Week 2, 2014: More on encrypted local HD cable

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 2, 2014

Q. Do you know in what specific regions Comcast has encryption and charges basic cable customers for HD channels?

-John M., Greensburg, PA

A. I don’t know the entire nationwide situation. A request was sent to Comcast’s national PR team to contact me regarding encryption, but I did not receive a reply. I did receive an update from Ray Skog of Blaine, MN, the reader who originally wrote me about losing his high-def channels when Comcast encrypted his cable.

On December 19, 2013 Mr. Skog wrote me, saying “I got a call from Deb at Comcast today. Comcast will give us one year’s high-def channels for free. After one year, if we want to continue receiving the high def channels it will cost us another $10 per month. I told her ‘Fine, but I still feel that we had high-def included in our basic rate before all this encrypting began. Now they’ve taken it away from us and are telling us that to get high-def back again it will cost an extra $10 per month.’ I told Deb that I would spend the next year keeping an eye out for a good antenna. She said she would pass my feedback on to their marketing group.”

Besides this Minnesota resident, at http://tinyurl.com/kc48acz The Seattle Times reports a $2.50/month charge for an HD DTA upgrade for basic subscribers.

So, the FCC grants the cable companies a huge boon allowing them to encrypt basic cable, and in some regions Comcast uses encryption to take away high definition channels and then charges customers extra to get them back, either by charging a fee for the channels, the outlet, or the HD DTA box. I call Mr. Skog’s experience, “High-Def Hostage Taking.” There are reports of it happening in Boston, Seattle, and Minnesota, and possibly in other places as regions seem different and clear information is hard to come by. The entire situation is opaque, and this may be by design. This was my impression, and Jessica Harper of sunthisweek.com recounted an Eagan, Minnesota City Council meeting where concerns about the adapters and fees were discussed.

“At the Tuesday meeting, City Council members grilled Comcast representatives about the changes and criticized the company for having a lack of transparency and poor communication with its customers.

‘It feels like Comcast is very well versed with language when it is in front of our communications attorney or the FCC, but it is conveniently confusing when selling to its customers,’ Mayor Mike Maguire said.”

Read the whole article at: sunthisweek.com/2013/02/20/comcast-fees-changes-concern-eagan-residents/

Such experiences are reflected in opinion polls nationwide. Besides bringing up the bottom of the JD Power ratings for cable and Internet, in 2010 readers of consumer watchdog website consumerist.com voted Comcast “The Worst Company in America” earning them Consumerist’s Golden Poo award. Comcast took the Bronze Poo in 2013 as third-worst company in America, edging out fourth-worst Ticketmaster.

I will be researching and reporting on Comcast and other cable companies regarding new instances of High-Def Hostage Taking. It appears the new FCC regulations regarding basic cable encryption could be bad public policy, and need to be repealed or amended so they don’t take basic cable subscribers back 15 years.