News & Politics

Sucker: How Cable Companies Make You Pay For Channels You'll Never Watch

Even though anti-trust laws say cable companies can't coordinate their business plans, they do.

 If you have cable or satellite TV you are captive behind a virtual iron curtain. That's right. You're a prisoner in an electronic gulag. You can leave, but only if you move to another electronic gulag. There is no escape. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

With all the fussing and moaning from Tea Party types about the American government going all socialist on us, it's amazing how the same people can go home, turn on their cable TV box and not notice the cable-commie shackles snapping closed around them.

I have Comcast. Poor me. But the other cable and satellite providers are cut of the same commie cloth. While they tout their companies on Wall Street as models of capitalist profitability, they are, in fact, as authoritarian and anti-freedom as any latter day Stalinist.

I turn on my TV and there they are... five hundred channels of this and that. I am supposed to be bowled over by this entertainment Horn of Plenty - for which I am charged over $1500 a year. But start clicking through them and you see what a gulag it really is:

- I can watch Vietnamese-language news and entertainment channels. Never mind that I can't speak or understand a word of it. The last time I cared anything about Vietnam was 45 years ago when I was trying to avoid being sent there with a gun.

- I can also choose between dozens upon dozens of sporting events and sports-talk shows. To put it mildly, I am not a sporting person. I could care less. The very sight of a locker room brings back intrusive recollections of high school. So I click past those channels as fast as my clicking finger can manage.

- I can choose among a bunch of home-shopping shows hawking bobbles and bangles and things that clean stuff, or claim to. Every time I pass one of these channels I get the same disturbing image in my head: over-weight women in Iowa, one hand rummaging through paper wrappers in a See's candy box, the other hand poised hunter-like on the quick-dial button, ready to pull the trigger for the next cheesy trinket that's "only available for the next two minutes."

- Then there's "local programming" channels where I can listen to locals rant the same neighborhood blather I can get free over morning coffee at the local diner... which is precisely why I avoid the local diner.

When I list the number of channels I actually watch and enjoy, it comes down to five out of the 500 - or one percent. Unfortunately four of those channels are not available on "basic cable, so I am stuck with a "premium" package.

Since I still only consume 1% of what Comcast provides, my bill should not be $1500 a year but $15. Oh, I know the cable companies could not afford to provide service for that, so I'd happily raise it to $150 a year for my five channels of free market choice.

But you can't get A La Carte service from cable/satellite providers. Even though anti-trust laws say these companies can't coordinate their business plans, they do. None of them offer an A La Carte menu allowing their "customers"to pick and choose what programs they like and want to purchase, as in that old fashioned notion of "supply and demand," and letting the market place decide which products move to the top and which fail because not enough people want or like them. That's capitalism, and the cable/satellite companies want no part of it. And they've spent lavishly on politicians, federal, state and - most importantly, local, to assure they never will have to be subject to the efficiencies of a true free market.

According the FCC web site:

"The rates for any tier of service (other than the basic services tier) and for any pay-per-channel programming (i.e., a premium movie channel) and pay-per-program services (i.e., a pay-per-view sports event) are not regulated. Your cable company is able to charge any rate for these services."

If you are not satisfied with your cable rates, look for alternative multichannel video programming services that may be available in your area, such as competitive cable services, satellite television services and open video system services."

So I called Comcast to see what we could do about my bill, which when you add phone and Internet was pushing $190 a month. They said they could do nothing for me. When I told them that I don't speak Spanish or Vietnamese or Chinese or Hungarian, their response was I should watch some of the other choices that are in English.

The response reminded me of Humphrey Bogart's line in Maltese Falcon. When Sam Spade (Bogart) slaps a young thug and the thug objects, Spade responds, "When I slap you around you'll take it and like it."

But I didn't like it, so I said if Comcast did not do something about my bloated bill for crap I did not want, and would not pay for if given a chance, I would switch to Direct TV. That's when they began switching me to "supervisors."

After half an hour on hold, during which they surely hoped I'd give up, I finally got to "supervisor No. 3 who agreed to cut my bill by $40 a month - BUT for only one year. After that it would go back up to what it was, plus whatever rate increase might happen between then and now.

That's life in Comcast Commie-Gulagland... and Direct TV, and AT&T and Verizon, et al. They claim to comply with anti-trust laws. And we are asked to believe that it's just coincidence that, once the "special introductory pricing period' is up, you end up right where started with the other guys. Comcast, Direct TV, AT&T.. all of them lock you cells -- "tiers" -- and force-feed you programming you wouldn't watch on bet, much less pay for. And the make you pay for it anyway.

So, nightly, on my MSNBC cable feed I listen to Tea Party types and other Republicans denounce Obama-care on the grounds that it forces people to buy health insurance. Yet those same people don't seem to mind their cable/satellite providers forcing them to buy foreign language soap operas or cage fighting, or the hundreds of other crap-programming they don't like and don't watch.

Apparently, these "free market" loving conservatives actually don't know a socialist operation even when one plops itself down nightly right in their own living rooms.

Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.