Matthew Boelig ’06 was in for a surprise upon receiving his cable bill this January: his monthly fee for extended cable nearly doubled since December.
Beolig, along with a number of other Yale subscribers of Comcast’s preferred package — which allows access to cable channels 25 to 76 — had paid $25 a month for the service before the fee was increased to $41 starting this year.
“When I saw the price, I called customer service and they said they had notified customers the summer before, over half a year ago,” Beolig said. “They very well might have, but there wasn’t anything on statements that included a forewarning. Still, it’s ridiculous for the price to go up over 50 percent.”
Comcast’s New Haven representative did not return repeated requests for comment this week, but a national customer service representative, who identified himself only as Bill, said the cable provider regularly bills over $40 for a standard package such as the one Boelig subscribes to.
“The price has always been in the 40s,” Bill said. “We increased rates by a dollar or two this year across the board.”
Another national customer service representative, Linda Mercury, who handles billing inquiries, said the standard package increased this month by two or three dollars, and basic cable by just 50 cents. She said the final bill varies depending on the area of coverage.
“Subscribers all have different pricing and contracts depending on where they live,” Mercury said. “Pricing isn’t totally unified. It varies by a dollar or two because different companies bought under the Comcast umbrella have different rates.”
Comcast says the price increase was caused in part by rising programming costs.
“Many people are unaware that we pay programmers like ESPN and The Discovery Channel a per-customer fee to carry their shows on our cable line-up, and instead assume the reverse,” a Comcast New England regional customer service representative, who identified himself as Brian, wrote in an e-mail. “The Wall Street Journal has reported that programming costs have increased 20 percent per year over the last three years.”
As New Haven’s sole cable service provider, Comcast services 74,000 customers in New Haven, West Haven and Hamden. There is no regulation which prevents another cable company from moving into the area. SNET, the local telephone company, had attempted to compete for the area’s cable customers but found little success and ceased operations in 2001.
Yale Director of Strategic Procurement Christopher Mihok said the University has no control over Comcast’s rates, adding that cable service is an issue generally handled by individual college masters.
“If you have existing services, it’s really the master’s call whether and where they’re going to have cable, whether they’ll pay for it,” Mihok said. “They decide when and where and how much they’re going to pay for it. It might be a question of whether we want to go to a satellite, whether that would be cheaper.”
But Silliman College Senior Administrative Assistant Joann Young said the individual colleges are not charged for cable in student dorms. She said paying basic cable is a task which falls under the University’s responsibility. Silliman, for example, pays only for Silliflicks’ HBO subscription.
Whatever the rationale behind the price increase, Boelig, like many other subscribers, finds himself faced with the ultimatum of either paying increased fees or canceling his extended cable plan.
“I worked it out and I’ll just put up with it,” Boelig said. “It’s a lot for one person living in his own room, but I like ESPN.”
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