Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Public access to public access matters

I'm not renewing my subscription to Charter's cable services when I move into my new apartment this week. After years of rate hikes, deceptive sign-on specials, and their push for the terrible so-called "Video Competition Act", I've decided to just give up. I don't want to deal with them anymore.

Still, it really pissed me off when I read about Charter's plans to move public access channels up into their digital tier of service.
Without a contract between Charter and Madison, the cable company was no longer required to keep the City Channel on channel 12 and chose to move it into a new "Public Affairs Neighborhood" that would include Wisconsin Eye and C-SPAN. As part of Charter's digital service, the City Channel will still be available to basic and expanded cable customers, but a cable digital converter box from Charter is required. Charter will provide the device for free for six months, after which a $2 monthly charge might apply.
Great, so now in addition to stripping PEG funding, they're going to move all those pesky public channels up into the deep, dark recesses of their digital access tier.

The act was supposed to allow for greater competition and lower prices, but a new study released shows that that's not really the case. In fact, the opposite is often true, and people are having to pay more for a service that, more and more, doesn't include their public access channels.

This is ridiculous. The airwaves were established as belonging to the public, with cable companies and stations leasing them out with the understanding that they must devote part of their programming and service to the public well-being. Public access channels bring valuable coverage of local politics, news, and culture--things that are otherwise poorly represented on other stations. Like good local newspapers, local stations are part of the essential framework of an open and informed society, providing a non-corporate, cheap/free means of dispensing information to citizens.

Speak up and let Charter know that this move, and its various other offenses, will not be tolerated: contact the state's Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128 or online.

h/t: Caffeinated Politics.


jen x said...

Moving the public access and city offerings up to the nosebleed channels will also make them inaccessible to folks like me with older TVs. Unless one has a digital TV, as far as I know the channel spectrum stops at 99. But I think I'm still stuck with them for internet access, since the DSL in my nabe is useless. Grrrr.

I hate Charter, I hate Charter, I hate Charter. There, I said it and I feel better.

Palmer said...

Cable TV does not use the airwaves so cable networks are under no obligation to the public interest. Still, it'd be nice if they served it.

And I'm with ya - I am moving as well and will be without cable TV after the move.

Jesse said...

Cable will soon go the way of the music industry and the radio stations. Lack of foresight and taking customers for granted will have them whining about lack of subscribers in a couple of years. I dropped cable two years ago and have managed to somehow still see all of my favorite television shows. Drop 'em, you'll never look back or regret.

As busy as you are, I'm surprised you have it to begin with.

Emily said...

Palmer - I always get confused as to what's what with public airwaves vs. cable, etc. But yeah, it's still lame.

Jesse - The only reason I had it before was because my roommates were insistent upon it (plus cable internet is mighty fast). But I'm actually pretty pysched to be rid of it.

John Foust said...

Palmer, our governments have regulated off-air and wire-based media in different ways. Cable certainly does use the public right-of-way for its wires, that's why subscribers are passed along a (generally) 5% "franchise fee" tax that goes to your municipality. Although Act 42 zapped local franchise agreements, the fee remains, as well as requirements to carry public access.

Here's what I posted elsewhere on this topic, near and dear to my heart. This proposed move has many harms to the public interest, including emergency management and schools.

Jonathan M said...

I too will be joining the ranks of the de-cabled in a few days, for many of the same reasons. Just watch out for the next few months after cancelling... once after a move where I canceled my service, I racked up almost $500 in unpaid bills unbeknownst to me. They just keep charging you without actually sending a bill, and then out of the blue they call to threaten you with collection. If you're on automatic payment, they just keep taking the payments for months after your service ended, and are very slow in giving the money back when you call them out on it. (When I canceled, they actually owed me $13 in credit for the remainder of my last billing cycle--yeah, like I ever was going to see that $13).

This isn't isolated behavior either... I've heard many similar horror stories from friends and co-workers who've dumped Charter. So beware!

Emily said...

Thankfully the old service wasn't in my name, but I'll warn my roommate. That doesn't surprise me in the least.

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madison Guy said...

Good for you! We dumped Charter a long time ago when we no longer had a teenager in the house. Have heard so many nightmare stories from friends -- especially the ones who got snookered into bundling their phone service as well. We've been pleasantly surprised by how much cable content streams for free on the net. DSL isn't perfect and dealing with ATT is no picnic, but they're far better than being stuck in Charter hell. Talk about an industry -- and a company -- that's killing itself through greed! When their demise comes, it will be richly deserved.

Killing said...

We're dumping Charter cable in the next few months. $150!? I don't think these companies (along with Satellite) should be able to lure customers in with low pricing, then jack up the billing 3-6 months into service. It's ridiculous. I wish Charter would just go away.

Emily said...

I wish either Charter would see some serious competition, and that they'd also make it possible just to subscribe to their internet service, without having to get TV, too.

I'm going with TDS for my internet now--they're not perfect, but in my experience they've been a lot better than Charter (plus I don't have to get cable TV).

Anonymous said...

Hello. I find your blog very interesting. As far as I know Charter Cable specializes in telecommunications services. I saw the customers’ feedbacks about the company on this great site www.pissedconsumer.com. I think that a company should provide quality products if the prices are quite high. It is not an issue with Charter Cable.

John Foust said...

Charter announced today that they will "dual illuminate" the public access channels, leaving them on analog at new channels 95..99, at the same time creating the dozen-channel "Public Access Neighborhood" on digital 979..998.

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