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Is Now the Time to Get Rid of Cable TV?

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With one daughter headed to college and another just a few years away, Ron Baslow, a single dad, was looking for ways to economize. One easy target: his $125 monthly bill for cable TV, internet, and phone service.

Like many of those who responded to the latest Consumer Reports Annual Questionnaire on telecom services, Baslow didn't think his bundle provided great value.

“I never used the phone and only watched a few of the dozens of cable channels I was getting in the package,” he says. Baslow downsized to an antenna for free local broadcasts and got a promotional $20-per-month internet rate, good for one year. He’s planning to add a $20-per-month subscription to Sling TV, an online service that offers access to cable channels he likes, including CNN and ESPN.

The result will be annual savings of more than $1,000—and no sacrifice in the TV content he wants.

More From Consumer Reports

Highlights From Our Telecom Survey

In Consumer Reports' latest telecom survey, almost all the companies, including Comcast and Spectrum (Charter, Time Warner Cable), two of the country's largest cable operators, earned low scores in multiple categories, including value and customer service.

The latest ratings are based on responses from more than 210,000 Consumer Reports subscribers who responded to the telecom section of our Fall Questionnaire. We asked them to report on their experience with home internet, pay TV, and bundles of those services.

Many of the best-known cable companies didn't fare well, but there were a few bright spots, including a municipal broadband service run as a public utility in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the fiber service run by Google in a handful of markets across the country. These innovative options outpaced conventional telecommunications companies when it came to value.

Two smaller cable companies, Armstrong and Consolidated Communications, also did better than most. Armstrong operates in several states, including Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Consolidated runs both fiber and traditional cable services in 11 states, including parts of California, Pennsylvania, and Texas, as well as in several Midwestern states.

When it comes to TV service, EPB and Google Fiber topped the list as the only two companies to earn high marks for both value and reliability. Charter's and Comcast's fiber offerings earned middle-of-the-pack scores, ahead of their lower-scoring traditional cable plans. Frontier Fiber and perennial low-scorer Mediacom Cable trailed all other companies, joined by Atlantic Broadband Cable, Cable One Cable, and Spectrum (Time Warner) at the bottom of the pack.

Google Fiber was the clear winner for internet service, with the only high score for value. Consolidated Fiber and EPB were the only other companies able to earn better than below-average scores for value. In general, fiber services did better than traditional cable, and the lowest scores came from slower DSL and satellite internet providers.

You might imagine that bundled services—TV, internet, and phone in one neat little package—would make people feel they were getting a good deal, but think again. Every single bundle in our survey received our lowest score for value.

That said, Bright House—which was acquired last year by Charter—topped the list with its hybrid bundle, followed by its cable service, WOW Cable and Verizon Fiber. Trailing behind those companies were Cincinnati Bell and Sudden Link, which was acquired last year by Altice, which now also owns Cablevision (Optimum). Frontier and Mediacom were again the low scorers in this category. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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