Basic Cable Packages and Channels Guide 2022

Our experts spent hundreds of hours looking into basic cable, how to get it, and whether or not it's actually worth your money.

Cox

Contour TV Starter
Price
: $53.00/mo.*
Channel count: 75+

Xfinity

Basic, Limited Basic, or Choice**
Price: $20.00–$30.00/mo.†
Channel count: 10+

Optimum

Internet 100 and Basic TV
Price: $59.99/mo.
Channel count: 50+
Internet speeds: 100 Mbps‡

Suddenlink

Internet 100 and Basic TV
Price: $59.99/mo.
Channel count: 50+
Internet speeds: 100 Mbps‡

Sparklight

Economy Cable
Price: $42.00/mo.
Channel count: Up to 20

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
** Plans and pricing vary by Xfinity region.
‡ Wired connection speeds. WiFi speeds may vary. Plus taxes, fees, and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.

How do you get basic cable?

You don’t have to pay a premium for cable. State-approved local franchising authorities (LFAs) require cable companies to offer low-priced basic cable packages with only local broadcast channels and subchannels. In this article, we highlight some of the best basic cable plans from Cox, Xfinity, Optimum, Suddenlink, and Sparklight.

But you can do better than basic cable—especially if you’re looking to save money. You can get all of the same channels with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. They’re easy to install and much more affordable at a one-time cost of $25–$60—compared to $20–$60 a month.

Is basic cable worth it?

We don’t think basic cable TV is worth it because basic cable deals come with only local channels and (maybe) a few cable TV favorites, and they cost $20–$60 per month.

Also, be cautious of any fees attached to your basic cable plan. Providers may waive these fees on their (otherwise more expensive) advertised plans, but leave them on basic plans.

Basically (pardon the pun), basic cable isn’t the only way to get cheap. Some streaming TV services are free (but they don’t include local channels). And, again, you pay for an over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna only once—and basic cable as a monthly payment.

Basic cable pros and cons

Pros

  • Cheap prices
  • Local channels

Cons

  • Few—if any—extended cable channels
  • Monthly bill
  • Hidden fees

Best basic cable packages

Plan Price Channel count Download speeds up to Details
Cox
Contour TV Starter
$53.00/mo.* 75+ N/A View Plans
Xfinity
Basic, Limited Basic, or Choice**
$20.00–$30.00/mo.† 10+ N/A View Plans
Sparklight
Economy Cable
$42.00/mo. Up to 20 N/A View plans
Optimum
Internet 100 and Basic TV
$59.99/mo. 50+ 100 Mbps‡ View Plans
Suddenlink
Internet 100 and Basic TV
$59.99/mo. 50+ 100 Mbps‡ View Plans

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
** Plans and pricing vary by Xfinity region.
‡ Wired connection speeds. WiFi speeds may vary. Plus taxes, fees, and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.

Basic cable TV packages will include ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and other public-access local channels. Some expanded plans come with fancy cable channels—like Disney Channel, ESPN, MTV, or Fox News Channel—but they’re still stripped down compared to advertised cable packages.

Again, we don’t recommend basic cable TV plans—but you’ll find brief editorial opinions of each basic plans mentioned in this article. To read more about any of these providers, click the “Read full review” link in the box.

Cox Contour TV Starter

Price:
$53.00/mo.
Channels:
75+

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

At first, 75+ channels in a basic cable package might seem pretty generous. You can get pretty much the same channels with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna and you’ll pay only once as opposed to monthly, which is just bad.

Xfinity Basic, Limited Basic, and Choice

Price:
$20.00–$30.00/mo.
Channels:
10+

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Xfinity’s basic cable channel count is 10+. If we don’t see why anyone would pay any amount monthly for Cox’s 75+ channels, imagine how shocked we are by Xfinity’s handful of channels. As with Cox above, we’re recommending the OTA antenna over this Xfinity package.

Note: We list a range of prices for Xfinity basic cable packages because Xfinity pricing is different in each of its three regions. If you’re unsure which Xfinity region you’re in, read our Xfinity TV review—you’ll be directed to the page for your area. If you’re using a VPN, you’ll need to turn it off to be redirected.

