Time Warner NJ CableCard Fees

Discussion in 'TiVo Series3 HDTV DVRs' started by Garloo, Sep 8, 2009.

  1. Sep 8, 2009 #1 of 26
    Garloo

    Garloo New Member

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    Sep 8, 2009

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    Hello All:

    I have a Series 3 HDTV Tivo with 2 Cablecards serviced by Time Warner in Bergen County, NJ. I live in a large condo building that has a package deal with TW where we get basic service plus two set top boxes for free, as part of our maintenance.

    For the two years that I have had the Tivo, TW charged me for only one Cablecard, for an extra $3.49 a month, because after speaking to one of their reps, he agreed that one of the Cablecards was replacing one of my two free set top boxes, and so should not be billed.

    Suddenly without warning on the most recent bill, TW charged me for TWO Cablecards at $5.24 a piece, a 50% increase, and made it retroactive to August 1!

    The service rep said they had "clarified" their policy as of August 1 that no CCs would be included as part of building bulk deals. I have a serious question whether they could do that without consulting with my building board of directors first.

    But I am writing for a different reason-- I also seriously suspect that they have selectively jacked up the rates to people like me who were not billed for their CCs, in order to try to illegally recapture lost revenue. The bill boilerplate says "Cable Card, Additional @ $3.49," but then they billed it out at $5.24! Their website used to list CC monthly fees, but doesn't any longer-- it says to "call support." Hmmmm....

    So open question to Time Warner customers in Bergen County, NJ: how much did TW bill for your CCs on your most recent bill?

    Thanks,
    Garloo
     
  2. Sep 9, 2009 #2 of 26
    bicker

    bicker bUU

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    That depends on the terms and conditions that your building's board agreed to. It may have been a "me too" type agreement, essentially saying that they get the "best" building bulk deals available, or something like that. It could even have simply included provisions that allows your building to opt-out (i.e., sacrifice the building bulk discount) if they don't like a change to the offering. What does your building board of directors think of this?

    It is important to remember that what is regulated is the average price of CableCARDs, not the individual price charged for specific service configurations, in specific franchises. It is perfectly legal, and advisable to charger higher CableCARD rates where there is more unrealized value, and lower CableCARD rates where there is less unrealized value. Allowing for that is the only possible reason I can think of for the FCC to have structured that regulation in the manner that they did.
     
  3. Sep 9, 2009 #3 of 26
    dlfl

    dlfl Cranky old novice

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    Do you know what this is? Or is it some complex formula? (Do you know what that is.)

    Is there any regulation as to whether they have to make M-Cards available? (My provider claims they only have S-Cards.)
     
  4. Sep 9, 2009 #4 of 26
    bicker

    bicker bUU

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    It's subject to regulatory review. There is no published number that needs to be achieved. Presumably, this has given regulators the ability to allow higher rates when CableCARD was first introduced, evolving toward lower rates once deployments became more commonplace.

    The regulations say nothing about number of streams supported.
     
  5. Sep 9, 2009 #5 of 26
    Ckought

    Ckought Member

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    Since the charge was retroactive, could it be $3.49 + a pro-rated amount for the retroactive portion, plus taxes and any other fees?

    I ran into the same type of thing when I purchased my CCs (yes, my cable company makes up BUY our cards for $110 each -- plus $6.00 a month usage). I got the cards around the 20th, and since they pre-bill (they bill for Aug 1st - Aug 31th on the Aug 1st bill), they next month's bill was for the next month's service ($6.00) plus the pro-rated amount for the 20th through the end of the month. When I got my first bill and it said I was charged over $8 per card, I had to go in and ask them what was going on and have them explain it to me.
     
  6. Sep 9, 2009 #6 of 26
    dlfl

    dlfl Cranky old novice

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    Dayton OH
    I never heard of that! What cable co ?

    Finally I feel like I'm getting a good deal paying ***only*** $5.08/mo. for two CC's. ;)
     
  7. Sep 9, 2009 #7 of 26
    Ckought

    Ckought Member

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    Frankfort Plant Board, Frankfort, KY.

    They're owned and run by the city, so it's not like anyone can complain about their draconian price structure. They also own the water, sewer, electric, internet, & phone services for the whole city.
     
  8. Sep 9, 2009 #8 of 26
    dlfl

    dlfl Cranky old novice

    9,164
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    Dayton OH
    For 4 TiVo's that must add up. Hope you got M-Cards!

    Any idea how many cable subscribers in your system? Nationally something like 0.5% of digital cable subscriptions are TiVo's. Multiplying those 2 numbers would give you an idea of your political power.

    How are your rates other than for CC's?
     
