If your cable bill is a little heftier these days, you’re not alone. About nine in 10 District Cablevision (DCV) customers saw their rates explode in June. Don’t bother reaching for the remote control, though, because there are no other local cable companies to choose from. If you want your MTV in the District, you’d better line up at DCV’s payment window and open up a coaxial-size vein.
“Your cable bill may increase or decrease depending on your level of service,” DCV told subscribers in its May newsletter. True, but quite misleading. A statement like the following would have been more honest, both in sentiment and fact: “You saps are gonna pay more for cable. That is all.”
Remember how the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to lead to lower cable rates? Greater competition would drive cable prices down naturally, and government meddling in the cable business would become as vestigial as the human tail. Some deregulation advocates might now wish they had tails so they could tuck them between their legs.
If you like to watch cable-only stations like BET, ESPN, C-SPAN, CNN, A&E, Court TV, Discovery, Bravo, and MTV, you’re paying 14 percent more for them now than several months ago. Prices for premium channels like HBO and Showtime are unchanged.
Charges for service and installation are up an astonishing 38 percent. But at least DCV has a sense of humor about it. The price hike applies even to the Collection of Past Due Balance fee, now $18.70. That’s the fee subscribers must pay the visiting cable technician/collection agent, along with the overdue balance, to stop him from disconnecting their service. DCV covers all its bases.
Only a private monopoly serving nearly 100,000 D.C. households could raise prices with such impunity. Public monopolies like Pepco are far more regulated, and regular businesses wouldn’t dare.
Cable rates may have risen, but cable quality has not. DCV’s lineup is stunted compared to those in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Three new channels were introduced in late June (the Sci-Fi Channel, BET on Jazz, and America’s Talking), but DCV passed on tasty new offerings like the History Channel.
DCV’s policy on remote-control usage is a flagrant flaunting of its totalitarian power. Converter-box users pay a monthly fee, but must pay extra to switch channels via remote control. Should they want to control volume with the same remote control unit (duh), they have to pay an additional monthly. Think that’s ludicrous? DCV doesn’t care what you think.
The Cable Guide is an à la carte item and costs $1.50 per month. Charging for it is as greedy as Mr. Howell and as shortsighted as Mr. Magoo. If DCV cares about Nielsen ratings, advertising rates, and pay-per-view usage, it should do everything in its power to assure that subscribers actually watch TV. Free cable guides would increase viewership. But monopolies often don’t concern themselves with bottom-line banalities. They don’t have to. D.C.’s only cable firm is content to rape you now. Let the idiots who actually have to compete for business worry about long-term goals.
According to the cable company, you can thank the Federal Communications Commission for permitting DCV to jack up your cable bill. “Revised FCC regulations…allow us to recover the cost of inflation, rising costs of operations and more importantly, higher programming fees for quality channels,” DCV said in its June newsletter. “For example, our license fees for cable television have risen over 36 percent in the past two years.”
The game’s not over yet. While DCV is trying to pass off its rate “changes” as a fait accompli, they are still under consideration. If enough people write to contest them, the hikes could be challenged and partial refunds distributed. To voice your opinion, write the D.C. Office of Cable Television at 2217 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009.
Or you can disconnect your cable and curl up with a good book, like Atlas Shrugged or some other bracing capitalist parable.