Back in mid-July the NY Times Gadgetwise Blog ran an entry about the bad experience the author had getting Time Warner Cable to install a CableCARD in this new TiVo Premiere. It reads like a summary of every complaint users level against their cable MSOs – bad service, erroneous information, difficult procedures, etc. At every turn it seemed like TWC did everything they could to discourage the author from using TiVo and to use their DVR instead.
Perhaps unsurprisingly this inspired TiVo to file a comment with the FCC a couple of weeks later, using the blog entry as a basis to urge the FCC to intensify CableCARD oversight. Clearly it is important for TiVo’s retail business that consumers be able to obtain CableCARDs with minimal hassle.
Well, now Time Warner Cable has filed their own comment with the FCC, responding to TiVo. You can read the full PDF here, but as you might expect it basically boils down to “Our bad, we screwed up. But hey, we made it all right in the end and it’ll never happen again. We don’t need any more oversight. Trust us.”
TWC serves more than 12 million cable customers, and among such a large customer base some isolated service issues are inevitable, whether as to CableCARD devices or other issues having nothing to do with those devices. TWC strives to provide exemplary service and is proud of its record, but mistakes as to any of the services it provides cannot be eliminated altogether, just as is the case with any provider that serves millions of customers. The key point is that, while TWC has encountered occasional complaints in serving customers with CableCARD devices, the mere fact that some issues have arisen by no means points to any systemic concerns with TWC’s handling of CableCARDs or provides any basis to believe that TWC has engaged in anti-competitive conduct.
I don’t buy it, just a glance at the forums at TiVo Community will show you countless posts with similar complaints for TWC and other MSOs going back to the launch of the Series3. I certainly don’t expect TWC, or any company, to be perfect. Companies are made up of humans, and humans make mistakes. I’ve certainly made my share. But it certainly seems like these “isolated service issues” sure come up a lot. If this were an isolated incident, a rare occurrence, I’d find it easier to let them off the hook. But given what I’ve seen posted from users, I’m not so inclined to be forgiving.
While TiVo alleges that this particular customer was a victim of anti-competitive practices by TWC, TWC’s investigation of the underlying facts indicates that the difficulties he encountered resulted primarily from the inadvertent provision of incorrect information by TWC customer service representatives about how TWC’s CableCARD practices apply to the TiVo Premiere DVR.
Could that be a little more convoluted? So they claim the incident is primarily due to bad information accidentally being provided. But that doesn’t seem to cover the incident as reported. The author was repeatedly given bad information – about how he could obtain a card, pricing, etc. Then the installer failed to show up for the scheduled installation appointment. And when the installer showed up for the rescheduled appointment they were ill-trained on CableCARD. That’s a lot more than an oopsie with some bad info.
Ironically, if the Commission were to intensify its oversight of cable operators’ CableCARD-related practices as TiVo requests, TWC likely would have diminished flexibility to address customers’ needs. Forcing operators to divert resources from customer service toward efforts to comply with detailed regulatory mandates would be counterproductive. Indeed, avoiding excessive regulatory burdens is particularly important in this context, given the Commission’s stated interest in phasing out CableCARDs altogether.
This reeks of FUD wrapped in a veiled threat. You wouldn’t want to regulate us anymore, we’d just hate if if that added oversight made our service worse. And you wouldn’t want that, would you? No, of course you wouldn’t. Everything is just fine the way it is.
For instance, although the customer claimed he was told that leasing a CableCARD instead of a set-top box would result in a price increase—which forms the basis of TiVo’s allegation of price discrimination in its letter—TWC’s records show that the customer in fact is receiving a discount on his monthly bill of $7.75, consistent with 47 C.F.R. § 76.1205(b).
While it is great that the information the customer was given that it would cause a price increase was actually incorrect, it doesn’t change the fact that the customer was told there would be a price increase. That’s the kind of thing that can scare a customer off and make them return their new TiVo to avoid the higher fees. How many times had this bad info been given out? And how many of those customers decided it wasn’t worth it?
I don’t think cable MSOs are the evil, conniving villains that some users paint them as. But I do think they’ve been pretty reluctant to accept CableCARD and properly support it. And most of the progress that has been made has come under duress, forced by the FCC. I don’t trust the MSOs to ‘do the right thing’ if left to their own devices. We wouldn’t have open access and CableCARD, flawed as it is, at all without the FCC. I doubt we’d have Tuning Adapters for SDV if the FCC hadn’t given the industry the hairy eyeball when they started rolling out SDV. And we sure as hell wouldn’t have widespread CableCARD self-install without the FCC mandate.