Saturday, October 04, 2008

This Cable TV Thing Isn't Working

I don't know about you folks, but I've had it with my cable TV provider, Bright House, here in Indianapolis. The prices are outrageously high, the service is awful and the service you get for the amount of money you pay is far from being adequate. For months now, several stations fade in and out like satellite TV is known to do from time to time, except this happens every day. I contacted Bright House about the problem and they basically told me that I would have to pay to have a service technician come out if I wanted the problem fixed. Since yesterday morning, Indianapolis subscribers haven't had access to WISH-TV (CBS) because of a breakdown in contract talks with the cable provider over how much the cable provider will pay for retransmission costs. Apparently, the station is paid nothing by Bright House right now, which is surprising given how expensive their cable TV service is. WISH wants paid $2.3 million, which amounts to less than a penny per day per subscriber according to the Star. With WISH-TV off the air, subscribers will be unable to watch the Colts game on Sunday.

When I first moved to Indianapolis from Springfield, Illinois back in 1990, I was struck by how bad the cable TV service was and how expensive it was. Rex Early's book, "It's A Mighty Thin Pancake", sheds light on the cronyism involved when the City issued cable franchises to two companies back in the 1980s. Early explains the "rent a civic leader" process that unfolded after he was contacted by a government relations person working for American Cablevision, a subsidiary of Time, which wanted to acquire a cable franchise from the City of Indianapolis. "Their modus operandi was to set up a separate corporate entity of which they would own 80 percent, and the local yokels would own 20 percent," Early wrote. "Obviously, they wanted partners from the community who were well known and had some influence with the governing bodies that handed out the franchise." The American Cablevision group included such names as Otto Frenzell III, Frank McKinney, Jr, Al Stokely, Julia Carson, Larry Buell, Bill Crawford, Jack Dillon, Mrs. Alex Clark, P.E. McAllister and Gene Sease. The other cable franchise competitor, American Cablevision Group, had its own set of civic leaders. It included folks like Tom Binford, Eddie French, Bob Borns, Dr. Frank Lloyd, Gordon St. Angelo, Glen Swisher and Dave Knall.

The city council wound up handing out two cable franchises, one for the old city limits and one for the suburban areas of the county which was consolidated into the city under Uni-Gov. Later, the two franchisees would periodically make offers to buy out the local investors. Early doesn't say how much he had to pay to buy in, but the rumors are that the buy in price was very low for the local investors. Early says he later sold his 11 shares for $80,000 per share! I'm betting he paid no more than $1,000 per share, and I'm betting most of the money put up by the local investors was spent on lobbying efforts to grease the favorable action by the city council.

So you can see from the outset just how corrupt Indianapolis' cable TV franchise business was. It was driven by the need to enrich a few insiders without a care in the world for the service the cable TV companies delivered to its subscribers. I'm all for screwing over these cable TV companies here anyway we can. A couple of years ago, my homeowners association was prepared to boot out Bright House and enter into a contract with a satellite TV provider to provide TV and perhaps other services to our residents. We were advised that the deregulation bill going through the legislature would change everything. We were told that prices would come down and the services being offered would expand. What they didn't tell us was that any price reductions would be good for only one year and that the prices would ultimately be higher than ever. So much for the benefits of that deregulation bill. If there is any direct TV provider out there with a good deal to offer the residents of my homeowners association, please get in touch with me. I'm ready now more than ever to give the boot to Bright House. More homeowners associations in this city should do the same. Obviously, our city council doesn't give a damn. They're too busy collecting campaign contributions from the sleazy providers to care what we think.

21 comments:

dave_indpls said...

Try DirecTV, Gary. I recently switched because I was also fed up with cable. It's cheaper, and after having had it for about 2 months now, I've not lost signal once or experienced reception problems even during that horrible wind storm a few weeks back. Customer service is a little wanting, but what company excels at that anymore, right? The product is great, at least for me.

Advance Indiana said...

Thanks, Dave. In our case, because we are in a 6-story building, everyone has to switch to the direct TV provider if we choose that because we can't allow a single person to put up a satellite dish.

Vox Populi said...

I was always happy with Comcast. I take it that isn't an option for you?

Advance Indiana said...

No, Comcast has the areas outside the old city limits.

artfuggins said...

You have an additional problem in that your building is in a historical district. The Historical Preservation Commission does not permit installations of dishes even on rooftops where they cannot be seen. I am waiting for ATT's Unverse as my friends who have it are quite please with it.

Citizen Kane said...

First, thanks for the reminder about Rex Early's book. I've been meaning to read it.

However, although I believe that the cable companies are worthless (even more particularly with respect to internet service, but that is more a national economic development issue), at least I don't have to sign a crazy contract with some other service provider, plus U-verse isn't universally available.

