Denver -- Tele-Communications Inc. cable subscribers
locally are generally satisfied with their service, but they want lower rates and a la
carte programming, and they are willing to pay for more services.
With voters to decide next year whether to renew TCI's
franchise, the Denver Office of Telecommunications polled residents last fall to measure
how the MSO's service was faring with area consumers.
TCI SUBS SAY:
A telephone survey of 804 respondents -- 416 TCI
subscribers and 388 nonsubscribers -- found that 81.5 percent were happy with their cable
service, compared with 16 percent who called the company's offering unsatisfactory.
"Overall, we're quite pleased," said
Margaret LeJuste, TCI of Colorado's director of government and community affairs.
"It's a good start as we enter the [franchise] renewal process."
TCI, which has 108,000 subscribers in Denver and another
320,000 in the outlying communities, immediately began building on the results by
announcing that it will restore Comedy Central and WGN to its local program lineup April
The operator dropped both channels locally in December 1996
as part of a programming shakeup that produced widespread customer discontent. TCI came
under fire for replacing them with networks that were willing to pay for carriage or in
which it had equity interests.
Nevertheless, the return of Comedy Central in Denver comes
at a fortuitous time. The network is home to South Park, the hit cartoon created by
two Coloradoans, which has been in demand locally, as the show is set in that state.
"Based on what we're hearing on the phones, from
our friends and from talk-radio chatter, the decision has been very good for us,"
said TCI spokesman Matt Fleury.
It also comes at a time when TCI is under competitive
pressure in Denver.
EchoStar Communications Corp., a Colorado-based
direct-broadcast satellite service, has responded to TCI's plans to hike local cable
rates by 5 percent in June with a series of full-page newspaper ads urging consumers to
"dump cable" in favor of a satellite dish. As an added inducement, it's
offering two months of free programming.
Meanwhile, 51 percent of the cable subscribers and 48
percent of nonsubscribers surveyed reported owning personal home computers. That was more
good news for TCI inasmuch as 43 percent of all respondents called Internet access an
important future service. TCI has indicated that it hopes to launch its @Home Network
Internet service in Denver by year's end.
Not surprising, however, price remains an issue with local
TCI subscribers, with almost 60 percent of the respondents rating the company's
offering as too expensive when compared with the value of electrical or telephone service.
The survey also found that 89 percent of area residents
want TCI to offer an la carte option, which theoretically would lower cable bills by
allowing consumers to customize their programming packages.
LeJuste said "contractual obligations" will be
the biggest factor in determining whether such an option could be offered.
"But it's an interesting item, and we certainly
don't want to close any doors," she said.
Another 35 percent of survey respondents rated the number
of channels that TCI provides to its Denver subscribers as "fair to poor," while
46 percent gave the same ranking to the variety of programming available.
But despite concerns over the cost of cable service, a
majority of respondents were willing to pay for upgrades to the local systems if it
resulted in new services (see chart).
LeJuste said TCI is currently completing upgrades in the
local suburbs of Aurora and Lakewood, but she would not give a timetable for when the
Denver system will be rebuilt.