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Last updated on Jan 25, 2021

The Best Cable TV Providers

We’ll help you compare the five biggest cable companies ​

How We Found the Best Cable TV

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5 cable companies

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40 hours of research

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136 channels compared

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The Best Cable TV Providers

When it’s time to shop around for your cable TV provider, you may not have a choice at all. The industry is made up of regional monopolies, which means the cable companies that service your specific address are often limited. But fear not: We’ve taken a close look at the nation’s largest cable companies and each of their features, so you can evaluate the most common options — and find the best cable TV company for you.

The 5 Best Cable TV Providers

  • Spectrum
  • XFINITY
  • Cox
  • Frontier
  • Mediacom

    The Best Cable TV Providers: Summed Up

    Spectrum
    XFINITY
    Cox
    Frontier
    Mediacom
    Flexible Bundle Deals
    Widely Available
    High Customer Satisfaction
    HD Picture
    Genre-Specific Add-on
    No. states available
    41
    39
    19
    28
    22
    Consumer Reports reader score
    63
    65
    63
    59
    58
    No. channel packages
    3
    3
    4
    3
    4
    ACSI rating
    61
    63
    62
    58
    60

    What Makes a TV Provider Better

    It’s difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison between TV providers in any one area, whether you’re looking for a cheap TV provider or other factors regarding price. This is due to the variations in not just the number of channels offered in a given plan, but exactly which channels are offered as well. 

    But, among the considerations when comparing TV providers include the quality of customer service, flexibility in the plan offerings, whether they offer the channels you’re interested in watching, and whether they offer bundled packages. You don’t want to pay for more channels than you need, but you want to make sure you get the channels you like to watch. If you like a lot of premium channels, it may be better to get an all-inclusive higher priced plan than a less expensive plan where you have to add the premium channels in an a la carte model.

    Why we chose it

    Bundled savings

    For more package options (and more channels) with Charter Spectrum, you’ll have to bundle with internet and phone service. Those bundles come at a fair price though, and include free installation (normally $50), WiFi set up (typically $40), and DVR service ($12 per month). That’s a potential savings of about $234 in one year. Spectrum also includes HD channels free of charge.

    What’s more, if you’d like to switch to Spectrum but are currently signed with another provider, the company will help buyout your contract up to $500 when you sign up for the Triple Play bundle.

    Customer service

    Spectrum’s customer service fares well with consumers. The company received a 63 out of 100 rating from Consumer Reports and 61 from ACSI, coming in above the industry average. In the J.D. Power ISP satisfaction survey, Spectrum received average rankings for most regions of the country.

    Points to consider

    Three TV-only plans

    After Charter Communications acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, it rebranded as Spectrum and has worked to simplify its services. The company offers three TV-only plans, ranging in price from $45 to $95 a month and offering from 125+ to 200+ channels.

    Why we chose it

    The most channel packages

    XFINITY also offers three cable TV plans without signing up for a bundled package. Its TV packages come with a wide range of channels, from 10 to over 200. The most well-rounded plan is its Extra plan, which has many popular channels, including ESPN and the Hallmark Channel. You’ll only be missing out on premium networks and specialty sports channels like the MLB Network and Starz.

    Nationwide availability

    XFINITY from Comcast is one of the most widely available cable providers, with service in 39 states and 10,540 zip codes — so there’s a good chance you’ll be comparing it to another one on our list. Its top serviced cities are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.

    Points to consider

    Customer service reputation

    XFINITY does not have the best reputation for customer service, but it has steadily improved its ratings year after year. Its ACSI score rose by 11 points in just one year, from 53 out of 100 to 64 in 2020. This is an indication that the company is making an effort to improve its reputation and will likely continue to progress.

    Why we chose it

    Online resources

    If you prefer to self-install and troubleshoot your own technology, Cox Communications’ website makes that possible. Its vast resource library offers educational how-to videos on setting up, using, and troubleshooting your services. If you have a problem, just select your issue in the website’s search tool, and you’ll be directed to the right instruction manual or video.

