Cable Advisory Doings

Last night Fairfield hosted the Area 2 Cable advisory Council meeting and I was impressed by the turn out and disappointed by Cablevision (no surprise).

On our agenda was the issue of a Senior Discount. This is something we’ve raised with them since 2001 and since a rep from Woodbridge brought it up last month we added it to the agenda. It seems when Cablevision took over the Litchfield franchise, they inherited a senior discount that was available through means testing. For private commerce such as cable, I have no problem with offering seniors a discount if they really needed it.

Our chairman read letters from viewers, several Fairfield citizens were there and a rep from the town’s Human Services presented a few hundred petitions. It was argued that Turner Classic Movies and other channels that have been removed from one of the tiers need to be moved to free up analog space as the world transitions to all-digital. I argued that the removal of Soap, Game Show Network and TCM deprived seniors of some of their most beloved channels and while it may not have been done intentionally, it has the same effect of hurting the seniors.

Deborah, our Cablevision rep, said that during this current period of refranchising with the state, they have no intent to offer a senior tier or introduce an Area 2-wide discount.

This led to several further items. One, the entire issue of ala carte, something I’ve railed about before, came up. Apparently, the Dolans — the dysfunctional family that runs Cablevision and are now trying to take it private – believe in ala carte but refuse to take any bold step steps until the other companies are ready to march with them. Additionally, they’ve signed many long-term deals with channels that prohibits them from making ala carte a possibility. Of course, I ask, if they’ve been championing ala carte why are they locking themselves into such deals without the option?

The digital conversion led to two other issues. I asked what plans Cablevision had for educating their customers, especially the seniors, that come February 2009 everyone will need a digital TV or a converter box per unit as the analog frequency is reassigned. They said there are plans and are trying to communicate this as they make step-by-step moves.

This leads me to the other item of note. A resident from Stratford read from correspondence he sent the governor and the state attorney general. In short, the removal of seven channels from his tier (10%), over the last 90 days, without a commensurate reduction in rate is a de facto rate increase. When he complained in writing and in person to Cablevision, he received little in the way of adequate answers. While still waiting to hear from the governor, he was informed by our attorney general that the current deal with Cablevision prohibits his getting involved but did agree it seemed that Cablevision was in the wrong.

I concurred, pointing out that they practiced the same tactic when the Rainbow Gold package was whittled away, forcing me to move to i/o Digital Cable before I was ready to make the commitment.

In other words, Cablevision has a history of profiting from these moves and does so in a hidden way that state regulators seem unable to fight.

I give high marks to Howard Jacobson our chair. Not only does he come prepared, but he also speaks clearly, making certain everyone understands the issue under discussion. But, unlike so many others, knows when to close the debate. He’ll say, “I’m going to move on now…” and we do, zipping through our agenda in a brisk 90 minutes.

All in all, the meeting was spirited and lively, with most people getting a say. The sad part is, our reps from Cablevision heard us, nodded a lot, took notes but my feeling is that little of what we say will change or improve the lot of cable subscribers. I don’t think the Cable Advisory Council is toothless but its voice is certainly muted.