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How to fight back against soaring cable TV rates

Posted at 9:20 AM, Oct 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-16 09:20:40-04

Just when you think you have your monthly bills under control, along comes another rate cable bill hike.

If you have cable with internet, you are probably paying more than $100 a month of your hard earned money for TV and web service.  

Some people are paying over $200 a month for their bundle.

Up, Up, and Away

Cable TV bills, among subscribers of Time Warner, Comcast, Charter, and other services, have been rising 6% a year, twice the inflation rate, according to the FCC. Chances are that you're not getting that kind of pay raise.

"It is going higher at a very frustrating rate," said West Chester mom Angie Burris. "We've actually talked about getting rid of all of it since it's getting that high."

Wilma Wood of Mason is even angrier, saying "I noticed my bill, and it had increased considerably without any notice."

Her Timer Warner Cable TV and internet package just jumped from $147 to $187 a month as of September.

"That was kind of a big jump for me, said Wood, who lives on a fixed Social Security income.

The reason for the big increase? When she called, she learned her one year promotional deal had expired...again.

That left her livid. "I think the fact I have to re-negotiate what I pay once a year is just harassment of customers" she said.

We Ask Time Warner Cable

We were hoping to sit down with Time Warner Cable and asked them the questions most customers want to know, such as why cable rates keep going up, and why you have to fight on the phone every year to get them back down.  

Unfortunately, the company would not agree to an on-camera interview. Spokesman Michael Hogan instead issued us a statement, blaming soaring programming costs, in particular for sports channels like ESPN.

Bloomberg News says ESPN now costs cable providers $6 a month per subscriber, to cover the billions of dollars it in turn pays to broadcast major league sports.

You know those $40 million contracts NBA and Major League Baseball players get?  You help pay through your cable bill.

But if all you watch is House Hunters on HGTV or HBO's Game of Thrones you can't ask  your provider to remove one or two sports channels to lower your bill.  No provider -- yet -- will allow that, as could threaten their entire structure.

But Time Warner's Hogan said in his statement "customers can choose a different package of services if their needs, interests, or budget has changed. We are happy to work with customers to determine what’s best for them." (See below for full TWC statement.)

Regulators Powerless

We then went to Cincinnati's Intercommunity Cable Regulatory Commission, which you would think has some impact on rates, as the word "regulatory" is in their name.

But it turns out that under a 2008 Ohio law, the commission can no longer fight rate hikes from the local level because cable is no longer considered "a monopoly."

Executive Director Brad Stapleton said the State now considers cable a free market environment due to the rise of satellite services and the arrival of fiber.

"Now with Cincinnati Bell in picture, you have two competing cable companies," Stapleton said. "There is competition in our area, so there is no longer rate regulation."

Unfortunately, Cincinnati Bell's Fioptics is available in less than  50% of Cincinnati homes as of mid-2015, according to the company's most recent public statements.

On Your Side Advice

So what can a Time Warner Customer do to lower that rising rate?

Brad Stapleton helped us find 4 quick ways to cut that bill, when your current deal expires.

1. Call immediately and ask for the best promo deal available. If you don't like what you hear, call back and speak with another customer service rep.

2. Take their home phone if it lowers your costs. That's what Wilma Wood did, to lower her bill, and she's never even used the phone.

3. Make providers compete for your business. If Cincinnati Bell Fioptics is in your neighborhood, you have a lot more leverage. If not, check with DirectTV and Dish Network.

4. Consider downgrading to just internet, where you can get a decent speed for around $30 month (don't go for the very basic internet if you stream a lot of video). Then subscribe to Netflix ($9 a month) for movies and older TV shows, and watch 9 On Your side with an old fashioned antenna.

Brad Stapleton says the important thing is to not simply file the bill away and do nothing. Believe it or not, Forbes Magazine says many people are too busy to call, and just pay the higher rate.

The Bottom Line

Hard-working families like yours shouldn't have to constantly find ways to cut corners just to get by.

So make the call, and if you don't get satisfaction, ask for what's called the "retention department." Or visit a cable office in person.

They may even sweeten the deal a little more, so you don't waste your money

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Full Statement from Time Warner Cable

"As with every customer promotional package, they can either choose to keep those TWC services at the higher price that takes effect when initial discounting ends (which we disclaim when they sign up for any promotional package), or they can choose a different package of services if their needs, interests or budget has changed.  We are happy to work with customers to determine what’s best for them.”

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Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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