Our Opinion: Marketplace may reform cable industry


The Five-Town Cable Advisory Committee will win friends by taking on Charter Communications, but it is the marketplace that is most likely to reform the cable TV industry.

At a public hearing Tuesday, the committee challenged Charter, which bought Time Warner Cable in May and will soon operate as Charter Spectrum, on the rationale for requiring those with basic cable, who may not be able to afford anything else, to rent a converter box for $6.99 a month following a two-year grace period. The committee argues this constitutes a contract violation while Charter maintains the converter boxes will become necessary as the company introduces digital signal encryption to end cable theft.

Informed by Committee Chairwoman Linda Miller that encryption is a solution for a non-existent cable theft problem in the Berkshires, Charter representative Tom Cohan replied, "As the cable operator, we have authority over what technology we use." That they do, and while Time Warner/Charter can establish its own policies and has legitimate proprietary interests to protect, it is unduly dismissive when asked about why and how it operates by officials representing subscribers.

"It's not proper to make us pay for something we don't need and don't want," said Ms. Miller on Tuesday, and as anyone who subscribes to cable tiers above basic knows, peddling tiers containing dozens of channels that go unwatched is how cable companies make their money. However, with the computer-savvy — millennials in particular — increasingly cutting the cable cord in favor of streaming programs, the cable industry's profit margins will be significantly threatened. That may force companies like the new Charter Spectrum to be more responsive to remaining customers and less haughty to groups with fair questions and real concerns like the Five-Town Cable Advisory Committee.


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