Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Be A TV Cord Cutter - And Lose Your Net Connection Speed!

Increasingly in the U.S., people are becoming television cord cutters. Aware of how much time can be wasted while plopped on couches watching the tube, and how many stations of a typical cable setup are effectively useless - because they aren't watched at all  - citizens are increasingly 'cutting the cord' and doing more constructive things with their time such as reading books (or books on nooks), going for walks, or otherwise sensibly using time.

Our long time friend 'Nanette' finally got tired of all the stations she never watched on her Comcast lineup, and so decided to 'cut the cord' to one entire subset of them about 4 weeks ago. Well, who told her to do that? Within a day her Comcast-packaged net connection speed had slowed to a literal crawl and she had to wait better parts of an hour for a download, or to upload family photos, etc.  She had, unwittingly become a victim of  collateral damage from Comcast's peculiar types of service contract.

The set up is called 'bundling' and the deliberate excising of unwatched channels, or just plain cutting the tube out altogether, is called 'unbundling'.  The dirty little secret that more and more folks like Nanette are finding out is that there's a price to be paid for any unbundling.  One observer of all this, Craig Aaron, president of the consumer advocacy group Free Press, has put it this way:

"In order for you to get content you like, you're going to be pushed to pay the cable bill too."

This is already evident if one takes the time to peruse Comcast's current rate structure (and bear in mind after the Comcast-Time-Warner merger is likely approved, this practice will become even more widespread).  Thus, as of today, the cheapest internet service - and the one a cord-cutting household might select- goes for $40 a month the first year. It offers download speeds of up to 25 Mbps, which means it's fast enough to stream 2 or 3 videos simultaneously.

The perverse twist is that Comcast's cheapest TV plus internet plan goes for $50 a month the first year - or just $10 more than the cord cutter's plan. Thus, subscribers to the bundled plan get the same streaming speed as the internet only plan, as well as basic TV service that offers a handful of local channels.  In addition, Comcast throws in its service for watching TV shows on your mobile devices.  Even more enticingly, the plan includes access to HBO and its streaming service  HBO Go - which unlike Netflix and Hulu, isn't available to cord cutters. (Take heed all you 'True Detective' fans!)

Also to be noted, is that Comcast warns prices can vary according to location, so you may actually pay more than the quoted price.  The bottom line is that in the Comcast universe, cutting the cord doesn't save you money and you actually end up in an inferior position in terms of overall media access- than if you'd just kept the TV. Comcast has carefully set up the pricing to get you whether you watch shows the old-fashioned way (on the boob tube, fed with cable) or via Netflix or on your iPad.

In either case, you're likely paying hundreds of dollars a year to maintain connections via the web to the outside world, a cost that'll likely soon go up if the Comcast $45b merger is approved. (Sen. Al Franken appeared yesterday on CBS Early show vowing to try to stop it, but let's get real - the odds of that are slim and none.) 

Just more evidence on how the Neoliberal business model operates: the customer (or citizen) can never come out ahead because there will always be in place offsets to neutralize gains, so you regress to where you were or even further behind. Ask all the bosses that keep wages artificially low as the CEOs get fat off your surplus labor! Then they want you to go into debt to support a low aggregate demand economy!

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