Are you paying too much for local TV channels?

Chances are, yes. Especially if you have Comcast. Our Signal Pro Jason unearthed this article at billgeeks that really brings to light the huge amount of money that cable companies charge for local channels. Just Comcast customers pay about $2 billion in “broadcast fees.” TWO BILLION DOLLARS for something that’s available to 90% of their subscribers for FREE. Think about that.

Of course, we all know about cable companies and how they love to pile on the fees, but in this case it’s possible that Comcast isn’t even getting to keep any of that coin. They’re probably passing on a lot of it to TV station owners. That’s right, in case it’s not clear, TV stations charge cable companies for something YOU can get for FREE, and then the cable companies charge YOU!

Is this fair? Is this legal?

No, and Yes. It’s not fair. It’s not fair because today’s digital broadcasting is much better than the old analog service. There was a time when the cable company’s biggest sales tactic was “you get crystal clear reception.” Today, with digital TV and a modern antenna, you can get great reception on dozens of channels FOR FREE. A lot of people just don’t know what they’re missing.

But yes, it’s legal, and I’ll explain why. At one point there was a law called “must-carry” that said that cable companies were required to carry every channel which was available for free. This changed a few decades ago, because cable companies started putting their own commercials into local TV, meaning TV stations weren’t getting ad revenue.

The doctrine that replaced the original “must-carry” rule goes like this. A TV station owner gets two choices.

(1) They can demand that the cable company carry their channel, but the TV station owner can’t charge anything for the channel.

(2) They can charge whatever they want for the channel but the cable company isn’t required to carry it.

Guess which one they pick? Of course station owners are going to want to charge for their content, and they use the excuse that they can’t charge as much for advertising and need to make it up somehow. So they charge Comcast, and Comcast charges you, and the station owners get the money.

None of this really seems like the way free TV should work. It sounds like a shell game where the only loser is YOU. So what can you do? If your cable company doesn’t let you “opt out” of a local channel fee, well I say you should opt out of them! Get an antenna from and start enjoying free TV. The cost of the antenna will probably be less than one month’s cable bill. That’s the only way to stop this vicious and unfair practice. It’s your TV, you deserve it for FREE!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.