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Terry Cowgill
Linda Miller, center, chair of the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee at a December 2017 meeting. To her right is member Steven Moritz of Lee and to her left is Rene Wood of Sheffield.

CONNECTIONS: Spectrum, the cable provider customers love to hate

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By Tuesday, Jul 10, 2018 Viewpoints 17

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Apparently, Berkshire County is not pleased with Spectrum.

“The decision to drop WCVB was the last straw for Charter subscribers, who, since the company acquired Time Warner Cable two years ago, had already been complaining loudly about rate increases and service changes.” (“Markey, Warren and Neal demand Charter restore Massachusetts channels,” the Berkshire Edge 6/14/18)

If that was the last straw, apparently the first straw was six months earlier: “encrypting its signal and insisting that its basic cable TV customers rent a decryption box for $6.99 per month.” (“Tensions flare as cable panel drops plans for lawsuit against Charter,” the Berkshire Edge, 12/20/17)

Once upon a time, cable companies charged per television. When that was deemed an unfair practice, cable companies charged per household regardless of the number of TVs. Enter Spectrum: They encrypted their signal so that each TV required a decryption box. Voila! Spectrum charges per TV.

Charter-Spectrum officials John Fogarty and Melinda Kinney listen as customers complain at a Five Town Cable Advisory Committee meeting in June at the Lenox Town Hall. Photo: Terry Cowgill

At the December meeting, the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee abandoned its strategy of taking Charter Communications to court over the practice. Instead, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Sheffield and Great Barrington turned for relief to their elected representatives. Depending upon which they were trying to enforce — more channels or lower fees— that may have been a mistake.

According to the Federal Communications Commission website, “cable systems decide which programming to carry.”

However, with respect to rates, the local authority has a role. “Most rates charged by cable television companies are not regulated by the FCC. Cable television service is regulated by state-approved local franchising authorities, usually city, county or other governmental organizations. Your Local Franchising Agency (LFA) may regulate the rate your provider can charge for basic cable service, though there is no FCC requirement for such regulation … the LFA are responsible for enforcing a variety of cable television regulations including: rates for service and equipment, franchise fees, signal quality, service, and provision of public, governmental, and educational channels.”

Sentiment is that, since taking over Time Warner in 2014, Spectrum has consistently provided less for more. That double-edged practice requires attention from both legislators and the Five Town Advisory Committee.

Other points of contention have been: constant service interruptions in the five towns; and Spectrum’s neglect of its obligation to CATV (Community Access TV), the channel that provides mandatory public access, political and educational programming.

“Cable systems generally are required to offer a ‘basic tier’ of programming to all subscribers before they purchase any additional programming. The basic service tier must include most local broadcast stations, as well as public, educational and government channels required by the franchise agreement between the LFA and your cable company. LFAs may review any increases in basic service tier rates to verify that they accurately reflect increases in the cable company’s programming or other costs that cable operators are allowed to pass through to customers.Your LFA can enforce FCC rules and guidelines in the following areas: Customer service, including complaints about bills, as well as a cable operator’s response to inquiries about signal quality or service requests; Franchise fees paid to the LFA by a cable company for access to public rights of way to offer cable service.”

A Charter-Spectrum service van parked on Main Street in Great Barrington. Photo: Terry Cowgill

All of which means increases in costs must reflect — be justified by — concomitant increase in services. As rates rise, more channels, not fewer, must be offered.

Spectrum’s increases in cost and decreases in service coupled with ignoring contractual obligations may not have galvanized the attention of a majority of Berkshire citizens. But wait — if, this fall, Berkshire County is unable to see the Patriots’ games, then you will witness countywide revolt against Spectrum.

Unlike Time Warner, Spectrum does not offer a senior discount. One subscriber was caused to comment, “Spectrum is acting like a naughty fourth-grader who keeps taking other student’s milk money — petty crimes that demand endless energy to keep policing.”

Spectrum’s attention to what is good for the company regardless of whether it is good for the customer — that is, its singular focus on its own bottom line — has caused many cable bills to double. You might wonder: What are they doing with all our money? Wonder no longer; simply watch their myriad ads. Spectrum is “building an expansive fiber-optics network for the future … to make it and to shape it.”

