Comparison of Cable and Satellite Television

The good, bad, and bundled

TV/Broadcast satellites in front of a building
Harold Cunningham / Contributor / Getty Images

Today, television service is brought to us by cable conglomerates who now compete with satellite companies. Each offers hundreds of digital channels and consumer-friendly interactive services to get your business.

Here is a comparison of common services generally provided by cable and satellite companies in the United States and Canada.


Because satellite providers generally don't have to pay taxes levied by local governments and feature smaller infrastructures, consumers get more bang for the buck with satellite. Right now, cable's low-end price is very competitive for the first year, but prices may increase starting in year two. Plus, cable companies have millions of miles of outdated lines buried below ground and are in the process of converting their technology to digital, which will be expensive. While satellite offers lower programming packages across the board, companies do charge fees per room receiving the signal. Though, some cable companies do, too. ​

Edge: Satellite


A 500-channel universe is here, and cable and satellite companies are ready to deliver. While both offer similar channel packages, each has an advantage over the other. Satellite offers both east and west coast feeds and alternate sports programming for channels like ESPN and Fox Sports. Sometimes sports stations televise games based on regional interest. Their alternate feed allows the satellite viewer the choice of either game. Of course, accessibility to some of the alternate feeds might require an additional price.

Cable counters by offering plans for those who want good reception without paying for the 500-channel universe, and local programming not carried by satellite providers like public access stations.

Edge: Even


Cable has an advantage for subscribers who don’t want digital programming because there's no equipment needed other than a television. For the digital subscriber, cable and satellite are similar. You’ll need a converter box, remote, and compatible television. Satellite needs an unobstructed view of the southern sky to receive signals, which is a huge disadvantage for renters. Homeowners also assume a minimal risk by installing a dish to a side wall or roof.

Edge: Cable


Cable only reaches as far as their infrastructure is built while satellite has the entire southern sky. This is significant because, in some deregulated markets, all cable companies don’t reach all homes.

Edge: Satellite

Digital, HDTV, and DVR

Concerning digital, high definition, and digital video recorders, cable, and satellite companies are equal with one exception. Some satellite companies require an upfront purchase of the DVR and HD box. Others are like cable companies and lease boxes on a monthly basis. Purchasing a receiver is an advantage over time because monthly charges add up. All major companies offer all services in one way or another.

Edge: Even

Bundled Services

Bundling services is an adaptation of survival by cable and satellite companies. They either own or form partnerships with other telecommunication companies to offer television, phone, and Internet service for one low price. An example of a bundled service is SBC joining with Dish Network and Yahoo! to offer phone, satellite, and DSL. All major cable and satellite companies will offer some sort of one-bill service because that's the trend in today's market.

Edge: Even

Customer Service

Satellite companies flourish without storefronts because of phone and online customer services. However, storefronts are convenient because they're a place to pay bills, change out equipment, and voice a compliment or complaint face-to-face.

Edge: Cable


Some satellite companies require contracts and some don't, but very few (if any) cable companies require the consumer to commit to a minimum subscription length.

Edge: Cable