The Best Guide to Cable Packages and Alternatives

Satellite Versus Cable

There are a number of important factors to consider when deciding between satellite and cable packages.

Equipment Considerations

Satellite equipment is far more elaborate than equipment used by cable companies. When using satellite, there are two important pieces of equipment that you must either rent or purchase. First, you must get the satellite dish itself (and in some case, multiple dishes). This is usually rented from your satellite provider. They can be tricky to install, and may come with an installation fee. Second, satellite providers require you to have satellite boxes or “set top boxes” installed for each of your television sets. These boxes can be rented, but they can also be purchased for a fee.

Cable packages, on the other hand, require only that your house be wired for cable (most are) and that you have decoders for each television set. Because these devices include confidential decoding information, they are usually unavailable for purchase and must be rented. They are placed between the cable and each of your television sets and are either included in or added to your monthly charge.

Winner: Cable


Satellite equipment is highly dependent on the weather. If there is a storm, your signal can be uneven, and can even cut out entirely. This can be frustrating if you are planning to watch your favorite show, and it is unavailable (it is especially annoying to sports fans). Because satellite providers do not provide on-demand programming (discussed below), you will not simply be able to watch your show at a later time.

Cable television, on the other hand, is almost completely reliable. It will only go out if the cable is somehow damaged, which is very unlikely, and most people will never encounter a service interruption. The only issue is if you tie your cable package to your high-speed internet. Cable high-speed internet becomes increasingly slower, the more people there are on the system.

Winner: Cable

Customer Service

Satellite companies are working hard to displace local cable companies and beat them at their own game. They also much compete with each other. As a result, they tend to focus on customer service, and take a “customer first” attitude when it comes to serving their customers. Telephone queues tend to be short, there are few hidden charges and receptionists try to help you with your problems rather than get you off of the phone.

Cable companies, on the other hand, tend to have monopolies or to have had monopolies that have poisoned their corporate culture on a deep level. Cable companies have consistently ranked worst in customer service over any other service, including television providers, and some have gotten in trouble with the Better Business Bureau. An important exception to this is Timer Warner Cable, which has put real effort into providing high quality service, but they also tend to be more expensive.

Winner: Satellite


Satellite can come with digital video recorders (DVRs) so that you can watch a television show later, or pause and rewind while you watch (though not fast-forward for obvious reasons). However, there is no flexibility in the signal itself. Instead, you are simply recording the signal as it arrives. Therefore, rewinding cannot recover information that you missed because of poor weather.

Cable packages come with DVR as well, but you can also have such features as on-demand movies and even television shows. In this case, your cable packages sends the television show or movie directly to you when you want to watch it. (Note that the selection is generally limited to recent movies and the most popular shows). Cable packages also can be combined with internet and telephone, which is convenient because you receive one bill, but also because you can save money by combining your services together.

Winner: Cable


Satellite provides a wide range ofprogramming, including high-definition television (HDTV) channels and a wide array of sports channels. However, because satellite companies cover wide areas, there tends to be little in the way of local programming, though this has been improving of late.

Cable provides the same wide range of programming as satellite, and, since so many cable companies have local sources, they are able to target their programming locally. Therefore, you will be able to get local news, even down to your town or small city, and local cable access programming, which hosts local events and amateur programming. The fictional film Wayne’s World provides a fun example of local access programming.

Winner: Cable


Satellite provides inexpensive programming, because the cost of maintaining a satellite system is less than maintaining a cable system. Simply put, there are no wires. As a result, their standard programming is typically much less expensive than cable programming. Premium programming is approximately the same price because the cost there is primarily in terms of licensing fees, not hardware fees.

Cable is more expensive than satellite, unless you get the state-mandated basic cable. If you want anything more than that, it will be more costly. Some money can be saved by combining cable with other services, such as internet and telephone, as these tend to provide increasing savings as you bundle more services together. However, you will still not usually catch up to satellite. The poor track record of customer service among cable companies has included a poor track record of being upfront with hidden costs, so you need to be careful there as well.

Winner: Satellite


Depending on what you are looking for, cable or satellite might be best. Cable provides you with reliable service, better local programming and television on demand. Satellite provides better customer service and a better price.