The future of cutting the cord

by Sarah Firisen

I began the process of cutting the cord when I moved back to NYC from upstate NY 10 years ago. I didn’t sign up for cable or home phone service. Instead, I had a mobile phone and Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. It felt liberating. Periodically, Verizon FIOS (through whom I had my home internet service) would contact me to offer me a “great deal” on a package that would usually include a home phone line and some sort of cable package, and I would happily tell them where to shove it. I never regretted this decision, and I know I’m far from the only person to do some version of this over the last decade.

My mobile phone service has been through my employer for the last few years, but I recently decided I wanted to take my number out of the corporate plan and pay for my mobile service. Our mobile phone numbers have become an increasing part of our identities. I remember the early days of mobile phone numbers when New Yorkers became anxious that the “prestigious” 917 area code numbers were running out. I have a 518 area code because I lived in upstate New York when I first got a mobile number. But that area code no longer has any connection to my physical location; I’m domiciled in Florida and spend most of my time in the Caribbean. But it is the number that all my online accounts are tied to, which connects me to every aspect of how I manage my life these days. I could change it, but it would be painful. 

I’d hoped that I could take my phone out of the corporate plan (with Verizon), then switch to a pre-paid plan, thereby keeping my US number for use by anyone who might want to call me from the US. Then get a local eSIM for data in Grenada. After way too long on the phone with multiple Verizon people, I managed to get my phone number reassigned to a personal account and pay-as-you-go setup, only to find out that I couldn’t activate it out of the country, and so it was useless. 

I now had a few issues. First, I needed a data plan. This could be quickly and cheaply accomplished by getting local service under my husband’s local plan, which costs about $10 a month for us both. But I also needed a US number. Apart from anything else, I needed a way to get SMS verifications from the various websites I use for banking, finance, and shopping. I already had a Skype subscription for a few dollars a month to call US numbers, specifically 800 numbers(which I couldn’t call when I was out of the country, even from a US phone number). For an additional $39 a year (plus extra for Skype credits for each text), I was able to get an actual US phone number attached to that subscription. I was now able to get texts and calls as a US number. Except, it turned out, the one exception to that is SMS verification codes. And so, not only was I faced with the arduous task of going into every online account I have (or remember I have) and changing my contact phone. I wasn’t then able to get the verification code that would be sent for confirmation. 

This one had me puzzled for a day or so. Then I happen to come across The stated purpose of this service is to “Get New Phone Numbers That Ring On Your Existing Phone.” They also enable a subscriber to port an existing phone number, either to be the new virtual phone number that forwards to another phone number or just to hold it. Signing up for their $80 annual service, I could reclaim my 518 number and forward texts and calls to my new Skype number. I crossed my fingers and triggered an SMS verification text to my 518 number, and it worked! It came through on my Skype number. Anyone who still wants to use my old number will never know the difference. I was already using Whatapp, iMessage, and Facetime for 95% of my family, friends, and even work messaging, and those people would never know any different. And when I go back to the US or travel to Europe, I’ll get a pay-as-you-go eSim like Airalo for local data.

I have now cut the final cord to the Verizons and ATTs of this world. Rather than the $55 pre-paid plan, Verizon had set up for me (which  I canceled once I couldn’t activate it), I’m spending around $14 a month and getting local data and all the benefits of a US phone number. 

Clearly, most people don’t have the complicated dual-country lives I do and would probably find the above overly convoluted. So I’m not suggesting that I’m going to start a trend here doing what I’ve done. However, I have proved that, in this day and age when most of us use our phones and phone numbers for things that mainly have little to do with making actual phone calls, it’s possible to sever a phone number from an expensive phone plan and to do so for a fraction of what the average American pays for such a plan. I’m certainly not the only person who doesn’t make many actual phone calls anymore. I’m sure that, like me, most people’s business “calls” these days are made through Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet. Whatsapp, iMessage, and Facetime are how people mostly keep up with friends and family abroad. The primary use of actual SMS texting is just to get these verification codes to manage and use our online accounts. 

When I cut the cord with cable and home phone in 2013, I certainly wasn’t a trailblazer, but it wasn’t a particularly common thing to do. But that’s changed; the number of people just in the US has more than doubled from 24 million in 2017 to 55 million in 2022. Some noteworthy stats:

  • Nearly 30% of US consumers plan to cut the cord in 2021
  • Nearly all Americans aged 25-34 access TV content through the internet;
  • 90% of young people prefer this method
  • Among the younger segment of viewers, those aged 18-24, the percentage is similar: 87% opt for internet access.
  • The biggest cable TV provider Comcast, has 22.1. million subscribers. 
  • Netflix had 209.67 million by the first quarter of 2021.
  • Pay-TV lost over 5 million subscribers in 2020.

We all know what sits behind those numbers: cable costs are high, and cable packages are stuffed with channels that most people never watch. At the same time, providers such as Netflix have increasingly become more than just content distributors and are the creators of buzzworthy premium content. And let’s not get into how pointless a home phone has become for most of us. “As smartphones have become a constant companion for most people in the United States, landline phones are rapidly losing their relevance. In 2004, more than 90 percent of U.S. adults lived in households that had an operational landline phone – now it’s less than 40 percent…If the trend towards mobile phones continues, and there’s little reason to believe it won’t, landline phones could soon become an endangered species, much like the VCR and other technological relics before it.” So maybe I’m onto something in ditching my traditional mobile phone plan. We’ll have to wait and see.