Finding the best cable provider can be a serious undertaking. You will want to find the ideal package with a company that won't charge you more than your budget affords. Where you live and which types of programs you prefer to watch are important factors to consider when deciding between cable providers.
In my review, I made sure reliability, cost, customer service, and channel selection were at the top of my list. Television preferences are unique to each one of us, so there may be other factors you should consider. Because a cable TV and cable Internet subscription is a hefty investment, I've reviewed the best cable providers to help you find which company best suits your needs.
In This Guide
Our Top Picks
- Over 280 channels
- Exclusive sports packages
- A variety of HD channels
- Excellent customer service
- Good signal for satellite
- Requires two-year contract
DIRECTV is among the best and most popular cable services around. Particularly among sports fans because of their exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package.
DIRECTV makes setting up service as easy and inexpensive as possible. First, there is typically no equipment to buy as most fees are waived once you order service. This is a welcome perk because there are some providers who charge you monthly to buy or lease your equipment.
DIRECTV offers a wide range channels (including HD channels) and packages. As a whole, they tend to offer a larger variety of channels than Dish Network.
In addition, DIRECTV doesn't charge you for HD TV service and if you don't have an HD TV receiver in your home, your technician will provide you with one free of charge. Finally, there is never any charge for the technician to come out to your home to install service.
Despite all these benefits, there are some downsides. The majority of DIRECTV's packages are more expensive than Dish's. Their Internet bundles use AT&T's service, so you'll have to look elsewhere if you don't like AT&T. In addition, you can expect stiff early termination fees if you decide you want to switch.
Related: DIRECTV Packages
Dish Network Packages
- Good value pricing
- Bundle TV, phone, and internet for savings
- Free professional installation
- No fee for HD service
- Customer support among the industry's best
- Customer service can take a while to reach
- Two-year service agreement required
Dish Network offers a wide variety of packages to accommodate the viewing preferences of nearly anyone. Dish Network's cable services range from $19.99 to $39.99 per month, which is fairly cheap. Though, their channel (including HD channels) offerings and sports packages don't quite measure up to DIRECTV.
Despite that, there are plenty of neat perks Dish offers that make it an appealing choice. Here are just a few:
- DISH typically waives all of your initiation fees when you begin service. And there is no additional installation fee for a technician to come out to your home.
- If you want to bundle, Dish has you covered as their satellite internet and cable service bundles range from $39.99 to $69.99 per month.
- Dish provides custom installation of TVs, home theaters, and wireless networks.
There are few downsides, however. Because Dish requires you to buy your equipment from them, you can expect to see a monthly charge on your bill on top of your package as well. Like DIRECTV, DISH requires a two-year commitment once you begin service. So if you like to jump around between providers you will have to keep that in mind. But you will have some quality service at competitive prices to look forward to for those two years.
Related: DISH Network TV Packages
AT&T U-Verse Packages
- Competitively priced
- Combine TV, Internet and phone for savings
- Great digital service
- Free installation
- Good customer service
- Limited streaming capabilities
- Limited U-verse availability
- Activation fees might apply
AT&T's packages are among the best around as well. Ranging from $29.99 to $91.99, they have something for everyone. And if you're bundling telephone and internet service, the value gets even better.
AT&T U-verse setup is straight-forward and a technician will arrive at your home days after placing your order. As is common with most companies, AT&T waives all of your installation fees. However, be prepared to pay a monthly charge for your equipment as the company requires you to buy it. The one benefit of paying for these boxes is that you get to keep them even when you finally terminate your service. Also, another perk is that AT&T won't charge you for re-installation if you move.
Another little bonus is that, depending on which services you order, AT&T will send you a Visa prepaid debit card with $50 to $300 loaded onto it. The amount of money you get as a rebate depends on which of their array of packages you order.
AT&T's DVR service comes standard, which is a nice bonus. And you can record four shows simultaneously using their boxes which is rather convenient.
One of AT&T U-verse's biggest weaknesses is that it is only available in 20 states. One last thing to note is that AT&T requires a one-year contract. So expect to commit to U-verse for at least a year when you sign up.
Related: AT&T U-Verse TV Packages
Key Considerations Before Choosing a Provider
When I was researching cable providers in my area, I narrowed my search to reception, bundles, and contracts. Simply put, the best cable providers should be reliable in poor weather, user-friendly when you're finding shows to watch, and hassle-free when you're doing anything else. If you're in the market for cable TV and cable Internet, reflect on these areas when you do your own research.