  9. Sep 9, 2009 #9 of 26
    Ckought

    Ckought Member

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    At first, they tried to tell me that TiVo *has to have* two S-Cards. I had to pretty much demand that they give me M-Cards. I asked what the warranty was on them; I guess nobody had ever bothered to ask before because the customer service rep had to make some calls, then comes back and tells me that once they're installed and shown to work then they're mine and I'll have to buy another one if they go bad.

    Their prices are at http://fewpb.com/CableTelecom/CableTelevisionMonthlyPrices/tabid/249/Default.aspx

    As you can see, they're pretty straight-forward (sarcasm). Even their own customer service reps can't decipher what gets charged under what circumstances.
     
  10. dlfl

    dlfl Cranky old novice

    9,164
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    Dayton OH
    Looks like your rates and (poor) service are comparable to the big cable cos. The business model will have to change so cable cos. can make more money from TiVo's before we get any better deal.
     
  11. mikeyts

    mikeyts Stream Warrior

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    You need to determine who your local cable franchising authority is and complain to them. If they agree that you've been treated unfairly, they can apply pressure to the cable company (who could be replaced by the authority the next time their franchise agreement expires). Regardless of whether the cable provider can do something FCC regs, if it's an injustice to local subscribers (like charging nearly 3 times the national average for CableCARD lease) they're there to help.

    On a related note, Cox in San Diego charges $75 for a truck roll to deal with anything that's not their fault, including one to bring out and install CableCARDs, which a few cable providers in that nation allow self-install of. That's equal to 10 months lease on a cable STB. You can't win :rolleyes:.
     
  12. MichaelK

    MichaelK Active Member

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    is the price for the cablecard, the "addtional outlet fee" or a combination of both?

    I suspect its a combination.

    the big cable co's generally charge 2 bucks or under a card. I read once (unfortunately never found it again)- that the FCC commisioners warned cable NOT to charge "unfair" prices for cablecards or risk regulation of those prices. When asked what "unfair" might be the commisioner replied with an answer like '2 dollars or less seems right'. To the best of my knowledge cablecards ARE NOT currently regulated as to priceing unless a particular cable plant requires there use for lifeline service. Perhaps Bicker knows better of morerecent changes?

    So basically the 2 dollar a card ceiling was implied as a barrier but never enforced.

    Every quarter (or is it 6 months) the big cable providers are reguired to tell the FCC about their cablecard deployments including what they charge. TW is one of the 5,6 required to report. They usually bundle their reports through the NCTA. You can check the NCTA website for the last report. I'd bet it's not over 3.00 and certainly not 5 something.

    "additional digital outlet fees" on the other hand are completely unregulated as far as I know- without even a threat. You can thank congress and cable's lobbyists who had the right to charge the fees put in the last update to the law. Presumably becasue cable saw directv and dish charge "mirror" fees even on owned boxes for years without an issue.

    Those can be anything- I've seen 6 or even 8 dollars mentioned.

    And yes your cable provider can charge you to BUY your own cablecard. They then could not charge you a cablecard fee but rather would charge an "addtional digital outlet fee"- see the link above for the wording in kentucky- it's for "digital cable" on the card.


    to further confuse many bills just bundle the cablecard and addtional outlet fees.
     
  13. Ckought

    Ckought Member

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    Kentucky
    I'm not sure if the suggestion about complaining to the FCC was to me or the OP, but in my situation the Plant Board is considered a non-profit municipal utility and has an exemption (I've seen the paperwork) from the FCC regarding most rules dealing with availability, pricing, and deployment of CableCards.

    The way it works on pricing is: If I had 4 of their DCTs with HD, it'd be $37 (basic cable) + $16 (digital cable & HD broadcast channels) + $10 (HD cable channels) + $12 x 3 (additional boxes - the first one is included in digital pricing) = total $99 -- and no up-front purchase; For 4 CableCards, it's $37 + $16 + $10 + $6 x 3 (CableCard fees - the first one is included in digital pricing) = total $85 -- and $440 up-front purchase. So, after 32 months (440 / 99-85) to account for having to pay for the cards, it does become cheaper to have the cards -- unless one goes bad and has to be repurchased.
     
  14. mikeyts

    mikeyts Stream Warrior

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    I suggested complaining to your cable franchising authority (a local government department or committee not associated with the FCC, whose main concern is cable customer satisfaction with the service they receive), but if your cable television service is local government utility (like, say, the water department), you're screwed. I'd move :).
     
