Please Explain: My Cable Bill

Friday, January 08, 2010

On today’s Please Explain, Joel Kelsey, Associate Policy Analyst for Consumers Union, tells us about how cable television works, how fees are assessed, and explains the recent fights between cable networks and providers.


Joel Kelsey

Comments [39]

Ida Rogers from kingsbridge-Bronx

Thank you for giving us this venue in order to comment on Cable services. I am 75 years and I finding it very difficult to pay for the bills because they keep raising the rates. Many of the shows have too many ads, and many are very offensive for younger people and there are not enough intellectual shows for young and old. Some shows like 48 hours keep showing African-american youth in a very bad light-murderers, etc.,all the time.Why can't Congress regulate the rates and the shows that are being shown.

Jan. 10 2010 03:40 PM
Ted from NJ

The networks make money on advertising they sell for their programs and the Cable companies make money on the local ads they sell during their allocated slots during the same programing that they distribute. I realize that it might not be enough to reach the absurd levels of profits either of these entities want to make, so they charge subscribers outrageous monthly fees. (with all three services, but minimal premium programing, I'm easily at $160/month - almost $2,000 per year - times how many subscribers???) When will both parties realize how good they have it. By holding programing for ransom during these silly bargaining disputes, there's going to be less annoying advertising to sell and a growing public sentiment not to take it anymore! (a la the 1976 movie "Network")

Jan. 08 2010 02:09 PM

Dinu I can't imagine how this could happen. Basically you are using the dormant coax as an antenna, and it seems they reset everything every 6 months or so. Even if you could be charged, how can they legally charge you for what is really non-service?

Jan. 08 2010 02:01 PM
Rob from The Bronx

So what are our options? What can we watch with a digital box? I have a friend who claims that every 13 months he cancels the cable portion of his triple play for 1 month and then becomes eligible again. Do we have to really jump through these sort of hoops to get a decent deal?

Jan. 08 2010 01:59 PM
Carl Gage from Stamford CT

All I want is one high-speed, high-quality IP friendly (ie digital) pipe to my home. Is there any possibility that the wireless providers will supply this competition (WiMax, 4G, etc.) to terrestial cable & telco?

Jan. 08 2010 01:58 PM
Laura from Manhattan

Please do this topic again on a regular basis.


--Is there 'socialized' cable TV in other countries?

--How much do we pay compared to other countries?

--Where is the consumer activism?

--Who in Congress is working on media reform?

--Do cable companies have a stranglehold on politicians?

--What does it mean for democracy that only 6 companies control so much of mass media?


Jan. 08 2010 01:58 PM
k from Manhattan

Joe Nocera in the NY Times, "Bland Menu if Cable Goes à la Carte:" . Also consider that channels that serve "niche markets" like, say, black people (BET), would be dead in the water, much less new start ups.

Jan. 08 2010 01:58 PM
Olivia Koppell from New York

There's a common theme when giant industries get away with taking advantage of the consumer and service suffers: de-regulation. I don't know why the public isn't angrier. Also, the original ideas was that there would be no ads on cable because we pay for the service. There are now just as many ads as on regular TV. TV used to be free - buy a set a plug it in. No longer - this is a huge scam perpetrated on the public. Our officials are not protecting us. Guess why!

Jan. 08 2010 01:57 PM
Jenn from NYC

I am one of the last holdouts in NY w/ no cable- for the exact reason that there's approx 4 channels that interest me and I would have to pay for 196 channels thatI have 0 interest in.
I can hulu/netflix directly into my television which is set up w/ outlet for my PC.

Oddly enough that I have an old analog TV and the last tenants cable wire in my apt so we stuck it (the wire) in in the back of the tv and get ALL network and some MNN channels.

On the list of things that make me go hmmm....

Jan. 08 2010 01:57 PM
bob from huntington

re caller's question:

re FIOS and MSNBC, Cablevision has a contract to be the exclusive provider on Long Island.

Jan. 08 2010 01:54 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

To the person who just called in about peak usage with Cablevision, we have the exact same problem! They always want to send someone out even though it's clearly a load issue and nothing to do with our equipment. They actually told us we should upgrade to their Boost Service (an extra 15 dollars a month) to get better speeds... but still no promises that'll it will be fast! It makes me so angry.

Jan. 08 2010 01:54 PM

is the telephone services offered by cable companies regulated the same way as telphone service offered by phone companies? if not why not and should it be?

