Friday, November 7, 2008

FCC Probes Bend Broadband Pricing Policies

The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into the pricing policies of 11 cable TV services, including Central Oregon's own Bend Cable Communications.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2008 at 5:16 PM

The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into the pricing policies of 11 cable TV services, including Central Oregon's own Bend Cable Communications.

According to the Associated Press, the FCC sent a letter to the companies Oct. 30 questioning their "practice of moving analog channels into digital tiers to free up bandwidth for other uses, such as high-definition channels. Analog customers will have to get a digital set-top box from the operator or buy the digital TV tier to watch those channels. ...

"Most cable customers are analog customers, and those who do not wish to upgrade to digital cannot watch the channels that are moved to the digital tier."

"I'm certainly concerned with the increasing cable prices that consumers are facing. They are getting less and being charged the same or more," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

"The agency also will look into whether cable operators and Verizon are confusing customers by linking the shift of the analog channel to the digital tier to the nation's transition to digital broadcasts," The AP reported. "Linking the two in customers' minds could prompt more people to opt for digital video and cable services ... "

According to a report on CNET News, the FCC is asking the companies to provide "a tabular list of information, from the 'number of overall subscribers in each affected cable system at the time of the analog-to-digital channel change' to 'whether [the] company permitted subscribers affected by the analog-to-digital channel change to modify their service at no charge for 30 days after receiving notice of such change.'"

"Switching to digital is good business for cable," CNET News wrote. "The New York Times reported that Time Warner Cable and Cablevision had better than expected profit this quarter. While Time Warner attributed this to phone and Internet subscriptions, it still 'lost 31,000 basic video subscribers in the quarter, but added 124,000 digital video subscribers.' Cablevision also gained a significant amount of digital cable subscribers.

"We've reported that the cable industry has taken advantage of the confusion surrounding the upcoming DTV transition, and this may be another example."

Besides BendBroadband, the companies that got a letter from the FCC include Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Bright House Networks, Suddenlink Communications, GCI Company, Harron Entertainment and RCN Corp.

The Bulletin's story on the investigation (sorry, available on-line by subscription only) had no comment from BendBroadband officials, and the company did not return a phone call from The Eye.

The Eye made the switch to digital cable TV almost a year ago, so this issue doesn't affect us directly. And we've always thought BendBroadband provides reliable TV and Internet service and good tech support. We could wish, though, that it offered more HD channels in its basic package than it does. Our daughter in Portland has DirectTV and seems to get a lot more for the money.

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