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Free and Low-Cost Cable TV Options 2021

Free and low-cost cable options and alternatives are out there. Find out which one is right for you.

Cheapest

Digital Basic TV + 155 Mbps Internet (Chicago, D.C.)

or

Digital Basic TV + 250 Mbps Internet (Boston, Lehigh Valley, New York, Philadelphia)

    • Plans cost $29.99–$44.99/mo.*
    • 61–70+ channels
    • Cable speeds up to 155–250 Mbps
Free premiums

Internet 200 and Core TV

  • $50/mo.**
  • 200+ channels
  • Cable speeds up to 200 Mbps
$500 contract buyout

Optimum 300 and Core TV

  • $65/mo.
  • 210+ channels
  • Cable speeds up to 300 Mbps

* for 12 months
** For first 12 months. Plus taxes, fees and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.
† for 1-yr. Plus taxes, fees and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing. Wired connection speeds. Wi-Fi speeds may vary.

Looking for free or cheap cable TV service? We’ve scoured top cable TV and internet providers’ packages and bundles to find you some low-cost cable packages. We’ve also dipped into live TV streaming services’ options to show you how to save with these affordable, no-contract services. Finally, we slide in a recommendation for over-the-air (OTA) TV antennas because they’re a super cheap way get all your local channels and subchannels without a monthly payment.

Bundles and basic cable packages

Many budget cable TV plans start around $50 per month, but some companies have basic channel lineups that are even more affordable. These small plans are usually available only when you bundle with internet. Bundling cable TV and internet is always a great way to save on both these services, and we highly recommend it.

Check out the packages below for a quick look at some affordable TV and internet bundles:

Cheapest

Digital Basic TV + 155 Mbps Internet (Chicago, D.C.)

or

Digital Basic TV + 250 Mbps Internet (Boston, Lehigh Valley, New York, Philadelphia)

    • Plans cost $29.99–$44.99/mo.*
    • 61–70+ channels
    • Cable speeds up to 155–250 Mbps
Free premiums

Internet 200 and Core TV

      • $55/mo.**
      • 200+ channels
      • Cable speeds up to 200 Mbps
$500 contract buyout

Optimum 300 and Core TV

      • $65/mo.
      • 210+ channels
      • Cable speeds up to 300 Mbps

* for 12 months
** For first 12 months. Plus taxes, fees and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing.
† for 1-yr. Plus taxes, fees and other charges. Includes Auto Pay and Paperless Billing. Wired connection speeds. Wi-Fi speeds may vary.

We recommend two RCN plans because it has different packages for different service areas. These are good if all you want are your local broadcast channels and subchannels, along with a modestly speedy internet connection. But did you know that you can get all the same channels with an OTA antenna? Click the link to see why they’re better than a basic cable TV package.

The Suddenlink plan is better if you want more than just the basic channels—but with a slightly slower (or faster, depending on the Optimum area you’re in) internet connection. But for another $10 a month, you can get even faster internet and 10 more channels from Optimum.

Since RCN, Suddenlink, and Optimum aren’t available everywhere, enter your zip code below to see which cable companies and plans are available to you. Cable providers will often have cheap TV packages not advertised online, so your best bet is to call in and ask about deals.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Pro tip: Some local cable packages have only 15 channels or so. While these packages might seem budget friendly, they often come with equipment fees that add up quickly, so be careful!

Finally, for your convenience, here’s a brief overview of what other cable and satellite TV providers have to offer as far as standalone TV plans go.

Cable and satellite TV providers at a glance

  • RCN—Cheapest ($29.99–$89.99/mo., 61–304+ channels)
  • Suddenlink—Free premiums ($40.00–$124.99/mo., 200–340+ channels)
  • Cox—Excellent DVR ($50.00–$209.99/mo., 75–250+ channels)
  • Spectrum—Best value ($44.99–$94.99/mo., 125–200+ channels)
  • Verizon Fios—Most channels ($50.00–$90.00/mo., 125–425+ channels)
  • Optimum—$500 contract buyout ($55.00–$124.99/mo., 210–340+ channels)
  • Xfinity—X1 DVR ($46.95–$89.49/mo., 125–260+ channels)
  • DIRECTV—NFL SUNDAY TICKET ($64.99–$134.99/mo., 160–330+ channels)
  • DISH—Best overall ($64.99–$94.99/mo., 190–290+ channels)

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

Over-the-air (OTA) TV

Over-the-air (OTA) TV, or broadcast TV, is a type of HDTV broadcast from local stations in your area. The signals are sent over the air, and you need an HDTV antenna to pick them up.

Going OTA is one of the cheapest cable alternatives. You can pick up an OTA antenna for $20–$50 on Amazon and watch TV for free without monthly fees*. Our current recommended antenna, the Mohu Leaf 50, is currently $69.99—but we’ve seen it cheaper.

Use this tool from the FCC to see where local stations are broadcasting from so that you know what kind of range you need from your antenna. If you don’t purchase a strong enough antenna, you might not be able to watch certain channels.

Also, these are only broadcast channels, so be warned that you won’t be able to watch your cable favorites with OTA TV.

If you’re new to OTA TV, be sure to read our OTA TV post to discover the pros and cons of this low-cost TV option.

