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ByDanika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika is currently covering the internet and entertainment beat. Her previous work lives in random corners of the internet and fiction anthologies hidden in university libraries.

The Best Cheap TV Providers

TV, internet, phone plans — these are a few of our favorite things. But that doesn’t mean we have to spend a ton of money on them. Of the three services, people may be more keen to find cheap TV than anything else because — we’ll say it — traditional TV is hanging by a thread. If we are going to keep it, it better have the channels we actually want to watch and come at a reasonable price.

Availability and pricing of TV packages and providers vary by location. This makes finding your best cheap TV service difficult, but not impossible. We keep up-to-date on the plans, costs, and special offers of the nation’s biggest telecom providers and highlight where each stands out and where they could do better.

The 5 Best Cheap TV Providers

The Best Cheap TV Providers: Summed Up

  DIRECTV AT&T U-verse Verizon Fios TV DISH TV Comcast XFINITY
Best For Outstanding customer satisfaction Most channels No-contract option Two-year price lock Flexible contract options
Contract length 24 months 12 months 24 months (when bundled) 24 months No contract; 12 months; 24 months (for Triple Play bundles)
States serviced 50 21 9 50 39
Free receiver/DVR
Installation fee None None* None** None $60
Starting at $35/month Starting at $35/month Starting at $54.99/month Starting at $59.99/month Starting at $30.00/month
View plans View plans View plans View plans View plans

*Installation fee waived with bundles
** Installation fee waived for online orders

How We Chose the Best Cheap TV Providers

Availability

The cheapest TV provider in Maine is not necessarily the cheapest TV provider in Missouri or New Mexico. Availability relies on infrastructure (for cable) and signal access (for satellite). Some providers may only service a couple of states, while others are available nationwide. When a company has a foothold in a given market, you’re more likely to see plan flexibility and options. To make this review helpful to the most readers, we focused on providers that cover large sections of the country or service highly populated areas.

Price

The price writ in foot-tall gold letters on promotional material is likely not the price you’ll end up paying. We dug into the fine print to uncover potential rate increases after promotional periods end and extra costs like installation fees, activation fees, early termination fees, and equipment fees. Even if a provider’s advertised monthly rate is low, your bill will likely end up being higher, and information on additional fees typically isn’t easy to find on a provider’s website. We found the cheapest TV providers by basing our comparisons on those actual, final costs.

Value

A TV package may be cheap, but if it doesn’t include the channels you want, is it worth any money at all? To sift through channel line-ups, we set a base level expectation for what we should receive when paying for standard packages. We compared available channels in entry-level plans, highlighting when a provider doesn’t reserve popular channels for upper-tier packages and giving bonus points to those that offer customizable programming or deals for bundling with other services.


Outstanding customer satisfaction

DIRECTV
DIRECTV
States serviced:
50
Pros
Long-standing high customer satisfaction
Free installation
Bundling discounts
Cons
Price increase after 12 months
Satellite signal reliability

Why We Chose It

Long-standing high customer satisfaction

Last year, J.D. Power ranked DIRECTV as the top provider in the nation for customer satisfaction with a perfect 5/5 Power Circle rating. This year, DIRECTV lost the number one spot to DISH TV, but still received 5/5 for Overall Satisfaction and a host of other key considerations, like cost and communication. J.D. Power now ranks the company second nationwide. DIRECTV also ranked among the top four television services on the 2018 ACSI Telecommunications Report. With availability in all 50 states, 4K programming and one Genie HD DVR included with purchase, it’s no surprise customers are so fond of the service.

Free installation

Some providers charge for installation and activation of TV service. This is a major pain point since installation can cost a few hundred dollars. All DIRECTV packages include standard professional installation for up to four rooms at no cost, providing a substantial saving.

Bundling discounts

DIRECTV offers a discount for AT&T wireless customers who have the AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced plan. If you don't already have AT&T wireless, you could switch to save. It’s also possible to bundle DIRECTV with home phone or internet to get a discount on individual services. Another benefit of bundling: having multiple utilities on one bill. Remembering payments and avoiding late fees just got a whole lot easier.

