Prices Still a Hot Button

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Although advanced services have dominated the headlines, cable executives shouldn't get the impression that old gripes about rising cable rates are on the wane.

Not only has Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) asked the General Accounting Office to study why cable rates continue to climb faster than the inflation, but local officials said rate complaints continue to bubble up from time to time — but these days, they're due more to confusion than anger.

Missouri officials said some residents misunderstood price fluctuations that stemmed from Charter Communications Inc.'s digital upgrades in various markets. In one case, Charter offered a 90-day free digital trial, but also raised rates for expanded basic the same period.

"Subscribers were very confused," said Susan Littlefield, president of the Missouri chapter of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). "It was just unfortunate timing. But our complaint level went through the ozone. The digital conversion really made people crazy."

Littlefield acknowledged that Charter has shown a real interest in improving.

"I absolutely believe they have put in place some really impressive customer-service officers who have been concerned, interested and responsive at both the system and at the regional level," she said. In the newly competitive environment, operators may not have a choice but to make customer service a priority.

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