  15. Garloo

    Garloo New Member

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    Sep 8, 2009
    Thanks for all the information, everyone.

    bicker: I just got the bill, so I haven't had a chance to discuss it with my board of directors yet. But believe me, I will. The main purpose of posting is to find out what other TW NJ subscribers are paying, and whether they are applying a discriminatory rate to me.

    bicker and MichaelK: as mentioned, the item description in the bill says, "Cable Card Additional Outlet, Cable Card, Additional DTV @ $3.49," but then in the billing column, it is actually billed at $5.24 (times 2 for a total of $10.48, plus another $10.40 retroactive for 7/31 - 9/05). I asked the TW service reps (first line and supervisor) about the discrepancy, and of course they knew nothing, and just said $5.24 is the new price as of August 1. Do you have citations or other references to the regulations concerning pricing,especially concerning the "$2 rule" vs. "additional digital outlet fees," and the "average pricing" rule?

    Thanks,
    Garloo
     
  16. Garloo

    Garloo New Member

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    Sep 8, 2009
    MichaelK: thanks for the tip about NCTA filings. Went to their site, and as you said, their most recent FCC filing as of 3/23/09 for period 12/08 - 2/09 shows average national monthly rental for top 5 system operators of $2, with Time Warner showing average $2.78.

    I am beginning to smell a digital rat.

    Do you have info about the distinction between Cablecards and additional digital outlet fees?


    Garloo
     
  17. bicker

    bicker bUU

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    Note that only the rental on the CableCARD itself is regulated. Additional outlet fees are not part of the CableCARD regulation. If there is a single line item including both, then they must provide a breakdown. Even then, the additional outlet portion of the breakdown is not regulated.

    If you don't have a STB (if the CableCARD is the only device you got from the cable company), then there shouldn't be an additional outlet fee associated with the CableCARD. If you really have two televisions getting digital television channels from cable, then you are subject to an additional outlet fee, and there is no regulation on it (because it is not life-essential to have two televisions). Also, I suppose it is possible that all first outlets in a bulk contract are considered an additional outlet; so check to see if your neighbors are paying for an additional outlet, even if they don't have one. If they are, then there is probably nothing wrong with you being charged for an additional outlet even though you only have one television.

    It is permitted to charge bulk contract customers a different rate than individual customers. (In other words, "discrimination", as you put it, in this situation, is perfectly fine.) That goes for the CableCARD fee, and for the additional outlet fee.

    Again, there is no "$2 rule". The average CableCARD rental fee is subject to regulatory review. That filing you saw is what is reviewed. MSOs must report the average fee; there is no specific number that the average must be below, presumably to allow the regulators to have that number reflect the extent of deployment of CableCARD in the average fee they expect. There is no requirement that any one consumer's fee be within any specific range of an MSOs average.

    So far, there is nothing I see that indicated that anyone is doing anything wrong. You're just in a situation that perhaps you don't like, paying fees you'd rather not pay. If you post your entire bill, I'll be happy to compare your total to what you would pay here, where we have five competitors serving us. You may be surprised by how close the fee you're paying is to what you'd be paying here.
     
  18. bicker

    bicker bUU

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    I had a few other thoughts. You might want to get your hands on the bulk service agreement from the board members.

    First, it might include provisions that indicate how and whether the service provider can charge for things.

    Second, it might include some indication of money to paid by, or services to be provided to, the condo. You can think of your condo board as a mini-/sub- franchising board, and so it is possible that they added things to the contract similar to what towns add to town contracts. For example, here in Burlington, the franchising agreement requires the service provider to install and service cable television service in the schools. That sort of thing is compensated for by pricing consolations granted by the contract. When I lived in White Plains, our condo had a closed circuit security system. That's something that a cable company could provide and provide support for on an on-going basis as part a bulk service agreement for a condo.

    Good luck with your research.
     
  19. mattack

    mattack Well-Known Member

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    Well, you can still complain to the city itself, can't you? Go to city council meetings or whatever? That's a ridiculous price to pay.

    (Strange, often when cities have their own other utilities, the prices are *lower*.)

    Personally, I'm fine with your original price for the cablecards, but the monthly fee on top of it is ridiculous. (I'm a "I'd rather pay a ton now and know what I'm getting rather than pay a *modest* amount every month forever" kind of person. When it gets absolutely low enough, then I guess I'd choose paying monthly. The current fee I pay for my cable cards, I think something like $1.75 for *two* [since I whined when they said I'd have to wait for an M card], is close to that tradeoff line for me.)
     
  20. MichaelK

    MichaelK Active Member

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    Although they may be exempt (there are certain ways to get various exemptions) I still think they are totally "legal" even if they were regulated.

    if you found someone who knew what they were talking about, I'd be pretty sure they would explain to tyou that the "cablecard" fee you is actually an "addtional digital outlet fee" the page you linked too says something about "digital" in describing the fee. Most likely they bundle it in the cablebox fee since 12bucks to rent a box sounds nutty. More likely it's 6 bucks rental and 6 bucks addtional outlet.
     

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