Optimum Internet 100 and Basic TV

Price:
$59.99/mo.‡
Channels:
50+
Max download speed:
100 Mbps

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
‡ Wired connection speeds. WiFi speeds may vary. Plus taxes, fees, and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.

This Optimum internet-and-TV bundle might seem like a better deal than the usual basic cable package, but it’s really not. If you live in Optimum’s service area and need internet, the internet-only plan Optimum 100 is $29.99 a month (for 12 months).  Instead of getting this bundle, we suggest getting that internet plan and using an OTA antenna for TV.

Suddenlink Internet 100 and Basic TV

Price:
$59.99/mo.‡
Channels:
50+
Max download speed:
100 Mbps

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
‡ Wired connection speeds. WiFi speeds may vary. Plus taxes, fees, and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.

If this plan from Suddenlink looks suspiciously like Optimum’s basic TV and internet bundle, that’s by design. Both Suddenlink and Optimum are run by Altice, which is in the process of rebranding Suddenlink under Optimum’s name.

If you live in a Suddenlink area and you’re looking for basic cable, our refrain encouraging you to go for OTA TV stays the same.

But you can still get the Internet 100 plan on its own—unlike the Basic TV plan, this internet plan offers a lot of bang for your buck. Those download speeds will be a good fit if you have a small household.

Sparklight Economy Cable

Price:
$42.00/mo.
Channels:
Up to 20

Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Sparklight’s Economy Cable plan is yet another barebones TV package. You’ll get your local channels, and that’s it. Can you imagine paying $42 a month for this TV plan when you can pay the same amount for an OTA antenna once and never pay for TV service again?

Yeah, that boggles our minds too.

Basic cable TV channels

Basic cable channel lineup

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • PBS
  • Telemundo
  • Univision
  • Additional government and public-access channels

Expanded basic cable channel lineup

  • Disney Channel
  • ESPN
  • MTV
  • Food Network
  • FOX News Channel

Like we said before, you’ll get different channels based on where you live and the cable company you choose. Keep in mind that most basic cable packages do not include actual cable channels, just local over-the-air channels.

We’ll help you get accurate info—type in your zip code below, and we’ll pull up your local TV providers and a phone number to talk to those companies’ reps about basic packages.

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Basic cable vs. starter cable TV plans

Cable TV providers would rather sell you on their starter packages—a step up from basic. Starter plans usually cost around $60 per month, and they have a ton more channels than basic cable plans.

Pro tip: Some cable starter packages are even cheaper than some basic cable packages. Spectrum TV Select, for example, costs $49.99 per month and will get you 125+ channels, including ESPN and Hallmark Channel. Check out our Free and Low-Cost Cable guide for more options.

And since your cable provider will want you to choose a starter plan (or one of the even more expensive plans), it’s not as likely to have as many hidden fees. Slink back to whatever hole you crawled out of, U-Basic.

In the end, a year of a starter plan, sans basic plan hidden fees, could end up being less expensive than a year of basic cable.

Starter cable TV plans pros and cons

Pros

  • TV favorites like Disney Channel and ESPN
  • Fewer hidden fees

Cons

  • Higher monthly payments than basic plans
  • Contracts that can last a year or more

Enter your zip code below to find out if your local cable provider has cheap packages.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Basic cable vs. live TV streaming

If you love a lot of different channels, you might want to try out streaming TV instead of basic cable. You’re probably familiar with on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but you can stream live TV with services like Sling TV.

On-demand services usually cost between $5 and $20 per month, and live TV streaming services can be anywhere from $25 to a whopping $135 per month. If you want to save, Philo is the aforementioned snazzy $25-per-month plan—just keep in mind it doesn’t have any sports channels.

These services work on a lot of devices, which makes on-the-go viewing a natural part of the experience. Just make sure there’s Wi-Fi at your on-the-go locations, since you’ll need internet to support your streaming.

Pro tip: There are a lot of free streaming services out there, too. They won’t get you live cable channels per se, but they do deliver TV shows and movies—and feature live news and sports in some cases.