Jan. 08 2010 01:54 PM

Nico - in some areas of Brooklyn you can get basic networks (and a few freebies) just by plugging the cable from the wall directly into the TV (no box needed).

Jan. 08 2010 01:53 PM
Dinu from New York

Leonard. I just plug the cable into the back of my TV and and watch whatever I get. I've had the cable guy explain that I can technically be charged for this. I don't have a cable subscription. Is this true?

Jan. 08 2010 01:53 PM

LOL at how these companies try to entice you with the "triple play" if I want a land line in this day and age!

That said, I go to PBS for my highbrow programming and certain websites for full episodes of Hoarders, Jersey Shore, etc.

As mentioned above, I would pay for a la carte channels (especially HBO), but if the current state of this cable monopoly and their tier rates remain, I have no incentive to give them my money.

Jan. 08 2010 01:52 PM

how does the cost of pro sports programming affect the overall cost of cable service and the cable companies attitude towards ala carte programming?

Jan. 08 2010 01:51 PM
Kush from Brooklyn

Being that the internet is somewhat out doing cable, will this effect our internet bills. I had AT&T wireless and they limit it 5GB of bandwidth but, stated it was unlimited.

Jan. 08 2010 01:51 PM
Robert Plautz from New York, N.Y.

I live in Maanhattan and my cable carrier is Time Warner. I pay $17.92 each month and don't have a box. I have, what they describe as "basic."

I was disappointed recently when they eliminated CSPAN-II from my channels. Why?

Thank you,

Robert Plautz

Jan. 08 2010 01:50 PM
Ben from Westchester

I recently switched from Cablevision to Verizon for television service. We do not get over-the-air signals where we are located, so cable service is a necessity for television viewing. What I didn't realize when we switched is that with Verizon, we are required to rent their set top boxes for ANY reception, or replace all of our televisions (older, analog sets) with new digital models in order to receive any channels, and without a box, it would be only a few channels but that includes the major networks which we could do with together with on-line viewing options. With Cablevision we were able to receive a number of basic channels without any boxes -- on our old sets, without the added rental fees. It seems a terrible shame that we are forced to retire to the landfill our old sets which, by the way, have very nice pictures albeit not HD (but we don't mind at all!) or pay the monthly fees for the 4 sets we have. (We did not avail ourselves of the government's digital converter subsidy because we were under the impression that it would not be needed for cable reception.) We have no interest in the hundreds of channels we now receive from Verizon and in fact find their complicated remote a barrier to simply enjoying television viewing.

Jan. 08 2010 01:50 PM

1. should the fcc and/or ftc force cable companies to split into separate firms for content and delivery?

2. should delivery services be treated as common carriers?

Jan. 08 2010 01:50 PM
Kyle from Manhattan

What is the most bang for your buck provider in NYC?

Jan. 08 2010 01:48 PM
Nico from Crown Heights

I heard that with the switch-over to digital, it's actually easier now to get channels for free. I'm not sure how this would work, technically speaking. Your guest, however, suggested otherwise. Can he explain?

Jan. 08 2010 01:48 PM
hazy from brooklyn

I have Basic service ($15) to get the internet ($49). got rid of my TV a while ago. only watch Hulu and Netflix...sometimes. I read more.

Jan. 08 2010 01:46 PM
Stephen Sacks from Brooklyn, NY

Yes, some people do buy just the basic service. I pay Time Warner $14/month for about 20 channels. I do NOT rent a set-top box: my old, plain vanilla VCR serves the same purpose.

Jan. 08 2010 01:46 PM

The guest mentioned that NBC owns E! Network, but I think it's actually Comcast.

Jan. 08 2010 01:45 PM
Gary from Port Washington

Cablevision is also playing a game with customers to force them to purchase DVD-R boxes so they can make more money. In the summer they upgraded their software so you can no longer set a VCR record from the program guide; they removed it so you can only set a VCR reminder. I have called five times and they have totally blown me off. It is a simple fix, but they refuse to do it so customers will be forced to buy a DVD-R box for $10 a month: it seems like a scam.

Jan. 08 2010 01:45 PM
bob from huntington


please ask about the growing proliferation of advertising graphics that appear during programs.

the constant on-screen (often distracting) logos are bad enough, but now we have animated graphics advertising other shows.

this constitutes advertising; isn't there supposed to be a limit to amount of advertising content per hour?

