A wave of consumer complaints hit Arlington, Texas, last
week after Tele-Communications Inc.'s new digital programming package collided with
an ill-timed rate hike.
By last Friday, the city had received 98 calls from
consumers angered by the MSO's shift of HBO2, HBO3 and Showtime2 from its analog
network to the 36-channel TCI Digital package it unveiled at the 60,000-subscriber system
earlier in the week.
Complaints were running four times the number received in a
normal month, mostly from exasperated consumers unable to get through to TCI's local
Making matters worse, the lineup changes coincided with a
$1.42 a month rate hike that went into effect last Monday in the non-upgraded sections of
Arlington, as well as a 98-cent increase in the upgraded areas of town.
With the increases, TCI's analog lineup is now priced
at $24.61 a month in non-upgraded areas, and $26.66 in upgraded portions of the community.
City officials said consumers were apparently angered
because the three channels they had been receiving for free as part of their premium
packages would now be on the digital tier, which sells for an additional $10 a month.
"People perceive it as a reduction in what they had
been receiving and felt that their rates should be going down," said Bob Johnson,
Arlington broadcast coordinator.
TCI executives said the three premium channels were
"freebies" the MSO has offered for the last year-and-a-half as a way of
enhancing service to meet competition.
"We're explaining that the free service they had
been getting has been moved, and they still have the option to get it," said TCI
spokesman Joe Lengfellner. "We just can't give it to them for free
With the system channel-locked, Lengfellner said the move
was necessary to make way for new programming consumers were demanding, including WGN,
Home & Garden Television, The History Channel, Classic Sports Network, Turner Classic
Movies and MSNBC.
However, only HBO3 was used to introduce the digital
package, he said, adding that TCI used a pay-per-view channel and a preview guide channel
to obtain the remaining bandwidth it needed.
Meanwhile, Arlington public information manager April Nixon
said the city is analyzing TCI's telephone response problems. It could issue a
"notice to cure," which would compel TCI to improve its response times or
possibly face liquidated damages of $200 a day, she said.
Lengfellner said new customer service reps are already
being brought in to address the problem, as are service technicians to handle a backlog of
digital installations, which has also spawned a series of complaints.
"Let's face it, it's in our best interest to
get these folks hooked up," Lengfellner said.