The Labor Day weekend looms, and more than a few of you will be settling in for marathon streaming sessions of "Bojack Horseman," "Master of None," and the like. As you binge, it may cross your mind for the umpteenth time that cord cutting is the way to go.
Penalizing customer loyalty
In what other industry does a business say "thank you for your loyalty" by overcharging you? (Actually, the insurance business springs to mind.) It's a truism that new cable customers get the best deals, while loyal customers are rewarded with ever-escalating bills. The sweetheart deal that lured you in? After your two-year commitment is over, all bets are off and your provider has moved on to woo other prospects.
Yes, it really stinks that you're stuck paying $99 per month while your ISP parades that same service for $40 a month to new customers only. Isn't a good customer worth anything to these companies? If your provider proves intransigent about negotiating better terms on your jacked-up monthly rate, the only way to save money may be to switch to another ISP -- provided there is one in your area. If not, welcome to the un-free market system.
Outrageous rental fees
You probably bought your own cable modem, but are still stuck paying a monthly rental fee in perpetuity for a TV set-top box. According to government findings, 99 percent of cable customers still rent set-top boxes from their provider; the average household spends up to $231 per year on rental fees.
Consumers are being ripped off because they don't have an easy way to own their boxes like they do with every other electronic device. "Opening up the set-top-box marketplace means helping to quell the outrageous price-gouging consumers currently face at the hands of the cable companies," Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America stated in a letter to the FCC.
That agency has been trying to bring about competition in set-top boxes -- to no avail. The cable industry doesn't take lightly this threat to its revenue stream. It has funded "an ocean of misleading editorials that try to claim the FCC's ['Unlock the Box'] plan will somehow boost piracy, hurt privacy, 'steal the future,' and even harm ethnic diversity," TechDirt writes.
FCC chair Tom Wheeler's plan may also have lost momentum when Comcast last month declared a truce with Netflix and signed a deal to put the streaming service on Comcast's set-top boxes -- undercutting arguments that the boxes are anticompetitive.
"The cable industry is aware that a reckoning is coming for its lucrative box-rental business … but it's going to make sure the shift happens slowly, allowing it to continue collecting those monthly rental fees for as long as possible," Fortune writes.
Too many channels, too little choice
Channel surfing shouldn't be such a time suck. Even basic cable packages feature dozens of channels, while premium packages run to the hundreds. "Why should you be forced to pay for Nickelodeon and Sprout when you're childless and really only interested in watching 'Cops' reruns on Spike TV?" asks Kiplinger.
Cable companies are expanding the number of custom TV plans they offer. They see these new "skinny bundle" offerings as a way to stay in the bundles programming business -- and defer true à la carte pricing. A world where customers pay only for what they watch might increase consumer satisfaction, but cable companies would lose revenue. Don't expect it any time soon.
Thwarting cord cutters
Now that you're ready to cut the cord in favor of streaming, here's the bad news: Cable providers are pulling out the stops to make that an expensive proposition. Broadband data caps have become streaming's Achilles' heel. Caps are not only "arbitrary, unnecessary, and harm innovation, they're also a useful weapon against streaming video competitors and the natural evolution of TV competition," writes TechDirt.
Now in a new plan of attack, ISPs are forcing would-be cord cutters to subscribe to TV in order to avoid data caps. AT&T, for one, announced it would impose new usage caps on broadband users, but users who subscribed to its TV services would be able to avoid the caps. "ISPs are using a lack of competition in the broadband space to impose usage caps. They're then using caps to force subscribers to sign up for TV services they may or may not actually want," TechDirt writes. "It's a mammoth, misleading, and anticompetitive abuse of two markets simultaneously."
Even if you take the plunge and dump your cable company as a TV provider, you're likely stuck with them when it comes to internet access -- unless you live in one of the select areas with Google Fiber or municipal broadband.
Cable providers love to advertise the blazing fast internet speeds you'll get with their latest, greatest plans. What they don't advertise: You'll rarely experience those promised rates. The U.S. government offers a broadband map that compares speeds promised vs. speeds delivered across the country. "It's not a pretty picture," warns IT World. "Most of the United States gets slower broadband speeds than promised."
There are speed tests available to test your own upload and download connections, but what do you do if your ISP is underperforming? Switching providers is no guarantee -- the competitor is probably exaggerating its speeds, too -- and complaining will likely lay you open to an upsell for a more expensive internet plan.
Time now to read about customer service from hell and weep.