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March 5, 2014

In Our Opinion: Time Warner Cable hike is outrageous

The Daily Star

---- — Did you get a raise this year?

If you did, was it 6.4 percent?

We didn’t think so.

But these are hard times, and we see local businesses cognizant of how difficult it is for their customers to make ends meet. These businesses with a strong sense of community try to keep their year-to-year price hikes to a minimum.

And then there is Time Warner Cable.

Effective March 19, the average customer’s bill will rise by 6.4 percent, Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Joli Plucknette-Farmen said recently.

That kind of gouging is absolutely shameful, given the state of the economy and the virtual monopoly Time Warner Cable has in our area.

What is also shameful is the way the cable outfit treats its longtime customers who see rates far lower than what they pay offered to new purchasers of its services. Existing customers who request the lower rate are often turned down.

Time Warner Cable has you, and if you don’t like it, it’s just too bad.

As for new customers, enjoy the lower costs while you can. Plucknette-Farmen said Time Warner Cable’s customers who are receiving a promotional discount will be charged the higher service and equipment rates after their promotional periods end.

Included in those March bills will be a new $2.25-a-month “Broadcast TV fee.” Because of federal law, all cable companies have to carry local television stations. In the last several years, these stations have been charging cable companies “retransmission fees” for their telecasts.

Instead of including that cost in its advertised rate hikes, Time Warner Cable calls it a fee and is thus able to sneak in a raise in prices for customers with price guarantees or who are under contract.

Pretty darned clever, those Time Warner Cable folks.

We don’t doubt that Time Warner has major expenses. Plucknette-Farmen said the company spent $227 million in 2013 to add new services and upgrade existing ones in upstate New York and New England. She said the company offers more on-demand movies and has improved programming guides.

Last month, Comcast agreed — subject to regulatory approval — to purchase Time Warner Cable, which would mean the company would control the Internet services of more than 30 million households. It is not hard to imagine it using its muscle to restrict access to Netflix and Amazon Prime, along with other video streaming outfits.

A virtual monopoly is rarely a good thing for consumers. A hike of 6.4 percent may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“The impact on customer bills is always hard to quantify,” said Comcast Vice President David Cohen at a news conference about the merger. “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”