It Would Be Funny If It Weren’t True

With the majority of America’s pay-TV subscribers expressing dissatisfaction with their cable or satellite TV providers through consumer-oriented surveys and social media platforms, the pay-TV industry recognizes that it has a tarnished reputation with the public. 

Millions of pay-TV subscribers annually look for competitive alternatives to their current service, prompting companies to launch extensive PR campaigns that use humor to poke fun at their own problems or to magnify the issues consumers have with their competitors – all built on the premise that their customer service is improving.  

The inability of the pay-TV industry to do away with bait and switch billing and advertising practices and its failure to adequately address billing errors, poor service quality and deplorable customer service has created a quarterly round-robin of musical chairs in which subscribers switch to another service provider after their contract runs only to end up experiencing similar problems with their new service providers.

Companies like Time Warner Cable (TWC), believes the answer to low customer satisfaction ratings is to introduce humor into the conversation.  In a recent commercial, TWC makes fun of its long customer service call wait times and its inability to honor in-home service appointments, but says it’s committed to making it all better.  All promises from a company with the lowest customer satisfaction rating in the country. 

Then there’s the commercial by DirecTV that uses humor to take a shot at future potential cable mergers (i.e. the proposed Charter/TWC/Bright House Communications deal), suggesting that their customer service and service quality are superior to what cable TV competitors have to offer.  Some cable companies have countered these attacks with their own marketing strategies that push back on DirecTV’s business model, labeling it “yesterday’s technology today” and alleging that it’s just “TV from space” that often fails in inclement weather.

The Dish Network has a new commercial out this month attempting to demonstrate how DirecTV costs nearly three times more to subscribe to than its satellite TV service, mocking the fact that DirecTV hits subscribers with extra charges for premium cable channels and regional sports networks, in addition to annual monthly bill increases.

These commercials are aimed at drawing in new customers or to persuade old customers to comeback.  We get it.  But at the end of the day, empty promises by the industry will not improve the experience or quality of service for pay-TV customers.

On any given day, a visit to Downdetector.com, will show dozens of network service outages affecting tens of thousands of pay-TV/broadband subscribers across the nation – and they have nothing to do with programming disruptions.  Scores of consumer complaints about personal pay-TV horror stories emerge on Internet social media sites daily.  The problem is so prevalent on social media message boards that pay-TV companies, themselves, are acknowledging that things need to improve.   Unfortunately, positive industry changes to improve the customer experience are slow to materialize. 

If cable and satellite TV companies don’t voluntarily demonstrate to the public how they’ll proactively address subpar service quality, and bait and switch billing, then Washington’s policymakers should take action requiring the industry to be more open and transparent about the quality control measures they’re putting in place to address these widespread and pervasive market failures. 

The anti-consumer tactics being used by the pay-TV industry to increase subscribers’ monthly bills can’t simply be fixed or laughed away with humorous commercials.  It’s time for the industry to take real action to eliminate the consumer inequities that have harmed consumers for decades.

A commitment to dramatically improving customer service would be a positive start.   

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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THE PAY-TV INDUSTRY’S UNSOLVED PROBLEMS

The American Television Alliance (ATVA), funded by the biggest pay-TV providers in America, is crying foul regarding rising monthly customer bills and is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to address rising retransmission consent fees paid to TV broadcasters.

Will the FCC, the top federal regulator of the pay-TV industry, actually consider changing its “good faith” rules for retransmission consent to favor multi-billion dollar cable and satellite TV giants?

The fact of the matter is that the retransmission consent system is working, with hundreds of deals reached each year without programming disruptions.  It’s a phony claim by ATVA and big pay-TV companies that doesn’t tell the whole story about why pay-TV subscribes’ bills keep rising.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index again found that five ATVA members – Mediacom, Time Warner, Suddenlink Communications, Charter Communications and Bright House Networks – finished at or near the bottom of customer satisfaction rankings in 2015.  Indeed, these titans of pay television collectively finished dead last in the rankings with every other business sector in America, including the banking industry, airlines and supermarket chains.

