While this is a less serious issue than healthcare, most of us face unfairly high monthly service fees and poor customer service from our monopolistic local cable companies. In Seattle, we struggle with Comcast, which is poorly regulated by the City of Seattle.
Until local governments require cable companies to provide high quality service at competitive rates and end common bundling practices, I suggest trying to minimize the money you’re spending with them.
1) Call every six months to demand the lowest rate. It’s ridiculous that a company providing a service regulated by the city is not required to provide a competitive rate, but that’s the way it is in Seattle currently. In 2009, I managed to have my rate cut from $109 to $63 per month with the same service level. That’s $552 annually for making one phone call. It helps to keep competitive junk mail offers in hand when you do this.
2) Comcast recently quietly increased its monthly cable modem rental to $60 annually. You can buy a used or refurbished modem at Amazon for about $35. Make sure you pick a cable modem compatible with your provider – consult them for a list of supported modems.
3) Consider transitioning more of your television viewing via online options. Cable Freedom Is a Click Away (New York Times) is an excellent primer on using the Internet to watch television using various services e.g. iTunes, Boxee, Hulu, Joost, Hulu, Netflix streaming et al. I currently use a MacMini, Apple LCD display and El Gato EyeTV 200 as my DVR and media center.
4) Contact your Mayor and City or County Council prior to the re-negotiation of their next contract with your cable provider.
Read Glenn Fleishman’s post The Killer App of 1900: Electricity about the need for broadband Internet reform in Seattle.
Electric lights are different. Electricity is not in any sense a necessity, and under no conditions is it universally used by the people of a community. It is but a luxury enjoyed by a small proportion of the members of any municipality, and yet if the plant be owned and operated by the city, the burden of such ownership and operation must be borne by all the people through taxation. Now, electric light is not a necessity for every member of the community. It Is not the business of any one to see that I use electricity, or gas, or oil in my house, or even that I use any form of artificial light at all.
The $1.2 million payoff Comcast has offered may sound like a lot of money. It’s not, considering the technology resources it would get in return. According to documents filed by Comcast in its recent unsuccessful lawsuit against the city of San Jose, the company estimated that a single cable channel had a value of $2.6 million per year (figure $1.3 million in King County’s smaller market). The $1.2 million Comcast is offering King County for five channels works out to about $48,000 per channel per year. In short, King County is being offered a sucker deal, less than 4 cents on the dollar. Chump change, on top of a trail of broken promises and short-changing local non-commercial programming.
Don’t let your city undersell its infrastructure! Get involved! Fleishman recommends a visit to Broadband.gov.