Investigate what is available in your area
- Satellite television service is available in most areas because the provider sends a signal from the ground to satellites orbiting the earth, allowing anyone with a receiver and proper equipment to receive this signal. The satellite equipment installer will inspect your home to determine whether you have a location which is compatible for good reception.
- Cable TV is only available in areas where a provider is located. It may not be available in some, especially rural, locations. Before you sign a contract, make sure your area is covered.
- Local phone, cable and even satellite companies can give discounts when you combine your telephone, internet and TV services, or “bundle.” Remember, however, that the availability of these bundles are largely based on your physical location and what services the provider offers in that area, so make sure you get the plan that will work for you.
- Many providers are offering High Definition (HD) packages. You must have an HD TV to fully benefit from this programming. Consult your television’s User Guide for details on what type of programming your television can handle.
- Some newer televisions are equipped with the ability to access the Internet. Check to make sure that your router and modem will work with your television. Be mindful that this access to Internet via your television may add extra costs to your bill.
- If you are renting, speak with your landlord and confirm that you can install a satellite dish or if cable hookups are available. Many apartment complexes have restrictions on use and placement of satellite dishes.
- Satellite equipment includes at least one satellite dish and receivers for each television in the home. The dish must be able to be installed with a clear view of the sky to pick up the signal. Most satellite receivers come with Digital Video Recorders, or DVRs, but check with your provider to be sure. This equipment is purchased or leased up front with a contract or lease agreement, and this is usually for a 12 or 24 month period.
- Cable equipment requires a receiver for digital programs. Typically, upon termination of the service and disconnection, the receiver must be returned to the provider.
Costs and contracts
- Depending on the type of programming you sign up for, you may not be required to sign a contract for basic cable television service. It may only require a monthly fee and rental of equipment.
- Satellite companies may require high initial costs because installation is more complex. Larger cable packages with more features, satellite packages and telephone company television service packages will usually require the signing of a contract. Some providers offer discounts on equipment with the signing of a long-term contract, usually a period of 12 or 24 months.
- Read the details of agreement thoroughly before you sign. Early termination fees (ETF) are common in TV service contracts. Review the terms of any ETF because it may ultimately add to the cost of your TV service.
- Be sure to clarify how and when you will be billed. For example, many providers require that you agree to a monthly withdrawal directly from your bank account. While this can be convenient, sometimes a dispute may arise regarding termination of the automatic withdrawal. And be sure you keep track of any automatic withdrawals so as to avoid overdrafts of your bank account.
Choosing a package
- Once you have chosen a provider, you should review all of the packages and add-ons available. These options may include long distance telephone service, or HDTV upgrades and DVR upgrades to your television. Bundled deals may cost less overall, but make sure you are utilizing what you pay for.
- Consider the type of programming you will prefer to watch (sports, movies, children’s shows, etc.). Based upon your budget, chose a package that includes the programming you want.
- Be realistic about what you will watch so that you do not end up overpaying for channels that you will not use. Keep in mind that receiving HD channels will cost more.
- Be wary of promotional deals, as they always have an expiration date. Make sure to read the fine print to see when and by how much the price will increase, or when your access to certain channels will expire.
- Beware of offers of “free installation” or “free equipment.” Usually these offers require that you agree to a longer term contract. You may end up paying more for “free” equipment than if you paid for the equipment up front.
Early Termination Fees
Are you thinking about changing your satellite, cable or other television service provider before your contract expires? First, be sure to check with your service provider, or you may have to pay an Early Termination Fee (ETF). Many companies require customers to commit to service with them for a certain number of months, usually 12 to 24. If you terminate service before the expiration date, you may be charged a fee for early cancellation. The amount of the ETF varies greatly depending on the service, product and provider.
Ask about the cost of the ETF prior to signing any contract.
Research the reputation and service of the service provider to ensure their service will meet your entertainment needs.
Be prepared to commit to the service provider for one to two years. Also, ask about the cost of service without a long term obligation and without an ETF, especially if you may move within one or two years.
Ask the service provider if they have a policy of pro-rating ETFs. Pro-rating refers to reducing the amount of the ETF based upon the length of time remaining in the contract term. Not every service provider allows pro-rating of ETFs.
Ask the service provider if they allow risk-free trials. Keep in mind that although you may avoid an ETF with a trial period, other fees may apply.