Poor customer service and annoying call center experiences top the list for reasons why customers despise their pay-TV service.  These problems are further manifested by the reasons why pay-TV subscribers call customer service in the first place due to poor service quality and annual price hikes at three times the rate of inflation.

The facts regarding programming costs speak loud and clear. It costs pay-TV customers six times more to access less-watched cable network channels and three times more to rent one DVR than it does to receive the full complement of local broadcast TV channels as part of a monthly subscription.

The majority of Americans are not concerned with the $5 “Broadcast TV Fee” they pay each month; they’re more concerned with network service outages, early-termination fees, monthly DVR rental fees, lousy customer service and pure pay-TV greed.  And don’t think Congress isn’t paying attention.

In a July 2015 letter to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked the FCC to investigate rising pay-TV and broadband prices paid by tens of millions of Americans. Hopefully, the Commission will act.

Maybe the federal inquiry could start with how pay-TV companies lock customers into two-year contracts with lower first-year “promotional rates” and then, subsequently, jack up prices as much as $50 or $60 per month in the second year. All of that’s in the fine print, of course, and requires a magnifying glass to read.

It’s exceedingly curious why the FCC seems obsessed with a part of pay-TV pricing that most consumers care little about: local broadcast TV fees.  Indeed, if policymakers really want to help consumers, the focus should be what really matters: abominable service, high set-top box and DVR rental fees, and outrageously high early-termination fees that prevent customers from switching providers.

Kenny is director of Public Affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and other independent organizations advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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The Great Cable Heist… Right Before Our Very Eyes

Rising Broadband Prices and Lack of Competition, Bad for US Consumers

Robert C. Kenny | November 5, 2015

Forget television, it’s all about high-speed broadband service, according to your local cable company.

Why? Because 90 percent of your broadband bill is pure profit for cable companies.

Don’t be fooled by big cable’s Washington lobbying machine and their contentions that retransmission consent reforms will keep costs down for consumers.

It has never been about keeping costs down for consumers, rather it has always been about pay TV companies doing what is necessary to increase their already hefty profit margins.  For the average consumer, the $5 paid monthly to pay TV companies to access their local news, weather updates, network entertainment programming and live sports, pales in comparison to the $19.5 billion in excessive equipment rental fees and the $47 billion in skyrocketing cable channel programming costs they fork over annually to their cable company.

Growing the business is one thing, but gouging customers at every turn and then asking for government intervention in the marketplace to help cut corporate costs is the epitome of greed.  The FCC clearly acknowledges that that the retransmission consent reforms requested by big cable companies may have no benefit to consumers. A September 2015 FCC Notice states:

“We acknowledge that MVPDs are not required to pass through any savings derived from lower retransmission consent fees and that any reductions in those fees thus might not translate to lower consumer prices for video programming service.”

If this is the case, then how do these proposed reforms help consumers?

Why aren’t cable companies fighting harder for their customers and cutting monthly charges where they have the power to do so?  Instead, they’re capitalizing on consumer demand for high-speed broadband and beginning to charge extra for unlimited data, even as monthly pay TV bills continue to rise at three times the rate of inflation and network outages are common occurrences.

Financial analysts have long indicated that broadband growth is “much more profitable” than cable-TV growth. Why is this?  It can’t simply be because programming costs on the video side of the business ledger eat into sizeable cable-TV profits, can it?  No, absolutely not.

The primary reason why broadband profits are more lucrative is because all data, video and voice services are delivered to consumers over a single network. That’s right, cable companies are raking in profits for all services over a single network, with minimal overhead expenses… Alas, the great cable heist!

So which part of the business is paying for company network maintenance and upgrades?  This is an important question in a marketplace where there’s been no new competitive entrant that’s built out the kind of fiber network that’s competitive with cable TV/broadband in the majority of local US markets.

Earlier this year the FCC found that 55 million Americans lack access to high-speed broadband in the home.  And, through their own admission, many cable companies contend that building out high-speed wireline broadband service deeper into America is cost-prohibitive.  This claim, however, appears to ring hollow given the record profits the industry is generating from Internet service.

