FCC Gives Boston Go-Ahead To Regulate Cable Prices Again

It’s been 11 months since the mayor of Boston asked the Federal Communications Commission if he could pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top be allowed to regulate what cable companies charge in his fair city. Well, it appears the FCC Entmoot has finally wrapped up and Boston can once again rein in soaring cable rates.

Up until 2002, the Boston city government had been able to set limits on cable prices within city limits. But after RCN entered the market, the FCC allowed cable providers to set their own rates, figuring that a competitive cable market would keep prices reasonable.

But RCN never managed to make a noticeable dent in Comcast’s Boston customer base, and currently serves fewer than 10% of the city’s cable subscribers. As a result, Comcast rates skyrocketed in recent years, with the Boston Globe reporting an 80% increase over the last three years.

And yet, many of the towns immediately surrounding Boston were able to maintain control over cable rates. Thus, while Comcast customers in Boston were paying $15.80/month (slated to increase by 5% this year) for the most basic cable service, their pals across the river in Cambridge only paid $7.30/month for identical service.

In May 2011, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino filed a petition with the FCC, asking to give the city back its authority to regulate cable rates for the city’s 165,000 cable subscribers.

“We’re pleased that the FCC recognizes what we’ve been saying all along – cable isn’t competitive in Boston,” said Mayor Menino following today’s announcement by the FCC. “Comcast’s disproportionate rate increases on basic cable service put an undue burden on Boston’s working families, who rely on this service for essential local news and programming. They are upset and frustrated with increasing rates and a lack of choice in cable providers.”

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Wait, you can do that?

    /calls local congressman.

  2. zigziggityzoo says:

    Funny, basic Comcast here is $21… Scam artists.

    • 180CS says:

      I don’t know what mine are here, because my high speed internet is 30 bucks a month, netflix is 7, hulu is free, and various, ahem, websites, freely provide anything I can’t get on my two legitimate streaming sites.

  3. ThinkingBrian says:

    “…80% increase over the last three years” Damn what a bill, of course that I also feels like my families cable bill from Charter and yes I live in Massachusetts.

    • scoosdad says:

      Huh?

    • Yomiko says:

      When I had Comcast in the city of Boston from 9/06 to 9/07, we got basic cable for $8, because it cut our internet bill by $15. Apparently that trick doesn’t work anymore.

      Also, in the city, people tend to be in apartments. You only have one choice of a cable provider unless the landlord feels like getting the building switched or lets you have a dish put up for satellite. I was lucky, my landlady 07-08 let us put up a dish so we could get NESN at a reasonable rate and watch the Sox games.

  4. Cat says:

    “figuring that a competitive cable market would keep prices reasonable. “

    Hahahaha

  5. myktag says:

    Cable isn’t competitive anywhere. When there isn’t competition the next best option is regulation. Corporations without competition will undoubtedly gouge their customers as the customers have few options. When a company gouges its customers its customers should allowed to gouge it back, I say seize their assets and force Comcast to become a non-profit.

  6. Lethe says:

    “essential local news and programming”

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t be regulated, but really? I lived without cable for a number of years and didn’t seem to miss much.

  7. Lyn Torden says:

    Competition in any line of business is generally ineffective at lowering prices until you reach the point of about 6 to 8 competitors. This has been my broad experience for many businesses. However, for a few with very high cost infrastructures … e.g. utilities like water, gas, electric, telephone, and cable … that infrastructure cost being spread over fewer customers drives up actual costs.

    The business model of shared infrastructure under a separate well regulated corporation not owned by any service providers, however, can cure this problem. One infrastructure cost exists, instead of multiple. However, this won’t work well with utilities like water (where competing on quality) or cable/FiOS (because it’s a broadcasting model instead of individual lines). The old twisted pair can work, but that’s too limited in bandwidth.

    What is really needed is a new infrastructure to replace the existing one, where separate fiber strands to each home terminate at a central office (of the shared infrastructure company) and then the service provider each home occupant selects is connected to that home’s fiber end so they can provide the service. The shared infrastructure company would have regulated pricing so it’s all fair and square and they get a guaranteed ROI so that they can get investors at a lower ROI. Then the service providers can fight it out at a very low infrastructure cost.

    And bandwidth can go as high as 40 gigabit if you can find a provider ready to offer it.

  8. madrigal says:

    When I moved to an area that was able to get RCN, I was excited. It’s so much better than Comcast.

  9. sparc says:

    $7.30 a a month? i wish i was paying that little… mine is near $100 per month for just tv

    • Snoofin says:

      Well $7.30 a month is only for the most basic service that few people want. You usually only get NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, a local goverment channel and 2 or 3 shopping channels for that. Any decent package will be $50 or more depending on if you have a new customer rate or not.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        In Phoenix with Cox, the lowest service level available to most customers is $30/mo for limited basic cable. When I lived in OKC, I could get Cox limited-limited for just under $10/mo, but that’s not available here.

