Cable Connections

Is it worth being wired?

Lucy Morris toils 40 hours a week as a coach at the Service Zone, a customer service call center in Norman, Oklahoma. After work, she coaches the Twister Tornadoes Little League baseball team. The 22-year-old sports enthusiast swims and plays basketball and volleyball. She also takes her nieces and nephews to the park, zoo, and arcade on weekends.

Leading such a hectic and fast-paced life, she barely has time to stop and breathe, much less watch television. So why does she pay $45 a month for nearly 50 digital cable channels when she only watches three hours of TV a week?

“When I am home, I like to be able to have options like watching the Stanley Cup and the NBA finals,” says Morris. “A lot of the games are only on cable. I wish that I could have just sports and movie channels4just á la carte services.”

Many consumers that have cable face the same dilemma as Morris. They barely have time to watch television. And when they do, most watch only 10 to12 channels out of 160, according to Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer organization based in Yonkers, New York, that also publishes Consumer Reports magazine (www.consumerreports.org). “I basically just wanted the cheapest channels to watch sports and movies. It’s ridiculous to pay $45 for television I don’t see,” says Morris.

Examine your personal circumstances and given your lifestyle, determine if cable would be right for you. People often worry that without cable, they’ll have poor TV reception.

AT&T Broadband, in Englewood, Colorado, is the largest cable company in the United States, reaching 16 million consumers, 5 million more than its closest competitor, AOL Time Warner. AT&T offers its basic package for about $12 per month to alleviate the problem of consumers paying for more cable TV than they watch. The Basic package gives viewers 20 channels, including local stations, ESPN, and Discovery. “It is fairly scaled back,” says Erin Tolson, director of acquisition and upgrade marketing, of the service. “But it offers very good [selections]. The Standard package offers expanded service for $35 per month and tends to have 60 to 70 channels, including Lifetime, BET, Disney, CNN, and Headline News.”

Premium channels such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz are offered á la carte. However, they can only be purchased with a package. “To save money, don’t get premium channels,” suggests David Butler, media director of Consumers Union’s Washington, D.C., office. “Simply rent movies from rental stores. Many consumers have requested á la carte services such as Lifetime. But it is not financially attractive for cable companies.”

Says Deborah A. Lathen, former chief of the Cable Services Bureau for the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., “In areas where you have more than one cable provider, check to get the best rate. If you live in the area of only one cable company, look at your personal needs and tailor your service to fit your individual needs. If you don’t watch much cable, just get the basic service. Be vigilant in complaining to the cable

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