In an industry that’s experiencing unprecedented consolidation, where the top five pay TV companies could soon control more than 85 percent of the video subscribers nationwide, the potential for increased video competition, broadband overbuild in local markets and lower prices for consumers is fading fast.  Longterm, it is cheaper to gain new customers through mergers than it is to build a bigger network.

If anything, the current industry landscape lends itself to more costly monthly bills for consumers for all communications and video services.  It makes one wonder just how big federal regulators will allow cable profit margins to grow before it’s seen as a form of price gouging.

Some cable companies are moving toward new broadband pricing plans that will allow customers to access unlimited data as part of their high-speed Internet service, all for a lucrative “extra” monthly billing fee of $30 or more. Should that kind of pricing plan go unchecked by regulators?

What will it mean for consumers looking for alternatives to the traditional pay TV business model?  Their access to the video of their choice could be considerably inhibited.  This will become especially true for those who cannot afford to purchase the unlimited data plan and would be subject to reduced Internet download speeds or expensive overage fees if they went over their data cap.

This is all taking shape as monthly pay-TV bills continue to increase at nearly three times the rate of inflation – not because of rising broadcast TV fees, but because of the billions of dollars in other costs consumers pay to cable companies for services provided over the same network. There’s definitely something wrong with this picture.

If regulators are serious about enabling innovation to flourish, while helping increase competition and expand consumer choice in the communications ecosystem, then they’ll need to more thoroughly scrutinize the business and billing practices of U.S. cable and broadband service providers.

The timing couldn’t be better.

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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What is localism and does it still matter?

Broadcasters’ goodwill and commitment to community fosters localism across America

Author: Rob Kenny | 10/13/2015 03:15:00 PM

That’s an important question in Washington, DC, where cynics, “public interest” groups and the occasional misguided regulator often mock the role that local TV stations play in providing service to community.

Inside the Beltway, the politically polarizing cable networks provide what passes for riveting cocktail conversation for Washington elites. But in the real world — outside of a few square miles of the DC bubble — local television reigns supreme as most-watched and most-valued. The Pew Research Center confirms that local TV stations remain the most trusted and most-watched source for news across America — especially with early hour, noon and late evening newscasts driving growth in viewership.

Moreover, local TV is a lifeline for the needy and less fortunate.

DC elites may scoff at the charitable contributions of broadcasters, but those efforts are real and they are remarkable. Broadcasters contribute mightily to community well-being; stations from coast-to-coast offer airtime for food drives, sponsor marathon runs against cancer, and galvanize multi-million dollar relief efforts when disaster strikes. One would be hard-pressed to find a city in America where a local broadcaster is not partnering with groups like Toys for Tots, Children’s Miracle Network, and St. Jude’s to make a positive difference.

Ultimately, it’s commitment to community that defines “localism.”

The countless contributions of local TV stations to support individuals, families and municipalities in need should not be dismissed nor taken for granted as federal regulators consider changes to U.S. video rules that govern TV stations. Otherwise, the consequences could be dire. Who, for example, will fill that the localism role that defines the lifeblood of a broadcaster?

One only has to look to dedication and commitment of local TV broadcasters who, this month, risked their own safety in providing real-time updates to viewers on Hurricane Joaquin and the deadly flooding that engulfed vast regions of the East Coast.  In Columbia and other parts of the Carolinas, local TV stations went wall-to-wall with lifeline flood reporting, and then joined with the Red Cross and Salvation Army to help spur a sustained relief effort that’s collectively seeking to raise millions of dollars to help storm survivors.

Broadcasters’ commitment to community is constant: Last month Raycom Media’s NBC affiliate WFIE-TV in Evansville, IN helped raise $293,000 as part of its “14 Hours for MDA” fundraiser to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  It marks the 45th consecutive year that WFIE has sponsored this fundraiser.  And, in August, Bahakel Communications’ ABC affiliate, WBBJ-TV helped lead efforts in Jackson, TN to raise $1.3 million as part of the 32nd Annual “Circles of Hope” telethon on behalf of the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

Those goodwill snapshot anecdotes of localism occur across America every day.  They may be taken for granted in Washington, but make no mistake: society is unquestionably better off because of the commitment of broadcasters to localism…

To access the full op-ed on Broadcast & Cable Guest Blog please click here

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THE FCC’S BIG CABLE FAVOR

FCC Actions Deregulating Cable Rates to Send Consumers’ Monthly Bills Sky High

Robert C. Kenny | August 31, 2015

In June, the FCC approved a rule change that now allows cable companies to raise consumers’ monthly rates without first securing approval from local governments.  In essence, the change lifts existing local price regulation for all U.S. cable television companies by presuming that all such operators are now subject to effective video competition.