*Amazon.com Price; $28.65 (as of 6/26/20 12:10 PM MST). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. CableTV.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Best for cities

Mohu Leaf 30

  • 30-mile range
  • Indoor mounting
  • Support for 1080p HD

Best for suburbs

Mohu Leaf Plus

  • 60-mile range
  • Indoor mounting
  • Support for 1080p HD

Best for rural areas

Granny Home Digital TV antenna

  • 120-mile range
  • Indoor mounting
  • Support for 1080p and 4K Ultra HD

Before you buy an antenna, use this tool from the FCC to see where local stations are broadcasting from. This will help you know what kind of range you need to look for with your antenna. If you don’t purchase a strong enough antenna, you might not be able to watch certain channels. Also, these are only broadcast channels, so be warned that you won’t be able to watch your cable favorites with OTA TV.

If you’re new to OTA TV, be sure to read our OTA TV post to discover the pros and cons of this low-cost TV option.

Streaming live TV

Most people are familiar with streaming TV services these days, often as alternatives to cable TV. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime allow you to stream on-demand movies and TV shows online with a flat monthly subscription cost. Streaming live TV is similar in nature but allows you to stream directly from cable networks so you can watch shows at the same time they’re live on cable. So streaming from cable networks is actually the best alternative to cable TV. Huh.

Best live TV streaming alternatives to cable

  • Hulu Live—Best value ($64.99–$70.99/mo., 70+ channels)
  • Sling TV—Best for kids ($35.00–$5.00/mo., 30–50+ channels)
  • YouTube TV—Best overall ($64.99/mo., 85+ channels)
  • Philo—Good for lifestyle and entertainment channels ($20.00/mo.)
  • fuboTV—Best for sports ($64.99–$79.99/mo.)

Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV are two of the strongest live TV streaming services out there.

Hulu Live offers 60+ channels, a generous on-demand library, cloud DVR, and two streams for $54.99 a month (upgrade to the no-ads plan for an additional $6). You can also get unlimited streams and 200 hours of cloud DVR for $14.99 more monthly.

Sling TV has smaller channel lineups but plenty of cheap add-ons. And, in our expert opinion, it’s the best streaming service for sports.

If you’re looking to cut your cable bill, Philo (63+ channels; $25 per month) is cheaper than basic cable and has better channels.

In general, if you have a reliable internet connection, we recommend going with a live TV streaming service.

Best value

Price: $64.99/mo. (no ads: $70.99/mo.)
Channels: 65+
Streams: 2
DVR: 50 hrs.

Best for kids

Price: $35–$50/mo.
Channels: 30–50+
Streams: 1–4
DVR: 10 hrs.

Both of these live TV streaming providers offer a seven-day free trial. So if you’re not sure which is better for you, try both Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV for free first.

Streaming live TV is an effective cable TV alternative, but it does have some drawbacks. While it doesn’t have contracts or equipment costs, it requires a strong internet connection.

Try to get an internet download speed of 50 Mbps or more to avoid latency (lag). But before you sign up, ensure that your internet plan and chosen streaming service won’t cost more than a TV-and-internet bundle from a cable provider.

Final take: bundle your cable with internet

Cheap or free TV service is real. You don’t have to give up TV entirely to make budget cuts.

If you like traditional cable or satellite TV, consider bundling or going with a smaller channel lineup. If you need only basic local channels, try OTA TV. And if you seek more flexibility than cable television can offer, give livestreaming TV a shot.

Or, you know, go ahead and stack all of those freebie services like Pluto, Xumo, Tubi, or Flex.

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Free and low-cost cable TV options FAQ

Can I get basic cable for free?

No, basic cable isn’t free. You can get a basic cable package for $20–$47 per month. But we don’t recommend basic cable TV plans. An over-the-air (OTA) antenna picks up all over your local channels and subchannels for $30–$60 instead of a monthly payment.

What is the cheapest cable company? 

Suddenlink’s Internet 200 and Core TV gives you 200+ channels and internet speeds up to 200 Mbps for $50.00 a month for the first 12 months. RCN’s Digital Basic TV + 155 Mbps Internet offers 61–70+ channels and speeds up to 155 Mbps starting at $29.99 a month for the first 12 months. (Prices and availability vary with location.)

What is a cheap alternative to cable TV?

Pluto and Xumo both offer 100+ live and on-demand channels for free. Sling TV gives you 30–50 channels starting at $35 a month—and a ton of inexpensive add-ons.

How can I watch cable TV for free?

We don’t know of a legal way to watch cable or satellite TV for free. But you can get 100+ channels from both Pluto and Xumo for absolutely nothin’. Be advised, though, that these channels carry some of the same programming but not the same channels.

You also won’t get your local channels—but an inexpensive over-the-air (OTA) antenna like the Mohu Blade is reasonably priced (around $36), and it’ll pick up every free channel for 50 miles.

Xfinity customers should check out Xfinity Flex, the provider’s combination of a streaming device and service. Flex combines Xfinity’s on-demand library (10,000+ titles) with free access to NBC’s Peacock Premium, Pluto, Xumo, Tubi, and your paid services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and HBO®. And it’s free to Xfinity internet-only customers.

What is the cheapest internet-and-cable TV bundle?

If you can get it in your area, RCN has a cheap internet-and-cable TV bundle. You can get its Digital Basic TV package (61+ channels) with high-speed internet (speeds vary with location) in a double-play deal that starts at $29.99 a month (for the first 12 months).

How can I reduce my cable bill?

To reduce your cable bill, try the following:

  • Drop down to a cheaper package.
  • Call your provider’s customer retention department and see if you can negotiate a discount—especially if you’ve been a good customer.
  • If you can handle commercials, drop cable altogether and use only free, ad-supported services like Pluto, Xumo, Tubi, and more.
  • Xfinity internet-only customers: check out Xfinity Flex, the provider’s content-rich combination streaming device and service.

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