When you think about cable service, what comes to mind? For many, it’s probably expensive Triple Play packages that include TV, internet, and phone and have intimidating names, hundreds of channels, and DVR systems that promise to record a year’s worth of shows at one time. And sure, if that’s your thing, there’s plenty to go around.

But not everyone needs all that. Maybe you’re more Good Morning America than Game of Thrones. Or maybe you’re a cord-cutter that just wants a couple channels as a backup. If that’s you, look no further than good ol’ basic cable.

What exactly is basic cable?

Basic cable is a package tier that’s usually below a provider’s cheapest advertised package. It comes with local channels, national broadcast networks like ABC and NBC, and a few other FCC-mandated stations.

Basic Cable Channels by Provider

*The channel lineups listed are based on national estimates. Actual channels lineups vary by location. Call for details about the lineups in your area.

Do all cable providers offer basic cable packages?

Yes. Your local franchising authorities require all cable companies to offer a basic package of local channels at an affordable price. Since the price is negotiated between each individual provider and the local authorities of your area, it can vary from provider to provider and in different areas.

However, even though every provider is required to offer a basic cable package, you probably won’t hear about them unless you ask. Cable companies generally don’t make much money off these plans, so there’s little incentive for them to advertise them.

Why don’t I see basic cable on my provider’s website?

Just because cable companies are required to offer basic cable doesn’t mean they’re required to advertise it. Most providers want you to pick up a Double Play (TV and internet) or a Triple Play (TV, internet, and phone) with a fancy set-top box and at least a few premium channels.

And that’s totally understandable—that’s how they make money, after all. There are a lot of customers out there who want all those services and perks and love that they can save money by bundling them. Just be aware that cheaper options are available. You just might have to ask for them.

What channels are included in basic cable?

Basic cable is—well, it’s basic. You’ll get the standard broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and a few other three-letter acronyms. You also typically get some local government and public-access channels.

Some providers offer slightly more expensive expanded basic cable packages that include channels like ESPN, FOX News, and CNN. To get a complete list of what channels are available in your area, you’ll have to contact your TV provider.

Basic Cable Channel Lineup

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

Expanded Basic Cable Channel Lineup

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

If these channels don’t cover your viewing habits, basic cable may not be for you. You’ll have to upgrade to a more expensive package that offers additional options. With some providers, there is a fairly smooth price path from the basic cable packages to the next tier, but the jump in price can be hard to swallow with others.

Prices and packages vary across the country—to see what’s available in your neck of the woods, just enter your zip code below. We’ll show you which providers are available in your area and connect you to a representative who can answer your questions about basic cable.

Limited Basic Cable vs. Expanded Basic Cable

There are actually two different types of basic cable packages offered by most providers: limited and expanded. The limited basic cable tier is the most basic of basics, with a price to match. Expanded basic cable takes these basics and adds some extras—don’t get us wrong, though, this is still pretty basic.

The Xfinity Expanded Basic Cable package, for example, includes channels like Disney, ESPN, MTV, and FOX News in addition to the typical local broadcast channels.

The exact channel lineups for these expanded packages can vary between providers and even between locations with the same provider.

Spectrum Logo

Spectrum Basic Cable and Extended Basic Cable Channels 

Spectrum’s Basic Service plan starts at about $24.00 per month, though the exact cost varies from area to area. The following channels are included with the service:

Spectrum Basic Cable Channel List

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN 2
  • C-SPAN 3
  • CW
  • EVINE
  • FOX
  • HSN
  • Jewelry TV
  • MeTV
  • MOVIES!
  • NBC
  • PBS
  • QVC

To add Expanded Basic, you’ll need to jump up to the Spectrum TV Select package. This includes 125+ channels and starts at $64.99 per month for 12 months.

To get a full list of the channels available with Spectrum, check out the lineup below.

Xfinity Logo

Xfinity Basic Cable and Extended Basic Cable Channels

Xfinity Basic Service is one of the cheaper packages we’ve found, starting at just $18.40 per month for Limited Basic. Here’s the channel list for Xfinity Limited Basic:

Xfinity Basic Cable Channel List

  • ABC
  • BYUtv
  • CBS
  • CNBC
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN 2
  • CW
  • Discovery
  • EVINE Live
  • FOX
  • Galavision
  • History
  • HSN
  • HSN2
  • INSP
  • Jewelry Television
  • NBC
  • PBS
  • QVC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land

The Expanded Basic package from Xfinity is included in the Digital Starter package, which offers 140+ channels for $49.99 per month for 12 months.

