Saturday, February 11, 2006

New Orleans: Cox reply worsens cable conflict

If you open up a Louisiana paper today and read about the special session and all the utter BS coming down from the federal level, it's hard to get too excited about mere disrespect coming from a company that's never shown the least hesitation to put their business needs above serving the local community. But sometimes it's the little things that make you crazy. From the Times-Picayune:
Public affairs manager Arthurine Payton repeatedly told the council that the TV Guide Channel, which provided on-screen TV listings, was no longer in business.

'That channel is gone away . . . they are no longer in that business. It just doesn't exist anymore,' she said.

But after discovering that the TV Guide Channel still is very much in business, with 70 million subscribers, including some Cox cable systems elsewhere in the country, the council and Parish President Albert Laque sent a letter blasting the company for the statements.
The dispute grew out of Cox's decision to remove the TV Guide Channel from the cheapest, analog "basic" tier. When the feds deregulated cable, one of the few things they left in place was a requirement that a basic, analog, cheaper tier be offered that includes local channels, local access channels (like AOC in Lafayette) and a few basic cable channels. It is supposed to be analog so that consumers can avoid the rental fee for the digital set top box.

Grundmeyer said the company removed the TV Guide Channel to make room for digital channels that broadcasters are required to adopt by 2009, but beefed up its digital offerings to replace them...

Grundmeyer said the bandwidth occupied by one analog channel can hold four digital channels.

This is one of those things that if not actually a lie was intended to be one. Let me explain. What's happening in 2009 is that analog broadcasts over the airways will be replaced by digital ones. Cable companies will have to follow suit. They will have to carry the new digital channels. And they will be able to carry four digital channels for every one analog one that they have now.

Whoooooops.... did you catch that?

They'll have four times the space. Going digital benefits Cox and lets them offer four times as many channels in the same space. So just exactly how is that an excuse for cutting out a channel from the least expensive tier?

It's not. It's all a song and dance. A little sleight of hand. Some flash. A bit of misdirection.

What they'd rather you not think about is that the cableco's, including Cox, are eager to get as many folks off the basic tiers as they can. Those cheapest tiers are loosely regulated by standards set by the feds. (It's complicated and inexact, but they can't arbitrarily jack up the price like they can--and have--with every other tier.)

So it's really a lot simpler than they make it out to be: they're taking away the TV Guide Channel precisely because it's popular. Because, they hope, that people will want that function so much that they'll upgrade to a more expensive digital tier to get it. Even if they don't want all those extra channels. And don't want to pay for them.

Its all pretty insulting. Do they really think we can't figure this out? My best guess after watching them for a while is that they do think we're that stupid. And, in all honesty, the reporter didn't flinch; he just reported it as if Cox was making sense.

All that's upsetting enough. But then Cox has the gall to blame us for not wanting to buy their high-priced product. How? Well shucks, and gee golly, we're all Southerners down here and in addition to not being able to figure out their shell game, we're all kinda backward and stuck in our ways:

At the January meeting, Payton blamed regional influences for some customers' unwillingness to upgrade to the digital service.

"As Southerners do, we tend to resist change and progress," she said.

Nice guys, the cable guys. Your Friend in the Digital Age.

1 comment:

Kimosa said...

Even more interesting is that when I go to another city (not even very far away, say, the NorthShore) THEY have the TV Guide Channel. Add to that the fact that The Times-Picayune stopped carrying "TV Focus" every Sunday and the VERY interesting coincidence that New Orleans very own Mayor, C. Ray Nagin, used to hold the top job at Cox Cable, you have to wonder who really benefits from keeping people on the basic tiers from knowing what's on TV.