Cable and satellite have very different reception issues. No matter how good satellite TV service is, it will be affected by weather conditions and physical obstructions. If you can set up your dish somewhere that will have a clear path to the sky, then you will get the best reception. If your satellite does go out, it is probably only temporary. Cable is typically safe from storms and the wind but when it does go out it might mean a serious issue has occurred and may take a long while to fix.
Additionally, some cable companies require a set-top box, which allows you to view digital channels and access other features provided by the company. Comcast Xfinity TV is one such company that requires users to use a set-top box. However, according to a USA Today report in April 2016, the Comcast Xfinity TV service began to allow some customers - i.e. those with a Roku TV, a Roku streaming media player, or a 2016 Samsung Smart TV - to watch cable TV without leasing a set-top box.
2. Cable TV and Internet Bundles
Many TV/Internet service providers offer packages that bundle other services like TV and high-speed Internet together. So if you are in the market for any of those services at once, I would keep that in mind.
The majority of cable and satellite TV providers offer customers packaged deal pricing on a contract basis. Before you lock in on one particular company, be sure to review the terms of the contract. Some service providers don't make customers sign a contract, but service pricing is subject to change when the company decides to alter prices. Most cable TV service contracts run for about a year, although there are some multi-year contracts with special pricing guarantees.
4. Additional Services
Many cable and satellite TV providers also offer extra services. For example, they may offer television, music, and radio channels unique to their company. If you're looking for cheap cable TV, you may have to sacrifice these additional packages.
- Sports packages. For the common sports fan, the major networks broadcast the most popular games. They might not, however, broadcast college sports, international sports, or women's leagues unless you pay for a premium sports package.
- Foreign language packages. Slightly different from international programming, but if you're interested in foreign language programming, you can expect most cable and satellite tv companies to broadcast content in a variety of languages.
- Live-recording. Some premium cable TV service packages may offer additional equipment - typically in the form of an HD DVR - that allows customers to record shows for later viewing. Be aware that some companies may charge extra for equipment installation, and you may have a limit on how many shows can be recorded simultaneously on the HD DVR. Some companies, such as Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, may feature whole-home DVR. Whole-home DVR allows you to use just one DVR set in your entire home.
The best cable providers should be reliable in poor weather, user-friendly when you're finding shows to watch, and hassle-free when you're doing anything else.
5. Internet Availability
Though the quality of a TV package is important when seeking out the perfect cable company, a stable broadband connection, complete with optimal a download speed and an upload speed, may be just as essential. After all, strong broadband Internet access or satellite Internet service may be required for online video game play or video streaming, and a cable Internet provider needs to satiate your requirements.
If that is the case, you should pay close attention to the available Internet connection offerings from the cable company. Does the provider website offer fiber optic cable internet service (Verizon FiOS and Xfinity Internet are two services that offer fiber optic cable)? What are the available Internet speed options?
Related: Verizon FiOS Internet Plans
There are a few types of Internet options that a provider website might illustrate: a broadband connection, which encompasses several types of high-speed Internet types such as DSL, cable broadband, and fiber-optic, dial-up, or satellite Internet service.
The best cable company would offer stable Internet access at a reasonable price. Additionally, the satellite and broadband Internet speed - both the download speed and upload speed - should be high enough to sustain heavy downloading or streaming sessions.
However, it should be noted that cable broadband may suffer from throttling speeds. That's how non-fiber-optic cable internet service typically is. To combat this, you can always purchase or download an available VPN service to complement the cable Internet provider packages. A VPN service will not only rectify throttling issues but provide you with added protection from certain vulnerabilities like malware.
What Are Your Channel Package Options?
The cable providers reviewed in this article offer a variety of entertainment and channel packages befitting a variety of interests and budgets. They can generally be divided into four categories:
- Basic: This package offers the standard network channel lineup with a few add-ons not available on analog antennas. Basic cable is a good choice for customers on a budget because the price is minimal. The trade-off, however, is that this package offers the smallest selection of channels than many other services. Expect only the essentials, in standard definition, to be offered.