The FCC action severely curtails the ability of local franchising authorities to regulate cable rates, and the ramifications for cable subscribers are huge. As a result, consumers may soon be paying $200 per month for cable service.

In an effort to protect consumers, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) and a local franchise authority in Minnesota—recently filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, on the grounds that the FCC’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

TVfreedom.org supports the lawsuit and agrees that the court should thoroughly examine this case.

The FCC’s decision to do a favor for big cable is odd, given that consumers’ monthly pay-TV bills continue to rise unchecked at three times the rate of inflation.  Rather than leaping to quick judgement and granting a blanket waiver of all local price regulation for the U.S. cable industry, shouldn’t the agency have first inquired into the 2015 price hikes (some as high as a 7.4 percent) that have already been added to the monthly bills of the nation’s cable subscribers?

The FCC, in justifying its decision, contends it’s furthering its Congressional mandate under STELAR to “establish a streamlined process for the filing of effective competition petitions” by small cable operators.  Leaping the bounds of logic, the agency used a Congressional goal narrowly designed to improve the administrative process for small cable companies as means to eliminate a statutory evidentiary burden regarding proof of effective competition for every single cable company in America.

The agency further defended its actions on the basis that it virtually approves all “effective competition” petitions filed by cable companies and that local franchising authorities contest less than eight percent of all such applications filed with the Commission.  However, the FCC conveniently fails to note the small percentage of applications filed annually and remains silent how many cable companies serving rural America have ever filed in the first instance to assert the existence of effective competition in their local franchise areas.

At the expense of consumers, this sleight of hand grants the industry a blanket windfall.

Why lift the burden of proving the existence of effective competition within a local market for cable companies without first completing a thorough analysis?   The Commission’s sweeping change completely shifts this burden to cashed-strapped local governments, requiring that they demonstrate a lack of competitive service choices for consumers beyond the dominant local cable operator.

It’s a decision that runs counterintuitive to the FCC’s historical preference in building a fact-based and data-driving record before making regulatory changes of this magnitude. The FCC even acknowledged in its rulemaking that there is a likelihood that certain local markets are not yet subject to effective competition even with the presence of satellite TV service, yet the agency decided forego building a supportive record for its presumption and, rather, chose to embrace administrative efficiency as a sufficient enough reason for the rule change.

The central question is: How will this market-changing decision impact millions of low-income American’s who today depend on cable’s most affordable bundle TV programming package, the lifeline basic service tier?

Does this mean that all cable companies can now simply eliminate the basic tier and freely increase impacted customers’ monthly pay-TV bills by as much as three times the amount they pay today?  Right now, there are a lot of questions, and very few answers.

The Court would be wholly justified to rule against this arbitrary and capricious FCC decision and stop big cable companies from taking advantage of this price deregulation at the expense of tens of millions of cable subscribers.

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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Mediacom’s Fake Fees and No-Show Service

THE GREAT PAY-TV RIP-OFF! Consumers Real Life Horror Stories Dealing With Bad Pay-TV Actors

Robert C. Kenny | August 19, 2015

Questions: Have you ever been so infuriated with your pay-TV company over a price hike, billing error or service failure that you felt compelled to call customer service?  What was that experience like? 

I will bet dollars to donuts you were more frustrated with the inept “customer service experience” from a script-reading call-taker than you were with the problem you called about in the first place.  And that’s if you were actually able to speak with a live person in customer service directly! 

It’s also no secret that cable and satellite TV providers represent the most disliked business sector in America. Earlier this year, for example, cable giant Mediacom tied fellow American Television Alliance (ATVA) member Time Warner Cable for dead last among America’s pay-TV companies in customer satisfaction ratings.  Mediacom was dinged by consumers for exorbitantly high monthly prices, poor service quality and deplorable customer service.

