13 years and two children later, they get by mostly on Netflix.

They pay about $72 per month total for that service and a cable modem, which allows them to stream the programming from the Internet. Poletti said they save about $130 per month -- more than $1,500 per year -- compared with some of his friends who are still subscribing to cable packages.

In Frederick County, Comcast cable ranges from $27.45 per month for 25-channel basic cable to $133.60 for 200 channels plus premium channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz, according to spokeswoman Alisha Martin.

DIRECTV packages cost from $54.99 per month for 140 channels to $119.99 per month for 285 channels. With a two-year agreement and rebate, customers can get discounted prices for the first two years of service. DISH Network works similarly, and offers packages that cost up to $104.99 at regular price for 320 channels.

And, as technologies offering different kinds of television viewing options continue to surface, the Polettis are joined by other families and individuals who are ditching traditional TV.

According to a Nielsen company survey issued this month, 99 percent of American homes with televisions had some form of traditional TV service three years ago. Now, that percentage is below 96 percent. Part of that decline, the survey said, is due to families sacrificing the expense of cable in the sluggish economy.

More options

Hulu, an online video service founded in March 2007, offers current and archived shows from lots of channels -- from NBC to Comedy Central. It can be used free of charge, but the advanced version of the service, Hulu Plus, costs $7.99 per month. With that charge comes access to more content, and the ability to watch it from phones, video game consoles and other outlets. Between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011, Hulu Plus grew from fewer than 300,000 subscribers to nearly 1.5 million.

Also in 2007, DVD mail rental service Netflix started offering online streaming. In the next few years, it partnered with electronics companies to offer streaming on the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, Play Station, Blu-ray players and other products. The company has 27 million customers worldwide that stream content for $7.99 per month.

"I don't watch a whole lot of TV, so the prices for cable packages seem very high to me," said Eric Eckl, who moved to Frederick in May. When he lived in Fairfax County, Va., he had Verizon Fios.

"I guess when I first made the switch, I was presently surprised by how much I could watch," he said.

Eckl uses both Netflix and Hulu, which he streams through a $50 Blu-ray player with Internet capabilities.

"It is a good choice if you like movies, sitcoms, documentaries and other stuff that is not about, like, today," he said. He is not a sports or competition reality show fan, so he doesn't worry about being up-to-the-minute on that type of news.

Poletti, on the other hand, gave up watching live football when he kicked TV to the curb. But he says technology has adapted to sports fans such as himself.

Since switching to online television, he has gotten his football fix in a variety of ways. At first, he checked the scores on nfl.com all Sunday afternoon. Then he subscribed to NFL Audio Pass, which let him listen to the games live. Now he uses NFL Game Rewind, which condenses and 3 1/2-hour live game, including time-outs and commercials, to just the plays. He has to watch games the day after they air, but he has been known to get up at 5 a.m. to watch them before work on Monday.

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