Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happiness Is A Warm, Fuzzy Rate Increase

I have the unique pleasure of having not one, but two cable providers, Comcast and Charter. The first is for my home and the second if for this little old beach house we have in Chincoteague Virginia.

Last week, about a day apart, we received notice from both companies that our rates were going up. Not unusual, you say? Well it is if you consider that Comcast has competition (Verizon) and Charter has no competition at all. Trust me, neither Verizon nor at&t are going to be building in Chincoteague anytime soon.

Charter’s notice was a pretty straightforward two page letter with price increases and channel lineup. They said:

“The price adjustments reflect the overall value of our services, including the availability of improved programming and choice, significant savings through our multi-product bundle, and are necessary based on additional investments we’ve made to improve our privately managed network, specifically designed to achieve advancements in customer service and increased network quality and reliability.”

Now I know I can be the Queen of Run-On Sentences, but whoever wrote that has me beat, hands down.

In running down the price list for various of their “improved programming” the increases go from 7% to 100%. They really stick it to those “family” types who were getting the “Family and Information Tier” which they, for whatever reason, decided to re-name “Charter Total View.” And I’m not sure why they even consider it to be a “family” package when it includes MTV, VH-1 and Lifetime Movie Channel (or as my husband calls it the “murder your husband channel.”)

Comcast’s notice was really excellent in graphic design and appeal, slick, full color, but it made me think, why didn’t they just do what Charter did, “Here’s your stinkin rate increase letter,” save the money on the fancy printing so they wouldn’t have to raise my rates at all?

The message of the brochure was clear, happy kids watching TV with a happy Dad or a happy little girl looking over her brother’s shoulder as he happily checks out the “Comcast Fan.” (If you don’t know it’s a video compilation of the day’s top news stories gleaned from CNN, CBS, AP, etc. Real important stuff like how the beauty shop owner refused to shave Brittany’s head and how some town is really steamed at Martha Stewart, I’m sure that little girl was fascinated.)

There were eight pictures in all and everybody in every picture is so damn happy. God I wish I felt like that when I watched TV or surfed the net or used my phone. What is it I am missing? I’ve got Comcast just like they do but I don’t feel exhilarated. Must be a character defect.

Comcast’s rate increases went from 2% to 24%. In this instance they stuck it to the Starz people. Giving Comcast credit they did include a coupon for one FREE pay per view movie, all I had to do is watch it, send in the coupon saying what I watched and boom! Freebie! But the question is what if I watched some “adult” classic, do I really want to write that down and send it in?

I found it curious that both companies informed me the rates were going up March 1. What? Did they all get into a room together and throw a dart at the calendar?

Comcast claimed:

“During the past year, Comcast has invested in its network to offer you more variety, choices and control. We are dedicated to providing excellent customer service, introducing new technology, and offering more choices. We continually enhance our products, and our commitment to product development means that we will always have industry-leading services and features.”

Notice how they both say how much they’ve invested in their networks? They probably came up with that while in that room nailing down the date.

The bottom line is what we’ve always said, rates are not affected by competition so Dick Armey put that in your pipe and smoke it. In Montgomery County Maryland, my southern neighbor, there are three, count ‘em three, “competitors” and all three are raising their rates from 4% to 15% this year. Even old Verizon raised its rates on new customers 7.6%. You’d think Verizon having worked so hard to woo those customers would have wanted to enjoy a honeymoon period before stickin’ it to them.

But hey, they’re all working hard, making investments, improving customer service, bringing you more choices, enhancing their products, offering you savings through their bundle, so shut up and be happy.

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