Scrolling through hundreds of relatively new online consumer complaints against Mediacom, we found two recent cases that sum up the industry’s sorry customer service and untrained personnel that left customers frustrated and shaking their heads in disbelief.

In the first case, a customer in Illinois contends that he canceled service on July 30 because it was becoming too expensive and subsequently returned his remote control and set-top box to the Mediacom office near his home.  When doing so, he was informed by the Mediacom representative that he would be charged an ‘extra’ $30 in addition to the early-termination fee for the “truck roll” to his home to turn off service.  The customer said that no Mediacom technician showed up to his house since he cancelled service a few days ago and that he would not pay the “fake fee.” 

After receiving his final bill from Mediacom and noticing the $30 service fee for the truck roll, he went to his home surveillance system and checked for video footage proving that a technician was out at the house, but there was none.  When he called Mediacom customer service to contest the “fake fee” and explained that there was no evidence on his home surveillance video that a technician had been out to his residence to turn off service, the representative hung up on him. 

In this case, Mediacom is trying to gouge the disgruntled customer via a “fake fee” for a phantom ‘truck roll’ to his home that never happened.

In a second case, a customer in Georgia contends that a Mediacom technician came to her house to install new cable service, but provided her with three inoperable TV remote controls after installation and couldn’t explain how the devices were supposed to work. 

When the customer called Mediacom customer service to complain that none of the three remotes worked and to express frustration with the incompetence of the technician, she was informed that another technician would be out to fix the problem that same day.  However, no one from Mediacom showed or called to notify her when they would be out to fix her service. 

She subsequently canceled service after four straight days of “no-show” tech support from Mediacom and inoperable service. It’s yet to be seen if Mediacom will attempt to charge her hundreds of dollars in early-termination fees for canceling service prematurely.

These are just two of thousands of horror stories that Mediacom customers have experienced in the past year.  And Mediacom is not alone in its abysmal treatment of consumers.

To address the decades-old abusive billing practices of pay-TV companies, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is in the midst of an investigation into the bait-and-switch billing practices of big cable.  Sens. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have called for a federal inquiry into egregious pay-TV price hikes and lousy customer service. And, Sens. Markey and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) recently completed a comprehensive review of pay-TV’s “hideously vexing” rental fees for DVRs and other video set-top boxes, concluding that consumers need more protections against these exorbitantly high yearly charges that cost pay-TV subscribers $19.5 billion annually.

Clearly, Congress recognizes that the anti-consumer behavior of pay-TV companies is pervasive and has gone unchecked for far too long.  Working with federal regulators, Congress is well-positioned to lead the charge on a series of industrywide regulatory reforms that’ll better protect tens of millions of pay-TV subscribers from the abusive behavior of America’s cable and satellite TV providers. 

This pay-TV reform movement is justified in a marketplace where consolidation will continue to erode competition and further diminish consumers’ choices for service.  

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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Free Local Broadcast TV Provides Americans with a Window into Their World

New video captures consumer excitement during “TV Liberation Tour” stops
Robert C. Kenny | August 5, 2015

Since 2010, more than 15,000 Americans have received a free digital TV antenna from Antennas Direct as part of its local broadcast “TV Liberation Tours” throughout the country.  Antennas Direct, in partnership with local TV broadcasters, TVfreedom.org, the National Association of Broadcasters and LG Electronics, USA, remains committed to helping consumers access their local TV stations in high-definition via a state-of-the-art digital broadcast TV antenna installed on their television sets.  The new video below, developed by Antennas Direct and TVfreedom.org, captures the spirit and excitement of more than 1,300 consumers who’ve received a free antenna at recent tour stops in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, CA.  The antennas, once installed, give viewers access to dozens of local broadcast TV stations, weather updates, and local and primetime entertainment programming and live sports, including in-language digital broadcast streams.

Free broadcast TV provides more than 60 million Americans with essential connectivity to local news, weather updates and emergency information – a window into their world like no other – so that they can stay informed about what’s going on in their communities.

