SVG Icons

Basic Cable Packages and Channels Guide 2020

Optimum offers free access to cable news during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Update 4/9/20: Getting the news during these unprecedented times is more vital than ever. If you live in or around New York City, Optimum is currently streaming its cable news network, news12, for free. You don’t even need to be an Optimum customer—you just need an internet connection.

Throughout the US, other cable TV, streaming, and internet service programs are also helping out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you get basic cable?

Thanks to your local government’s state-approved local franchising authorities (LFAs), which require cable companies to offer low-priced basic tiers, you can skip the premium prices and get basic cable. You just have to ask.

Your TV provider doesn’t have to advertise these itsy-bitsy deals, but if you question the cable TV customer reps outright, you can find your local basic plan and channels.

Best basic cable packages

Basic cable TV package comparison

Swipe Left to See All →
PlanPrice*Channel countPurchase
Broadcast Basic
TV Starter**
Local Broadcast
Digital Economy
Sparklight (previously CableOne)
Economy Cable
$40/mo.up to 20

Data effective 12/20/19. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*for 12 mos.
**Includes monthly charges and applicable discounts, one-time charges, and activation fees. Prices do not include applicable taxes, fees, and surcharges. Excludes charges for subscribed services.

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.

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

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • PBS
  • Telemundo
  • Univision
  • Disney Channel
  • ESPN
  • MTV
  • FOX News Channel
  • Additional government and public-access channels

You’ll get different channels based on where you live and the cable company you choose.

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.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Is basic cable TV worth it?

Basic cable TV deals come with local channels and (maybe) a few cable TV favorites, and they cost $25 to $40 per month.

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.

AT&T’s U-Basic and its $199.99 installation fee is an especially egregious example of a basic plan that leaves you paying more than you’d expect.

But basic cable isn’t the only way to get cheap TV. Starter cable TV plans, streaming TV, and over-the-air (OTA) TV are alternatives that might work better for you.

Basic cable pros and cons


  • Affordable monthly payments
  • Local channels


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

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.

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


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


  • Higher monthly payments than basic plans
  • Contracts that can last a year or more
Find your local cable TV provider:
Please enter a valid zip code.

Basic cable vs. streaming live TV

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, but you can stream live TV with services like Sling TV.

On-demand services usually cost between $5 and $16 per month, and livestreaming TV services can be anywhere from $20 to a whopping $135 per month. If you want to save, Philo is the aforementioned snazzy $20-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.

Streaming live TV pros and cons


  • Is available on many devices
  • Provides more channel lineup options


  • 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 between $15 and $50—we recommend the $40 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


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


  • No cable channels

Our final take on basic cable packages

If you don’t want much out of your cable TV package, 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.

Find your local cable TV provider:
Please enter a valid zip code.

Basic cable TV FAQ

Is basic cable TV free?

No, basic cable TV prices start at $25 per month and go up from there. But if you want only local TV channels, you can pick up a TV antenna for a one-time purchase of about $25 and no monthly payments.

How much does basic cable TV cost?

Basic cable TV plans run between $25 and $40 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 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 a digital TV antenna, which usually costs $15–$50 on Amazon. Traditional TV packages also come with local channels, and you can get a basic channel package for as low as $25 per month.

Some live TV streaming services offer local channels, but not in all areas. Luckily, most streaming services give you a free trial, so you can check out the local channels offered before you pay.

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.

Don't miss an update

Stay updated on the latest products and services anytime anywhere.

This site is a U.S. Consumer site. You can learn more about our site and privacy policy here.