local cable company, Comcast, was one of several companies that
recently made decisions to remove popular channels from packages
while not providing any true explanation to either viewers or the
Federal Communications Commission.
At the top of viewer complaint lists was that the fewer channels
didn't cause a lesser monthly bill. Citizens are finding out that to
get back the channels they always paid for, Comcast is now socking
them for an extra $14.95 a month for a digital box. The straws that
broke the local viewers' patience seem to be when the locally
popular National Geographic and SoapNet channels were taken away
late last year.
Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin, in his last hours
on the job, also thought the current practice is not appropriate and
accused the cable industry of raising rates while diminishing
services. Martin added that companies had been refusing to provide
information his office required to explain what they were doing.
An Associated Press article reported that the Federal
Communications Commission is fining nine cable TV operators for
attempting to thwart its investigation of a practice in which analog
channels were transferred to a more expensive digital tier, leaving
some customers without access.
In a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, Martin in his
last full day in office, said that cable operators had exhibited
"contempt" for the commission by not providing full information
about their practices, as ordered. "The cable operators' refusal to
provide the commission full information has delayed our
investigation and inhibited our ability to examine allegations,"
stemming from nearly 600 complaints, he told the Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The cable operators receiving fines were Comcast Corp., Time
Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications
Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Bright House Networks, Harron
Communications LP, Midcontinent Communications Inc. and Suddenlink
Fines range from $7,500 to $25,000 -- totaling about $500,000 --
and some companies also were told to issue refunds to customers
within 90 days for failing to give a 30-day notice about the channel
[to top of second column]
In October, the FCC asked 13 cable operators to provide more
information on their practice of migrating channels to digital. The
agency was concerned that customers who subscribe to less-expensive
tiers of analog service, such as basic cable, will have access to
fewer channels because some have been moved to the digital lineup,
even as those subscribers' bills continued to rise.
Cable companies want to move analog channels to digital to free
up bandwidth so they have more room to add high-definition channels
and other content. It is not related to the national switch to
The FCC said most of the cable companies it fined had provided
incomplete or evasive answers, or even refused to answer some
questions. Some, such as Comcast, said they needed more time to
comply with the inquiry and questioned the legitimacy of the FCC's
Comcast declined to comment and referred questions to the
National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which had no
Cable operators saw Martin's last-hour action as a final jab at
the industry with which he had hostile relations. "We were a bit
surprised. On his last day, the chairman took his final shot at
cable companies," said Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public
policy at Midcontinent. He said his company would "beg to differ"
with the FCC's allegations and would appeal the fine.
Time Warner Cable said it disagreed with the finding and will
appeal. Suddenlink said it has fully complied with the FCC "as
circumstances allowed" and increased the number of analog channels
offered within the time studied by the FCC.
It was pointed out in TV Week that even after adjusting for
inflation, cable rates have jumped 50 percent since 1992. And we
still can't find anything worth watching.
[AP; LDN staff]