Choosing between cable and satellite services

Phil Dotree
Yahoo! Contributor Network

A great broadband Internet connection can make a big difference in your home entertainment options, and if you buy your TV and your Internet through the same provider, you can often save a lot of money.

Most Americans use cable or satellite for these services. Here's what you need to know to choose between the two.

The advantages of cable

Cable TV works through a shared network of cables run by a single service provider. Because cables can carry a large amount of data, they offer excellent Internet connectivity. Most service providers offer cable Internet download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

There are 8 megabits in a megabyte, so this means that an Internet user could download almost 12.5 megabytes of data each second. However, actual connection speeds are limited by a number of factors, so a super-fast 100 Mbps might not ever provide its full speed, especially if your home network has several computers.

According to the National Cable and Television Association (NCTA), nearly 126 million Americans have access to high-speed cable Internet. About 130 million Americans have access to cable TV. Obviously, this means that many Americans don't have any sort of cable access. If there aren't any cable lines near you, you won't have cable as an option. Some cable services also charge significantly more than satellite providers, but this varies from area to area.

Usually you'll only have a choice of one cable Internet company, since multiple cable lines running through the same neighborhood would make Internet access cumbersome and complicated.

The advantages of satellite

One of the major advantages of satellite is that the technology works especially well in rural areas. Satellite TV and Internet services don't require cable lines, although you will need a satellite in your yard or on your house. Modern satellites work fairly well in poor weather, but you might still see occasional outages during thunderstorms. Your satellite will need a clear shot of the sky in order to pull in a signal.

If you need exceptionally fast Internet services, you'll probably need to combine your satellite connection with a DSL line. DSL is a special high-speed line that can provide decent download speeds of around 5 Mbps , which should be sufficient for Web browsing, email, and video streaming. While satellite companies sometimes offer non-DSL Internet, their connection speeds typically max out around 1 Mbps . This is sufficient for light Web browsing, but 1 Mbps isn't enough for serious Internet users. Some new forms of DSL offer faster download speeds, but in general they don't compare to cable connections in this respect.

Other factors to consider

Satellite and cable providers have different menus of available channels, so if you have an affinity for a specific channel, be sure to check availability before you sign a deal.

Price is another important factor. You should compare bundled Internet and TV packages from all of the providers in your area. Ask about long-term plans and have a number in mind when comparing Internet speeds. Think about how you use the Internet and your TV when you choose a package to avoid overpaying for your services.

Your home's location and your usage habits will play a major role in your decision, but by comparing as many options as possible, you can keep your costs down while locking in great entertainment and Internet connectivity for your home.