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Understanding your TV bill


Headshot of Dave Schafer
Researched by
Dave SchaferContributing Writer
Headshot of Bri Field
Reviewed by
Bri FieldAssigning Editor
Updated 3/2/23

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It’s no secret that TV bills can be confusing. The list of fees and charges can stretch a mile long, even when you’ve subscribed to a single service. It can be frustrating to see a bunch of charges and not know exactly what you’re paying for.

To help clear the confusion, we’ve put together this guide to understanding your TV bill. It covers all the most common charges you might see. While your specific bill might have different names for sections or charges, it’s likely that any fee you have questions about is on this list.

Common TV charged include regular monthly charges, premium charges, and taxes and fees

Regular monthly charges

Your regular monthly charges typically make up the bulk of your TV bill. These charges include the price of your TV package or bundle, rented equipment, and any ongoing add-ons or upgrades that you opted into, such as extra premium channels or sports packages. They usually appear at the top of your monthly statement.

Service package

The largest charge on your bill is likely the service package you signed up for with your provider. This is the core product you’re paying the provider for, so it makes sense that it’s the most expensive item.

Prices for a TV package usually range from $30 to $120 per month, depending on the provider and how many channels you want. Some are definitely more expensive than others—if you need to make a switch, check out our guide to the best cheap TV providers.

Add-ons and upgrades

Your bill may also include regular charges for add-ons or service upgrades you signed up for. These include extra channel packs, like the $10 per month Sports Pack offered by Optimum. If you purchase premium channels like HBO Max or Cinemax, those will also show under your regular monthly charges.

If your TV service is bundled with internet service, you might also see add-ons for unlimited data or other internet features. Finally, you may see a DVR fee here, though it can also show up under a separate equipment section.

Equipment and service charges

Here is where you’ll find charges for your set-top boxes and DVRs. Some providers, like Xfinity, charge for all but the most basic option, and only the first is free. Other providers give you decent one at no charge and only bill you for additional boxes.

You might also see the DVR fee under this section. DVR fees can vary depending on how much storage you want—many providers offer a few different tiers of DVR storage. This charge generally won’t be more than $20 per month.

If your TV service is internet-based—like WOW! or Astound—you may also see charges for modem, router, or Wi-Fi extender rentals (if you're tired of seeing these charges on your bill every month, check out our guide to choosing a modem and router).

Sales taxes

You might see state or local taxes on your bill. These are taxes that you, the customer, are responsible for paying, and TV providers are required to collect them and forward them to the government. How much you’ll pay varies by location. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon have no sales taxes. If you live in any other state, you may have statewide or local sales taxes on your bill.

Junk fees

Junk fees are any mandatory fees added to your bill that don’t improve your service in any way. They often have vague names, are mis-categorized as government fees, and are only explained in the fine print of your service agreement. While most are technically regular monthly charges, we think they deserve a special callout so you can watch out for them.

Broadcast and regional sports fees

These fees are charged based on the content in your plan. The Broadcast TV fee is a charge for access to local affiliate stations like ABC, FOX, and CBS. The Regional Sports fee is for access to regional sports networks where you can catch your local teams’ games. Examples of these networks are Bally Sports and NBC Sports.

These fees can be rather large. The two combined can be over $30 per month with some providers—on top of your plan price. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way out of these fees, though some providers limit the regional sports fee to customers who purchase a sports package add-on.

Pass-through regulatory fees

The FCC (Federal Communication Commission) requires telecommunications companies providers to pay several fees. Although TV providers themselves are responsible for paying them as a condition of conducting business, some pass these costs on to customers in the form of separate, mandatory fees on their bill.

Because providers make these fees mandatory for customers and often hide them in the fine print of your contract, they could also be considered junk fees.

You might see these fees on your bill:

  • Universal Service fee: Goes toward the Universal Service Fund, which supports nationwide affordable telephone and broadband service, especially for low-income households, schools, libraries, and rural healthcare providers.
  • 911 surcharge or E-911 fee: Funds emergency dispatch services. The amount varies by state, but typically falls between $0.20 and $4.
  • FCC fee or Regulatory fee: This fee is charged per subscriber the provider serves. It’s often around $1.
  • Franchise fee or PEG channel fee: Paid to local governments for using public lands to access infrastructure. It’s often around $10.