Points to Consider

Price increase after 12 months

DIRECTV’s promotional pricing is low, but you will see a spike in your monthly rate after your first year of service. The good news is, the company doesn’t hide the price increase, allowing you to budget for it in advance. But because DIRECTV requires a 24-month contract, you are more or less guaranteed to experience it, and with a prorated early termination fee, you’ll have to pay for the months remaining in your contract if you decide to cancel your service. Are you a renter, a student, or just someone who doesn’t like being in long-term contracts? DIRECTV might not be your best cheap TV provider.

Satellite signal reliability

Satellite TV is more prone to service interruptions than cable or fiber because it requires a clear view of the sky to transmit programming into your home. Bad weather — like thunderstorms and blizzards — might interfere with service. However, if you live in an area with temperate weather, you’re less likely to experience interruptions.


Most channels

AT&T U-verse
AT&T U-verse
States serviced:
21
Pros
Channel selection
HD DVR included
Save by bundling
Cons
Price increase after 12 months
Channel padding

Why We Chose It

Channel selection

AT&T U-verse’s entry-level package, U-Basic TV, is truly basic — it comes with about 15 channels. If you’re looking for the cheapest cable service, this is it. Looking to level up for a good price? U-Family TV package boasts over 200 channels — more than its competitors’ basic packages. Channels include family favorites like Food Network, Disney Channel and HGTV. If you want more options, you can add on channel packages for additional monthly fees.

HD DVR included

All U-verse packages include one free HD DVR. That DVR is what will take your cheap cable TV experience to the next level, allowing you to record up to four programs at once and watch them from any TV in your home that has a U-verse receiver. What that means for you is no fighting over shows. Now you can record one while watching another. And you don’t have to worry about any hidden installation or activation fees because both are free for online orders.

Save by bundling

Going through one provider for home phone, internet, and TV is usually the most convenient and cost-effective way to manage your utilities. When you bundle any U-verse TV package with home phone or internet, you can save on your monthly bill. Or, if you’re interested in a new wireless plan, you can receive a discount by pairing any U-verse TV package with an AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced plan.
Prices increase after 12 months

Like DIRECTV, AT&T U-verse’s rates go up after the first year of promotional pricing. The good news is U-verse contracts are only 12 months long, so there’s no early termination fee if you choose to cancel when your first year of service is up. It’s good to remember that any TV provider’s promotional pricing is usually only guaranteed for the length of your initial contract. Once your contract expires, most will raise your monthly price to a less attractive rate.

Channel padding

Some of AT&T U-verse’s channels may not be what you expect. With almost 80 music channels and a smattering of lesser-viewed channels, like Hot Buy and Jewelry Television, the listed number of channels feels a little overhyped. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get your favorites: Carefully compare packages to ensure you’re getting the programming you and your family want.


No-contract option

Verizon Fios
Verizon Fios TV
States serviced:
9
Pros
No-contract option
Two-year price lock for bundles
Custom TV packages
Cons
Router required
Expensive equipment

Why We Chose It

No-contract option

Plenty of cable providers require customers to sign lengthy contracts, which can be both difficult and expensive to get out of. Contracts are particularly frustrating if you’re a renter or student and don’t know where you’ll be living next year. Fortunately, Verizon Fios won’t lock you into a contract. If you want standalone Fios TV, your plan is automatically month-to-month, with no cancellation fees.

Two-year price lock for bundles

If you know you’re not moving anytime soon, bundling Fios services is a cost-effective plan. Bundling Fios TV with home phone, internet, or both — and opting for the two-year bundling contract — guarantees you’ll pay the promotional price for the duration of your contract. You’ll save money with Double Play and Triple Play bundles, and it makes budgeting for your utilities less of a hassle.

Custom TV packages

Usually, providers’ TV packages are set in stone. Oftentimes that means you end up paying for channels you don’t even watch. Verizon Fios’s entry-level Custom TV plan offers 155+ channels and lets you choose your programming from seven unique packages. The options include everything from Action & Adventure to Home & Family, so you can get the types of channels you and your family want, without the fillers.