A renewed regulatory focus on what’s causing consumers monthly pay-TV bills to skyrocket, coupled with the deceptive business practices pay-TV companies are notorious for, has added to consumers’ intense and growing dissatisfaction with the cost and quality of pay-TV service.  This has led to many consumers seeking competitive alternatives to traditional pay-TV service, including their penchant for personalized media mixes built on their access to free local TV in combination with an emerging array of online video services that include access to live television programming (commonly referred to as over-the-top (OTT) services).

You may view the video here.

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC.

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It’s Time for Consumer-Driven Video Market Policies

Tracy Rosenberg, Media Alliance | July 29, 2015

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a request for comments on how consumers are being charged for video-related services, the notice they are given before these costs appear on their monthly cable bill and whether these fees cause consumers to pay higher prices than the company’s advertised rates for monthly service.  The FCC has always had jurisdiction over how common carriers, broadcast, wireless, satellite, cable companies and other telecom entities address consumer interests in their business practices.

According to the FCC website, through the Consumer Policy division, they are “…tasked with issuing orders to resolve complaints about unauthorized changes in local telecommunication providers (slamming); conducting rulemakings on slamming, truth-in-billing telemarketing and fax advertising; and monitoring informal inquiries and complaints to identify trends that affect consumers.”

Unfortunately, many advocates believe that the focus on consumers has been sidelined since the passage of The 1996 Telecommunications Act.  While the act spurred innovative platforms for video distribution and creative content for internet users, it was to the detriment of cable subscribers who realized no real benefits, and instead have experienced nearly two decades of limited choices for service, rising monthly prices and deteriorating customer service.  With consolidation happening at a breakneck speed in the cable and broadband markets, it is time that the focus of our 21st century video market policy-making process be placed squarely on the protection of the consumer.

For this reason, Media Alliance applauds the FCC’s undertaking to augment their next video competition report with detailed pricing data and information through their comment process.  We have long advocated for increased transparency when it comes to the billing practices of pay-TV and broadband providers and are further encouraged that the FCC’s action is not an isolated incident.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are increasingly losing their patience with the unscrupulous practices of the pay-TV industry and are calling for inquiries with the interest of consumers in mind.  Last year, Senator McCaskill asked probing questions of cable providers who experienced first-hand how cable operators have overcharged and misled consumers with complicated fee structures and surcharges.  Time and time again, McCaskill has sought to bring accountability to the pay-TV industry by calling for legislative hearings around cable billing practices.

The momentum continued with a letter on July 9 from Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) calling for the FCC to collect detailed pricing data on broadband and cable services on a state-by-state basis and comparatively in rural versus urban areas.  Their letter also recognizes the lack of competition in the pay-TV industry citing that fact that only “37 percent of Americans have more than one option for high-speed broadband providers.”  The senators declared that a lack of competitive choices and a marketplace that continues to move toward more consolidation has left Americans with “de facto telecommunications monopolies” across the nation. These are factors that need to be addressed at a granular level by federal regulators.

The FCC’s action to collect broadband and pay-TV pricing data will go a long way in helping consumers better understand exactly what it is they are paying for in their monthly bills.  The pay-TV companies have this information.  We simply need our leaders in Washington D.C. to ask the right questions so that regulators can then deconstruct the fees, surcharges, equipment rentals and other miscellaneous costs.

Thanks to leaders in the nation’s capital, we are taking the first step towards creating greater pricing and billing transparency for consumers of pay-TV and/or Internet subscription services in America.

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, a media advocacy group and TVFreedom member.

 

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Senators to FCC: Consumers need your help

Kudos to four more senators who recently weighed in with a call to federal regulators to take action to finally curb the abusive business practices of America’s pay TV industry.

 
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) this month asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act on behalf of millions of Americans who are tired of skyrocketing price hikes, unfair early termination fees, outrageous monthly DVR fees and lousy customer service that have long served as the standard operating procedure at cable and satellite TV companies. TVfreedom.org stands with these four lawmakers, who, along with Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), have shown real courage by taking on Washington’s entrenched big pay TV lobby.

