Cable Industry Criticized for Trying to Up-Sell Services During DTV Transition

McSlarrow defends industry, says cable has told consumers about all options

The cable industry was praised and pilloried at the FCC DTV transition update meeting Wednesday.

The praise came for its cooperation with broadcasters to help educate viewers about the switch and its coordination with broadcasters on technical issues--like making sure the cable head-end can still get the TV signal.

The criticism came from Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union, who told the FCC his group was concerned that cable operators were trying to use the transition to up-sell their service, promising low-cost basic as a way to gain customers, then trying to sell them more expensive service rather than clearly laying out their options.

NCTA Chairman Kyle McSlarrow countered that there had been a concerted effort to make sure representatives were putting out accurate information. McSlarrow said he wasn't about to claim there were no incidents and that among the tens of thousands of such contacts the industry was going to get it right every time, saying he would certainly look into and try to resolve specific examples.

But he also said that he thought the charges were "a little bit of theater" from groups looking to take shots at the industry.

McSlarrow pointed out that the cable industry spent $250 million on an ad campaign that only talked about coupons and converter boxes, essentially promoting an alternative to marketing cable service.

He also noted that the industry had paid millions for a call center effort where consumers were told about all their options. He also said that NCTA members continue to promote a low-cost, and in some cases free, basic service.

The big picture, said McSlarrow, is that the cable industry stepped up "beyond the call of duty."

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein agreed that cable had stepped up to the plate, asking Kelsey whether the incidents were isolated or systemic. Kelsey said his beef was not with NCTA but with "some cable companies," but that, yes, he still had concerns that consumers aren't seeing what was promised in ads delivered when they call about the service.McSlarrow also said that NCTA was re-opening its DTV transition "war room" 24/7 as a link between cable engineering executives to insure a "rapid response" to any issues of cable carriage of digital signals. He also said NCTA would host conference calls among engineering, operations and communications executives "before, during, and after June 12."

One good sign: McSlarrow indicated to the commission in his written testimony that there was close coordination between cable and broadcasters during the national soft analog cut-off test May 21 and that, there were "no apparent problems" with the lines of communication.