2008-03-28 / Community

Thompson Sets 'Cable Consumer Bill Of Rights'

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. has unveiled a "Cable Consumer Bill of Rights" aimed at protecting New York City consumers by demanding significant protections in cable companies' franchise agreements with the City.

"New Yorkers deserve more transparency, more accountability and more choices from their cable providers," Thompson said at a news conference in his office at 1 Centre Street. "This 'Cable Consumer Bill of Rights' will ensure consumers are protected, informed and empowered."

New York's two original cable companies, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, have begun negotiations for franchise renewals with the City as their existing 10-year franchise agreements expire in October, and the City is in the process of negotiating a new cable television franchise agreement with Verizon.

Franchise agreements are subject to approval by the Franchise Concession and Review Committee (FCRC), which is comprised of Comptroller Thompson, mayoral appointees, and the five borough presidents.

"We now have the opportunity to implement the strongest, most comprehensive set of cable consumer protections in the country," Thompson said.

"The 'Cable Consumer Bill of Rights' will ensure that consumers are protected and that they receive the information they deserve about their cable service provider," said Chuck Bell, Director of Advocacy Programs at Consumers Union.

The major provisions of the "Cable Consumer Bill of Rights" are:

1. Customer Service Transparecy

Cable companies will be required to collect and report detailed information about consumer complaints, and to follow up with complaining consumers within 30 days to ensure their problems have been resolved.

Companies must also collect and report detailed information about service outages by borough and community district, and submit a quarterly Plan of Correction for communities that are routinely subject to service outages.

Cable operators must provide convenient service centers that are easily accessible by mass transit. We recommend one service center for every 500,000 customers served.

Cable companies must ensure privacy protection for the customer, which prohibits the cable providers from sharing data on customers' internet usage and television viewing habits.

2. Cable Rate Transparency

Cable companies must provide needed transparency about their cable rates so that consumers know what percentage of each bill is allocated to: cost of content, capital expenditures, system maintenance, administrative expenses and profit.

3. Independent Arbitration

Create an independent arbitration system to help cable companies and independent programmers efficiently resolve disputes over access, rather than denying consumer access to popular programming. (This mechanism would avoid the type of blackouts that consumers have experienced, such as when Yankees and Mets programming was not available to many cable subscribers for lengthy periods of time. 4. Annual Cable Consumer Report Card

Cable companies must publish and distribute an annual Cable Consumer Report Card so that consumers can easily: identify their cable company's performance over the previous year,

This annual report must also disclose the existence of exclusive contracts that cable companies make with Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs), which prohibit residents from choosing among cable providers.

"In the decade since New York City last negotiated franchise agreements with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, cable prices across the country and around New York have nearly doubled, far outpacing the rate of inflation," Thompson said. "We have an opportunity to establish better service by way of accountability and openness on behalf of the cable companies. I urge the City to include these vital provisions in the cable television agreements and call upon the other FCRC Members to insist that these provisions be part of any final agreements."

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