That’s creepy. Do we want Spectrum making and shaping our future? Not to sound like the aluminum foil-hat boys, but will Spectrum be able to listen as well as project, watch as well as broadcast? Some may decide it is less important what Spectrum carries and more important not to carry Spectrum.

If so, here are some options: Direct TV, Dish, streaming TV with Roku, YouTube, Apple TV, and Verizon Smart TV (not yet available in Berkshire County). On the other hand, there is this: “How we got free Basic Cable TV — and it’s legal!!!” www.frugallivingmom.com. Click, read and good luck.

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17 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Tam says:

    They offer a package,when the year is over,your rate goes up,then the channals you have had,now you no longer have,but you pay more, with less channels, also they claim veiw any missed show” on Demand”, Which is a big joke,as it often isn’t updated for over a week,if they put the episodes on at all. But I love the commercials,that offer a great rate for New customers,sometimes really low,but if your a loyal customer,see how much you pay,and they force you to have to accept packages or tiers,that have channels on it you never watch. Yeah it doesn’t help that the area I live is limited to what I can get for t.v. so I don’t have “choices”,other then to not have t.v.(satalite is not allowed)

  2. Jim Balfanz says:

    Due to the fact that we cannot get Satellite reception at our home, we are STUCK with the worst cable company in America. Time for Customers to be able to choose to get ONLY those channels they will actually view and to pay for ONLY those channels.
    Our Five Town Cable Advisory Committee is TRYING to get them to follow the terms of their contract.

    Where are the ELECTED OFFICIALS in the FIVE towns they represent? And, where are the ELECTED OFFICIALS in the rest of the towns/cities that have Spectrum?

    Call/write your local officials and tell them to get ENGAGED in getting this situation corrected.

  3. Jim says:

    Spectrum is a terrible cable company, it has over 200 channels and we watch about 25 channels. But yet it keeps raising the rates and their is nothing new from the rate raise. The support is spotty at best. I wouldn’t recommend this cable company to anyone.

    1. Jerry says:

      Couldn’t disagree more. I don’t see what the problem is. You are complying about getting 175 extra channels at no additional cost. It is not spectrum cable company’s fault that your tastes are so narrow and that you are not willing to put the work in on the personal growth that comes from trying new channels.

      1. Laura says:

        Jerry did you mean to say complaining not complying?
        I think what Jim meant is that are a lot of duplicate channels of what is on the lower numbers and a lot of the newer channels have nothing but junk on them. American movie classics channel #29 is supposed to show old movies (hence the name) and they show all these crappy shows. At least TCM shows old movies. Channels 37,38,39 and 40 used to show learning and education shows and now they show nothing but junk. I am getting sick of paying almost $100 just for cable and getting a lot of “channel not available at this time messages” see it a lot on Hallmark channel 78/629 and POP TV channel 175 and a few others. ER is on Saturdays and most of time I can’t watch any of the shows because the “channel is not available” When I want to watch Hallmark on 78/629 it is always unavailable. I don’t know why they even bother to show the Boston statehouse on channel 1303, there is never any sound.

      2. Jerry says:

        Laura, I did mean to write complaining, thank you for the correction. I remember typing it correctly. I am using a spectrum internet mo-dem, so I actually am wondering who made the mistake, me or them.

        I didn’t know that people were having problems getting the hallmark channel which I do agree is unacceptable. I don’t watch that one myself because in my experience I would rather read the cards than watch the movie adaptations.

        I also agree that a lot of the programming can be boring unless you use your imagination along with it. They just don’t make it like they used to.

  4. Lile says:

    We been having problems with our internet keeps dropping bad connection my grandson can’t play Xbox something no connection when searching another website already two techs have been to my house still the problem hasn’t been solve

  5. Lewis Beilman says:

    We live in N/E FL. Our provider for many years was Brighthouse. Over a years ago Spectrum became our provider through acquisition. Everything was fine until three months ago. Then we got a letter s from Spectrum saying the discount program we had with Brighthouse was expiring and our rate was going from $165 to $200. After many calls trying to get a discount as before Spectrum said they have no discount for existing customers and the only way to reduce our rate was to reduce our service. Only new customers were eligible for a discount program. And when there discount expires their price would go up. When I told them I was getting promotions from Direct TV/AT&T and we may switch, they said if we decide to switch back after several months they will offer a $500 incentive at discount bundled rates. HUH? I hate Spectrum because they do not care about loyal customers. And they will hook new customers only to stick it to them after the initial discount pricing expires. They are a monopoly in our area so they can do what they want. Pathetic!