Live TV streaming pros and cons

Pros

  • Available on many devices
  • Provides more channel lineup options

Cons

  • Requires internet connection
  • Can cost as much as cable TV

Basic cable vs. OTA TV antennas

All these cable TV plans and streaming alternatives come with monthly payments. If you want to keep things simple—local channel access for a one-time fee—over-the-air (OTA) TV is the way to go.

TV antennas look a little different now than the rabbit ears of yesteryear, with flat wall panels or little set-top boxes. Sure, they’re missing the charm of dressing your TV up to look like an alien, but they also don’t take up much space or throw off your interior decor.

You can pick OTA TV antennas up on Amazon and install them yourself. Most antennas cost $25–$60—we recommend the $60 Mohu Leaf.

Be careful to choose an antenna that will pick up all your locally broadcasted channels. The FCC has a handy dandy map to help you locate how far different TV towers are from your home so you can make the best choice for you.

OTA antenna pros and cons

Pros

  • Small, single payment
  • All your local channels in HD

Cons

  • No cable channels

Remember, if you’re looking for a cheap TV package that has more than just basic cable TV channels, we have more recommendations for you.

  • Read our guide to Free and Low-Cost Cable TV Options for plans that cost as much as some basic cable plans but give you so much more—including internet service.
  • Check out our review of Spectrum TV Choice, which has 40+ live channels for $24.99 a month. And you can add HBO®, SHOWTIME®, STARZ®, STARZ ENCORE, and THE MOVIE CHANNEL for only $15 more per month.

Final take: Is basic cable worth it?

If you don’t want much out of your cable TV service, and you don’t want to pay a lot for it, basic cable might be the right fit for you.

But before you sign a contract, be sure to check out your other options. If your primary goal is saving money, a TV antenna could be what you need.

Still, if you’ve set your heart on basic cable, go ahead and give your local cable TV provider a call. Just type in your zip code below, and we’ll hook you up with the TV folks in your area.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Basic cable TV FAQ

Is basic cable TV free?

No, basic cable TV prices cost $20–$60 per month. But if you want only local TV channels, you can pick up an OTA TV antenna for a one-time purchase of about $25–$60 and avoid a basic cable plan’s monthly payment.

How much does basic cable TV cost?

Basic cable TV plans run $20–$60 per month, but you probably won’t see them advertised on your TV provider’s website. Advertised plans usually start around $60 per month.

To get cheap basic cable TV plans, you may need to call and ask a customer rep about them.

What are basic channels?

Basic channels are primarily locally broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and Telemundo. Some providers even include higher tier cable TV channels like Disney and MTV in their basic cable TV packages, but those channels aren’t the norm.

How can I get local channels?

The simplest way to get local channels is through an OTA TV antenna, which usually costs $25–$60. Traditional TV packages also come with local channels, and you can get a basic channel package for as low as $20–$60 per month. It’s better to go with the antenna, because you’ll get the same channels without a monthly payment.

Most live TV streaming services offer local channels, but not in all areas. Luckily, most streaming services give you a free trial, so you can see which local channels you’ll get before you commit.

What is the best option for TV without cable?

Live TV streaming services let you skip out on yearly contracts but still enjoy your favorite cable TV channels. But if you want only local channels, buy a TV antenna and avoid monthly payments altogether.

What does Xfinity basic cable include?

Xfinity basic cable plans include the following local broadcast affiliates like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX as well as local government channels and educational channels like PBS.

Can you get local channels with Xfinity Flex?

You can get local channels with Xfinity Flex by downloading the Locals Now app and entering your zip code. To learn more, read our Xfinity Flex review.

How much does Xfinity basic cable cost?

Xfinity basic cable costs $20–$30 a month. To find a more specific plan price, visit our Xfinity TV review. We’ve set it up so that the information you get corresponds to the Xfinity region where you live.

Do I have to pay for cable TV to get internet?

You can skip on the basic cable TV package and get your internet solo instead. To learn more, check out our standalone internet FAQ.

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