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The Best Cable TV Providers…

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

Flexible Bundle Deals

Charter Spectrum

Spectrum

Bundling your services can save you about $200 in your first year

Pros
Bundled savings
Customer service

Cons
One TV-only plan

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 $35), WiFi set up (typically $10), and DVR service ($13 per month). That’s a potential savings upwards of $200 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 both Consumer Reports and ACSI, coming in above the industry average. It was also awarded by J.D. Power for its customer satisfaction in the South, and it received 3 out of five power circles in the West and North Central regions.

Points to consider

One TV-only plan

After Charter Communications recently acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, it rebranded as Spectrum and has worked to simplify its services. Unfortunately, that means you’ll only have one option if you just want cable TV. That one TV-only plan is called TV Select. It comes with at least 125 channels and about 46% of the most popular channels. Notable absences include E! and the Travel Channel, but otherwise you’ll be getting a fair number of major networks.

Lots of Channel Packages

Comcast Xfinity

XFINITY

Packages that range from 10 channels to over 260

Pros
The most channel packages
Nationwide availability

Cons
Customer service reputation

Why we chose it

The most channel packages

Most providers either require you to bundle your TV service with internet, or they offer just one non-bundled TV option. With XFINITY, however, you can choose between all five of its cable TV packages — without signing on for internet.

Its TV packages come with a wide range of channels, from 10 to over 260. The most well-rounded plan is its Starter plan, that has 40% of the most 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 the most widely available cable provider, with service in 39 states and 8,444 zip codes — so there’s a good chance you’ll be comparing it to another one on our list. It’s top serviced cities are Houston, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Jose, and Denver.

Points to consider

Customer service reputation

Comcast has earned a reputation for bad customer service, but it has steadily improved its ratings year after year. Its ACSI score rose by eight points in just one year, from 54 out of 100 in 2015 to 62 out of 100 in 2016. This is an indication that the company is making an effort to improve its reputation and will likely continue to progress. Though from 2017 to 2018, its rating did drop by one point.

Last year, the company’s VP of customer service, Tom Karinshak, detailed some steps Comcast is making to overhaul its customer service, including; expanding digital care teams, a callback feature that allows you to schedule a time for Comcast to call you (rather than wait on hold), and an ETA feature that messages customers on the arrival status of service technicians (for installation and troubleshooting).

High Customer Satisfaction

Cox Communications

Cox

Lots of online resources and satisfied customers

Pros
Online resources
Customizable plans

Cons
DIY fee

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 its search tool, and it’ll direct you to the right instruction manual.

For example, if your TV isn’t working, you can designate whether it’s grainy, frozen, tiled, blue, or black. After a few more questions about your service, you’ll get a specific solution and clear way forward (even if that means scheduling professional help). It’s a small convenience, but we love the option to handle simple fixes ourselves, instead of having to parse through outdated forums or spend our lunch break on hold with a technician.

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. Cox offers supplemental TV packages you can add on to that to get just your favorite genre-specific channels. Choose from sports, movies, and variety packages for an additional $10 per month.

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 65 out 100 from Consumer Reports and 63 out of 100 from the ACSI — both scores above Comcast and Mediacom.

HD Picture

Frontier Communications

Frontier

Its new customer promotion include a year of Amazon Prime, a free router, and free installation

Pros
Fiber-optic options
Promotional offers

Cons
Average customer service

Why we chose it

Fiber-optic options

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

Promotional offers

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

Points to consider

Average customer service

Customer service is fairly average, with a rating of 60 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. It only skips out on HBO, Nick at Nite, and other premium networks.

Genre-Specific Add-ons

Mediacom

Mediacom

Keep your service lean with a basic plan and its genre-specific channel add-ons

Pros
Add-on channel packages
Flexible installation window

Cons
Poorly-rated customer service

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 or 100 Mbps) with the Local Plus TV plan. It comes with the basic networks like NBC, the CW, and ABC — but not much beyond that. You’ll have to upgrade to the Family TV plan for everything except premium channels.

Mediacom also offers add-on genre packages that you can use to supplement the Local Plus plan, without getting a ton of channels you aren’t 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. You can schedule that installation during evenings or on the weekends, and only need to schedule a 30-minute window. The downside is that installation costs $99. That’s a steep price in comparison to Charter’s $35 fee.

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, ACSI gave it 56 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 to Choose 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 be worth the investment for others to compete, creating regional monopolies. If you’re not sure who the big players in your zipcode are, you can use our tool above or enter your address directly into providers’ sites.

Consider your viewing habits

In 2016, 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 channels of excess.

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.

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
$35
$7.50/mo.
Free
$10/mo.
XFINITY from Comcast
$50
$8/mo.
$10/mo.
$10/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 wide range of TV and internet options that you can purchase independently. Others, like Charter Spectrum, only offer one TV package without bundling. 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.

Cable TV FAQs

How much is cable per month?

You monthly cost for cable TV will depend on the number of channels you want, any fees, and if you’ve bundled your services. It can range anywhere from $30 to $100. There’s no cheapest provider, and your cost will entirely depend on the services you want and the provider available to you.

Fiber-optic uses flexible glass wires to transmit data at a fast rate (and with higher quality) than traditional cable. Fiber technology doesn’t affect television like it does internet, but few providers give you the option of buying one without the other, so your quality of internet is a worthy consideration. Both AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS run on fiber-optic networks — but they’ve earned the best reputation in the industry thanks to their wicked-fast speeds.

Should I consider satellite TV?

Satellite providers like DISH and DIRECTV host service in all 50 states. The only clear differentiator between satellite and cable TV, is that satellite requires a dish on your roof. Unlike the slow speeds that come with satellite internet service, there are no restrictions on your television service. In fact, both DISH and DIRECTV offer a vast range of channels and exclusive sports packages like NFL Fantasy Zone and MLB Network Strike Zone.

In our full review of all the best TV providers, we found DIRECTV excels in customer service and DISH Network comes with an industry-leading DVR that can record 16 shows at once and store 2,000 hours of content. When shopping for your TV service, take satellite competitors seriously as they often out value cable providers.

What is the best streaming service?

Switching to streaming isn’t just for binging The Office on Netflix or watching yesterday’s episode of Bob’s Burgers on Hulu. You can sign up for services that allow you to stream select live TV channels, too. Some popular options are DIRECTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV. Each allows you to choose between tiers of channels, but their base packages often offer many popular channels and for much cheaper than traditional cable. Curious about your options? We compare the best options in our TV streaming review.

The Best Cable TV Providers: Summed Up

Spectrum
XFINITY
Cox
Frontier
Mediacom
Flexible Bundle Deals
Lots of Channel Packages
High Customer Satisfaction
HD Picture
Genre-Specific Add-on
No. states available
37
39
18
38
22
Consumer Reports reader score
63
65
63
59
58
No. channel packages
3
5
3
4
4
ACSI rating
63
58
61
60
56

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:


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