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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 2/17/2002

LIKE MOST BUSINESSES that
offer a service, cable-televi-
sion companies probably want their customers to feel they're getting good service.

To a point. That point being when providing good service at a reasonable cost goes from being lucrative to just profitable.

Cable TV is sort of like God: People worship it but they don't always understand it. Like God, cable companies are unregulated, and if people have a complaint, they have to take it on faith that their cable provider is really listening.

Having grown up in a large city, where all you needed to watch TV was a TV, I only grudgingly decided 17 years ago to take the leap into cable. I got all I wanted--broadcast channels, some cable channels, and even FM radio--for about $15 a month.

Today I pay three times that to Adelphia for service that includes many cable channels I never watch, no premium channels, and no FM--which Adelphia (nee Prestige) inexplicably fails to offer. There's no excuse for that.

My issue with the cable-television industry, aside from excess channels, exorbitant cost, and lack of FM service, is its autonomy. No matter what your cable company would like you to believe, there's no real dialogue between you and it. You pay your bill and you get what you get. Must I really pay for home-shopping channels? Switching to a dish would give me hundreds more channels I don't want.

There is little cable regulation. There is usually no competition. There are no standards. Our cable rates went up twice last year after Adelphia took over from Prestige. The reasons given were an alleged improvement in service, an alleged increase in the cost of cable-network programming, and the alleged cost of operating in a high-growth area.

It doesn't matter whether you believe what they say or not. The fact is that cable companies don't even need a reason to increase rates.

I've always believed that cable companies should be held accountable for their actions just as other utilities are--and be just as dependable as flipping on a light switch or turning on a water faucet. There was a time when the cable would go out whenever there was a stiff breeze. A thunderstorm? Forget it. Power still works. Phone still works. Cable dead as a doornail.


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