Sunday, December 17

Satellite Television or Cable?

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Is satellite television really a better deal than cable television

The battle between cable companies and satellite television companies is fierce. A big problem all of these companies have to face is that they all offer basically the same programming. A special-interest channel may be offered a deal that induces them to sign an exclusive agreement with one provider but those are rare. For the most part, the programming available is the same. ESPN is ESPN no matter whether you get it from a cable or a dish. The fancy frills of home television, such as DVRs and pay-per-views, are available from any provider you choose. So the only real points the providers can use to compete are service and price.

The initial offering from a satellite TV provider will sound significantly cheaper than cable service. For example, if you are paying $57/month to your cable company, that satellite offer that gives you the same basic channels for $30/month sounds pretty good. But most cable companies charge a flat fee for hooking up your house. Unless you need a converter box, you can connect as many televisions as you want. For satellite TV, you pay a fee for every TV you connect.

The specific prices for satellite TV quoted here are from Dish. Direct prices are structured somewhat differently but they are comparable. To begin with, you sign up for a basic package that is $39 a month. You want to connect four televisions, so you get two receivers, each capable of connecting two televisions. There will be a $5/month fee for the extra receiver. There is also a fee of $5 each for the second TV you connect to the receiver. Your $39/month fee is now $54. If you want your receivers to be DVRs, and you probably do, that will be another $5.98/month per receiver. Your basic bill is now $66, more than you pay for cable.

The satellite providers will counter that by telling you that their basic package has more channels than you get from cable. The total is higher, that is true, with basic satellite package offering about 100 channels as opposed to about 60 with cable. But even if you just have 60 channels available, how many of those do you actually watch? The extra channels available with satellite will mostly be superfluous. They will just be more channels you will not watch.

There are two great advantages to satellite television that cable cannot touch. If you live in a rural area, cable TV is probably not available. But if you can see the southern sky, you can get satellite television. The other advantage is in international programming. Your local cable provider probably includes three or four Spanish-language channels in your package, whether you want them or not. With satellite TV, you can have channels in French, German, Russian, Farsi, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, and just about any other widely spoken language. Someone from India, for example, can view channels that are broadcast in Hindi in their home country. Cable cannot touch that.

With the exception of international programming, cable and satellite offer the same options for programming, at about the same price. None of the cable companies or satellite providers offers a cafeteria-style choice of programming, which is what consumers really want. Select the channels you might like to watch, and pay for those and only those. The technology exists right now (and it is fairly inexpensive) to offer that kind of option. No company has stepped up to offer such a thing, however, because it is too lucrative to continue to make you pay for stuff you do not want and do not use.

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