Digital Cable Push Threatens Consumers

The excitement of digital cable might be a threat to consumers, according to one public consumer group.

Cable operators are salivating over the possibility of adding more digital channels while getting rid of bandwidth-sucking analog channels. A digital channel takes up one-sixth to one-tenth of an analog channel's bandwith.

Do the math: If consumers could give back their inefficient analog bandwidth, cable operators could give consumers even hundreds of more digital channels -- as well as giving them, of course, a nice increase in their monthly bill.

Is that really necessary? Cable operators say it is. And for some consumers, transferring most of those analogs to digital might mean a slight benefit. Others might just be angry -- especially when they consider getting those 50 or 100 future digital channels that they didn't watch before and don't want now.



Cable operators are looking for places to grow. Digital is the biggest plum, with VOD and other services right behind it. If cable companies wean consumers off analog and push digital, they can almost double what they charge to consumers -- perhaps upping the bill to $70 a month.

Gene Kimmelman, senior director of public policy at Consumers Union, the Yonkers, N.Y.-based publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, told the Associated Press: "There's no other reason for this other than their greed."

Hey, we thought greed was good. Now we find out cable customers only think a low monthly cable bill is good. How unfair.

If the cable operators really want to push digital, they should be given the okay -- but with this caveat: Consumers get to pick the perhaps six channels they regularly watch, not the current 55 or so that Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications or Cablevision regularly shoves down their throats.

Cable operators could even charge a bit more for this -- perhaps making it an option for subscribers. Realistically, though, cable operators wouldn't agree to such a program, especially with the threat that consumer monthly bills might actually go down. In the world of retail cable network selling, consumers never get a make-good.

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