    Customizable plans

    The Contour TV plan with 140+ channels will suit anyone looking to capture a lot of favorites. It has nearly every channel except premium networks and specialty sports. You can also choose its TV Starter or Contour Flex (usually around $25 per month), and get the basics like PBS, ABC, the CW. You can also choose the Contour TV Ultimate plan that offers 250+ channels, including premium channels like Cinemax, HBO, and Showtime. Cox offers supplemental sports, movies, and variety packages you can add to get just your favorite genre-specific channels..

    Points to consider

    DIY fee

    Cox is one of the few providers that offer the option to self-install your service. The catch? It’ll cost you $20 — basically charging you to DIY. Your alternative is a $75 professional installation. This doesn’t seem to hurt its customer satisfaction though, as it scored 63 out 100 from Consumer Reports and 62 out of 100 from the ACSI — both scores above Frontier Communications and Mediacom.

    Why we chose it

    Fiber-optic options

    With Frontier Communications, depending on your location, you may be able to choose between FiOS TV and Vantage TV. FiOS TV is serviced by fiber-optic cable, rather than traditional coaxial cable. If you choose to bundle, you’ll also get fiber-optic internet — which means faster speeds. For your TV service, it might mean a sharper image if you have an HD or Ultra HD television.

    Promotional offers

    Frontier boasts some tempting promotional offers, including free installation, a free router, and Amazon Prime for a year. These enticing discounts could lead to significant savings, especially because Frontier’s usual charge for installation is $80. This is one of the best cable deals we found.

    Points to consider

    Average customer service

    Frontier scored lower than most of the other companies we reviewed. It received a rating of 58 out of 100 from the ACSI and 59 out of 100 from Consumer Reports. This can be attributed to the fact that you’ll likely have to call to get any information and access to more plan options. Those plans might include a Frontier Prime plan that has 60% of the most popular channels, but not HBO, Nick at Nite, or other premium networks.

    Why we chose it

    Add-on channel packages

    Mediacom only offers its cable TV service paired with an internet plan, but that starting bundle comes at a fair rate. You can get high speed internet, 60 Mbps, with the Local TV plan that includes 50+ channels. It comes with basic networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW, and PBS, but not much beyond that. You can upgrade to the Essential TV plan for 125+ channels or the Variety TV play for 170+ channels.

    Mediacom also offers add-on genre packages to supplement the Local plan, so you don’t get a ton of channels you’re not interested in. There’s one for sports, movies, and kids channels. This could be a great option for viewers who stick to just a few favorites.

    Flexible installation window

    When it comes time to install, Mediacom has the most flexible scheduling, offering installation during evenings or on the weekends, and within a 30-minute window. The downside is that installation costs $99.

    Points to consider

    Poorly-rated customer service

    Where Mediacom really suffers is its customer service. It consistently ranks at the bottom, a worrisome practice in an industry with an already poor reputation. Consumer Reports readers gave it 58 out of 100, while ACSI gave it 60 out of 100. If you choose Mediacom as your cable provider, keep a keen eye on your billing statements and confirm any deals your promised.

    How We Chose the Best Cable TV Providers

    Availability

    There’s a good chance you won’t have more than two options for your cable TV service. Providers have limited competition by avoiding regions with existing monopolies. We favored cable providers with widespread available that were the most likely to be available to you. Local and more regional providers (like WOW! or Cincinnati Bell), score great in customer service but offer service in fewer than 10 states. If you happen to live somewhere with a local provider, it’s still worth considering.

    Plans, pricing, and packages

    We also considered each company’s assortment of channel packages, their prices, and the variety of bundling plans. We took the 136 most watched channels and tallied each provider’s channel plan to compare the price it took to get the best value. We found that you can usually get the best value just by sticking to the simplest channel package. Our favorite providers also offer discounts when you bundle your internet service, and they limit fees for first-time customers.

