We Are Not Impressed By New York City's Proposed Cable Consumer Bill Of Rights

New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson has proposed tying a Cable Consumer Bill of Rights into the 10-year franchise renewals Time Warner and Cablevision are expected to sign later this year. The proposal would force cable operators to disclose information about their expenses and service goals—which sounds nice and important on paper—but wastes an unrivaled opportunity to end the cable operators’ most hated practices.

The major provisions of the “Cable Consumer Bill of Rights” are:

    1. Customer Service Transparency

  • Cable companies will be required to collect and report detailed information about consumer complaints, and to follow-up with complaining consumers within 30 days to ensure their problems have been resolved
  • Companies must also collect and report detailed information about service outages by borough and community district, and submit a quarterly Plan of Correction for communities that are routinely subject to service outages
  • Companies must also improve meaningful consumer disclosure; including providing consumers with a full and accurate list of all service tiers, sub-tiers and channel offerings for their franchise area
  • Cable operators must provide convenient service centers that are easily accessible by mass transit. We recommend one service center for every 500,000 customers served
  • Ensures privacy protection for the customer which prohibits the cable providers from sharing data on customer’s internet usage and television viewing habits
  • 2. Cable Rate Transparency

  • Cable companies must provide needed transparency about their cable rates so that consumers know what percentage of each bill is allocated to:
  • Cost of content, capital expenditures, system maintenance, administrative expenses and profit
  • Independent programmers affiliated / non-affiliated with cable or broadcasting companies
  • 3. Independent Arbitration

  • Create an independent arbitration system to help cable companies and independent programmers efficiently resolve disputes over access, rather than denying consumer access to popular programming. (This mechanism would avoid the type of blackouts that consumers have experienced such as when Yankees and Mets programming were not available to many cable subscribers for lengthy periods of time
  • 4. Annual Cable Consumer Report Card

  • Cable companies must publish and distribute an annual Cable Consumer Report Card so that consumers can easily:
  • identify their cable company’s performance over the previous year,
  • access cost and service information,
  • view improvements that have been made and service outages that have occurred, and
  • view complaint ratios by community board
  • The availability of a report card as well as where to obtain the information (web site, phone number) must be included in all promotional materials issued by the providers
  • This annual report must also disclose the existence of exclusive contracts that cable companies make with Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs), which prohibit residents from choosing among cable providers

We love disclosure. Disclosing costs and service goals is nice and good, and always makes reading our bills that much more interesting, but ultimately, disclosure amounts only to words on a page.

Information in New York City’s monopolistic marketplace leads to anger and frustration, but not action. Say a consumer finds out that their monthly cable bill is $145 plus 3 squids because their building signed an exclusive contract with Time Warner, who allocates 99% of those funds (including the squids) to shareholders, and not infrastructure improvements. What’s the consumer supposed to do? Cancel their service and go with…. right, nobody.

The franchise renewal represents the city’s best shot at forcing cable operators to meet strict customer service goals. New York can look to Montgomery County’s franchise agreement with Comcast for inspiration. Under that agreement, Comcast agreed to:

  • Answer the phone within 30 seconds and transfer the customer to a live human in an additional 30 seconds.
  • Fix service interruptions within 24 hours if no work is needed inside the home, and 3 days if access to the home is required.
  • Provide a 10% per day credit if the technician is unable to repair the connection during a scheduled service appointment.

It’s not like Time Warner or Cablevision are about to leave New York City if we demand decent customer service. Hell, if Montgomery County can negotiate with Comcast, you’d think New York might have just an ounce of leverage.

The franchise can’t be signed without the approval of the Franchise Concession and Review Committee. The Mayor, Comptroller, and Borough Presidents should stand up for New Yorkers and write a real Cable Consumer Bill of Rights, one that will provide the level of customer service all New Yorkers deserve.

And then use that agreement to extract even stricter standards from Verizon.

Comptroller Thompson Unveils “Cable Consumer Bill Of Rights (Press Release) [NYC Comptroller]
(Photo: Dr. Hemmert)

Comments

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  1. humphrmi says:

    im in ur cable company
    raising ur rates

  2. se7a7n7 says:

    How about a la carte channel pricing so I can stop subsidizing a bunch of junk channels that I would never watch?

    cable company: because then it would cost you more for some reason?!?!?

  3. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    *yawn*

    Cable Cat is not impressed.

  4. It’s the channel producers that demand certain tiers/channels are available together, not the cable company. Why do you think NFL has had such spats with cable companies, they want to shove other channels out of basic tiers for their product.

  5. parad0x360 says:

    @se7a7n7: Agreed. My cable bill is over $100 all so I can watch the 8-10 channels I enjoy…what a deal!

    Im really close to getting rid of cable and just getting all my tv’s from the net. I cant afford it anymore.

  6. eimajuno says:

    I really want a la carte programming. Its not worth it to me to pay $50+ for basic cable for a ton of stations that I do not watch. Not to mention with Time Warner, the minimum you have to pay for TV is $50 with no premium channels. What a deal. Not to mention there customer service and office workers can’t seem to fix a problem by any reasonable amount of time.

