Thursday, October 2, 2008

Media Independence Plan

I spend a lot of time thinking about food independence, but I have been ignoring the elephant in the room. I am a media slave! All of my family are indentured to Comcast. It controls what we watch, whether we get email, how fast we connect to the Internet, and how much we spend on all of that. I buy manual cooking tools, but up until now we haven't given organized thought to all the media tools that require electricity. DH and I talked about it this week.

No one in my family can imagine an appealing future without media - we are huge readers, film-watchers, magazine subscribers, Internet users, and TV-watchers. Our music is digital. DD15 goes to an online charter school. We are selective, and control our TV with a DVR. We don't spend all our time in front of a screen. We allow only one TV that everyone watches, so family members have to negotiate to watch favorite shows. No TVs or computers in kids' rooms. Each person tracks different shows they think are worth watching, and DH generally manages the DVR recording and reminds us to watch our saved shows.

But we have a $150+ monthly Comcast bill, of which $48 is high speed Internet. The rest is basic cable, a required digital package, DVR rental, and HBO, along with fees and taxes. One or two pay-per-view movies a month. We also see one or two movies per month at theater matinees. DH and I like to have the occasional Friday afternoon date, with a movie and Cajun food.

We don't have landline phones, only cell phones with pay-as-you-go plans, so we are already Phone Independent (as far as one can be). But no landline means no DSL through a phone company, which is cheaper Internet. On the other hand, Verizon is also moving toward more expensive options (FIOS) for the speeds needed to support media streaming.

We could survive without cable TV and Internet. We very much enjoy reading. But we wouldn't like losing the connections, the information, the news, my blog! The Internet is more than entertainment. It has become essential for business, and to connect services with people who are otherwise isolated by distance, disability, or poverty. Most job hunting is now done online. In Pennsylvania, cable companies negotiate individual long-term franchise contracts with municipalities, making cable a patchwork of providers for users who have no group identity or power. I anticipate that the price of Internet service will rise as customers leave cable TV - either because they switch to Internet programming, or because they choose food and rent over cable.

These are the possible scenarios I see for us in the next few years:

Best Case: We remain able to afford electricity, cable TV, and high speed Internet. Over the next 5 years, as more and more TV programming becomes available online, we will invest in a High Definition monitor, and hook up a computer to stream our programming from the Internet, eliminating our cable subscription. We could get a 32" HD TV for under $800, maybe much less if we buy one at a store liquidation or bankruptcy sale. A computer with a large hard-drive would come in under another $1000. Alternative energy sources will develop over the next 5-10 years, and our electricity needs may be met off-grid.

Middle Road: We may be forced to cut our spending dramatically in the next 2-3 years. Cable TV would go first, to preserve our funds for Internet and electricity. We think that about half of the programming we watch is available online now. We could get a digital Netflix subscription, but would lose the original HBO prgramming that we like, until HBO starts offering the predicted digital subscriptions. We would also stop going to theaters, and would give up our magazines, new books (using only the library), and other forms of paid media in order to keep the Internet.

Worst Case: If the economy goes downhill very quickly, I would consider organizing a "community media center." We would not be the only ones jonesing for TV and Internet (not to mention light, heat, and a meal). We could start a community-supported TV and Internet Cafe, spreading the power and connection costs across a larger number of people. I hope to see this kind of thing start up in any future. Movies were popular and inexpensive during the Depression, a distraction from hunger and worry. TV could be more of a positive experience if it came with community and discussion, instead of isolation. Group watching could also make tedious tasks entertaining - bean shelling, needlework, and other handcrafts.

Bug-Out Media Plan: This is a short-term plan for unexpected local emergencies. We have extra phone chargers. I have a biometric flash drive with our essential data and passwords. We would take our phones and DH's laptop. Everyone but me has an MP3 player, flash drives loaded with music, and DS-Lite game systems. (I prefer reading.) We are shopping for solar chargers and rechargeable batteries. We need to be able to keep our phones and a laptop up in an emergency. The music and games could pass the time if we had to evacuate-n-wait at a shelter. We also have a shelf of waiting-to-be-read books, that we could easily grab on the way out the door, and three of us carry Moleskine notebooks and sketchbooks.

What's your Media Plan look like? How will you make sure you can keep reading my blog? :-)


MeadowLark said...

Gee, I don't have a media plan either. I suck. :(

That said, we would dump tv in a heartbeat. Living without internet would break my heart.

I did "print to pdf" a TON (I mean that nearly literally) of how-to books for third world nations and save said pdfs to a dvd. With a solar charger I could use my laptop long enough to get the information. Now when I find something online that's helpful I "print to pdf" into a folder called NEW then when I have a bunch I transfer them all to DVD and then move those files to a folder called TRANSFERRED.

Just my two cents.

Verde said...

The media plan has been the toughest for us. When we were in a real pinch we just had cell phones - internet was at the library.

We hated that! In better weather the girls would sit outside the library to catch their signal. On the coldest days we would drive the car over so they could sit in the parking lot and catch a signal! Of course if the library were open they could go inside.

As soon as we got relief we got a landline with DSL - in fact it was last year's big present to the family! Now we have a cell phone plan, land line and DSL - but no cable TV - just what the internet will pick up.

I guess cell phone and internet are the most crucial - does that mean blackberry?

Matriarchy said...

Phone and internet blur in other ways, too. We have phone numbers, as well as our cells. GC is Google's phone/voicemail service and it's free to get a number. I use that number for non=personal purposes, to reduce the people calling me cell (which costs per-minute). I only give my cell number to people that I want to immediately pick up the phone for (family, close friends, schools, soccer coach). My utility providers, for instance, get the GC number, which goes straight to voicemail, and I can listen to the message online for free, and only return the call if needed. I get an email telling me when I have a new message. If I wanted to, I could also forward the GC calls to my cell.

There are lots of different tools to explore. I think everyone will be looking for the combination of services and fees that works best for them.

Gina said...

I live in an area of the country where my personal and political viewpoints are not in line with my neighbors (friends, family and co-workers as well). It gets lonely. Having internet and a chance to "hear" all these other voices lessons the loneliness.

Around here, people don't want to talk about the issues at hand. I think it is denial. They hang onto rumors and hearsay and then use it as their opinion. I would be lost without internet!

That being said, I want a solar charger as well for the laptop. We have cell phones, DSL, sattelite and a land line. think the cable would go fist, then all but one of the cell (land line could work with out electricity if you have the right phone), internet.

I did buy a hand cranked charged lantern/radio combo and could get radio broadcasts (hopefully) if need be.

Good thing to ponder!

Matriarchy said...

Argh! The day after I posted this, Comcast sent us a notice that rates will go up on almost all services on November 1. DH is shopping for an HD-TV/monitor now, figuring some big clearances are sure to be in store for the holidays. Comcast is writing its own epitaph.

I bet we give up cable TV within 6 months, switching to internet TV, Netflix, and DVD-sets of HBO shows. Have to figure how to cover BBC shows - we love a lot of them.