Cablevision Blatantly Lies To Subscribers As The FCC Twiddles Its Thumbs

Update: Cablevision responds.

Cablevision is lying to customers by claiming that the FCC will require all subscribers to upgrade to digital cable boxes in 2009. Digital cable boxes cost $6.50 per month, plus an extra $10.95 for digital service. Cablevision recently sent a letter to all boxless subscribers threatening to cut several channels unless they forked out a bundle of extra cash for digital service. When one of our family member called for an explanation, Cablevision shirked responsibility and placed the blame squarely on some crazy new FCC mandate. We called shenanigans and decided to call back and record our chats with several customer service representatives. Inside, the recordings of Cablevision lies and the FCC’s flaccid response.

Before we get to the recordings, let’s look at Cablevision’s fairly innocuous letter:

Here’s the deal: Cablevision—not the FCC—has decided to move several channels to their digital tier. To keep receiving the channels, customer will need to upgrade to digital service with a digital box. Customers who don’t pony up for the service lose the channels.

40 million American families don’t use a digital cable box. Assuming all cable companies use Cablevision’s rates, operators stand to pick up an extra $698,000,000 per month by convincing all 40 million families to shell out an extra $17.45 for digital service. That small piece of change is worth more than the yearly GDP of several small nations.

Cablevision is well within its bounds to charge whatever it wants for service. They can tell us we need a cable box, and that service will now cost $300 per month. That’s a freedom afforded by the market. What they can’t do is cowardly hide behind the FCC and blame their money-grubbing on the government. Let’s listen as they try to do just that:

We spoke with four representatives, each of whom blamed the FCC for forcing us to upgrade to digital cable. We asked one representative how this information was conveyed to the CSRs, and she explained that Cablevision had specifically trained them to point to the FCC.

Let’s be perfectly clear: the FCC decision has absolutely nothing to do with the channels Cablevision is taking away, nor does it require anyone to upgrade to a digital cable box.

Don’t believe us? Let’s see if we can find someone to refute Cablevision…. Maybe Cablevision is up to the task?

Looks like they know the truth after all. The transition to digital television will have no affect on Cablevision’s service.

We spoke with two representative at the FCC who claim that several cable companies have engaged in similar deceitful and fraudulent actions. According to the representatives, the Commission is powerless to take action. One even defended the cable companies, saying:

“Most of [the cable companies] are blaming it on the FCC. It’s easier for us to take it. We have broad shoulders, you know? We’re the ones who have to explain it to all the consumers anyway when they find the 800 number and then they start calling and asking us: “why is my cable company doing this to me? I want to file a complaint.”

Unfortunately, there are no mandates for good customer service. I wish there was! I would really like there for to be a mandate that says: “I’m sorry, but people on the phone at my cable company have to be nice to me and they have to tell me the truth.” I wish there was, but there’s not.

A mandate for good customer service couldn’t be enforced by the 82nd-airborne, but lying? Regulated companies should not be allowed to lie to their customers.

Thankfully, the bespectacled bossman helming the FCC takes a different view. Chairman Kevin Martin recently slammed retailers for lying about the digital transition, dishing out several million dollars worth of fines to Sears, Best Buy and Walmart. Why can cable companies lie, but not retailers?

We know that Chairman Martin is a good guy who likes consumers. Let’s go back and listen to the sweet consumer-protecting swan song he sung so graciously in our defense last year:

If the cable companies had their way, you, your mother and father, or your next door neighbor could go to sleep one night after watching their favorite channel and wake up the next morning to a dark fuzzy screen. This is because the cable operators believe that it is appropriate for them to choose which stations analog cable customers should be able watch. It is not acceptable as a policy matter or as a legal matter.

Kevvy was announcing that cable companies would be required to carry broadcast channels (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc…) until 2012, and not Travel Planet or RAI, which Cablevision is preparing to yank. The Chairman did, however, explicitly endorse our right to enjoy cable service without a box, and Cablevision’s right to require us to rent one:

…the Commission is not forcing consumers to purchase or lease a set top box to continue watching their favorite channels. This decision lies in the hands of the cable company. They can avoid the need for new boxes bychoosing to downconvert the digital signal into analog at their headend. This downconversion would permit analog cable subscribers to continue watching broadcast television just as they do today without disruption.

This isn’t the first time Cablevision has used the DTV transition to beat customers like cash-spewing pinatas. The cable giant was previously caught sending letters to prospective customers telling them that TV would disappear in 2009 unless they started paying $240 per year, despite the availability of $20 converter boxes that will keep the Price Is Right up and running.

Cablevision is clearly engaged in a pattern of deception and fraud. The FCC has a responsibility to investigate and admonish Cablevision for their abusive conduct. Predatory upseling simply cannot be tolerated in a responsibly regulated marketplace.

PREVIOUSLY: Cablevision Uses Digital TV Transition To Upsell Basic Cable
Sears, Best Buy, Wal-Mart And Others Fined For Not Warning Consumers About Analog Obsolescence
FCC Takes Action To Prevent Cable Companies From Dropping Digital Broadcast Networks From Analog Cable