The cable industry might be obsessed with the pending
Tele-Communications Inc.-AT&T Corp. merger, but it appears TCI's customers have given
it very little thought.
An informal survey of 10 TCI subscribers in upstate New
York showed that many were not even aware of the proposed merger between AT&T and TCI.
And most didn't believe it would make much of a difference in their current cable service.
But one thing most of those surveyed were very well aware
of was TCI's poor service record. And while many said they believed TCI was getting
better, bad experiences tend to stick in a subscriber's mind for a long, long time.
Although most of those surveyed rated TCI service as
"OK" or better, more than half (six out of 10) believed their cable service was
not a good value. Those surveyed paid between $27 and $50 a month for service. Most
complained about high monthly charges and a limited selection of channels.
Even those who subscribed to TCI's expanded digital service
complained about the lack of channel selection.
Karen Moran, a Schenectady resident who pays $50 a month
for TCI's digital service said, "We thought we were getting more channels than we
got. That was very misleading."
TCI Digital in Schenectady offers 22 basic, eight premium,
eight pay-per-view and 30 music channels. Its basic- and expanded-basic service has 44
channels. Subscribers in that area to nondigital service also can receive 8 premium and
seven PPV channels.
Jean Hasler, a Schenectady, N.Y., resident who has been a
TCI subscriber for 17 years, said that she has been very pleased with the company's
service. But that was not always the case.
"They are much better than they were before,"
Hasler said. "Back then, if I called them, the line was constantly busy; I think they
left [their phone] off the hook. Now I get an answer immediately, and they usually come
and fix it within an hour."
In fact many of those surveyed said that service was
getting better, reflective of the company's efforts in the past few years to bolster its
However, many were optimistic that AT&T would bring
better service and more product offerings, especially high-speed Internet access.
"I guess it [the merger] means that there is no
stopping the Web being accessed over coaxial cable," said Scott Lewis, a TCI
subscriber in Broadalbin, N.Y. "Now they [AT&T] are going to own a big chunk of
that. It's a huge market."
Lewis said he already has Internet access through America
Online, but because he lives in a rural area, he has to pay long-distance charges every
time he accesses the Internet. A TCI-based Internet offering, currently not available in
his area, would allow him to avoid those long-distance charges.
Lewis also was receptive to buying local telephone service
from a combined AT&T-TCI. He currently receives telephone service from Citizens
"Would I consider it? I would have to find out more
about it. I'm not impressed with the phone company up here," he said.
Still, others were a little more skeptical. Patrick
Durocher, another Schenectady resident, has only been a TCI subscriber for a few months.
And although he was optimistic a combined AT&T-TCI would be able to offer him better
service, he was a little leery.
"AT&T has a better handle on customer
service," Durocher said. "But it kind of worries me, having another big
corporate media conglomerate."
Durocher said he was happy with TCI's service, but he, too,
was disappointed by the lack of channels available.
"I think they're pretty decent," he said. "I
don't have a lot of extra channels, like Sci-Fi or the Cartoon Network, but they do have a
lot of sports channels for the Mets and Yankees."
But all of those surveyed, whether or not they were happy
with TCI, also pointed to a lack of alternatives. Save for spending even more money per
month for a satellite service, or moving to another area, TCI is the only game in their
town, they said.
"If we didn't have cable with them, we wouldn't have
cable," said Lewis.