- Basic Plus: A step above the basic cable package. Customers receive a selection of channels in addition to the basic network stations. Basic Plus includes some of the most popular standard definition cable networks such as USA, Bravo, Lifetime, Discovery, Nickelodeon, Disney, and more. Expect to pay a little more in return for a wider selection of channels. I would recommend this package to small families with young children looking to save some money.
- Premium: This package includes everything from Basic Plus with dozens (if not hundreds) of added extras. Expect HD programming, On-Demand movies, and exclusive channels like HBO. Of course, you can expect to pay a much higher price for premium cable or satellite television services.
- Internet-based: Some companies, such as DIRECTV, may allow users to buy TV service through the Internet. These Internet TV providers may offer la carte options or channel lineup packages similar to traditional cable or satellite television. There are Internet TV alternatives that may be better, though.
Tips for Saving on your Monthly Cable Bill
If you are troubled by your satellite or cable bill each month, there are ways you can alleviate the burden. Here are some methods you can use to save money on your TV bill:
Bundle Internet, TV and Phone Services
Our homes today are a cornucopia of communication. With high-speed internet, TV and cell phones we are constantly communicating with our friends, family and the rest of the world. However, if you are paying for all of these services separately, you may be spending more than you have to. When you bundle services with one provider you may be able to spend a lot less each month.
For instance, DIRECTV partners with satellite internet providers like HughesNet and phone services like AT&T. According to their website, you can save $180 a month if you bundle specific services that you were already paying for separately. You can save further with cable providers if you purchase your own cable modem. You're saving more in the long run with purchasing a cable modem compared to renting one.
Select the Plan Based on the Channels You Watch
In a culture where success is often expressed in excess, we often pay for a lot more than we use. Many TV service providers offer over 100 channels but how many of them do you actually watch? Take a good look at your bill and look for the little extras that add up. If you can, choose a package with fewer channels and less expense. If you don't need HD or DVR services, cancel them to save money in a pinch.
Negotiate the Monthly Price
It's not a new story. You open the monthly cable bill only to discover the price has gone up! According to the NPD group, a market research organization, monthly TV bills are expected to increase by 6% every year and could top out at $200 a month by 2020.
Don't buy into the misconception that the price which shows up on your TV bill each month is set in stone. You can negotiate your cable bill just like you would negotiate a lower price on a car. Most of the time, the provider is more interested in your continued business than getting a specific price every month. There are several tactics that you can use when haggling with your television provider:
Don't buy into the misconception that the price which shows up on your TV bill each month is set in stone.
- Mention their competitor. Tell them you've been thinking about switching to cable or satellite. This works best if you can actually quote a real price. Do some research; call up their competitors. This will give you ammo to use against them, and can possibly get you a better price.
- Mention your attraction to switching to online streaming only. Talk about the low prices of services like Netflix or Hulu. Just leave out how you would miss out on live programming, though you could always opt for a live programming streaming service such as Sling TV or any of these live TV sites.
- Talk about your loyalty over the years. If you've used a service for a while, your loyalty might be more valuable than the company is willing to let on.
- Has the provider added services or promotions since you signed up? Ask if those services can be added for no extra cost.
- If they won't budge on the price, demand that they add services for free. They may be more willing to add services than to cut the cost.
Apple TV and YouTube TV are two other cord-cutting services that you can "threaten" your cable company with. Apple TV sports over 1600 video apps to choose from, including ABC, CBS, The Weather Channel, Sling TV, Netflix, and more.
Additionally, you can watch live TV packages on Apple TV thanks to the TV services of PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and DirecTV NOW. YouTube TV, on the other hand, is on its way soon, having announced that it would be joining the live streaming TV competition, allowing you to stream ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and more for an affordable fee.
For more easy tips to cut your cable bill, go here.
Switching Service Providers
Don't grumble every time your cable bill comes in the mail and then resign yourself to paying over and over. If you don't like your deal then switch.
Customer loyalty is important to TV providers but they sure don't show it. Cable companies are infamous for having poor customer satisfaction. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customer satisfaction of cable companies is the lowest of any industry. The data predicts these numbers to only get worse as time goes on. Knowing that it's no surprise that recent cable TV marketing has shifted to gaining new customers. Some of the best promotions and deals are given to people who are just signing on.
