Cable TV: Biting hook, line and stinkers
We had reached the breaking point in 2010: The cable company raised our monthly fee by $15. Just because it could.
Not because the cost of gasoline was through the roof; it was about $2.75 a gallon if you can imagine that, what with gasoline costing more than $4 a gallon today because, they tell us, a single pipeline broke and a refinery was having trouble, so, well, because of the simple economics of supply and demand, they have to charge us more.
I learned that in Economics 101, but that’s hardly convincing. The suppliers are used to making A Lot of Money and we, the demanders, are the ones who provide it. So, even though all of the gas stations have plenty of gasoline, we, the demanders, are going to have to pay the suppliers more so they can make Even A Lot More Money.
I think that is called gouging.
But what does that have to do with the price of cable television?
Our bill for the luxury of cable TV service increased 30 percent – $15 a month. And this increase happened after our town picked up a second supplier of cable TV service, which was supposed to drive down the cost of cable bills because of the simple economics of competition.
The more companies that offer the same goods or services, the lower the prices shall be. At least according to Economics 101. And that is patently false.
With two companies providing cable service, it meant fewer customers for the original company and not as many customers for the new company. Since both wanted to make more money, and the original company had established just how much we would pay, their idea was to increase the rates so they both could make A Lot of Money with fewer demanders.
So, in August 2010, we told the cable company that we, the demanders, were not going to pay more for the same amount of service. Cable TV is not fueled by gasoline, nor is it affected by the forces of nature or acts of God.
Prices increase just because the suppliers can get away with it. It was my Howard Beale moment: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” from “The Network.”
Even though we told the company its services no longer were needed, it continued out of the goodness of its black heart to provide cable service. It was stringing us along. We would come to our senses, and we would pay 30 percent more.
Then it happened: 7:57 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, 2010: Nothing but static on the TV screen. Our cable service had been cut at the most inopportune time: Just before the start of the latest episode of “House.” Grr.
But that was OK. When all of the video rental stores closed in town – and I still don’t get that one, given the rules of supply and demand – we decided to try a newish company called Netflix.
If you sent Netflix a modest amount of money, about $10 a month, it would let you have three DVDs at a time. Later on, it added a feature that allowed you to stream movies or TV series from your computer to your TV. It charged a little more, but still way less than cable TV.
And we seemed to get along pretty well without cable TV. We might have missed nightly news, but really, the nightly news is ghastly, with all the good-natured anchor banter, the jokester weather forecaster, and the blood and gore. If you want real news, you have to read a newspaper.
Two weeks ago, a man in a red shirt came to our door. We have one of those peepholes to see who is knocking and decide whether we will acknowledge the knock. For some reason – I still don’t know why – I opened the door.
He was the cable guy. The devil at our doorstep.
And for $40 a month, we could have a cable package for six months, when the price would increase, but if we wanted just basic service then, we still would be paying just $40 a month. It was a good deal. And even better, it could offer faster Internet service, and we could save money by getting rid of our landline telephone and the Internet service provided by the other company, the competitor.
It seemed like competition was finally paying off.
Our cable TV service just so happened to start the day the Summer Olympics started, so there was instant interesting and entertaining TV programming. Scrolling though the other channels revealed that most of the offerings were dreck. And the TV news is as ghastly as ever. We still have Netflix.
We got our first bill the other day from the cable company, and as I suspected, it was about the same as the telephone bill before, except the cable company was offering TV services in place of telephone service.
We were at a standoff. TV or a landline? The demanders want TV.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate and freelance writer. He is a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.