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Important Things to Know Before Selecting a Satellite TV Provider

McCall Martin
McCall Martin | Senior Editor

All TV service providers have one ultimate goal: get you TV.

Over the past few years, how we watch TV has changed substantially. Today, homeowners can choose from satellite, cable, fiber-optic, and internet TV providers for their entertainment needs. While many people are choosing to cut the cord and switch to streaming services, there are a number of features and channels you can’t get without a satellite or cable provider.

While it may seem overwhelming having to choose between the many providers (and types of services they offer), it actually puts you, the customer, at an advantage. Gone are the days of just a few cable providers and spotty, unreliable service. Now your biggest problem is choosing which provider to go with.

The difference between cable, satellite, and fiber-optic TV providers

Understanding the difference between satellite TV, cable TV, IPTV, and OTT (over-the-top streaming services) is not as crystal clear as one would expect. A majority of the providers often offer bundled services that muddle the two worlds of internet and broadcast media.

As you begin your search for the best TV provider, it is important to know the difference between each kind of provider and how they work. That way, you can pick a company that caters toward your “watching style” and budget.

Cable TV providers

Ironically, most cable companies get their signals from satellite providers. The signal begins in the satellite systems and is picked up by receivers at the cable facility. After that, the provider sends your cable content by radio frequency signals via underground coaxial cables (this kind of cable has a copper core). Generally, the coaxial cable will also carry high-speed internet, FM radio, and phone services (which is why so many companies want you to bundle these services). The signal then travels to an outdoor cable box which will send the signals to the various rooms of your house and then to your TV.

If you looked inside the cable box, you might see multiple cables connected to a large splitter. This allows the cable feed to be retransmitted for miles.

Those with cable don’t have to worry about their signal getting interrupted by severe weather (as the cord is safely protected underground). Additionally, many cable companies offer shorter contract plans or a no-contract plan.

However, if you’re comparing cable to satellite companies, you’ll probably notice that the prices are slightly higher for a cable plan than a satellite plan. While you may be tempted to go with the lower price, satellite companies are notorious for hiking up the prices after the first year or two. Cable companies are generally more consistent with pricing and it’s always nice to not be shocked by your monthly bill.

Perhaps the biggest problem with cable is its limited availability. Cable isn’t really an option for rural areas. Residents are paying more for a lower-quality of service. This is because many broadband companies will refuse to service low-population areas as they just don’t bring enough revenue.

Popular Cable TV providers:

Satellite TV providers

While a cable network distributes cable TV, satellite TV is wireless the entire time. A satellite company broadcasts encrypted signals from one of its broadcast centers up to an orbiting satellite. The satellite will then broadcast the encrypted TV signals over a large area. The signals are picked up by the satellite receivers, transmitted to a digital receiver, decoded and displayed on your TV screen.

Many homeowners choose satellite TV for several reasons. First, the picture quality with satellite is going to be superior to cable television. The reason? The way satellite TV is transmitted means that the signal is only once removed from the primary source. Cable signals go through a series of cables, wires, splitters, before getting to you. The farther away they are from the original source, the more likely you’ll get a poor picture quality.

Theoretically, satellite providers offer more channels. Since satellite transmits signals from all over the globe, you can get pretty much any station you want (as long as your satellite company has a contract with them). That’s why when you sign up with a satellite company, they can offer an outrageous amount of channels. If you’re a comedy enthusiast, drama queen, or avid sports fan, you’ll probably love having the ability to choose from hundreds of channels.

The biggest complaints against satellite companies are the price hikes and interrupting signals. If you live in an area that experiences harsh weather conditions, then you can bet your signal will be affected. Northern homeowners will have to be diligent about scraping snow off their receiver in the winters, while those in the Southeast will have to deal with their TV signal going out during rainstorms.

Another common complaint against satellite TV is the price hikes. Many satellite companies will lure customers in with a low starting price, but after their year contract is up, the service provider will hike up the monthly price. Many customers have taken issue with the fact that companies often do not disclose this information upfront and end up canceling their service with the company.

Popular Satellite TV providers:

Fiber optic TV providers

A fiber-optic cable is made up of thin strands of high-grade plastic or glass, commonly referred to as optical fibers. Fiber-optic cables carry digital information that is coded in a beam of light. Upon reaching your TV, the data is decoded, and you see a picture on the screen.

