BEST TV INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS FOR 2021: PACKAGE PLANS, PRICES
CableTV. com wants you to live your best life on the couch. And if you’re going to do that, you need to know which TV internet service provider is the best for your lifestyle and needs. Like which TV provider is best for kids? Which one has all the sports ball action? Which is the best value or the cheapest? And which is the best overall? More articles: Unlimited Wireless Internet.
Each year in our editor’s choice awards, we compare top TV internet service providers and make awards in those same categories. You can click the links below to see which provider won what and why.
Best TV Internet service providers of 2021
Best overall and best for kids & Family
- Free installation
- 2 yr. price lock
- Hopper 3 DVR
- No-contract plans (extra fee)
- Best parental controls
We’ve already spilled the beans about DISH being our pick for top overall and best for kids and family. Now it’s time to explain what the beans mean. DISH doesn’t have the best prices, but it does have the third-best cost per channel (CPC) at $0.34–$0.37. That’s handy for gauging the value of a package. Also, DISH has a two-year price lock, which keeps your payment from increasing during your contract period. These rules because many contract-based TV internet services have steep price increases in the second year. So DISH’s price for peace of mind is sweet.
As for channels, DISH doesn’t carry the premium channels HBO or CINEMAX—but it does have virtually all the other most popular channels in its packages. Plus, you can always subscribe to HBO Max ($14.99 a month) on the side.
And then there’s the DISH Hopper 3 DVR. It might cost an extra 15 bucks a month, but it has more storage than any other provider’s DVR (except for AT&T TV’s cloud DVR). And you can record up to 16 shows at once, which is incredible. Also, you can have multiroom viewing with the DISH Joey for a small fee ($5–$10 per month).
As for kid stuff, DISH has the channels you want from Disney, Nickelodeon, and local PBS affiliates. And the DISH parental controls (courtesy of a partnership with Common Sense Media) are top-notch. So if you’re worried about the rugrats stumbling into a bloodbath, a sexy shower scene, a deluge of dirty words, a tornado of fake news, or a cesspool of consumerism, you can prevent it with only a few clicks. And, with the DISH Parental Guide’s content-focused movie and show reviews, you can steer your brood toward educational value and positive messages and role models, which is nice to see in a censorship tool.
If you want to give you and your kids the best—as in, all the kids’ channels and some steamy premium action (that you can block with those fancy parental controls)—America’s Top 250 is the package for you. That said, you can save $5 a month by dropping down to America’s Top 200 package ($89.99 a month, 240+ channels). You’ll lose only Nicktoons and the STARZ ENCORE stuff. So let’s make that the official recommendation—because five bucks are five bucks.
Best for sports
- Free installation
- More sports channels than DISH
- Genie DVR included
- Bundle discount (through AT&T)
- NFL SUNDAY TICKET
Is your life worth nothing without the adrenaline fix of televised sportsball action? Well, DIRECTV is where you can get it. It’s already stacked with 27 sports channels (including FS1, FS2, Golf Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, NBA TV, and more).
And DIRECTV is also the only place to get tons of out-of-market games with NFL SUNDAY TICKET—and new customers get the current season free.
DIRECTV offers free HBO Max (reg. $14.99 a month) with any plan you purchase from CHOICETM through PREMIER. When you factor in that and the free NFL SUNDAY TICKET (a $293.94 value), that’s an incredible deal. When you’re first signing up for DIRECTV, those are seriously seductive deals—but not when you consider DIRECTV’s monster 30–40% second-year price hikes. By then, your free HBO and SUNDAY TICKET promos will have expired, and you’ll be paying extra for less.
That said, DIRECTV’s ULTIMATE All-Included package, with 250+ channels and a free year of HBO Max for $84.99 a month the first year and $142.00 the next. That averages out to $113.50 per month (and $0.45 per channel) for the entire term. That’s still a hefty payment—especially when HBO Max and NFL SUNDAY TICKET vanish in your second year. But sports fans still might be okay with that.
- No contracts
- Contract buyout
- All channels in HD
- Premium channels included in Silver and Gold plans
Spectrum doesn’t have as many channels as most cable providers, but some of its plans are jammed with value and have the best TV service deals. Our recommendation, Spectrum TV® Gold ($94.99 a month), has 200+ HD channels, including NFL Network, SHOWTIME, STARZ, STARZ ENCORE, and TMC. You also get HBO Max. Sure, you’re paying $0.47 per channel, but that’s decent even without the premiums.
Spectrum has two options for DVR service. Traditional, box-based DVR service gives you 90 hours of storage for $17.98 per month—this includes the cost of the Spectrum HD TV box ($7.99 a month) and the actual DVR service ($9.99 monthly). That’s not a great price, considering the slim storage.