  6. Vickie says:

    I hate spectrum! I think they take advantage of the elderly my mom has had multiple problems and to get a service tech out has been a REAL problem. Shdoesn’t

  7. JR says:

    I love my antenna. Like most urban/suburban and even many rural ateas, broadcast tv is,FREE! Better picture too. A one time $50-$350 investnent in a proper attic/rooftop antanna is,all anyone needs. Out of,Orlando, FL 40 miles away i have 55~ish channels. Monthly cost $0. It’s bad enough paying Spectrum for internet at $70~ month vut, i’ve ne er bought into “pay tv”. Why??

  8. kathi taylor says:

    i had been with brighthouse for2-3 years internet only since its became spectrum i recently bundled internet, phone, and tv. i was paying $70 for lightning internet, when i bundled it was only $35 more, and ive had no problems and im in a 2 redlight small south alabama town, im sorry to all who have problems, but so far SO GOOD!

  9. Ted B. says:

    I have a hard time dignify them by calling them …Spectrum .
    Sputum is more like it ! I just went through my annual rig-a-ma-roll with TWC/Sputum .
    I was told it was going to be 180. 76 WITH ALL fees ! And I was also mad a Sputum customer.
    They had to send me a different 2 piece modem . That was fun !
    Saw first bill 189 ! And I asked over and over again is that 180.76 with ALL fees , he said yes !
    Turned on the tube a couple of days later, found I lost a few channels !
    Called Sputum because I saw an email to me telling me that I could upgrade to the silver tear for NO increase so I did !
    Got back my channels that I lost and now have showtime/Cinamax /HBO for the same $ 189 .
    I feel like I won some sort of battle ! But THEY will WIN the war !

  10. J.W. Clark says:

    Spectrum is the devil, charge us for all the trash advertising that they have also been paid for. Something needs to be done, as painful as it may be a boycott of Spectrum?

  11. Sister Mary Kathryn says:

    No one proofreads anymore.

  12. js says:

    I finally had it with them when they continued to raise my rates on basic service. I was paying around $200 a month and had no pay channels! I finally got rid of cable!! I kept internet and phone (I plan to get rid of phone soon, very soon now) and I use my Roku player. I purchased YouTube tv for $40/mo for over 50 channels and it includes unlimited cloud DVR. It was a little bit of an adjustment but I am thrilled to tell them to kiss off!! Best thing I ever did!

  13. Ruger1 says:

    Spectrum Cable is a Horrible Company!!!!! They Bought Out Brighthouse Cable here in Central Florida about 2 years ago, and Their Service SUCKS!!!! We Never had any problems with Brighthouse Cable or Internet, But Now with Spectrum Our Cable Picture is Glitching All the Time, Their Internet is Always Buffering, I’ve Changed Out Modems, Routers and have had Them Come to My home to tell Me Everything is Working Properly, even though the Techs see the Picture Glitch and the Internet Buffer and say that’s the Norm… WTF???? Never had any of these Problems with Brighthouse… And Now I’m almost at $200 a month, for Basic HD Cable Se8, No HBO, Showtime or Cinemax and Their 60MB Internet Service… And Now almost Daily Iget Their Advertising saying to Upgrade to Their 100MB Internet Service.. No Thank You!!!!! But of You see Their Commercials for New Customers.. They Offer the 100MB Internet, Cable and Phone Service for $45.00 a Month… But if You Call and Speak to Them, They if I Cancel My Services and wait a Month or Two.. I Could CALL back and Get the New Customer Pricing… WTF!!!!! IF I Do That… I’m Sure as Hell Not Going Back to Spectrum.. Couldn’t Believe They Told Me That!!! I was a Brighthouse Customer for over 25 Years… But Spectrum Couldn’t Hobe a Shit about Customer Loyalty!!!!!!

  14. Jerry says:

    After looking at all these comments I am so upset I almost turned off my television and read a book. The feeling passed after about 90 seconds though.

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