With the telephone company now providing cable television services, some of the consumer complaints about cable television service are much better defined. In the case of phone service, the telephone company provides the service to the exterior wall of your home, with the consumer being responsible for interior wiring and devices utilizing this service. This gives the consumer a lot of choices and is generally seen as a success. In the case of cable television things are slightly more complicated, but this complication is being exploited by the providers in much the same way AT&T before the breakup dominated the interior device market (the telephone).
The complication is the need to provide various levels of service as one consumer is happy with just the broadcast channels while another wants sports and another wants and wants movies and another wants “On Demand” services. The variety of choices is generally considered to be a good thing for the consumer. But this requires the provider to block services not paid for. This in turn has lead to the Cable Box.
The problem with the Cable Box is pretty much like the problem of AT&T being the only provider of telephones – limited choices which may not meet the consumer’s needs or requirements. In addition, the consumer is paying a monthly fee for the box which over the lifetime of the services far exceeds its actual cost.
The issue needs and requirements may range from esthetic concerns (the consumer finds the box ugly) to no room for the box. It also negates most of the functionality of your “television” – only one channel is used. This waste of resources and power occurs in the Cable Box where all signals are seen but only one is allowed to pass to the device you purchased to display the signal.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution that the cable service providers are fighting – the Cable Card. Tivo’s and several brands of TVs offer you the option of directly connecting the service to your home devices but require you use a card provided by the service provider that unblocks the signals you are paying for. The cable service providers make it hard for you find out about the Card and don’t really support it the way they should. And their motive is clear – they want to rent the box to you with profits exceeding 100% on this piece of equipment.
In our case a Tivo is not a good alternative to the Cable Box. Our issues are about space, wasted resources, power and esthetics that no box can solve. We have a Mitsubishi TV that uses a cable card in our den. Cox (our local provider) changed their service so that our card no longer worked. Likewise, Verizon’s cards don’t work either. I have no experience with any other Cable Card devices and can not draw any conclusions. But I do know that it worked at one time and does not work now.
We also have limited space in our kitchen and do not want to deal with a box bigger than the TV. In fact, the remote from Verizon is about the size of the TV. The TV in the kitchen is largely used as an audio visual version of a radio – it runs while we cook and eat – mostly news. It is not the place to settle in and actually watch something. With Cox, the basic service was just fine – no box and no ability to listen to premium services. With Verizon, the raw feed into the home does indeed provide the broadcast channels but only as digital signals. And in a broad sense this appropriate – it is the similar to using an antenna. However, these digital signals do not come into the house on their assigned carriers making it difficult to use.
With these issues in mind, let me add that I am pleased with Verizon’s FiOS service in general. Our telephones work fine and are not manufactured by a telephone company. The internet service is also provided as a service to the exterior wall. Verizon provides a free router but you can replace it with one of your own with no problems for the technically savvy. So they are providing excellent service spanning the consumer needs for telephone and internet. I am hopeful that Verizon will the wisdom is providing a similar span of options on their cable service. In the meantime, we will tolerate the box because the price is good and the number of High Definition channels available are superior to Cox. But I am not so naïve as to believe this will true in the future nor that the Box rental subsidizes the superior service. And Verizon is well aware that Cox can provide all of their services. In our case, the company that comes closest to the telephone service model will ultimately get our business. Verizon should have a leg up on this model and only needs to provide “cable” this way.