Spectrum DVR options
Spectrum’s value gets even better if you’re looking to leave your current provider. The range has a contract buyout of up to $500 for new customers. You also won’t have to sign a contract with Spectrum—so, if you’re unhappy, you can peace out whenever you want.
- Cheapest plans
- Best cost per channel
Okay, value is one thing. You can spend $89.99 a month on a plan and get good value. But what if you’re on a budget? A hardworking single parent, for instance, might prefer a cheaper plan that fits the paycheck-to-paycheck life. RCN has the cheapest standalone TV plans and bundles. Few rival cable providers come close. Lucky for them, RCN has a limited service area—Boston, Chicago, DC, Lehigh Valley (PA), New York (Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens), and Philadelphia.
Sure, many people live in those places—but a lot more of us don’t. I’m sorry, us. We don’t get to save a bundle on bundles with RCN. But for those of you who can? Congrats, high-five, happy birthday. Let’s open your present. RCN bundles have a cost per channel of $0.20–$0.41. This is fantastic. Optimum ($0.24–$0.43) and Suddenlink ($0.24–$0.52) can compete—but only on bundles, and other providers’ bundles start at $0.46 per channel.
Depending on where you live, the double-play bundle Signature TV + Gig Internet has 275–295+ channels and blazing fast 1 Gbps internet for $79.99–$109.99 a month or $0.27–$0.37 per channel.
What’s better than fantastic? Let’s go with awesome. Such a low cost per channel means you could add the RCN’s HD DVR converter box for only $6 a month, which would be even awesome-r if RCN’s package had more than 20 hours of content and two simultaneous recordings.
Alternatively, you could go with the RCN Android TV/TiVo DVR. It has 75 hours of HD storage, unlimited recordings, and integrated streaming apps—but it’s $20 a month. And the storage is still pretty low.
Best Live TV Streaming: YouTube TV
- No contract
- 100+ channels
- Unlimited DVR
YouTube TV is our best overall live TV streaming service. It has 100+ channels, unlimited DVR (with a nine-month storage limit), three simultaneous streams, up to six user profiles, and numerous channel-pack and premium add-ons.
Since streaming services have fewer channels than cable and satellite TV providers—and, therefore, a higher cost per channel—they have a higher concentration of popular media. What we’re saying is: live TV streaming services don’t have all the extra nonsense channels that you find with cable and satellite TV.
So imagine not having to search through hundreds of channels to find AMC, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Disney, ESPN, FS1, FOX, MTV, Paramount Network, Syfy, TBS, TNT, and the USA. It’s a lot easier to find what you want to watch with YouTube TV’s leaner lineup.
But while YouTube TV’s channel lineup is has a higher concentration of popular channels, it is missing a few of the most popular networks, like A&E, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and VICE. If those are must-have channels for you, check out our guide to the Best Live TV Streaming Services.
If you’re not sure whether you’d prefer streaming over cable and satellite TV, you can try YouTube TV free for seven days before deciding to switch. We think you’ll dig it.
Other top cable TV providers
If our top providers are on your nope list, or if they’re not available near you, check out these TV services—along with what they do well (or not so well).
Most channels: Verizon Fios
- No contracts
- Affordable pricing
- Most channels
- Excellent picture quality
Verizon Fios is a fiber network, so its signals travel faster over much more reliable pipes. That means your picture’s going to be pristine, which will please resolution snobs. And the pricing is pretty good, too. The most extensive standalone Verizon TV plan, The Most Fios TV, has 425+ channels for $90 a month. That’s $0.21 per channel. And it includes SHOWTIME. But Verizon’s cost-per-channel numbers are still a bit higher across all three of its packages—which don’t have SHOWTIME.
Verizon also has high DVR fees, which affect the value. You’ll pay $12–$30 for 50–200 hours of storage, which is terrible. The median price for DVR service among the providers reviewed in this piece is $15 a month. The Most Fios TV is a massive chunk of channels (plus accessible SHOWTIME) for the money if you can get it.
But if The Most Fios TV is out of your price range, Your Fios TV gives you 125+ channels for $50 a month ($0.40 per channel). You might also be interested in doing the Fios TV Test Drive. Sign up for a Fios Gigabit internet connection, and you get to watch all 425+ channels for 60 days—for only $50 a month.
After the first 30 days of your test Drive, Verizon recommends one of its packages based on your watching habits. Then, after another 30 days, your payment reverts to the regular package price. Finally, Verizon offers free Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ with select packages and bundles. That’s a $6.99–$12.99 value, monthly, depending on which add-ons come with your chosen package. You have to love that.
One drawback to Verizon Fios TV is that, to get that fantastic fiber-facilitated picture quality, you’ll probably have to bundle with Verizon internet service. So if you weren’t planning to switch, that might be a problem for you.