Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Cleveland system
discovered recently that when you make a mistake, it doesn't pay to upset a city
The operator realized a short time ago that 1,800 customers
in the city got a programming tier for almost two years for which they did not pay. When
Cablevision took steps to take the freebie from the subscribers -- which included
Councilman Michael Doyle -- the lawmaker complained.
During a converter upgrade, Cablevision discovered that the
1,800 broadcast-basic customers were receiving nine channels for which they should have
paid $13.10 per month (including a $2.95 converter-rental charge), in addition to their
$12.40 basic rate, a system spokesman said.
The operator notified the affected consumers -- about 2
percent of its base -- by letter that their free ride would end April 1.
"We've had very little feedback -- 20 calls from
a customer base of 1,800," the spokesman said.
But one of those complainers was Doyle, who was not moved
by the facts that he received more than $300 worth of free service, or that the company
lost more than $500,000 over two years from the billing omission.
"All that we've gotten from Cablevision over the
last two years is decreased programming and increased rates," Doyle said.
Cablevision bought the system from North Coast Cable, a
municipally owned system, two years ago. The operator noted that the nine channels were
never on the channel lineups published by North Coast, nor on those of Cablevision.
"I'm not satisfied with this. The public schools
here are in a bad way, and here's Cablevision charging $25 or more for the package
with educational services in it," Doyle said.
Doyle is a broadcast-basic customer, he said, who
doesn't watch television much. But apparently, he became accustomed to tuning into
the nine channels that were supposed to be part of the "Family Cable" tier.
Those are: Cable News Network, CNBC, CNN Headline News, C-SPAN 1 and 2, The Learning
Channel, Lifetime Television, Turner Network Television and The Weather Channel.
There is no benefit to consumers using Cablevision "as
an antenna," Doyle said.
Doyle pointed out that Cablevision does not have an
exclusive franchise, and he vowed to find a competitor. He's contacted city officials
in nearby Berea and Middleburg Heights to ask about their experiences in working with
Ameritech New Media, telco Ameritech Corp.'s cable arm.
City officials have invited the telco to an upcoming
public-utilities committee meeting to gauge its interest in serving the city.
Cablevision said it will counter the criticism through
emphasis on the value of its product.