 
In response, the FCC is seeking comment and data for its next video competition report that focuses on the competitive strategies used by pay-TV companies to add video-related fees on customers’ bills as opposed to raising monthly subscription prices.  The FCC is also seeking comment on whether video-related fees cause customers to pay higher prices than the company’s advertised rate and in what ways customers are notified of the new fees before they actually show up on the monthly pay-TV bill.

 
The senators initially raised these issues because they believe there is a sense of urgency to their request, especially given the likelihood of increased concentration in the industry (i.e. the AT&T/DirecTV merger and the proposed Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House Networks merger) and the clear lack of consumer choices for service in the telecommunications ecosystem.  With more than 60 percent of Americans having access to just one broadband provider, the senators strongly suggest that consumers are left with “de facto telecommunications monopolies” throughout the country.

 
They believe it’s time to begin “empowering Americans with more information about ever-increasing rates for cable and Internet services and how providers calculate consumers’ monthly bills” so they can make better informed decisions about what they want to pay for and the types of video services that fit their personal preferences.

 
And, who would argue with denying consumers this important information, unless you’re affiliated with the likes of Time Warner Cable, DISH or Mediacom.
For an industry notorious for poor customer service and low consumer satisfaction ratings, one would think that pay-TV and broadband service providers would be working to constructively address industrywide market failures and bad service…

 
*** To access the full op-ed on The Hill’s Congress Blog please click here.

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Consumers Undeniable Preference for Broadcast TV on Multiple Platforms Shows

This past week the Pew Research Center released an analysis that shows that local broadcast TV continues to be a “most-turned-to” source for news and information for consumers.  Given the overall popularity of broadcast TV this is not surprising, but what’s most interesting is that local TV stations are adjusting to a dynamically changing market by airing newscasts in nontraditional time slots – 4:30 am and 7:00 pm – to get viewers to tune in. And, it’s working.

In their analysis, Pew found that in 2014 more than 11.1 million American’s watched their local news at 7:00 pm, representing an 11 percent increase from the year before. Overall viewership for broadcast TV newscasts at 4:30 am was also up six percent last year.

What makes local broadcast TV so important to Americans? For an important part of the answer, one only has to look to the recent on-the-ground emergency lifeline reporting local broadcasters provided to viewers as a powerful tornado ripped through Cameron, IL and severe flooding overwhelmed communities along the Arkansas-Missouri border.  It is this kind of commitment to local communities that makes TV broadcasters the most trusted and reliable source for news and emergency information in America.

In addition to the lifeline emergency reporting by local TV stations, it’s clear that primetime network programming shows and live sports only add to broadcast TV’s appeal among consumers.

In today’s fast-paced, broadband and broadcast world, it’s clear that emerging opportunities for U.S. consumers to access local broadcast TV content, including popular primetime network shows, live sporting events, and local news and weather updates, on multiple digital platforms are major contributing factors to consumers’ insatiable appetite for video consumption everywhere, all the time.  But that certainly does not mean that traditional television viewing is going away anytime soon.

Recent data shows that Broadcast TV content is still king, with 77 percent (or tens of millions) of U.S. consumers regularly watching scheduled broadcast TV programming and nightly newscasts. Moreover, 75 percent of consumers watch streamed on-demand video, including broadcast TV shows, several times a week.  The continuing emergence of over-the-top services will only increase the amount of time consumers are watching broadcast TV content because of its convenience and easy-to-use capabilities that afford consumers cross-platform access to the content of their choice.

Ultimately, consumers’ sheer access to free, local broadcast TV, and its lifeline to emergency information and America’s most-watched programming, creates a positive disruptive competitive force in the marketplace that industry must account for in their delivery of video services to customers on all digital platforms.  Simply put, video services are much more appealing to consumers when they include access to broadcast TV content.

It’s clear that federal policymakers and lawmakers must factor in consumers’ undeniable preference for broadcast TV on multiple platforms when reshaping the future regulatory regime for the delivery of video services in America.

What’s the best path forward to ensure that consumers have access to broadcast TV in a 21st Century broadband and broadcast world?  It may be one of the single most important questions the federal government must address in the coming months.

Kenny is director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations and others advocating for preserving the retransmission consent regime. He is a former press secretary at the FCC

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