A fiber-optic network works similar to a cable network (the difference being in the material the cable are made from). Although similar, fiber optic networks are increasingly becoming more popular. Optical cables are cheaper to make than coaxial cables, meaning your internet or TV provider is saving money on production (which should lower costs in every aspect), saving you money.

Fiber optic networks are going to deliver more data, at a faster rate, but with prices comparable to most cable companies.

Optical fiber also has a higher carrying capacity; since the fibers are thinner than their copper counterparts, more fibers can be bundled into a cable, giving you access to more channels. Additionally, the fiber optic cable is made from glass or plastic, which is not affected by electromagnetic interference, whereas copper cables are. This allows information to travel great distances without being interrupted.

However, there’s a reason fiber optic networks haven’t taken over the world (even though it is predicted to be the next generation technology). It is extremely costly to install and implement new fiber-optic lines when DSL and cable infrastructures are still around. According to BroadbandNow, only 25 percent of the nation has access to a fiber network.

Popular fiber optic TV providers:

Make sure the service provider services your area

You’ve done hours of research and you’ve finally picked a service provider. You call the company only to find out that they don’t service your area. Unfortunately, this happens more often than people realize and it can be extremely frustrating. Most TV providers are only available in certain regions (except for satellite, that’s available pretty much everywhere). Before settling on a company, be sure to call or enter in your address on the site to make sure it’s an option for you. You can also run a quick Google search or talk to your neighbors about their TV provider.

Ask about reliability

There are a number of reasons why your TV signal might not be getting that HD quality you were expecting. And they range from things you can’t control like the weather to things you can, such as where your satellite is placed on your home.

Ask around to see if your neighbors feel that their service provider is reliable. If one company is continually being brought up for having spotty, unreliable service, then look at other options.

Get the channel lineup you want

It’s frustrating to try to watch TV and not having the channels you want. Think about the channels you are going to watch regularly, then look at a few different channel lineups. Do you want to watch local channels or are you more interested in the movie channels? Is there one that offers the channels you will actually watch? Which provider is going to provide you with the best deal?

It can be easy to get suckered into buying a package with hundreds of channels. More is better, right? However, we’re guessing you don’t want to pay for 500 channels, especially if you’re only watching the same ten channels.

Watch out for fees

Unfortunately, fees are standard throughout the industry, especially if you sign a contract. While your contract may give you that coveted price-lock, they can also be terribly expensive if you need to cancel. While cable and live streaming providers aren’t known for locking customers into binding contracts, satellite is.

If you do sign a contract (with any service provider), don’t be surprised if you see one or more of these fees on your bill:

  • DVR service fee
  • Installation fee
  • Activation fee
  • Broadcast surcharge fee
  • Shipping fee
  • Equipment fee
  • Cancellation/deactivation fee
  • Early termination fee
  • Unreturned equipment fee
  • Late payment/ returned check/ payment extension fee
  • High-definition access fee

If you’re not careful, these fees will add up. If there is ever something on your bill that you don’t recognize or have questions about, don’t hesitate to call the company and find out.

Save with package deals

If you’re looking to save on your monthly bill, look into bundling services. Combining your internet with a TV package might save you about $10 per month.

However, don’t get duped into a package deal that doesn’t benefit you. If you are a big movie watcher and avid internet-surfer but don’t need a phone service, then don’t sign up for a package that combines all three telecommunications.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

A surprise increase on your monthly bill is nothing to take lightly. However, there are some ways you can prevent this from happening.

Read the fine print on your contract. Find out if there is a price-lock and how long it lasts. Generally, companies do a year or two price-lock, but beware, some companies switch it up and only guarantee the price for six months. Don’t let it catch you off guard; if you know when it’s coming, you can plan and negotiate your way to a better deal.

A few weeks before your contract ends, call the company to see if they’re willing to offer you a deal. If not, then mention a competitor’s rate and see if they’ll match it. Even if you don’t get the price as low as you want, many companies will throw in some extra channels or services.

Premium channels

Is everyone at your office talking about that one episode of HBO’s Chernobyl? Or are you tired of missing out on conversations because you haven’t seen Game of Thrones?

