Life During Consolidation

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Lately I've been thinking that I qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. If not that, I deserve my own little nook in The Cable Center, with a tasteful brass plaque attesting to my fortitude in embracing change.

Why? Because I am the embodiment of cable consolidation — the customer at the end of many of these high-stakes deals. Heck, I could do an oral history of what it's been like to see these guys come and go, with their new set-top boxes and marketing plans.

Although I have been married to the same man for two decades, I have seen at least seven cable guys flit in and out of my life in just the past seven years. And I wasn't the one doing the dumping — never mind the flirting with

DirecTV Inc. or Dish Network.

When I had first signed up for cable service in White Plains, N.Y., almost 20 years ago, Tele-Communications Inc. had just bought that system from another operator (United Artists Cable, I believe).

TCI, warts and all, was with me until circa 1998. That was about when Leo Hindery, TCI's short-lived president, declared his "summer of love," and unloaded my system to Cablevision Systems Corp.

Back in 1998 — right before they sold us off — I was one of the first TCI customers to get digital cable, via the MSO's Headend in the Sky service.

That turned out to be more like pie in the sky. I soon realized that the summer of love had absolutely nothing to do with making cable subscribers feel good. Although Cablevision maintained the legacy HITS service, it took its sweet time in getting around to upgrading the clunky system it bought from TCI.

It was only two weeks ago — no kidding — that I became a subscriber to Cablevision's official digital platform, called iO: Interactive Optimum, and it took four of Bethpage's finest to undo the HITS mess.

Why? Because there were so few of us early HITS subscribers left that the new Cablevision guys didn't know what they were getting into. But they did a noble job in figuring it all out.

Then there's the ever-changing game of musical chairs at my second home in Cape Cod, Mass. With Comcast Corp. acquiring AT&T Broadband last week, the Cape has now seen four different cable operators in seven years.

At about the time we started going up there, the venerable Continental Cablevision had long ruled the roost. But it sold out to MediaOne Group Inc. Then came AT&T Broadband, a new owner that upgraded many of the systems around us — but not in my town.

It soon dawned on me that I was going to be sitting around for years waiting for the new cable guy to rebuild this system — the same situation that had occurred in White Plains, when the system had changed hands. I was right and I'm still waiting.

Now I can only hope that Comcast Corp. chieftain Brian Roberts will have mercy on me by not putting the little town of Orleans, Mass., on his upgrade backburner.

Actually, the only constant cable guy in my life is the one I know from work, Time Warner Cable in Manhattan. But I'm sensing another operator will soon be fleeing my life.

With Cablevision selling some of its assets, I wonder if my recently upgraded White Plains cable system is soon going into other hands — namely Time Warner's.

Somehow I've managed to hang on to the same husband for 20 years, a feat worthy of Guinness. But I'm betting that ongoing consolidation will once again result in yet another new cable guy entering my life — armed with yet another remote control and set-top box.

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