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How to get cable for free (legally)

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With cable packages averaging between $55 and $250 each month,1 it’s no wonder that live TV services lost more than 5 million customers in 2023, according to the Leichtman Research Group.2,3

If you want free cable TV or the cheapest cable TV you can find, keep reading to learn how you can get connected (legally) right away:

Free ways to watch TV

No, we are not talking about getting a big, old TV and watch network television!

While there is no 100% free way to view traditional cable TV — delivered to your television through a cord from a cable TV provider — you can watch the same network television shows cable offers for free via an app on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. 

You can also buy an HD TV antenna and watch free cable shows on a number of websites:

Free cable TV app

The FREECABLE TV app allows you to stream more than 2,000 programs without a cable login or credit card. The free app, available for download on iOS and Android devices, has high ratings (4+ stars) on the App Store and Google Play.

The app allows you to watch:

  • Network TV shows
  • Weather updates
  • Local and national news 
  • Movies

You can watch live TV on networks like FOX, NBC, and TLC or browse for specific shows or movies, including comedy, kids and family programming, and sports.

If you have wireless internet at home and a smart TV, this YouTube video by Digital Trends shows how you can mirror what you are watching on your smartphone to your TV. You can also mirror content using an Amazon Firestick, Roku Streaming Stick, or another streaming device.

In the r/Frugal subreddit, Reddit users discuss other ways they watch TV for free:

Government assistance for cable TV

While there are no government programs that specifically give you access to free cable TV, there are two Federal Communications Commission (FCC) programs that can help you pay for internet service and a device to watch streaming services if you qualify:

  • Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP): Provides free or low-cost internet service with a discount of up to $30 per month for eligible low-income households (up to $75 on tribal lands) and a one-time subsidy of $100 to buy a laptop. 
  • Lifeline Assistance Program: Provides discounts to qualified subscribers for cellphone, broadband internet, and bundled voice-broadband service of up to $9.25 each month for low-income subscribers (up to $34.25 per month on Tribal lands)

As of February 2024, the ACP is not taking new applicants, and funding is set to expire in April.4 However, you can still apply for Lifeline through the Lifeline National Verifier, or request a mailed application at 800-234-9473 or [email protected].

Also, check out our posts on how to get free internet and find free wifi and how to get a free laptop or free smartphone.

Cheap and low-cost cable TV options

If you want to save money on cable TV, here are a few options to consider:

Buy an HD TV antenna

In June 2009, the FCC required all U.S.-based television stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting. Known as DTV (digital television), all programs are broadcast with an over-the-air (OTA) digital signal. This means you can buy a high-definition TV antenna to watch those OTA programs.

To see what OTA network channels you can get using an antenna in your area, enter your zip code on the FCC DTV maps page. In most areas, you’ll be able to access major networks like ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, but you won’t get premium cable channels like HGTV or TLC.

HDTV antenna pros and cons


  • One-time cost (no monthly bill)
  • Inexpensive (start at $10)
  • Indoor antennas are easy to set up
  • Access to local TV station channels


  • Not as many viewing options as premium cable
  • Outdoor antennas are harder to set up
  • No tech support if you have a problem
  • Basic TV program guide

Types of antennas

You can get either an indoor or outdoor high definition (HD) antenna. Indoor antennas are much cheaper, typically between $10 and $30. Outdoor antennas will cost you $30 or more, though they usually provide a stronger signal, especially if you live far from broadcast towers.

You can buy an antenna at a local retailer like Walmart or Best Buy or purchase one online.

These are a few HDTV antennas available on Amazon:

GE Indoor Antenna – $10.99

Free cable from GE Indoor Antenna.

Gesobyte Amplified HD Digital Antenna – $29.90

Free cable from Gesobyte Amplified HD Digital Antenna.

PGOFBUO 880+ Miles Range TV Antenna – $57.59

Free cable from PGOFBUO 880+ Miles Range TV Antenna.

GE Outdoor HD Digital TV Antenna – $38.98

Free cable from GE Outdoor HD Digital TV Antenna.

Antennas Direct ClearStream 4V TV Antenna – $123.72

Free cable from Antennas Direct ClearStream 4V TV Antenna.

How to choose the best HD antenna

To figure out the best HD antenna for your TV, consider:

  • Price: If you don’t have a big budget, start with a cheap indoor antenna to see what stations you can get, and upgrade if needed
  • Reviews: Read what other buyers are saying about the antenna you want to buy
  • Coverage area: Check your FCC DTV map to find out where you live in relationship to TV broadcast towers to help you choose the right antenna for your coverage area, short (100 miles or less) or long range (1,000+ miles)
  • Ease of setup: Indoor antennas are usually flat and easy to mount inside your home, while an outdoor antenna may require mounting on a roof or siding, as well as mounting hardware to keep it secure
  • Cable length: Some indoor models have short cables and may not be long enough to reach your TV in their ideal position (look for models with a removable cable so you can install a longer one if needed)

Also, if you still have an analog TV, you’ll need to buy a digital converter box in addition to an antenna. The antenna will connect to the digital converter box to deliver the signal to your TV. Digital converter boxes start around $30 and can also be found at a local store or online:

ZJBOX Digital TV Converter Box – $36.98

Free cable from ZJBOX Digital TV Converter Box.