  10. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Basic Comcast here is going up to $19.95 plus taxes and fees as of May 1. And yes, the local franchise knows most of us have no choice other than satellite and we can’t get the local channels OTA. And no, they don’t bundle this with internet to make it cheaper. Asshats.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Oh, and they’re also replacing SPIKE TV with History 2. No more “1000 Ways to Die”.

    • FLConsumer says:

      Yes, digital OTA sucks with the way it’s been implemented in the US. They cut the transmission power of all the stations in this area when they went digital. I used to get all of the majors (NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX) and was able to pick up distant stations as well. Now it’s ABC and sometimes PBS, and that includes going from rabbit ears to a decent-size aerial mounted in the attic.

    • icerabbit says:

      Time Warner Cable has been doing the same little by little, it goes up every month.

      Did you know Big Cable is looking to eliminate (encrypt) everybody’s favorite locals in HD? (broadcast Clear QAM received by your digital tuner in your TV)

  11. MedicallyNeedy says:

    Regulate them lying to you! When you call to get a better price they quote your new rate and don’t honor it. They also mail you a letter saying “you promotion has been extended another 6 months” and it goes up anyway. They charge you a “plan change fee” when you try to correct what they screwed up.

  12. FLConsumer says:

    Funny, basic cable in Tampa is $68 after taxes. No boxes, no premiums. $68. Something’s very wrong when cable TV costs more than than an electric bill (think air conditioning) in Florida.

    • icerabbit says:

      Basic cable is ~$20 for channels 2-24 and Regular Cable is ~$45-50 for channels 2-69.

      I agree with you that cable is overpriced, hate their packages, bundles, …

      On the plus side you must not be using much electricity if your TECO bill is less than $65. I think the average family with hot water, cooking, electronics and A/C easily hits $100/mo.

      • FLConsumer says:

        Crappy 1980s construction, but all new mechanicals. New insulated ductwork, Japanese inverter ACs, mostly European appliances and a mix of professional and euro electronics (where OFF = totally off), Halogen/Xenon and LED lights. Not cheap up-front but the savings each month are well worth it. New ACs + ductwork paid for themselves after 26 months. I do like 30 minute showers though, otherwise they’d be even less.

  13. Jawaka says:

    How long until Comcast follows Verizon’s lead and doesn’t let people subscribe for their high speed Internet unless they also subscribe for cable television?

  14. Libertas says:

    Can ANYBODY really be sure what Mumbles Menino really says?

  15. kathygnome says:

    Everyone should keep in mind that this regulation is only for the LIMITED basic tier. That means a dozen or so broadcast channels and subchannels, PEG, and New England Cable News.

  16. scoosdad says:

    Well good. That may set a precedent that other cities like mine (near Boston) may follow with their provider.

  17. Raider Duck says:

    Back when were in Eugene, we finally got fed up with Comcast’s “But we’re TRYING to expand our lineup!” BS, and switched to Dish. Never looked back.

  18. JoeTheDragon says:

    To comply they may have to remove wgn and tbs from limmted basic.

  19. ganon446 says:

    The cost of doing business in MA is high as is they chase away any and all business and people there wonder why things are so high. Any job I have had we had a special department deal with MA customers or refuses to deal with them.

    You often need an interpreter to understand them in MA as well since their English dialect is harder to understand then someones English dialect from India

    • pgr says:

      What you really mean is the consumer has a few minimal rights in MA, as opposed to most states, and most companies have to work a bit harder to screw them over because of this fact.

    • Talmonis says:

      The CEO of Kabletown had decided that you will now have the privledge of wiping his arse. Make sure to get all the nooks & crannys when you do, or you won’t get your disdainful pat on the head you corporate sycophants covet so much.

    • kathygnome says:

      So you want LESS regulation on cable? Good luck with that.

    • jesusofcool says:

      What you really mean is that MA customers are difficult because we don’t just roll over and die whenever corporations attempt to screw us over.
      Also, not everyone in Massachusetts has an accent (I grew up here). In fact, very few sound like Mark Wahlberg in the Departed. And personally, I find people from the deep South just as hard if not harder to understand. What a completely asinine and uninformed comment.

    • finbar says:

      Dude, trashing on regional accents is hella lame.

      • ganon446 says:

        It’s not trashing their accent its the truth. A lot of people from MA do not realize that it’s very, very hard for people outside of their state and New England to understand them. Often they don’t understand this till they go to college out side of MA or the Military.