There are plenty of premium channels to choose from, but you’ve most likely heard of these juggernauts: HBO, Showtime, Starz, and Cinemax.

Premium channels are almost always commercial free — there are no ads during the show and the only ads they run are for shows/programs on the channel. Many people prefer to watch premium channels as they provide a break from the constant bombardment of commercials.

However, you’ll have to pay for this convenience. Satellite and cable companies will charge an extra $15 or $20 (prices will depend on your geographic area and TV provider) per month for access to premium channels. If you’re thinking of signing up with either a cable or satellite company be sure to check out if they are offering any specials — that way you can see if premium channels are worth the price.

Sports packages

A dedicated sports fan never misses a game. If you’re looking for a TV provider simply so you can watch your favorite game on the big screen, there are plenty of options for you to pick from.

Sports fans are going to be a fan of DIRECTV. There are over thirty-five channels and DIRECTV exclusively offers the NFL SUNDAY TICKET. Plus, you can pick and choose which sports channels you want à-la-carte and watch international sports.

DISH’s Multi-Sports Pack comes with over 35 channels and you can watch up to four HD channels at once. Additionally, DISH’s NFL RedZone is exempt from NFL blackout zones.

When it comes to choosing a TV service provider, there are several factors to consider: pricing, channel lineup, available packages, reliability, availability, bundling options, specials, additional fees, and more. It’s important you look at all the options and pick the provider that best suits your entertainment needs.

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Satellite TV Frequently Asked Questions

How does satellite TV work?

Simply put, satellite TV transmits signals from satellites orbiting the Earth. The signals are then picked up by the satellite receiver on your house, transmitted, decoded and displayed on your TV screen.

Can weather affect satellite TV reception?

Unfortunately, yes. Weather is often one of the biggest problems customers have with their satellite reception (especially if you live in a Northern region). Rainstorms, snowfall, wind gusts, and some consumers believe the humidity is the culprit to weak signals.

Can I get satellite TV without a contract?

It is possible to get satellite TV without having to sign a one or two year contract. DISH currently has Pay-As-You-Go TV Packages that allow consumers to pay month-to-month.

Which is the best satellite TV provider?

Well, that depends on what you want — if you’re an avid sports fan who can’t miss a game? DIRECTV. If you’re looking for something cost-efficient with lots of channels for young kids? DISH.

DISH has one the Hopper 3 DVR. This device has 2,000 hours of recording power, lets you watch four HD channels at once, turns any TV into a smart TV with built-in apps, and DISH lets you view your live and recorded TV on any device.

DIRECTV has the ever-popular NFL SUNDAY TICKET, which grants NFL fans access to out-of-market games. You’ll never have to worry about missing a game. DIRECTV also has more HD channels than other providers.

How do I record cable TV?

Consumers can record their favorite shows on cable with a DVR. Now you can purchase a DVR that is supplied by the cable company (this is probably the easiest option), or you can buy an over-the-air DVR.

Should I get satellite or cable?

This will depend on your preferences and situation. If you live in a rural area or just love having a plethora of HD channels, then satellite is the best choice for you. However, if you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, then cable might be a better option. Cable also might be a good option if you live in a region with harsh weather conditions.

Is a fiber optic service available in my area?

The availability for fiber optic TV will depend on the provider and location. Fiber optic networks are currently more common in metro areas, but as the service gains popularity, its services will expand to more cities. When comparing fiber optic companies, be sure to call and ask if it’s available in your area.

Is fiber optic TV expensive?

Fortunately, as fiber-optic services become more popular and accessible to more people, the prices have dropped to cable and satellite TV prices. Depending on where you live and which provider you choose, you can pay anywhere between $20 per month to $60 per month.

How does fiber optic compare to satellite and cable?

Fiber optic TV is relatively similar to cable; the only difference is the material the cable is made out of. However, because the fiber optic cable has a larger bandwidth and carries digital data, you’ll get access to more channels at a comparable price. Both cable and fiber-optic TV have high-definition channels, but supposedly fiber optic is more reliable.

When compared to satellite, availability is its downfall. Fiber optic networks are currently limited geographically. Satellite TV is available just about everywhere. However, satellite TV is subjected to weather interferences, whereas fiber optic is not.

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