My biggest issue with Brighthouse is the dysfunctional DVR they provide that decides to function when, if and how it wants to, with out regard to how it has been programmed or not. It is now routine for us to have to unplug the DVR every day or so, to reboot it (turning it on and off does not suffice) to get it to re-establish our requested recordings.

Despite that, my anger about the WISH situation (and definitely not because of the Colts) is directed towards LIN-TV who are trying to extort money from the subscribers.
If they think that viewers are going to switch from cable just because of WISH-TV, they are dreaming (at least I'm not). Frankly, the fact that they are trying to extort money from the viewers for free TV irritates me to no end. They should be paying Brighthouse (and any other companies for carrying their signal) companies for carrying their lousy station to more households than it would otherwise be available to, thus allowing them to have higher advertising rates. They think just because they carry those money grubbing, taxpayer fund stealing, low-priority, loser Colts that we are going to be desperate enough (in this tight economic climate) to wily-nily switch to some other service on a whim because we might miss a game or some other show. I hope Brighthouse tells them to take a flying leap. I would be more likely to get rid of Brighthouse and switch to an antenna if they did pay Lin-TV for carrying WISH. Just because they can extort money from me doesn't mean that they should.

I am still pissed off (when I lived south of Indy) that my Louisville stations were taken away from me because all the TV stations decided that they did not want to compete with nearby markets anymore and got the rules changed. And then the rules were changed again to allow the TV stations to extort money from viewers for free TV. One day these station owners are going to wake up one day and realize that all of their viewers are gone. And it will be these types of actions that will drive them away. Give people a chance to change their habits and they will and pretty soon they will do other things without missing a beat. They are right; there are many alternatives out there and many of them have nothing to do with watching TV.

Flynn said...

Dave, I had Comcast, and then went to Direct TV. I couldn't wait for my one year contract to run out so I could get back to Comcast. Every time a storm approached my satellite TV service would go out. It wasn't more than a couple dollars cheaper than cable and the service was much worse. I like Comcast a lot. I know that's not an option for Gary though.

Lord Peter said...

Your description of having to pay to have a BH technician come out is very interesting. I have BH cable internet (but no cable service from them), and on two occasions when I was having service difficulties, they sent out technicians who ended up climbing the lines behind my house and "replacing filters" to fix my internet. There was never any discussion of having me pay for the service.

The difference, of course, is that there are any number of other companies eager and able to provide internet service to me.

Have you checked into AT&T U-Verse? That might be a non-satellite alternative that would work for you.

bobisimo said...

Bright House sounds awful. I can't believe you can't, at least, get Comcast. It's not great, but they don't charge you to fix their own problems.

If you're happy with your internet connection, there're all sorts of ways to get your TV - from "shady" like bittorent to legal alternatives like Hulu.

And with download schedulers, you can get everything queued up and waiting for you. :)

Sean Shepard said...

The residual ill effects of monopoly control over a territory. Having worked in telecommunications for many years I have experienced, sometimes at great personal harm, the challenges in dealing with organizations that have or established and entrenched themselves based on government granted monopolies over services or territories (more reasons I oppose government intervention in free markets).

Your article here has reminded me that after numerous years as a Comcast customer, that I have intended for some time and should probably seriously consider looking for alternatives. I'm tempted to try AT&T Uverse, but the thought of sending more money to AT&T makes me ill.

DirectTV or similar services, as far as I know, lack the high speed Internet options and even if they offered them at sufficient speeds, round-trip to geostationary satellites (around 22,500 miles up) would introduce about a quarter second of latency.

Advance Indiana said...

lord peter, There's that whole other issue every time the power flickers, which seems to happen a lot downtown for some reason. You have to wait several minutes for the box to re-establish the signal. The problem with some of the channels fading in and out was present when the technician installed my new box. He said it would correct itself, but it hasn't many months later. The technicians for Bright House are independent contractors. I think the service you get varies substantially between independent contractor. For some reason, the problem I have is confined to Channel 12 (WTHR)and Channels 20-31. Every time I tried to watch the Olympics this summer, the signal kept fading in and out, making it impossible to enjoy watching the games.

Aryq46254 said...

As others have stated, definitely check to see if AT&T's U-Verse service is available for you or not. If it is, jump on it. We had it at our last apartment but unfortunately its not available at our new place (yet, but its coming)! The minute its available we'll be making the switch away from Comcast back to U-Verse. We had U-Verse for ... approximately 6 months, and we LOVED it. The signal looked GREAT, we never had a second of downtime and we paid A TON less than we paid Comcast for the exact same services. *sigh* I miss my U-Verse. I HATE COMCAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay sorry, had to get that out.

Michael said...

I had comcast until jan of 2002 went I installed Direct TV. I could not be happier. For all the talk of the satellite going out when it rains.... I have to laugh. Maybe if a strong rain cell goes directly over your house, the transmission goes out... and only for a couple seconds to a couple minutes. In the six years I have had DTV that has happened when I really care about the program maybe 2-4 times. When I had Comcast, it would go out for hours nearly EVERY time there was a steady rain.