To get a full list of the channels available with Xfinity, check out the lineup below.

Cox Logo

Cox Basic Cable and Extended Basic Cable Channels

Cox is pretty secretive about its basic cable packages, but we found that the Basic Cable package costs about $35.00 per month and offers the following channels:

Cox Basic Cable Channel List

  • ABC
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN 2
  • C-SPAN 3
  • CBS
  • CW
  • Daystar
  • EVINE Live
  • EWTN
  • FOX
  • HSN
  • ION
  • Jewelry TV
  • MeTV
  • NBC
  • PBS
  • QVC
  • TBN
  • Telemundo
  • Univision

To add additional channels, you’d need to step up to the Cox Contour TV package, which offers 140+ channels starting at $64.99 per month and can be customized with TV Pak add-ons. These add-ons offer a lot of flexibility but make it hard to nail down a price for a specific package with Cox, since you can really tailor it to your needs.

To get a full list of the channels available with Cox, check out the lineup below.

Looking beyond the big three cable companies up there, you also have basic cable options available with smaller, more local providers, like Optimum, RCN, and Cable ONE. We’ve got the full channel lineups for each of those providers below.

Optimum Logo

Optimum Basic Cable Channels

Optimum is a smaller provider that primarily serves New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Optimum Basic Cable Channel List

  • ABC
  • Antenna TV
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN 2
  • CBS
  • Cozi
  • CW
  • Educational Access
  • Estrella TV
  • EVINE Live
  • ExitosTV
  • FOX HD
  • Government Access
  • HSN
  • ION
  • Jewelry Television
  • Kids Thirteen
  • Leased Access
  • Live Well
  • Local Programming
  • MOVIES!
  • My9
  • NBC
  • News 12
  • News 12 Traffic & Weather
  • NYC Life
  • Optimum Channel
  • Optimum Channel Guide
  • PBS
  • Public Access
  • QVC
  • Telemundo
  • Thirteen (PBS)
  • This TV
  • Trinity Broadcasting Network
  • UniMás
  • Univisión
  • WLIW World
  • WLNY
  • WMBC

To get a full list of the channels available with Optimum, check out the lineup below.

RCN Logo

RCN Basic Cable Channels

RCN primarily serves New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

RCN Basic Cable Channel List

  • ABC
  • Antenna TV
  • CBS
  • Cozi
  • CW
  • Escape
  • FOX
  • FOX BUZZR
  • getTV (WVTV)
  • Grit
  • Heroes & Icons
  • HSN
  • HSN2
  • ION
  • Justice Network
  • MeTV
  • MOVIES!
  • NBC
  • PBS
  • QVC
  • SonLife
  • Telemundo
  • This TV
  • UniMás
  • Univisión
  • On-demand video

To get a full list of the channels available with RCN, check out the lineup below.

Cable ONE Logo

Cable ONE Basic Cable Channels

Cable ONE offers service across nineteen states, with the largest coverage areas in Idaho, North Dakota, and Mississippi.

Cable ONE Basic Cable Channel List

  • 24/7 News
  • ABC
  • Access One
  • Azteca America
  • BYU
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN 2
  • CBS
  • Customer Information Channel
  • CW
  • Daystar
  • Educational Access
  • Escape
  • EVINE Live
  • EWTN
  • FOX
  • getTV
  • Grit TV
  • H&I
  • HSN
  • INSP
  • Justice Network
  • KKIC
  • KKJB-BUZZR
  • KTRV
  • Laff
  • Liquidation
  • MeTV
  • MOVIES!
  • NBC
  • PBS
  • PBS Kids
  • PBS Learn
  • PBS World
  • QVC
  • SonLife
  • TBN
  • Telemundo
  • TVTV Public Access

To get a full list of the channels available with Cable ONE, check out the lineup below.

If there are any other providers you want to see info on, let us know in the comments!

 Next time you’re evaluating your subscriptions and services, take a look at your cable plan and usage habits and see if basic cable might be the right choice for you. If you don’t need a lot of premium channels, why pay the premium price tag? Instead take advantage of a legally mandated budget option that covers a lot of bases.

Have you made the switch to basic cable? We want to hear all about it! Let us know how it’s worked out for you in the comments below.