TIME WARNER CABLE’s “Great New Rate” will cost you!

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Dec 27, 2014 No Comments ›› admin

By Lynn Woolley

time-warner-cableThere is nothing scarier than a letter in the mail from Time Warner Cable. Every time I receive one, my stomach turns, and I walk slowly from the mailbox dreading the “good news” that the envelope promises.

I know it’s going to cost me money. It always does.

If it seems like I have an ongoing feud with Time Warner — I do. I routinely drop by the local office protesting the ubiquitous rate hikes that come in the mail disguised as “great deals.” Sometimes, I succeed in obtaining a temporary promotional rate; last time, I did not succeed and I got mad and stormed out the door. And I pay them what they want me to pay them.

It’s Time Warner, DISH, or DirecTV or rabbit ears. If I want FOX News and college football on cable, I have to deal with one of these companies – though there are emerging services and technologies that may help. But right now, I’m stuck with Time Warner and in any disagreement, they have the upper hand. So last week, when I got my latest letter, I cringed.

We’re pleased to extend to you anther special offer.

That was at the top of the letter. It was even personalized.

Dear Lynn,

We hope you’ve been enjoying your special monthly promotional rate. Currently, you pay a total of $84.98 per month which includes your promotion and any additional services you’ve ordered. As this promotion is set to end soon, your next bill would reflect the current standard rate of $139.73 per month.

OK. But $139.73 per month is more than I will pay for dozens of channels I never watch and a cable hookup that works most of the time. Fortunately, TWC is giving me a deal without my even having to ask. They are sooo good to me.

The “good news” is that they are sticking me with a big rate hike but not as much as they could. I’m only going to pay $96.23 a month. Lucky me.

But wait – this is only a “promotional rate” that expires next December. At that point, I’ll get another Good News letter. I cannot hide the fact that I despise Time Warner. I also despise DISH and DirecTV even though I’ve never dealt with them. Why? Because they are essentially monopolies that they have more power over me than I have over them. I’ve looked at the two satellite delivery systems and they’re no better than Time Warner.

Rat in a typical pose.  (Art:  Stephan Pastis)

Rat in a typical pose. (Art: Stephan Pastis)

The comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” routinely satirizes cable companies.

The writer/artist of the strip, Stephan Pastis is a comic genius. His strip has me rolling on the floor laughing on a daily basis – and his episode from Sunday, December 21, 2014 was a classic. Pastis’ villain in the strip is “Bombast Cable” – which rhymes with “Comcast” which is about to acquire Time Warner. Joy. When a ginormous cable company swallows a gigantic cable company, I’m sure my position as a cable peon will be further diminished.

Stephan Pastis – you are my brother in cable hating.

In this episode, “Rat,” who is somewhat bombastic himself is calling up Bombast Cable to cancel.

But Bombast has a “retention program” and tries to cut him off at the pass. The jerk that is manning the customer-service (CS) desk demands repeatedly to know why Rat wants to cancel. Rat says it’s because he doesn’t want it anymore. The Bombast rep insists that he can “fix” whatever problem there might be. Eventually, in frustration, Rat informs the CS rep that he has a trained ninja assassin stationed at the rep’s cubicle – and the ninja does not like Bombast’s customer retention program.

Final panel: Rat says, “Cable’s cancelled.”

Rat tries to cancel his cable service in "Pearls Before Swine" on December 21st 2014

Rat tries to cancel his cable service in “Pearls Before Swine” on December 21st 2014

Pastis has got cable companies nailed. No matter what you do, they charge you more. Rate creep is eternal. And they FORCE you to pay for shopping channels, foreign language networks, and other garbage like Current TV that many people don’t want and never watch. But THEY have all the power.

Here’s how it works.

Cities hand out franchises and make big bucks by granting the use of municipal infrastructure. Ask your local city officials why there is only ONE cable company and see if you can get a straight answer. Comcast and Time Warner are so huge – remember, Comcast already owns NBC – that they can bribe members of Congress into doing whatever they want. What other answer is there for the pending and almost-assured approval of the Comcast-Time Warner merger? Comcast logo

The merger is bad for customers – make that terrible, horrendous for customers. And it creates a giant company that will have power approaching that of the government itself. Understand, giant companies do not merge in order to hire more people, give you better service and provide lower costs to you. They merge for “economies of scale” – that means firing a lot of people. Cable rates will go up again and your CS rep on the phone will not much care what you think.

The early TV model was that networks and local stations provided free content to the public. In return, we watched TV commercials and bought products from sponsors. Today’s model is a money-churning machine that charges us outrageous rates and still forces us to watch commercials – in fact more of them than ever.

Cable sells commercials in local markets while the cable networks sell at the national level. Cable companies sell subscriptions and internet connectivity and keep going up up up. Cable TV is almost literally a license to print money. Beyond that, marginal cable networks that could never make it in a free-market environment are kept afloat by our cable payments.

There are business models that would work better for the consumer – but they will be hard to get with enormous cable companies controlling Congress and the Justice Department. They include:

• A cafeteria plan where people can simply purchase the networks they want to watch.
• A back-to-over-the-air plan where ESPN, CNN and FOX News would be carried on local stations. Most areas could support forty to sixty stations. Why not?
• Competition. How about dozens of cable companies competing for our dollar – and we get to choose?

These things will never happen. For now, the answer is to wean yourself from the cable. Cut the cord and go back to rabbit ears. I admit I have not cut the cord yet – but I keep thinking about it. And I keep seeing newspaper columns about how many people are telling the cable company to stick it.

Modern digital antennas actually provide a great picture – and each of your local stations offers three digital channels – all over the air and free. You won’t have FOX News, but you’ll have several programs to choose from. There are services like Netflix and Roku that stream some of the shows we all like. Try them. Try anything.

Otherwise, you will pay and pay more and more. Your letter from your cable company is likely in the mail right now.

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