How to Avoid Paying for TV Channels That Should Be Free

Subscribers to one cable TV provider pay $2 billion annually for free channels, but may not even realize they are being charged.

How to Avoid Paying for TV Channels That Should Be Free Photo by CREATISTA /

Here’s another addition to the list of things for which you probably pay too much: broadcast TV channels.

For example, Comcast customer are paying an estimated $1.9 billion a year to access channels that most folks can watch for free, according to a .

It’s called a “broadcast TV fee.” For Comcast customers, it totals $7 a month — up from $5 a month last year, according to BillGeeks. That’s $84 a year for the privilege of watching broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX that can generally be watched for free with an antenna.

If you don’t subscribe to Comcast, don’t assume you have escaped this fee. BillGeeks notes that many other cable companies charge a broadcast TV fee too.

Perhaps the only way to ensure you aren’t charged this fee is to ditch cable TV. For example, I am a Comcast customer but am not charged this fee — I just checked my latest bill to be sure. But that’s probably because I only buy internet service, not TV, from Comcast.

So if you’re still paying for cable TV, take BillGeeks’ statistics as a reminder to consider the growing number of alternatives.

How to ditch cable TV

The internet enables a host of alternatives. Some are free — see “17 Places You Can (Legally) Download or Stream Free Movies and TV.”

Additionally, if you already pay for an , you have instant access to thousands of movies and TV shows at no additional cost, Amazon says. This Prime perk is called and costs $10.99 a month if you don’t have Prime.

The online video services you hear of most often — such as Netflix and Hulu — are generally paid services, but still tend to cost less than cable. For example, Netflix and Hulu plans start at $7.99 a month. contributor Geof Wheelwright drastically reduced his monthly expenses when he ditched cable TV for online video services. He used to pay more than $100 a month for what he described as “a fairly basic cable TV package with local TV channels.” Now he has access to more content for less than half the price — $45.30 a month.

For a detailed breakdown of how he pulled off that savings of more than $650 a year, check out “How to Cut the Cable TV Cord in 2017.”

Antenna caveats

A will enable you to watch local broadcast TV stations for free. It’s hardly an alternative to cable TV in itself, but an antenna can be a key part of your plan to ditch cable TV. Many people who ditch cable for online video services also buy an antenna. For example, both Wheelwright and I use an antenna to watch local news.

One caveat, though, is that the number and quality of broadcast stations you can watch with an antenna depend on where you live. Odds of getting good reception are best in urban areas. According to BillGeeks:

“It’s worth keeping in mind that even if you don’t live in an urban area, you may still be able to pick up your local channels with a rooftop or attic antenna. And of course, just because you live in an urban area near a broadcast tower doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a clear signal as there could be interference from tall buildings in some cases.”

A website like can help give you an idea of which broadcast stations you can access with an antenna.

Have you ditched cable TV? Tell us about your experience below or .

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More


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