For the first time ever, television-watching Americans are paying more for cable than for satellite service. To top things off, cable delivers less satisfaction for its higher price.

A study by J.D. Power and Associates found that the average household spends $49.62 a month for cable, while satellite costs are averaging $48.93. But the trend really tells the story: Since 1998 the cost of satellite has increased 8%, while cable service has rocketed up 41%. The biggest reasons for cable's increased cost, according to the survey, are upgrades and additional features, such as digital service.

On the one hand, cable companies like Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSK), Cox (NYSE:COX), Time Warner (NYSE:AOL), Cablevision (NYSE:CVC), and Adelphia can be happy they've managed to extract 41% more out of our pockets. On the other hand, they are still steadily losing business to DirecTV (NYSE:GMH), Dish Network (NASDAQ:DISH), and other satellite operators.

Over the past five years, cable's market share has fallen from 68% to 60% of households, while satellite's has risen from 7% to 17%.

Despite deceiving advertising about satellite's reliability -- the cable industry would have you believe you'll lose your satellite picture every time the wind blows -- DirecTV and Dish Network ranked first and second in overall customer satisfaction. For factors such as performance, reliability, and cost of service, it seems cable can't compete with satellite.

If you're paying close to the average for either type of service, realize you're shelling out about $600 a year for the privilege. You might want to explore ways of cutting back... perhaps by dropping a movie channel or two or even reverting to the most basic plan.

After all, do we really need ESPN XXII: The All-Lumberjack Channel?