Basic cable is legally defined as cable service that retransmits local broadcast signals, so almost all basic cable packages include local channels for the area of service. Additional features are dependent on the cable provider, but they may include certain national cable channels and on-demand services.
While the legal definition of basic cable is straightforward, there are sometimes different tiers of basic cable within a particular cable system. For example, cable provider Comcast provides two levels of basic cable service as of 2015. The Limited Basic cable package comes closely to the legal definition of basic cable, offering only local broadcast channels, local government channels and education channels. The Expanded Basic package includes between 30 and 50 additional channels depending on the market. It is a good idea for new subscribers to determine which basic cable package they are ordering to avoid surprises with higher than expected bills or missing channels later down the line.
The availability of additional features with basic cable varies by provider and sometimes requires the rental of extra equipment. For example, Time Warner Cable currently offers on-demand video services to basic cable customers. However, renting the cable box to access these features costs an additional fee on top of the price of basic cable. In some cases, package deals may be a less-expensive option than basic cable for customers who want access to additional features of their cable service when considering these fees.