It’s not lying exactly, but your cable TV company will happily steer you toward a more expensive cable package than you need. Here’s how to head them off.
A while back, I did an article on the ways you can save money by cutting cable TV completely out of your budget.
But alas, some of us consider cable a basic necessity, like water, electricity, and World of Warcraft. What if you feel cutting cable out of your life altogether is going too far?
Never fear, there is an answer. You can keep a decent cable service simply by trimming away all the stuff you don’t need. You’ll still have to pay for TV, but you won’t have to pay through the nose anymore.
Needless to say, it’s to the advantage of the cable company to urge you to buy the most expensive cable package they can talk you into…but the final choice is always up to you. And they’re not likely to tell you about their basic package, so you’ll have to ask about it.
By law, every cable provider has to offer a basic package that includes local stations–and by local stations, they mean any station that you could conceivably pick up with a really good TV antenna, which means that you generally get more broadcast stations that you’d expect.
Here’s why: back when cable TV started becoming popular in the 1970s, federal regulators were worried that it would kill local broadcast TV. Plus (and I bet you didn’t know this), cable companies get federal funding. Therefore, the FCC requires them to offer an inexpensive basic package as described above.
What it costs and how to get it
Typically, you can get basic cable television for $10-20, and it shouldn’t cost much more than that. But be aware that the companies usually don’t advertise it; the basic service they put into their brochures and on their websites isn’t really.
However, they’re obliged to tell you about it the real basic if you ask about it specifically. So if you want to save some money, ask. To get the rock-bottom cheapest cable, you’ll need to specify “basic basic” or “limited basic.” Just “basic” won’t necessary do it. In any case, prepare to be upsold.
One little caveat
Keep this in mind: basic basic cable really does include only the most basic stuff. You’re not going to get Showtime, the Disney Channel, or ESPN, and probably not even MTV. If you want that extra stuff, you’re soon back into Too Expensive Land again.
Hey, if you really have to have movies, look into NetFlix and RedBox. They’re a lot cheaper than cable TV movie channels in the long run.