        Most of the country for example pronounces Worcester, ‘Warchester’ they do not pronounce it ‘wooster’

        In fact one job where we were training Emergency Roadside Service agents on dealing with people from MA. One person from MA was so hard to understand they needed someone from out of state to translate for them. In the call the person who was with the person needing help had to be explained to by their friend that people outside their state do not understand you guys.

        It’s not an insult just a fact. MA has one of the hardest understanding dialects in the English language. The hardest English dialect to understand that tops MA would be the Welsh from England.

        • McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

          It’s called ‘Wooster’. That’s not the accent. That’s what it’s called, and if you don’t say it that way it’s because you said it wrong, not because your accent is better.

          And I’d say the hardest dialect to understand is the strong southern accent I heard in Nashville.

          But then, that’s how accents work. They are hard to understand. And no way is Welsh the hardest. The working accent in Cornwall totally has it beat for out there.

  20. JohnDeere says:

    i pay over $20 for the very basic comcast service in middle tennessee. im just too far away to pick up with a $200 antenna, and i get fewer channels than i would for free if i lived in nashville.

  21. Tacojelly says:

    I want this everywhere. If I only have one or two choices of company in ANY given industry, I want regulations on price and how often they improve the infrastructure.

    • vorpalette says:

      +1

      My last two apartments, I was stuck with their POS on-site cable and internet service (complete with obsolete Charter equipment!) that was in a little shed in the back. No tech support or customer service, short of talking to the office ladies, who couldn’t answer my questions. My choice at this place is Charter or Dish Network…except we’re on the wrong side of the building for a Dish, and we’d still need internet.

  22. toddb says:

    “Lack of choice in cable providers”?? Hmmm…maybe if the towns would stop taking bribes…errr franchise fees… from the cable and phone companies to provide a single exclusive provider (aka monopoly) then we’d have competition. Oh, you say that since both provide the same service then it’s competition? When I see AT&T and Verizon or Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner all available in the same town then I’ll know that there is fair marketplace competition. But no town will allow that, because they love getting paid for ripping off their constituents.

    • kathygnome says:

      I’m sorry, but that’s simply not true. There are no monopoly cable franchises. NONE. They are banned by federal law. Most municipalities would love to have more cable diversity. The reality is, sadly, that other than very dense wealthy suburbs, the economics are not there for “overbuilders” to make a reasonable return, which is why you see RCN, FIOS, etc. in very limited areas.

      Franchise fees are based on a percentage of tv (not telephone or cable internet) fees and therefore would be collected regardless of whether there was one or twenty cable systems in the municipality. In general, more competition would probably mean higher revenues not lower. The vast majority of those funds are used for PEG programming, not for general use.

      Cable is a “natural monopoly” but not a legal one.

  23. speaky2k says:

    At my house with the cable company I have, basic (29 channels) is $20 plus taxes. The next tier up, which I have is $68 plus taxes but includes 80+ channels without a box or digital TV, if you have a digital capable TV Tuner (this is built into all digital TVs) you get all the low end digital channel package & the local stations in HD plus the music channels for a total of around 250 channels.
    The other cable company in the area doesn’t have a basic lineup, their lowest is an all digital block of 220 channels for $78 plus taxes and requires their TV tuners on all TVs (which you have to rent for $5-15/mo each), including digital TVs.

  24. tape says:

    Maybe cable not being competitive is partly YOUR fault, Menino. Verizon tried to bring FiOS into Boston and he put unreasonable restrictions like having to wire up the whole city for FTTH availability within a short time frame (I think a year). And of course RCN would theoretcially be an option but it’s only available in a tiny portion of Boston – they straight up won’t service my address.

    I’m insanely jealous of the cable/telephone co-op my parents get in Wisconsin. The service is great because the customers are owners.

    • Puppyclaws says:

      Menino doesn’t want the exact problem that is going on with RCN already to also happen with Fios, where they service a small area, and as a result Comcast gets to do whatever they want since there is some sort of theoretical “competition.” It’s not unreasonable at all, particularly given Fios’ reputation for saying they’re moving into an area on X date and then taking three times as long as they said to get in, if they ever do.

  25. GrandizerGo says:

    I was in CT visiting family, they have AT&T Uverse? What an awesome deal. They have a 4 channel recording DVR with more then 100 Hrs of HD available, Music out the wahoo, their phone rings? it shows up on the tv and tells you who is calling, the best things? They have the west coast feeds…Miss the start of a show? catch it 3 hours later, no problem. They have FAR MORE Channels then ComCrap has, and they pay LESS then I do for my cable in Boston.
    Cable only, no bundling. No phone, No Internet.
    I wish I could get FIOS though…