Points to Consider

Router required

Because Fios TV travels into the home via fiber-optic cables, you’re required to have a router to receive service. You can rent or buy one through Verizon, but both options can get pricey. Verizon does list two compatible routers (the Actiontec MI424WR Rev. 1 and Verizon Fios Quantum Gateway, Model G1100) at checkout, so if you already own one of those, you’re in luck.

Expensive equipment

Other than giving you the option to buy your router, a Fios TV plan won’t sell (or provide for free) any equipment. You’ll pay a monthly fee for each receiver and DVR you need. This equipment is expensive and, depending on how many TVs you have and which package you select, may cost more than your actual service.


Two-year price lock

DISH Network
DISH TV
States serviced
50
Pros
Two-year price lock
Smart HD DVR included
Soaring customer satisfaction rating
Cons
Costly additional equipment
Expensive entry-level package
Satellite signal reliability

Why We Chose It

Two-year price lock

It’s business as usual for TV providers to raise prices after the first year, but DISH TV’s 24-month contract doesn’t come with any surprise rate hikes. Your monthly price is locked for the duration of your contract. This can be incredibly helpful when it comes to managing home expenses and planning for the future.

Smart HD DVR included

All DISH TV packages come with a Hopper Duo Smart DVR that supports up to two HD TVs. The Hopper DVR can store up to 125 hours of HD recordings and includes a Voice Remote that lets you search for your favorite shows or channels via voice commands. The Voice Remote even has a “locate remote” feature that will beep when activated. The age-old hunt for the remote just came to an end.

Soaring customer satisfaction rating

DISH TV has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any TV provider. It scored a perfect 5/5 Power Circle Rating from J.D. Power and this year stole the top spot from DIRECTV. DISH TV also ranks in the top three for customer satisfaction on the 2018 ACSI Telecommunications Report. Customers like DISH TV for its nationwide availability, two-year price guarantee and good channel variety.

Points to Consider

Additional equipment can be costly

DISH TV can get expensive if you need to add more DVRs and receivers to your home. The first DVR is included, but any additional equipment will impact your monthly bill. It’s pretty common for TV providers to charge for extra equipment, so you should always factor in how many DVRs and receivers you’ll need when comparison shopping.

Expensive entry-level package

Even though DISH TV has a two-year price lock promise, the cost of its entry-level package is more expensive than some of its competitors. So even though your rate doesn’t increase in the second year, you might end up paying the same amount over the course of your contract as you would have done with a price hike after a lower starting rate.

Satellite signal reliability

DISH TV uses satellites to deliver programming to homes, but this technology is sometimes not as reliable as other types of TV service. Inclement weather or tall trees or buildings that obstruct your dish’s view of the sky can interrupt your service. For satellite TV to work, your satellite needs to have a clear shot at the Southern sky.


Flexible contract options

Comcast Xfinity
Comcast Xfinity TV
States serviced
40
Pros

Flexible contracts
Variety of bundles
Convenient installation
Cons
Prices and plans vary widely by location
Low customer satisfaction rating

Why We Chose It

Flexible contracts

XFINITY TV offers more contract options than most TV providers, so you can select the one that works for you. These options vary by location but may include no-contract plans, 12-month contracts, and 24-month contracts. A 12-month contract will save you $10 per month over a no-contract plan, but if you’re a student or renter who might move soon, the month-to-month option will prevent an early termination fee down the road.

Variety of bundles

XFINITY lets you bundle TV with home phone, internet, and home security services. Bundling TV with other services delivers better value and makes it easier to keep track of how much you spend each month on utilities. XFINITY has Double Play (TV and internet), Triple Play (TV, internet, home phone) and Quad Play (TV, internet, home phone, home security) bundles. Each bundle type offers at least two package options to choose from, so you can find the right fit for your household and budget.