I got Direct TV so I could watch Texas Tech Basketball. And if you want a provider that pretty much guarantees that you have access to every new network that comes along from Day One..... Direct TV is the way to go.

Direct TV (with HD package) is like a DVR. Once you get it, you will wonder how you ever got by without it!!

artfuggins said...

Since I am a downtown resident like you, there is this problem with the lights flickering and then everything has to be reset.....I put a 30 minute battery backup on my computer to avoid the shut downs..etc....I rarely have a power outage but these flickerings are driving me crazy. Also why do some people not understand that if you live in a Brighthouse area that Comcast is not available. It is not as if we choose BH over Comcast....that is our only choice.

spooknp said...

As long as we are willing to support "conservative" Wall St. Republicans, expect no changes. It seems only the Socialist Party candidate Barak Obama and others are willing to regulate businesses given a monopoly via government regulations. It is high time for a national a la carte law where you get to pick and choose what stations you want and your bill is based upon your choices.

spooknp said...

I don't know what folks are talking about U-Verse being cheaper than Comsuck. We are able to get U-Verse, but it really isn't _that_ much cheaper. In fact, it basically comes down to that if we get U-Verse, we would pay an extra $5/month but we would get four boxes, one being a DVR, and around 10 or so additional movie channels (Not HBO, Showtime, etc.). Given how sometimes the movie channels don't have anything worth watching, that is kinda a wash. U-Verse is only a lot cheaper if you get VoIP home phone, because instead of paying around $50/month, you are then only talking $20/month, so if you bundle everything with U-Verse, that is where you win. I am getting ready to call Comsuck to tell them I need to disconnect. I will give them the opportunity to match the U-Verse cable/internet deal. I hear they are more than willing to price match.

MissouriDemocrat said...

I get a kick out of this person and that person loving there provider while the next person hates the same provider for the exact reasons the other person loves it. Interuption issues prevail with all providers. I want ATT U-Verse too, however I was then reading that they have a list of complaints filed with the Indiana Regulators for lousey service and lousier customer service. I spoke with a real ATT intallation tech who said the issue for my complex is the Union Contract talks. He said ATT wants to pay them the same for everything ATT offers for installation but it was hour allotments for their service thats the problem. He said they want 8 hours exclusively for phone repair, the add in 2 hours here and there for satellite dish repair, then 2 hours for internet repair, then 2 hours for TV repair. He said you can't get 16 hours work in an 8 hour work day. So while ATT tells me U-Verse is not yet available, their tech tells me oh yes it is but our pay isn't, I am still stuck with Comcast. Comcast doesn't bother me, I have no serious complaints with them. All customer service is a problem these days. I manage the affairs of a SSI disabled person. My only contact with BH has been for his affairs. He moved and was living formerly in a secure building. We cancelled BH cable and they continued to bill him for 3 months because their techs didn't have the brains to go to the apartment complex office to ask to be let into the TV rooom at his building. Thats stupid, make the customer pay because they have so little brains? Regardless of your Cable provider, all complaints are about the same, the services are about the same, outages come and go. The real question is why have we Americans become so impatient? If another Depression comes we as a society will not know what to do without our designer jeans and Internet services. Alas! That's another whole political discussion.

Advance Indiana said...

Perhaps this discussion reveals the fact that if you live in the suburban areas, you probably have more options and get better service. Not sure about the availability of AT&T's U-Verse at this point in my area, but I know I inquired on several occasions in the past and it was not being offered to people in my area while you could get it in the suburban areas. I know the pricing is the same as the cable TV companies. They offer you a great deal for about a year and then the price skyrockets like an adjustable rate mortgage. It seems all of them are offering nearly identical pricing, which means the competition thing isn't working. Only the satellite TV providers seem to offer good pricing.

Flynn said...

Michael,

I can't think of the last time my Comcast service went out. With Direct TV, it's not that it goes out every time it rains, it would go out before any significant storm (thunder, lightening, etc.). It typically didn't go out in the middle of the storm but when it was approaching. It probably happened 12 times a year, and was generally out 5-30 minutes.

ProCynic said...

Flynn,

I switched from Compost ... er, Comcast Cable to DirecTV in 1995 and have not looked back. DirecTV will occasionally go out with a big storm, but not with even a fraction of the frequency that Comcast did -- for no apparent reason. Comcast is too expensive, does not have the channel selection DirecTV has and has customer service worse than a North Korean gulag.

Zim said...

Please do me a favor. Contact your local government and get a copy of the franchise agreement for your cable system.

You need to read the agreement and understand what the required service levels are. They should be spelled out in the agreement.

Please email me if you find this. I've been looking for it for a day or so now as part of a discussion about the retransmission issue for your local channel.