Consumers Union is suggesting that cable companies may be using the upcoming digital conversion as a lever to pry more cash out of their subscribers’ wallets. The technique involves taking popular basic cable channels and moving them to a digital-only tier, requiring subscribers who want to continue watching them to upgrade their service and get a digital set-top box for all televisions upon which they want the channel to be available. CU says cable operators are blaming the practice on the need to free up bandwidth, but it calls this a sneaky backdoor rate increase.
NAB’s Dennis Wharton commented, “If true, the Consumer Reports allegations raise disturbing questions about the cable industry that might be worthy of an FCC review. While broadcasters have donated a billion dollars in airtime and education to ensure a seamless transition to digital television, some in the cable industry seem to view DTV as merely an opportunity to raise rates. Consumers deserve factual information about the DTV transition from cable MSOs, not more confusion and higher bills."
Meanwhile, at least one MSO is increasing consumer bills the old-fashioned way – simply raising them. A simple Google of the words “cable” and “rates” reveals one local newspaper story after another about Comcast rates going up on 11/1/08.