Monday, May 26, 2008

Cable TV: Information Highway Robbery

Their licenses to steal are paying off better each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports Cable TV fees rising 77 percent since 1996, roughly double the rate of inflation.

For most American TV viewers, unless they buy iffy satellite dishes, hooking up to the local Cable provider is the only game in town. No matter where they live, their community gets paid to give one seller an exclusive franchise to pump information and entertainment into homes and pump out more money each year.

Imagine the US postal system not only being paid by citizens to deliver their mail but by magazines, newspapers and catalogue publishers to decide which of them to allow into the mailboxes.

It started 60 years ago when a small-town Pennsylvania shopkeeper, having trouble selling TV sets because a mountain was blocking reception from Philadelphia, put an antenna on the peak and began stringing wire into his customers' homes. It solved his sales problems and opened the way for cable systems to take over the nation's eyes and ears.

At first, franchises were handed out piecemeal in time-honored ways, by bribing local politicians, but national corporations soon took over, and now Comcast, Time Warner and a few others have it all locked up.

Every so often, Congress and the FCC are stirred to try to allow consumers to buy cable services a la carte instead of the packages providers deliver, but that might agitate the cash cows into delivering less corporate milk and the lobbyists are having none of that.

Three years ago, I started giving Cablevision $90 a month for cable, internet and long-distance phone service, but since then, the price has ballooned to more than twice that. Then again maybe I shouldn't complain. Now I can get dozens of channels in Spanish, Russian, Hindi and Yiddish that weren't available before.

Ole and oy vey!


Anonymous said...

The cable TV hustle is another example of what David Hapgood calls a "carom screwing" in his classic book, "The Screwing of the Average Man."

Actually, there is another game in town. Rabbit ears. At our house it's five channels via the "free waves," video rentals from the local liquor store and the public lending library.

The kids complain all the time about our slow dial-up, no cable, no high-speed internet. Adults who have them tell me "you ain't missin' nothin'," maybe just to be polite.

Forty-something years ago our family of nine sat around a B&W tv in our half-finished basement, munching popcorn, watching "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Good as it ever was, or since.

R. S. Abrinaud said...

YahooBB and Softbank have the Cable TV monopoly here in Japan, and the prices are just as ridiculous as they are in the States. Likewise, the increases in price come unannounced and balloon out of control. When I arrived here two years ago, I was paying aprox. $30 U.S. for internet services--and that's ONLY internet services. Now I'm paying over double that amount. I'd hate to see my bill if I had cable, too (not to mention that the NHK company charges its own fee for its programming).

I don't feel like I'm missing anything at all, not having a TV, and when I do return home, I think I'll maintain my TV-less state.

GiromiDe said...

When I look back at my last several years of television viewing, I would be happiest just watching Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, and Arrested Development in batches on DVD. This means the great bulk of my TV viewing is ultimately fruitless.