What's This? FCC to the Rescue
For Angry Comcast Subscribers
Help Could Be On the Way
By Edward Shanahan
For the past several weeks, every time I clicked on one of my preferred cable channels, there was nothing but wavy gray lines. Technical problems, I assumed. But it continued. Channel 45 seemed to be kaput.
I enjoy Channel 45, C-SPAN 2 a good deal. It carries countless programs about books and writers, forums about politics and the media, live government hearings, perspectives on U.S, culture, past and present. It adds substance and depth to a medium totally lacking same.
Because the programming is provided by the cable industry there are no commercials. Wow, imagine that. Can’t say enough good things about C-SPAN and C-SPAN2.
But the cable industry giveth and the cable industry taketh away.
I finally called up Comcast, the very top dog among cable companies and the
recipient of a check from me every month for $102.64 for “standard” cable service and our Internet connection.
What the hell happened to Channel 45, I asked in a somewhat more diplomatic way.
The “customer help” person, who apparently responds to questions from Comcast’s monopoly subscribers throughout the Northeast, said C-SPAN 2 was removed from the “standard” service some weeks ago to provide “more band width” for High Definition cable. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Why was I not told I was losing my favorite channel? I was, she said, probably in a notice stuffed in a bill I received at the same time the channel was stripped from my service.
Will my bill be reduced because I’ve lost this fine channel?
No, but I can get a digital box to supplement my “standard” service and C-SPAN 2 then will be available along with lots of other goodies, including adult channels.
It will cost an extra $3.99 a month, I was told. How come I don’t get a reduction of $3.99 a month in return for loss of service? Can’t answer that, she said.
Why did I lose C-SPAN2 rather than give up any one of the remaining lineup of garbage channels, like Spike TV, Sci-Fi Channel, Animal Planet, TV Land, Travel Channel, the Golf Channel, HSN (as in Home Shopping Network), QVC, TV Guide Channel , CMT, MTV, VH-1, Great American Country, E!Entertainment, Cartoon Network, GSN/Leased Access, and so on and so forth? No surprise. C-SPAN 2 generates no revenue, just goodwill and what is that worth to Goliath?
And as a mere customer/subscriber I can’t choose. It’s take it or leave it.
This brings us to a somewhat surprisingly oisutuve move afoot by the former enemy of media consumers – the Federal Communications Commission – to rein in cable companies, which have grown richer, more bloated and even more arrogant in the wake of deregulation of the cable industry by Congress in 1996.
A recent article in the New York Times reported that even the Republican chairman of the FCC, Kevin Martin, is concerned about the consolidation of the cable industry, the steep increase in cable fees since deregulation, and the need for consumers to have more control over which programs they are buying.
The latter can be accomplished by allowing customers to choose the programs they want, rather than being required to buy either basic, standard, or expanded service. In other words, the viewer could order from an a la carte menu rather then be forced to the entire left or right hand side of the menu and pay a hefty price for TV nourishment they can’t stomach and thus don’t want to pay for.
Basically, new FCC rules to be issued will address cable rates, curbing cable companies growth by encouraging less expensive rivals, and expanding programming choices,. This can only happen, of course, if Big Cable’s well-heeled lobbyists are unable to torpedo these reforms. So it is not a done deal. Stay tuned.