Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Wages of Sin

Finally the FCC is doing something right. Seems they have hired a special advisor in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, a Ms. Penny Nance, whose job it will be to root out “indecency.” Just last January Nance sent a letter to President George Bush calling for a stricter enforcement of laws and identifying a “huge indecency problem” in cable. Her most recent gig as board member of Concerned Women for America should prove quite helpful in this noble endeavor. Concerned Women for America describes its mission as “helping to bring Biblical principals into all levels of public policy.”

Can I get an Amen?

Amen brother, I have a few places where Ms. Nance can start tackling this “indecency” epidemic in cable.

Let’s begin with the ninth commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Sure it’s not as big as murder or adultery but lying was still a sin the last time I looked. And if you want to get theological about it, it’s not just lying but “bearing false witness” which covers even more territory.

I want to talk about the sin of bearing false witness to get people to unwittingly buy a service they don’t want or need, like the digital tier. Cable operators take pay channels, like HBO or Cinemax, that until recently were available in analog and move them up to the digital tier. Nothing wrong with that you say? We’ll all have to migrate sometime you say? Sure there’s nothing wrong with the concept but what is wrong is how they go about informing their customers of this switch.

It would seem industry wide they all use the same tactic. They send out letters to the customer letting them know that the only way to get HBO or Cinemax is to buy the digital tier but they fail to let their customers know that all they really have to do is rent a converter box. The difference in price is as much as $15 per month. It’s what the FCC calls a “buy-through.” That is moving a channel up to digital so you can squeeze even more bucks out of the consumer. It’s supposed to be illegal to force people to buy digital services just to get a pay channel but so far the FCC is doing nothing about it.

In September 2003, the Cable Advisory Council of Enfield Connecticut filed a Petition for Review with the FCC because Cox was doing exactly that, making customers "buy-through." Then in April 2004 the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisor filed comments in support of the Enfield complaint. So far, nothing. Meanwhile the operators just keep on keeping on, bearing their false witness and duping folks. No wonder Comcast has seen a 64% jump in profits and no wonder every time these cable guys get together they drink champagne. And it all gets dumped back into the lap of the local franchising authorities who then have duke it out with the operators just to force them to tell the truth.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lies of the cable boys and their fellow travelers the phone fellas. Need I mention Texas or Arizona or Kentucky?

It is good that the FCC has finally seen the light and hired a lady who knows sin when she sees it. Perhaps we should set up one big confessional right there at the portals on 12th Street in D.C. and have all those gentlemen from Time Warner and Comcast and Cox and Verizon and SBC line up to request absolution and get baptized with the holy water of the Potomac.

Then again, maybe we should actually start with getting the FCC on the path to righteousness. While it’s not a commandment, the sin of omission is a real sin. As I remember it from Sunday school, not doing something is just about as bad as doing something.

Hey Ms. Nance! Hope you brought plenty of ecclesiastical white-out with ya, you’re gonna need it!

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