    Customer service

    We looked closely at the ratings and scores by Consumer Reports, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and J.D. Power. Each of these groups rate cable companies on customer satisfaction, with some breakout categories like performance, value, communications, billing, and technical support. Companies that score well with these consumer resources are more likely to resolve issues, clearly communicate changes in billing, and consistently provide reliable television service.

    Guide to Choosing a Cable TV Provider

    Find your options

    Unlike satellite TV (think DISH and DIRECTV), cable TV companies aren’t available nationwide. Most people have fewer than three options no matter where they live. Why? Building out cable TV infrastructure and wiring in new areas is an expensive endeavor — one that requires careful consideration.

    One of those considerations is the competition. If a large provider is already dominating a regional market, it usually isn’t worth the investment for others to compete, which creates regional monopolies. If you’re not sure who the big players in your zip code are, you can use our tool above or enter your address directly into providers’ sites.

    Consider your viewing habits

    In 2016, the Nielsen company discovered that, of the average 200 channels customer were paying for, they were only watching about 19 channels. That’s less than 10 percent. To find the best provider for you, you’ll want one that can maximize your favorite channels in one package — so you aren’t paying for 180 excess channels.

    The best cable TV company will make it easy to find your favorites for a fair price. We took 2017’s 50 most-watched channels and tallied them against providers packages to see which were offering the best plans for the best value. Popular channels like the Food Network hold more value and relevance for most viewers than channels that tally up in your package count, like the Gem Shopping Network or C-SPAN 4. But if you know your TV habits are a little more niche, keep track of the channels you frequent most and then compare the provider packages to see which offers the best price for minimal excess.

    Best for sports

    Spectrum, XFINITY, and Cox are similar in their sports offerings. However, with 20 channels, Spectrum offers the most sports channels in its middle tier. Both XFINITY and Cox offer access to 10 sports channels in their middle tiers. In addition to the standards, such as CBS Sports Network, ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, and FS2, Spectrum also offers the ACC Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, SEC Network, and the Tennis Channel in its middle tier. The company with the fewest sports channels was Mediacom, only providing 10 options in its top plan.

    Watch for fees

    It’s not just your extra channels that can rack up a cable bill. You’ll want to keep a keen eye on subtle fees, too. Installation, equipment, and a local broadcast station surcharge are common — but how much those fees cost can be vastly different between providers.

    To help you compare costs, we’ve compiled the most common fees from the top cable companies. If you’re more cost-conscious, you may consider these more seriously. Keep in mind, promotional deals for new customers tend to waive a few fees too.

    Installation
    Broadcast TV
    HD Access
    DVR
    Charter Spectrum
    $50
    $7.50/mo.
    Free
    $10/mo.
    XFINITY from Comcast
    $90
    $8/mo.
    $10/mo.
    $20/mo.
    Cox Communications
    $20 DIY,
    $75 professional
    $4/mo.
    $8.50/mo.
    $13/mo.
    Frontier
    $80
    $3/mo.
    $10/mo.
    $15/mo.
    Mediacom
    $100
    $6/mo.
    $7/mo.
    $15/mo.

    Be prepared to bundle

    Most providers heavily encourage bundling your telecommunication services; phone, internet, and sometimes home security. Some providers, like Comcast and Cox, give you a wide range of TV and internet options you can purchase independently. If you choose Mediacom, you won’t have an option at all, as all its TV plans require an internet bundle. On the plus side: By bundling, you’re likely to save an average of $20 to $30 for each service.

    Streaming options

    If you want to look beyond cable TV providers, you may want to consider some of the streaming TV services. Some services are better than others for streaming live TV. Among those, the field narrows even further when looking for the best service to stream live sports.

    Cable TV FAQs

    More TV/Internet Reviews

    We’ve spent years researching and reviewing the telecommunications space. If you’re looking for other kinds of service, more tv options, or would like to dive deeper into a specific avenue, check out on of our other reviews:

    About the Authors

    Danika Miller

    Danika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

    Danika Miller has been writing for Reviews.com for three years, where she specializes in streaming, internet, and TV topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative and technical writing from Western Washington University.