Cable vs Satellite – Which is the best deal?

You see the deals every day on TV and receive the post cards in the mail: “Switch to satellite and pay only $24.95/month.” But is it true?

The average Cable bill in the US is about $60/month plus tax according to FCC studies. The last cable company and current cable company I work for are about $50 plus taxes and fees for the “Expanded Basic” package.

In Cable, there are two tiers everyone gets when they sign up for cable. Basic – usually channels 2-23 on the dial (which is where your locals, educational, and shopping channels reside), and Expanded Basic. Expanded Basic is the tier where core channels as defined by the various programming providers are grouped. Contrary to popular belief, the programming providers (Discovery, Disney-ESPN, Viacom, Turner) are the ones who dictate what majority of your channels are in your lineup. The local cable provider has little choice in this. Usually Basic + Expanded is about 60 channels plus the HD Simulcasts of those channels, and about 40 digital music channels.

For most cable providers, no additional equipment is required to get this lineup, just a digital cable-ready TV Set.

Now let’s look at satellite providers. Their $24.99 deal they offer is their lowest-priced package and includes 120-190 channels. Look at their lineup, and you’ll see these channels include music channels, HD Simulcasts, West Coast duplicates of the same channels, and “filler” channels that add to the totals. Look closer, and you’ll notice core channels missing that your cable lineup does NOT include. You have to buy a pricier package to get them.

Taking about 10 minutes and going to Dish and DirecTV’s websites can tell you more. I did it, and found out DirecTV’s Entertainment package being offered at $24.95 was not $24.95. Add “Advanced Receiver fees” for 3 sets (even though they claimed the boxes were free) and the price quickly jumps to within a couple bucks of the Expanded Basic package we sell at CCC. After the first year, the bill jumps to over $70, then goes to over $90/month plus tax after the contract is up. Dish’s price jump isn’t as extreme but you’ll still pay over $75 for the “Top 120” after the contract is up. Rest assured, though, you most likely won’t get the channels you want for even that price. You’ll have to upgrade to a higher package and your savings you expected to get by switching to dish are out the window.

It pays to look at all of the details before you accept service from a satellite provider. Doing it online seems to give you a better story in writing, rather than calling. They won’t even talk to you without giving up your social security number anyway. Then they’ll skirt around the truth and not really tell you how much it is going to be. Once you take the service, you are locked into a contract for 2 years even if the “promo deals” expire during that period.

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