  7. bohemian says:

    Cable companies CAN provide a certain level of ala carte programming. They are just blaming it on the providers and forcing everyone to fork over tons of money for channels they never watch.
    Go look at how big dish providers break out channels into packages & ala carte. You start to get a really clear idea of what is grouped together by providers.
    [www.callnps.com]

    Cable companies could provide what would function as smaller packages and alacarte programming they just don’t want to.

    It is just insane. Our bills have gone up 60 bucks in the last six months. We have ditched a bunch of things and are thinking about moving to a 4dtv/KU dish. If they raise digital cable rates again it would end up being cheaper. Ironically our broadband is only $30 a month.

  8. xthexlanternx says:

    @se7a7n7:

    If you had ala carte pricing, the channels you want would be super expensive (like 10$ a month for ESPN) and the channels you watch every once in awhile would be like 49 cents a month. The reason they bundle channels like they do is so that they can afford to produce stuff for channels that aren’t exactly mainstream friendly. I’m trying to think of an example, but basically you would be paying the same for less channels if they stopped doing the tier thing. They are bundled for a reason.

  9. MelL says:

    @xthexlanternx: Not if the cable companies had the balls to stand up to the providers. If they simply banded together, they could make things happen, like doing away with this whole bundling nonsense.

  10. xthexlanternx says:

    @MelL:

    Ok say they did “stand up to the providers.” All the providers are going to do is completely cut off the content that isn’t making enough money and only create programming for the few channels that are big money makers. So you’ll have like 70-80% less channels maybe. I guess it could be good for some, but I’d say less overall programming would be a negative for most.

  11. MelL says:

    @xthexlanternx: If the providers want to cut their own throats, let them do it. And if they can’t compete, or their products can’t compete, let them sink. Right now, they’re knowingly bundling their refuse with the channels they know are in demand.

  12. xthexlanternx says:

    @MelL:

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: It is my opinion that either way the price is going to be the same. They aren’t going to lower the price because they like making as much money as they are and they know that people are going to pay it. So basically, its just asking do you want more channels or do you want less channels for the same price?

    I respect your view I just don’t think they’d lower prices if they stopped bundling.

  13. MelL says:

    @xthexlanternx: I think it would really depend on how long such a fight would take. Long enough, the public’s attention would be likely to turn elsewhere and the cable companies could maintain the status quo, pricewise. But if the spotlight stayed on them, I think pressure could be brought to bear to press them to pass those savings downward to the customer. It’s certainly a big ‘if,’ though. Cable could always turn right around and blow off the customers.

  14. Suttin says:

    @xthexlanternx: but god forbid a provider has to come up with quality content for a channel. Its sad that when I think of MTv, I think of “Sweet 16″

  15. Myotheralt says:

    @Suttin: Mtv used to have music

  16. catnapped says:

    @myotheralt: That’s the whole point. Everyone keeps saying “providers will drop channels left and right if forced to” but as it is now, many of what were niche channels are showing the same mainstream crap that the others are anyway.

  17. Trai_Dep says:

    85 ESPN channels, 18 Disney ones, 385 shopping/televangilist (same diff, bigger hairdos). Yet is there even one Kitten Channel?! Where my LOLSCATZ!?
    For this I demand strict governmental intervention. RAWR!

  18. DeltaPurser says:

    All nice and good, except it’s a MONOPOLY and they can do whatever they want to in the end… I can’t put up a satellite where I live, so I’m stuck with Comcast. No matter how crappy their service is, my choice is to keep paying or cancel and be without TV.

    If they want a REAL solution, there should always be TWO companies – nothing like stiff competition to ensure good service.

  19. Carencey says:

    @Trai_Dep: I’d probably watch that channel!

    @DeltaPurser: But…Cable competes! It says so right in the ads that the cable companies pay for, so it must be true, right?

  20. AD8BC says:

    @bohemian: @xthexlanternx: @eimajuno:
    A la carte is a great idea, in principle, and would work great if everything was all-digital. The cable companies could program the digital boxes to allow or disallow specific channels pretty easily, just as they do now to allow only the channels in the tier that you bought.

    The old analog system works differently, and you also need to understand that if you have digital cable, your channels under 100 are most likely analog anyway–which is nice because if you have an additional set that doesn’t have a digital box, you can plug it into another cable jack and have your analog programming on it.

    The analog signals are send over the coax to your distributor box, either at the curb or on the pole. The way that the cable company allows or disallows “chunks” of analog channels is by adding filters to block what you haven’t purchased. They can really only block segments of channels — they cannot allow or disallow certain analog channels in an a la carte fashion.

    And I really don’t want them to go all digital — I have a digital HD cable box in the living room with DVR, in the family room I have a standard digital cable box, and I just use the analog on my bedroom TV and my computer TV card. I would hate to have to rent additional boxes for those sets that I use rarely,