Long term customers may experience inflated price hikes for no added service. If this is that case you don't have to put up with it. Shop around for a better service every 6 months to a year. If the best deals are for new customers, take advantage and update your service. Before you switch, tell your current provider about the better deals you found. They may give you an even better package to keep you around. For tips and advice on how to secure the best cable deals, check out our guide.
Search for Cable Companies by ZIP Code
Not all cable TV providers offer service in your ZIP code. Where streaming services and satellite dishes beam your favorite shows directly to your television, cable and fiber optic companies have to run a physical line down your neighborhood. For decades, cable TV has claimed territories across the United States where only they rule. They used to be the only television provider in town.
Not satisfied with your service? Tough luck.
Thanks to government legislation, however, there has been a dramatic shift in cable TV providers located across the country. Slowly, more and more competitors are staking flags on previously conquered land.
How do you find cable TV providers near you? The first thing you should do is check in your area. There are many websites to tell you which TV providers are located in your area. Use these to navigate the map and view every available option. You can also use our convenient tool to search for cable providers by ZIP code.
Be aware, though, that cable companies may offer different services or packages in different regions. Some areas are offered exclusive local services to the people of a particular city while other regions don't get services that might be typical of most places. Furthermore, there are individual channels that don't broadcast in specific locations.
Which TV Provider Is It Right For You?
Cable providers are a generally simple industry to understand. More or less, they offer the same features. You'll find sports channels, child programming, on-demand movies, pay-per-view, specialty shows, and some of your favorite prime-time shows no matter what cable provider you choose. Unfortunately, almost all cable providers suffer from the same flaws. Inevitable rate hikes, long installation appointments, confusing bills, and infamously poor customer service to name a few.
Even though cable television gets a bad rap, they still offer services that the alternatives and competitors can't match. Cable customers have the opportunity to watch hundreds of channels On Demand, thousands of channels in HD, have DVR functionality, and a low first-year rate. Online streaming services like Sling TV, YouTube TV, or PlayStation Vue might be king for watching quality programming on the go, but they offer a severely limited selection of channels compared to cable television. Recently, some cable providers even provide some streaming options for popular shows if you log into your account through an app.
When you start shopping around for great cable deals, I suggest you keep customer support at the top of your list. Focus on value after. Dealing with cable companies can be a pain sometimes, but it's often worth it if you are happily paying less for it.
Customer service, legitimacy, and company reputation are three important factors to consider when doing business with any of the companies reviewed in this article. Head over to the American Customer Satisfaction Index for a numerical analysis of customer satisfaction within the cable TV industry.
Compare: If you need an idea of what to look for, we have here a guide to the best TV providers.
Alternatives to Cable
According to the Internet & Television Association, there are 53 million cable subscribers in the U.S. With an industry so large it's hard not to see the merits of the product, especially when, for some, cable television is the only option.
If you think that the best cable providers can't meet your entertainment needs, don't worry. There are other options that serve a number of niche interests and offer special content. In some cases, you can watch the same content you love for a much lower price.
- Satellite TV: Satellite TV has actually been around since the 1990s and offers a viable alternative to traditional cable viewing. If you're in an area where cable providers don't service, you'll never have that problem with satellite. After a technician comes to your home to install and calibrate your satellite dish, programming from around the world can be beamed directly to you. You can learn more about the best satellite TV here. For an in-depth look at the most popular satellite providers, Dish and DIRECTV, check out our comparison of Dish Network vs. DIRECTV.
- Streaming Services: Stand-alone streaming services offer customers the option to "cherry pick" their channels and therefore pay for what they are going to watch. They've become so popular as of late, that the New York Times reported that an estimated 40% of Americans now subscribe to at least one. Streaming services typically offer entire seasons of shows, films, and international programming for a monthly fee. As they've grown in popularity recently, these streaming services, such as Netflix or Hulu, even offer original content you won't find anywhere else. In addition, you won't have to watch any commercials. All you need is a working Internet connection. No installation needed.
There are a lot of quality services to consider within my list of the top cable television providers. The top concerns when looking for your new cable or satellite provider is customer care, availability, and price. You should also explore bundling options to see if you can save by combining services. Before you opt for one of the big brands out there, make sure you explore any exclusive local options you might have in your area.
I hope that the information in this review helps you on your way to saving money. If want to get great cable on a budget, you can head over to our buyer's guide to cheap cable service.