Currently, I am paying for 600 cable channels even though I only watch five. During the recent cable blackout affecting Time Warner cable customers, I was only able to watch three. Simply put, this is an insane system that no rational human would have conceived.
Why can’t we have a la carte pricing where you simply get to pay for the channels you watch? Why do we have to accept regular blackouts of our favorite stations every two years just because corporate giants are fighting with one another? Because no one cares and no one is looking out for the cable consumer in spite of the ever rising fees we are forced to pay. Fortunately, there is an answer, which we can implement right here in New York, based on a model that has worked well elsewhere around the country. There needs to be a Cable Consumer Protection Board.
This is a concept modeled after the incredibly successful Citizen Utility Boards around the country. These are nonprofit, non-partisan, non-governmental entities which do nothing but look out for the utility consumer, and they have been remarkably successful. The best part? They cost the taxpayers nothing to implement. In Illinois, for instance, since 1983 CUBs has saved ratepayers more than $3 billion in fees and filled the consumer chair before utility commissions, legislative hearings and courtroom proceedings on many occasions. Last year alone, it beat back more than $300 million in proposed rate hikes.
How would such a model work for cable consumers in New York? That is the question I posed recently to longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who initially conceived the idea of CUBs: “It would require either an executive order by Gov. Cuomo or a bill through the Legislature simply requiring that when you get your cable bill, there’s an insert in the bill that says if you’re tired of not having your complaints answered, paying too much or being forced to take channels you don’t want, then fill out his coupon and send anywhere from $10 to $20 to become a member and you’ll have some champions.”
Imagine that! Zero cost to the taxpayers and we get a full-fledged, consumer protection group with the teeth to actually get things done. It is completely optional, with not a single consumer being forced to participate.
Some folks may say it’s unfair to force the cable companies to include this insert in their bill, although they do not seem to mind keeping you waiting for a visit anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Nader had an answer for those skeptics as well: “Are you kidding? Do you know how much the taxpayer has paid for the whole cable industry right down to who developed it and they have basic monopolies? Ask yourself what’s the reciprocal benefit, what are we getting in return?” I think that is a fine question.
During the blackout, when I was prevented from watching “60 Minutes,” “Ray Donovan” or “CBS Sunday Morning,” I was repeatedly told I should switch to Fios. Why? Why should I have to give up NY1? When I would complain about the miserable service of cable companies in general, I was repeatedly told I should switch to DirecTV. Why should I have to lose a whole host of local programming options? Isn’t this a simpler idea?
The bottom line is there should be some recourse for those of us that want to enjoy cable the way we want it. Being able to flip channels between NY1, Al Jazeera America and CBS should not be the consumer equivalent of splitting the atom.
This is simple. This will help consumers get the choices and services they deserve and this is easy to implement. Join me in asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to act on creating a state Cable Consumer Protection Board.
If you do not, nothing will stop them from blacking out your favorite station in the future while they are still charging you for it.
Radio talk show host