Thursday, December 15, 2005

Complaining For The Wrong Reasons

There was a curious article in the Gazette recently. Alas, I cannot provide you with a link - the Gazette appears to be a little too picky with what they decide to make available online. (I sent email to the Editor asking why I couldn't find the article in their search engine - despite knowing the exact title and date of publication! It's been two weeks and still no reply from the Gazette.)

The article ("Officials criticize Comcast rate Hike", Nov 9 2005) describes how Comcast is raising their rates. In newspaper advertisements, Comcast explains that fees are going up because of "increasing operating expenses and other investments and increased PEG/I-Net fees paid to Montgomery County." At least half of this statement is a lie.

PEG/I-Net fees are not going up. According to the article, the fee remains at $1.50 per customer for 2006 just as for 2005. (An official of the Cable Office informs me that actual 2005 rate was actually a few pennies less ... close enough though.) But for some time, Comcast's bills have been informing customers that the fee is only $1.25. Now the bills have been changed to reflect the true amount. BUT ... the bottom line on your bill is going up by the difference - which Comcast is pocketing, which makes their advertisements rather confusing and, in some people's minds, outright misleading.

This is a 20% rise in a fee and the County has undoubtedly been receiving calls from citizens irate at the substantial jump. So county officials are doing their best to explain that it's not their fault rates are rising - which is technically true. But also true is that the rates - rates directly traceable to the county government - are high to begin with!

So if you want to complain to the county about high fees - go ahead - just make sure you complain for the right reasons!

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Price Hikes

Comcast raises rates each year on January 1 and holds rates throughout the year (though specials that come and go make it seem like their rates are changing regularly). The Jan 1 tradition is in part due to regulatory reasons - the FCC only permits regulated rates to change once per year. However this year, the regulated rate for basic service is not rising. But the most popular package rate (the entire analog lineup, called "preferred service") is going up (from $49.82 to 52.15 plus fees). And prices for other packages and hardware (converter boxes, etc) are going up as well.

This 4.6% increase is a significantly smaller rise than previous years. The reason is undoubtedly due to competition from Verizon. Oh, I suppose Comcast may have also cut back on expenses - their loss of numerous senior executives probably helps.

Ok, that's a small joke. The reality is that the senior staff is very important. In that sense, Comcast has yet to deliver. And from the looks of it, they appear to be heading in the wrong direction. Some of their senior staff are still "Acting" and, even more surprising, Comcast has announced that their new General Manager for Montgomery County will also be responsible for Prince Georges County as well. This roughly doubles the number of subscribers that that the GM will be responsible for. That does not bode well for our future.

Starpower Hikes Prices, Too

According to officials from the Cable Office, RCN (nee Starpower) is also raising its rates - by a screaming 18%. Despite that jump, RCN's cable prices will STILL be cheaper than Comcast's!

Unfortunately, the RCN website doesn't have the new prices so I'm going by information given to my by the MC Cable Office. I even called RCN support - nope, they have no knowledge of new prices, sigh. But I believe the Cable Office officials since new price announcements must first be approved by the county. (More specifically, the County gets 5 days to comment on any notification of price changes before being released to the public.)

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