Jan. 08 2010 01:45 PM
Rick Bruner from Morningside Heights

I just saw that Apple is proposing to enable custom channels for people, made up of just your favorite shows or channels, as everyone would prefer.

Does your guest think this will have a real impact on the cable companies?

Jan. 08 2010 01:43 PM
Julia Chance from Brooklyn

My mother, who lives in a Maryland suburb and has Comcast, still had to get a converter box which has been a major source of frustration -- she's 77 and has yet another button-filled remote control to deal with. For months we told her that the HD conversion wouldn't affect her, but her Comcast service streams into her tv sans the typical box so she did need a converter. And Comcast, being Comcast, won't refund her for the months she paid fully for incomplete service because they notified customers of pending changes. Too bad if you're an elder and not tech savvy.

Jan. 08 2010 01:39 PM
Robert Plaut from New Jersey

When I discussed FIOS with Verizon, I could not understand how FIOS is really fiber service if the fiber ends in the garage and the signals then move via copper wires into the home.

Jan. 08 2010 01:38 PM
John L from UWS from UWS NYC

When i was a kid in CT circa 1960 there was a broadcast, over the air channel. The channel transmitted a scrambled signal so you need a COIN OPERATED set-top converter box to see the movie the channel was screening.
didn't last long.

Jan. 08 2010 01:37 PM
Michael Sheafe from UES Manhattan

Please ask about 'cable cards'. They are not yet available in a two-way format. Why not?

Jan. 08 2010 01:37 PM
tom from nyc

Why is there better / stronger regulation here? These price increases - not supported by higher costs - are outrageous.

Jan. 08 2010 01:36 PM
ben from brooklyn

Do cable operators know what all customers are watching at all times? Is this information used like Nielson ratings?

Jan. 08 2010 01:33 PM
Danny from Woodbridge, NJ

Is it advisable to purschase your own cable modem???

My Comcast bil has seen a monthly increase from $3.00 to $5.OO

They retail from about $80.00.

Jan. 08 2010 01:26 PM

I looked at the latest FIOS "offering." Couldn't understand a thing, only that it was going to cost me an arm and a leg, far, far more than the headline implication. PLUS $.25/month to rent the remote(!) Talk about nickel-and-diming.

People need to revolt against this nonsense. I know there are difficulties, but I'll consider cable when plain, simple a la carte is offered.

Neftlix now offers UNLIMITED streaming movie/tv programs. The streaming items are not as timely as their dvds, but the TV programs seem fresh--they even offer the acclaimed series-finale Doctor Who shows from December. And the unlimited downloads are all FREE for $9/month (dvds must be taken out one at a time with this plan).

You can stream directly to your PC. If you want streaming to your TV, that's available through a number of Blu-ray players, or, most cheaply, the $99 Roku Soundbridge--which also downloads pay-per-view Amazon Cinema items and other offerings, free and pay.

Between the $9/month netflix, a digital antenna for local stations and a nice monitor, I have all the TV-watching material I could possibly handle. Plain and simple. And cheap.

(I don't work for netflix, it's just that I did this research after being flummoxed by the FIOS offering.)

The only thing I miss is Stewart/Colbert--I'll catch 'em on the web.

Who wants to deal with cable?

Jan. 08 2010 01:23 PM
Jim K from Elmwood Park, NJ

The Verizon Fios bill is very hard to figure out. A recent call into Fios had the agent put me on hold because he had a hard time with bill.

300+ channels when I watch a handful, makes no sense. Remember growing up with free TV and 7 channels.

How long before cable / Fios / Dish will be unaffordable for the middle class family.

Would'nt be great it everyone just canceled!

Jan. 08 2010 12:33 PM
Bill D from Staten Island

Can someone please explain to me the complete and utter nonsense of a NY Verizon Fios bill???
The amount of fees and surcharges and taxes make my bill almost 25% higher!!
How can this be legal??

Jan. 08 2010 11:59 AM
JT from Long Island

Why do cable providers have so many fringe channels? I know that it sounds great to say that they 300 channels, but if 200 of them don't appeal to 90% of the viewers they should get rid of them and lower their rates.

Similarly, why do they resist cafeteria style programming. I'd love to select the 25-50 channels I actually watch and only pay for those instead of subsidizing small networks that really don't have the number of viewers needed to stay in business.

Jan. 08 2010 09:30 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.