Free market forces not to blame for lousy cable TV service

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Almost everybody has a story involving cable TV companies and awful customer service.

What’s yours?

Mine happened nine years ago.

I had just moved to Sebring, Fla., a place 75 miles removed from the nearest TV station. If you angled your antenna in just the right position, you might barely get a signal from Tampa or Orlando.

The people at the local cable company told me it would take six weeks to install service. When they were finally ready, they called me at work, unscheduled, and told me they could only install it if I put everything aside and came home — otherwise I’d have to wait another six weeks.

WIRED IN: Alternatives to cable TV are finally entering the market.

My new boss wasn’t thrilled when I requested a few hours off.

Two years later, when I left Sebring, I had to return the cable converter. The customer service rep couldn’t even tell me the location of their local office. He had no idea of an address.

It’s not just one company.

The 1.4 million customers of Suddenlink just learned they can no longer watch Comedy Central, BET, MTV or 17 other popular channels because of a financial dispute with Viacom, which produces those channels.

Upset customers, including those in my hometown of Ruston, La., are considering switching to satellite service as an alternative, although not all neighborhoods and apartment complexes allow them.

Suddenlink customers are reportedly begging for some sort of competition.

In Chattanooga, meanwhile, Comcast’s reportedly horrible customer service prompted local officials to complain that free market forces were failing the city. They used taxpayer money to create their own service to compete against Comcast.

Ironically, free market forces generally have nothing to do with a cable TV company’s awful service. Government regulations give these cable companies a monopoly, freeing them from competition and making them sloppy.

More government intervention to address this problem is no different than a firefighter filling a water hose with gasoline and trying to use it to put out a fire.

This past spring I grew tired of paying upwards of $100 a month for bundled cable TV packages full of garbage reality shows that make me fear for the future of the human race.

I watched two or three cable channels, if that.

STREAMING: HBO is about to start Internet streaming their network to customers.

I said to heck with it, canceled my cable and now Internet stream “The Walking Dead” and other favorite shows for far less money.

I’ve always wondered why, with all this new technology, cable networks never stream their channels.

Now, HBO is about to do just that for $15 a month, although naysayers scream it’s an unwise business model.

Hopefully it will work out and other cable networks will follow HBO’s lead, allowing customers to have real choice in content.

No longer will the low-rated MSNBC linger on fumes because government rules allow cable companies to charge you for channels you don’t want.

As positive as that sounds, there is one troubling question.

How long before do-gooder politicians find something they believe is unfair about this and decide to crack down on these innovations?

Politicians will cloak their words with good intentions, but what they really will want to do is to limit choice.

They will claim low-rated networks serve a public service and it’s morally wrong to subject them to the whims of the free market.

Everyone who values choice and the wisdom of free market forces must remain on guard and call out these politicians, not to mention their media backers, and hold them accountable when they start this drivel.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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