Magnavox DTV Digital to Analog Converter – $52.99

Free cable from Magnavox DTV Digital to Analog Converter.

Add a streaming device

You can connect your TV to a streaming device and access free TV apps. Streaming devices will have some free TV apps preloaded and give you the ability to add apps you want to use to watch your favorite shows or movies.

Streaming device pros and cons


  • One-time cost for the streaming device
  • Affordable device options
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Lots of options for different budgets
  • Built-in channel guides for TV apps


  • Limited access to local channels
  • Subscription fee for some TV apps
  • No access if your internet is down

Types of streaming devices

There is no shortage of streaming devices to choose from. And while there are some very affordable devices, like ONN (Walmart’s brand) that cost about $20, some options like Apple TV 4K are well over $100. 

The good news is that any device you choose is a one-time cost, and there are free TV apps like Pluto and Amazon Freevee preloaded or available for download. You’ll need to check with your preferred free streaming app to see which streaming devices are compatible. 

These are some popular streaming devices, which vary in price based on the retailer and model:

Also, some cable companies offer free streaming boxes if you sign up for their internet service. For example, Xfinity provides a XUMO streaming box for its internet customers. It does require a one-time activation fee of $15. 

Check with your local cable provider to see what they offer.

Check the electronics you already own

You may be able to access free TV apps or add them to the electronics you already own. Check your smart TV, Blu-ray player, smartphone, tablet, video game console, or other devices to see if you can download free TV apps.

Keep an eye out for discounts on cable TV

If you want to buy a cable TV subscription, you can contact local providers and ask about any discount programs or introductory rates they offer, including those for:

  • College students
  • Low-income households
  • Veterans and servicemembers 
  • First responders
  • Teachers
  • Seniors
  • Association memberships (like AARP or AAA)

Also, check with your employer to find out if there are discount programs for employees to get cable TV or home internet for streaming devices.

Negotiate with cable TV companies

If you already pay for cable TV, call your provider and talk to them about lowering your bill. You may have to mention canceling service to get to a retention specialist, who is authorized to provide special deals to keep your business. You can also compare options at other cable providers in your area, as companies tend to give new customers the best deals.

Free alternatives to cable TV

There are several streaming services that give you free access to live TV channels and on-demand shows and movies. Most of these services are supported by ads, and their live TV offerings are not traditional network TV channels but rather specialized channels that show previously aired content.

To start watching, you just need to create a free account on a web browser or through an app on your phone or streaming device. 

Amazon Freevee

  • 400+ live channels
  • 12,000+ free on-demand movies and shows
  • Live channels include QVC, CBS News, Entertainment Tonight, ABC News Live, and LiveNOW from Fox


  • 70+ on-demand channels
  • No live TV options
  • Thousands of free movies

Google TV

  • 800+ free channels
  • Allows you to access content from more than 10,000 apps in one place, including Pluto TV, Tubi, and any streaming services you pay for (like YouTube TV)

Pluto TV

  • 250+ live channels
  • Thousands of free on-demand movies and shows

Redbox Live TV: 

  • 160+ live channels
  • Thousands of free on-demand movies and shows
  • Select titles also available to rent

Sling Freestream

  • 500+ live channels
  • 40,000+ free on-demand movies and shows
  • Live channels include ABC News Live, Barstool Sports, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and Scripps News


  • 200+ live channels
  • 100+ local news channels
  • Live channels include ABC News Live, LiveNOW from FOX, and NBC News NOW

Xumo Play

  • 300+ live channels 
  • 10,000+ free on-demand shows and movies
  • Allows you to access content from more than 250 apps in one place (including free and paid streaming services)

YouTube Free with ads

You can watch free shows on YouTube by clicking on the Movies & TV menu and selecting the “Free with ads” category.

You’ll also find that some television networks show free episodes of the shows they air. Here’s a list of networks that show free content on YouTube:

  • ABC
  • FOX
  • Nick Jr.
  • PBS
  • PBS Kids
  • The CW

Check out these other free and helpful resources:

Help for single moms: 16+ resources$500 monthly single mom grant
Government assistance10+ charities that help single mothers
Free money for billsEBT cash benefits
EBT on AmazonEBT discounts
Free appliancesFree air conditioner
Free gift cardsEnergy assistance
Smartwatch from insurance


  1. “How Much Should I Be Paying For Cable TV?” Feb. 20, 2023.
  2. “Major Pay-TV Providers Lost About 5,000,000 Subscribers in 2023,” March 8, 2024. Leichtman Research Group.
  3. “Major Pay-TV Providers Lost About 1,730,000 Subscribers in 2Q 2023,” August 15, 2023. Leichtman Research Group.
  4. “The FCC is Taking Steps to Wind Down the Affordable Connectivity Program” Jan. 12, 2024. FCC.

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