CABLE CORD CUTTERS, UNITE!

5 Nov

 

Holiday gifts from your cable company ?

Playwright George Bernard Shaw ordered his epitaph to read “I knew if I stuck around long enough, something like this would happen.”  Exactly, but the “something” in this case, is the price of cable TV.

The reality is most of America is addicted to television programming. There’s something for everyone out there and the big guns like Comcast and Direct TV, and maybe Time Warner, as disastrous as that deal might be, know they’ve got you. You’ll give up something–anything before you relinquish that remote. But now you’re starting to realize you’re paying a lot more for it than you did ten years ago.  Would you like to pay even more? You may not have a choice.

"Go to the light, Carol Ann. No, wait.."

“Go to the light, Carol Ann. No, wait..”

Cable, satellite companies (DISH, DIRECT TV) and Internet providers are taking steps to make up for trickling revenue in the face of streaming competition from Smart TVs, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, Apple TV and Sling Box that will eventually cause big red numbers on the balance sheets.

As more of us start cutting the cable cords, it’s likely our internet services bill or bundle will increase, most likely in some stealth manner. Dare you to try getting an explanation from your Internet provider, which in many cases, is also your cable company.

The cord cutters are on the rise. According to Variety Magazine, the total residential video revenue for American cable operators “is projected to fall from $57.7 billion in 2016 to $55.0 billion annually in 2026” as more cable users turn into cord cutters. It doesn’t sound too bad on paper over a decade (about .5 of a percent a year) but you know corporate lives for a hefty bottom line, not a dwindling one.

No need to feel sorry for them. SNL Kagan Research predicts a 13% rise in broadband subs for these same cable companies so they’ll also take in “$11 billion in additional cash from residential broadband over the same time frame.” On their end, broadband operating costs are far more profitable than TV.

albert-finney-mad-as-hell-2016-09-27-at-10-12-43-am

Like Albert Finney’s character in the movie Network, I am mad as Hell! And I’m not going to take this anymore!” And neither should you.

BTW, you can watch Finney’s full rant, a classic monologue that is still relevant today  (from 1970) on YouTube at https://youtu.be/WINDtlPXmmE

These days, I rely more on Twitter than TV for news. At least the #Twitter platform gives you various viewpoints and sufficient information without having to watch a flock of alleged experts yelling over each other, speculating about what could or could not happen. They know no more than we do. It’s all guesswork.

Speaking of guesswork, that’s where I am right now with this latest communique from Comcast.–our Internet provider under the name XFINITY.

cmd-blog-comcast-2016-10-08-at-10-22-12-amcmd-blog-terabyte-2016-10-08-at-10-22-37-amSo let’s break this language down.

“Effective November 1, 2016, your XFINITY Internet service will include one terabyte (that’s 1,024 GB) of data usage per month.”

“With a terabyte of data you can stream between 600 and 700 hours of HD video, play more than 12,000 hours of online games, or download 60,000 high-res photos in a month.”

What does “will include” mean in context? Is it automatically included, whether you want /need it or not? If you don’t use a terabyte, does your bill remain the same? Or is it included, and you have no choice but to use it or lose it? Most important, how much would you expect to pay for all this? This could use some “claireification.”

I tried reaching Comcast four times by phone, twice on-line. Forget phone contact. Their automated voice has limited communication skills and zero listening aptitude.

cmd-blog-comcast-2016-10-08-at-10-23-58-amWait, there’s more. This portion of the notice reads: “For the past three months, your average data usage was only 183 GB. Based on your usage history, you can still stream, surf, game, download and do whatever you want to do online, worry free.”

But I am not worry-free because the message isn’t clear. “I can….” but at what price? More than I was paying before? How much more? Hard numbers are not explained in this letter. Does that mean everything remains the same for me since my data usage is so low? Am I going to get a full terabyte whether I want or need it or not? If I go to the FAQ section under the link provided, it appears the answer is yes. You just have to check from time to time on your usage, and/or XFINITY will send you a courtesy e-mail.

Here’s my big issue with all of this. The provider changes its terms and the consumer has to do all the work to make sure the provider is not ripping you off. Also, the FCC allows cable providers to charge you a month in advance. Naturally, the service you receive that month has glitches and fall-outs; programs don’t record or they record the wrong program. Where are my $$ adjustments for the programs I’m paying for and can’t get? Just use On Demand, they tell you. Sure, great. Except I can get Episodes 3, 4, and 5 but not the Pilot or Episode 2.

Case in point: we have Direct TV as a “cable”/satellite provider for TV. The bill is outrageous but we’re stuck with the contract until Spring, 2017. As you may know, some time ago Direct TV became part of the AT&T “family.” Their Internet service is U-Verse.

In July, 2016, we were fed up with Xfinity Internet (poor connectivity and slow or not available) , so we made an inquiry with AT&T about U-Verse. They talked us into a less expensive package. We made an appointment.  But their installation guy never showed up so we called to cancel. AT&T set up a U-Verse account anyway, and started billing us for both Direct TV and U-verse. So we started getting double-billed for Direct TV (we already had a bill from them) AND we were being billed for U-verse which we never got. Whaaa!

We spent more than six hours on the phone with at least a dozen different representatives (not counting hold times) and no one could give us a decent explanation. One of the reps ended his call, saying “I don’t know what to tell you. If I tried to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand. It will just all come out in the wash” and hung up.

On the first round of calls, we were assured they would delete the U-verse account and make necessary adjustments. Then two weeks later, we got the same bill—only higher—because we did not pay the U-verse bill from the previous month, primarily because we don’t like paying for service we don’t have or have already paid for.

Two weeks ago, we spent another two hours on the phone with a series of disconnected people who obviously have no info from the previous rep who made the transfer. By now, U-Verse had sent us to a collection agency that was calling every morning at 7:45 (which BTW is illegal; 8:00 is the official start time to begin the dunning)

So, back to the same process all over again. Four transfers and five redundant stories later, we finally got a rep named Liz. (They never use their real names and you’ll never get a last name: security issues) It took two and a half hours but she finally resolved the issue. Tweet pic for Liz at AT&T

Whoever Liz is, she deserves a medal for courtesy, patience, persistence and resourcefulness. For now, at least, she gets props on my Twitter feed.

The problem is there are very few people like Liz in the customer service realm and few consumers have enough time to spend two-plus hours on hold.

It’s all a legitimate racket. The air waves used to be free. You wanted more than three stations; you pay. It’s 2016 and by 2026, your rates will be off the hook.  I encourage you not to wait until these issues become too politically embroiled to surmount.

Write (don’t bother with a phone call) to the Federal Communications Commission at 445 12th Street SW Washington, DC 20554. And get mad as Hell. “You have to get mad.”

While researching remedies for this debacle, I found this information from the FCC for low income users of the Internet. It’s a press release under this link:

https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-modernizes-lifeline-program-digital-age

To learn more about the Lifeline program for low-income Americans, visit https://www.fcc.gov/general/lifeline-program-low-income-consumers.

But on my end, the link is broken. Why am I not surprised.

As always, your comments are appreciated. Thanks to all who have subscribed. I will eventually get around to thanking you personally. Meanwhile, please follow me on Twitter @morricles. If you don’t have a Twitter account, set one up (it’s easy) and stay in touch. I can even walk you through some basics.

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