TV providers that charge junk fees

TV streaming services with no junk fees

Nearly all TV providers charge some kind of junk fees, but these streaming services don’t:

One-time charges

Beyond your regular monthly fees, your bill might also include one-time charges for items like installation or movie rentals.

Installation fee

Many providers charge a fee for installation. These typically range from $50 to $100 and will appear on your first bill. Not every TV provider charges an installation fee, but most do. However, you can often get the fee reduced or waived entirely with certain promotions—check before ordering!

Activation fee

Some providers charge an activation fee in addition to (or in lieu of) the regular installation fee. These are usually in the ballpark of $20–$25. Fortunately, this isn’t as common as installation fees. However, don't be surprised if you see it on your first bill.

Early termination fee

If you’re receiving your final bill from your TV provider, and you had to sign a contract, you’ll likely see an early termination fee (ETF). ETFs are typically based on how much time is left in your contract term—the earlier you cancel, the more you’ll pay.

The exact amount of the ETF varies among providers, but it usually falls between $12 and $24 per month remaining in the contract. That means if you cancel near the beginning of your term, the ETF can be over $200. Fortunately, many TV providers are moving away from contracts, which means ETFs are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Pay-per-view and on-demand purchases

Most TV providers offer pay-per-view content, and many now also offer digital movie rentals. These fees will usually appear as separate items on your bill. Movie rentals are typically a few dollars, but pay-per-view content varies widely and can be quite expensive.

Late fees

Many, if not most, providers charge late payment fees. If you miss your monthly payment deadline, you’ll be charged—usually a flat fee of about $10. There’s usually a grace period of at least a few days, but not always. Autopay can help avoid late payments, and many providers offer small discounts (usually a few dollars off your monthly bill) if you use it.

Other one-time charges

Your bill may also include other one-time charges, particularly if you bundle with internet or phone service. These can include overage charges for exceeding your data limit or Mediacom’s strange Wi-Fi certification fee (seriously, what is that?).

Which companies have confusing TV bills?

Unfortunately, confusing TV bills are common across many providers. Between junk fees, confusing discounts, and unitemized bundles, it can be hard to know exactly how much TV is costing you each month. But a few companies stand out as having particularly confusing billing practices:

  • Xfinity: Several states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington,  have filed lawsuits against this company for charging unfair or misleading fees.
  • Optimum: We’ve seen multiple customer reports of confusing charges on Optimum bills. A complex list of charges and discounts sometimes create a math soup that can obscure exactly what you’re paying for.
  • Spectrum: This company is known for its frequent fee increases, especially its broadcast and regional sports fees.

Unhappy with your TV bill?

While we hope this guide has helped demystify your TV bill, every TV provider has their own billing quirks, and these might vary from place to place. If you’re not sure what’s on your bill, don’t be afraid to call your provider and push for clarity.

If you don’t get the answers you want, consider switching to a TV streaming service—or several—instead of cable or satellite. These services typically have few hidden fees and straightforward bills, and it is a huge reason people are cutting the cord.

Finally, if you’re looking to reduce your TV bill, check out our guide on how to save on your TV bill.

If it’s time for something new, enter your ZIP code to find TV providers in your area.
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The people behind our research
We believe the best information comes from first-hand customer experience and methodical research by subject-matter experts. We never source information from "content farms," and we don’t generate content using artificial intelligence (AI). You can trust that our recommendations are fact-checked meticulously and sourced appropriately by authentic, industry-recognized people.
Contributing researcher
Headshot of Dave Schafer
Researched by
Dave SchaferContributing Writer

Dave Schafer is a freelance writer with a passion for making technical concepts easy for anyone to understand. He’s been covering the world of gadgets, tech, and the internet for over 8 years, with a particular focus on TV and internet service providers. When he’s not writing, Dave can be found playing guitar or camping with his family and golden retriever, Rosie.

Contributing reviewer
Headshot of Bri Field
Reviewed by
Bri FieldAssigning Editor

Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.


Endnotes and sources