Convenient installation

Many TV providers only schedule installation appointments on weekdays, and they often can’t guarantee a timeframe for the technician to install your service. This can be frustrating if you work during the week or don’t have time to wait for the technician to arrive. With XFINITY, you can schedule a two-hour window for cable installation, and weekend appointments are available. If the technician is late, you get a $20 credit.

Points to Consider

Prices and plans vary widely by location

It’s not unusual for companies to offer different plans or raise rates based on location, but XFINITY’s rates and packages vary more than its competitors’. This can make it difficult to get an accurate price range for its TV packages. Its contract options also change depending on location — some cities only offer a single contract term.

Low customer satisfaction rating

XFINITY isn’t known for having particularly good customer satisfaction. It ranks third to last on the 2018 ACSI Telecommunications Report and has a 2/5 Power Circle rating from J.D. Power. But given its low starting price, it might still be worth considering.

Guide to Cheap TV Providers

How to choose a cheap TV provider

Consider additional fees and expenses

Many plans include extra fees in addition to the monthly price of your TV package that are either one-time or recurring. Some, like installation and equipment fees, are pretty standard, while others, like broadcast or HD fees, are a little more unusual. Always check with a sales representative and review the fine print so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Check for rate increases

TV providers advertise low prices to entice new customers. These promotional rates will usually increase at the end of your initial contract and jump to the regular monthly price. However, some providers will increase rates in the middle of your contract. Most companies have rate information on their websites, but you should also confirm any rate increases with a sales representative.

Look for deals

Most of the time, it’s not difficult to find deals on TV packages. Common deals providers offer include discounts on services, Visa® Prepaid Cards, and free premium channels. Though most deals are advertised on providers’ websites, it’s a good idea to call and ask a sales representative if there are any additional deals not offered online. On the other hand, some deals are online exclusives and might not be honored if you order service over the phone.

Decide which channels you need

If you live in an area where you have several TV provider options, make a list of which channels you and your family want before comparing packages and making your selection. Channel offerings vary between providers, so one company’s entry-level package may work better for you than another’s.

Cheap TV Providers FAQs

What are the best cheap TV providers?

Our top picks include cable, fiber, and satellite TV options:

  • DIRECTV Now
  • AT&T
  • Verizon Fios
  • Dish
  • XFINITY

The gold medal for cheapest cable TV company is shared by AT&T and XFINITY. Both providers start their package pricing at $19.99/month. But while AT&T’s U-Basic TV package includes 15+ channels, XFINITY’s Digital Economy Package includes 100+. DIRECTV’s Select package comes in third place at $35/month for 155+ channels. (Note: Pricing and availability may change and can vary by location.)

Do TV providers run credit checks?

Yes. Many TV providers require a credit check before you sign up for service. Some companies request a hard credit inquiry, which will impact your credit score. Providers say this is done to guarantee customers can make monthly payments on time. If your credit score is less than stellar, a TV provider may require an additional deposit.

What are early termination fees?

A cancellation or early termination fee is a charge that occurs when you cancel your service before your contract is up. Usually, early termination fees are prorated, which means the amount you’ll pay depends on how many months are left in your contract. For example, if you cancel service six months into a 12-month contract and have a $120 cancellation fee that’s prorated at $10 per month, you’ll have to pay $60.

Is streaming TV cheaper than cable?

Streaming live TV can be less expensive than traditional cable packages. Sites like Netflix and Hulu are giving traditional TV a run for its money (or your money, rather) but TV is catching up. DIRECTV, for one, now offers live TV streaming packages at competitive rates. When you cut the cord, you typically also cut out contracts and the need for equipment, making for a lower monthly bill. (Thinking of taking the leap? Check out our review of The Best TV Streaming Services.)

What's the difference between cable and satellite TV?

Cable TV uses coaxial cables to transmit programming into your home. Because its infrastructure is underground, cable TV is generally less prone to service interruptions. Satellite TV delivers programming using antennas that receive signals from satellites orbiting in space. Satellite TV covers more locations than any other TV type and is available at most homes in the country.

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