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Connecticut Man Wants to Charge Cable Companies Room and Board for Unwanted Cable Boxes

Phillip Dampier January 18, 2010 Cablevision, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

A Torrington man wants a law empowering consumers to charge their cable companies “rent” for allowing their unwanted cable boxes to stay in customers’ homes.

“I’ve got to keep it warm, I’ve got to feed it electricity. If anything happens to it, I’ve got to pay $175,” Stephen Simonin shared with the regulatorily-toothless Litchfield County Cable Television Advisory Council.  “It’s absolutely insane,” he said before being elected chairman of the Council.

The Republican-American covered the converter box debacle, and the ongoing dispute between Cablevision and Scripps-owned HGTV and Food Network, thrown off the cable lineup on New Year’s Day.

The growing variety and intensity of disputes between consumers and largely deregulated cable operators may signal a growing backlash against the cable industry and its potential for a more regulated future.

In the absence of regulation, Simonin said, “it is like the wild west.”

Simonin lodged official complaints about his converter box long before his wife began griping about the absence of Food Network from the family television. State regulators are equally powerless to force cable companies to provide content without converter boxes, or specific channel offerings, as are the various cable advisory councils.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he opposed the federal law that deregulated the cable television industry in 1996, and continues to oppose it.

“I have said again and again and again over the years, Congress not only stripped states of their power to effectively protect consumers, but also failed to provide for federal protections,” Blumenthal said. There “really is no effective oversight or scrutiny.”

Telecommunications company-owned equipment, and the rental fee income earned from it, can occasionally be a source for profit-padding, especially when providers don’t allow customers to purchase and own their own equipment.  Television sets were supposed to be designed to accommodate digital cable transmissions without a required converter box as the country adopted new digital television-capable sets, but consumer experiences with a cable-box-free CableCARD plug-in cards have been mixed.

“The situation is infinitely more complicated than that suggests,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project. Schwartzman said about 90 percent of the televisions currently in use do not have the capability Simonin describes, though he agrees “companies like Cablevision are, in fact, monopolizing the set top box to their benefit.”

Schwartzman said the FCC has promised prompt review of a petition filed two weeks ago that demands consumers be allowed to purchase a converter box from a third party, rather than be forced to rent a box from their cable provider.

“This is a very active issue right now,” Schwartzman said.

Currently there are 2 comments on this Article:

  1. SAL-e says:

    I don’t care about CableCARD any more. If the cable companies want to stay in business they should start making their service easier to use compare to free on-line services like Youtube, Vimeo, Revision3, TED, Miro and many others. The big entertainment bosses needs to pull their head out of their a**es and work to win me back as their customer. Very quickly they are getting closer to moment when only way to make money would be implement overcharging schemes. This only going to save their a**es for short period of time. Just like MP3 development was accelerated by music industry cartel prices we are going to develop the alternative network. Technically it is possible today and only obstacle is FCC. As soon FCC opens more frequencies for unlicensed access the new networks will start popping up like mushrooms. Then cable bosses will start blaming losses on the new ‘pirates’ just like Music Industry are blaming the PirateBay for their own mistakes.

  2. waiting and watching says:

    No, if cable companies want to stay in business they need to actually provide working services, rather than make excuses why the services do not work, tell you to contact someone else that you are not even in business with about the problem you are having with your cable service, and then try to force you to pay for service yet rendered without giving you the full service you already paid for. Example if HBO is a premium channel or set of channels you must pay for on a monthly basis, and that channel is non-functioning for half the month, or error-filled with some degraded signal. The customer is not at fault, nor is it their job to contact HBO in order to get the problem fixed if they pay the cable company for the use of the HBO broadcasts. Just pouring salt into the would that you must have a settop box in order to view the premium services anyway, since you have to pay for them twice because they want the extra money that should not even be required a settop box to tune to a channel. Being as easy to use would be nice to be able to search for something like on youtube, but some have now made their software in such a way to make it look good, while never working to disguise the fact that it didn’t work before a new software was used. Even with the easier to use software, they have to fix existing problems with signals or it really doesn’t matter how hard or easy it is to tune in a channel or program that “isn’t available right now”. It will just mean you know the service isn’t working faster with an easier software to access it.

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